Archive for the ‘New England trips’ Category

There’s a new airline called Avelo with hubs in Burbank CA and New Haven CT. They now fly nonstop from Raleigh/Durham to New Haven. It would be an easy way start bicycling in the cooler weather and interesting scenery of New England, a region I have always found exotic. I had a general idea to bicycle north along the Connecticut River up into Massachusetts, before cycling back towards my brother Alex’s apartment in Brooklyn NY. Flying with the folding Bike Friday on the airplane, for this trip I eschewed my usual suitcase and used a cardboard box that I could throw away after landing. I planned to return home on Amtrak, on which the folding bike needs no packing. I stood in line at RDU on a Sunday morning.

the bicycle is in this box

The flight was painless and the weather clear, taking off from Raleigh/Durham airport on time at 8:30 AM and arriving New Haven just before 10:00 AM. A flight attendant made it obvious it was a new airline as he had not even memorized the usual spiel about how to fasten your seat belt and verbally stumbled as he read from an I-Pad. The 737 aircraft surely had been bought used as it looked really worn inside.

The New Haven airport terminal is tiny, almost as small as the Carrboro NC train station. After landing you walk from the plane across the tarmac.

I retrieved my “luggage”, i.e. bicycle-in-a-box and picked a spot outside in front of the terminal where I could put the bicycle together. Other passengers were milling around complaining that there were no taxis. It took me about half a hour to get ready.

Downtown New Haven is about six miles north of the airport. Bicycling from the airport was safe and pleasant as a normal suburban neighborhood comes practically up to the runway.

leaving the New Haven airport

Compared to highways in North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina, arterial roads up north, including Connecticut, MOST of the time have wide shoulders. Maybe they need room for the plowed snow. It makes bicycling seem safer.

a main road that headed towards central New Haven, with a wide shoulder

Six days later, looking back on my trip through central Connecticut and western Massachusetts, and only as an amateur sociologist, the Connecticut River Valley seems like a microcosm of the social divisions in America, but on steroids, maybe because these divisions are magnified by the tight geography. I started in New Haven. Yale University is dripping in wealth and prestige and world class research but unlike most college towns I have visited, the city of New Haven that surrounds Yale on all sides looks poor. On my bike trips college towns in America almost always seem prosperous, like Northampton MA was on this trip. When one crosses the political line into a city like New Haven or Hartford the population suddenly looks poor and mostly Hispanic and Black, as if tripping a switch. Outside of the principal cities people in Connecticut look almost all White. There are vast areas of not-all-that-prosperous middle class to working class strip mall suburbia in central Connecticut and western Massachusetts but these areas seem like another world from the older central cities of New Haven, Hartford, and Danbury. On my final day I cycled through still another vibe; miles and miles of wealthy country-clubbish suburbia that dominates the “rural” areas of Connecticut that are within commuting distance of New York City.

This is the bicycling route I took over these six days.

This first day I noodled through poor neighborhoods of the New Haven area with empty storefronts, until arriving at central central New Haven, near Yale, where there are suddenly upscale restaurants. I stopped for lunch. For someone coming from North Carolina, where traditionally there are fewer Italian-Americans, it was fun to sample the good Italian restaurants that are all over Connecticut. I ate Italian-American all week.

After lunch I cycled towards the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, a paved bike and hiking trail which runs eighty-one miles north along the Connecticut River; all the way to near Northampton MA except for a few incomplete gaps where you have to bicycle on highways. The trail started just the other side of the Yale campus.

Yale has a famous architecture school. I am not sure what this building is for, but I find it attractive.

Much of the bike path is on the former New Haven – Northampton Railroad, the Canal Line

I bicycled twenty something miles northward on the rail trail before looking to take a break. I stopped at a brewery along the trail in suburban Plantsville CT. I am a credit-card bicycle tourist, I do not camp. I can only stay where there are motels or Airbnbs. There was a nice strip of restaurants in downtown Southington CT but the motels were all two miles away out next to the freeway. This repeats a pattern I find all over America. It would be so much nicer to stay in a downtown and be able to walk to restaurants.

Still being COVID paranoid, I wanted to sit outside and had to wait for an outdoor table at the crowded Anthony Jack’s Wood Fired Grill in downtown Southington. Their special of barbecue salmon was quite good, so good that I came back to this restaurant four days later on my return. On both occasions it seemed like there were a lot of policemen and firefighters eating here.

After dinner I bicycled to the Holiday Inn Express out on the big highway. The room was fine. The next morning the free breakfast was NOT fine. Hotel breakfasts have become more and more pre-fab. I cannot believe I ate this stuff, I swore this was the last time I would eat a “sausage” and “ready made omelette” on a plastic plate with a plastic fork. I had Raisin Bran and milk for breakfast dessert, at least that is good for you, I think.

Disgusted by food and even before I checked out of the motel, I biked across the highway in the suburban landscape to the Price Chopper supermarket and bought a loaf of Dave’s whole grain bread and jars of non-homogenized peanut butter and strawberry jam. I could now make sandwiches whenever necessary. It took me six days but I ate the whole loaf, lugging it all in a plastic bag strapped to the back my the bicycle.

The cycling this day northward through rural Connecticut and into Massachusetts was lovely. Most but not all was on the Canal Heritage Trail.

rural highway with essentially no traffic

bike trail through the woods

Close to noontime it felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. The trail briefly ended and I cycled along suburban roads. In an obviously new development I stumbled onto a Whole Foods Market. I realized this was the exurbs of Hartford. In a state where most urbanity looks historic or at least old, here among these woody suburban office parks (I assume mostly for the insurance industry) the roads and the buildings both look brand new. Why not get a coffee from Whole Foods? I sat outside with an oat milk latte, one pack sugar, watching fancy SUVs circle through the parking lot.

After coffee I found my way back on the trail, where I soon crossed into Massachusetts. After many miles and late and in the afternoon I found my way into a much different form of urbanism, the faded manufacturing town of Westfield MA (population 41,000). Signs said its biggest claim to fame is being the original home of Columbia brand bicycles, manufactured here starting in about 1910 but of course no longer.

In downtown Westfield, among a few empty storefronts there was the almost hip feeling Circuit Coffee. I sat with my coffee for a spell, pondering the world and the issues of western Massachusetts.

I was tired and wanted to stay somewhere, why not here? There might be even a decent restaurant, but the only hotel was two miles away, up a steep hill, at the Mass Turnpike interchange. Airbnb likewise showed nothing in-town. My only solution was to bicycle up that steep hill to the otherwise nice Hampton Inn Westfield. I passed a liquor store on the way and impulsively stopped to buy a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Many two-go restaurants do not have liquor licenses.

At the hotel, noticing a trend I have seen all over America, many of those staying in motels are blue collar workers, possibly some kind of road or pipe repair crews, still in their work outfits.

waiting in line at the Hampton Inn Westfield

The region of western Massachusetts and northern Connecticut is the original center of gun manufacturing in America. Smith & Wesson and Colt come from this area. Two blocks from my hotel and next to the Turnpike, a factory for Savage Arms had a jammed parking lot. The sign said Help Wanted.

What to do for dinner? There was no real restaurant within walking or even short bicycling distance of the Hampton Inn. One mile away on a dicey bike ride on a highway was Alessio’s Pizza & Pasta. I ordered the kind of sandwich that chains like Subway and Jersey Mike’s have tried to imitate. Alessio’s tasted like the real deal. I bicycled with it back to the motel room and enjoyed it with some of my to-go bottle of wine.

My idea for the next day was to bicycle a loop heading north through the Massachusetts college towns of Holyoke, Hadley, Northampton, and Amherst before turning back south and staying in downtown Springfield MA.

My first ten miles were on a highway but it at least had a wide shoulder.

I cycled in quick succession through the western Massachusetts towns of Southampton, Easthampton, Northampton, Hadley, and then Amherst. Most of the ride was on the final portion of the Canal Heritage Trail, although the trail has various local names.

This portion is called the Manhan Rail Trail

Wikipedia describes Northampton MA as “an academic, artistic, musical, and countercultural hub”. Countercultural hub? Sure, why not. I cycled through town and took pictures but really did not stop.

downtown Northampton MA

It is only eight miles by a lovely bike path from Northampton MA to Amherst MA. The trail crosses the Connecticut River on a former rail bridge.

Amherst is home of the University of Massachusetts. In downtown Amherst I got an oat mile latte, one pack sugar, plus a pastry whose details I do not remember other than it being delicious. Cycling again, I doubled back to Northampton but then turned south along the Connecticut River heading towards Springfield MA. On a bleak highway that in most parts is surrounded by trash and beat up buildings I picked the nicest spot available to sit on a guard rail and eat my peanut butter sandwich.

I had to pass through Holyoke MA. I assumed it was another tony college town but I could not have been more wrong. The famous women’s college Mount Holyoke is on, well, a mountain; five miles and across the river from the city of Holyoke.

Holyoke (population 38,000; about the same population as the year 1890) is a faded factory town seemingly full of poor people. I looks like another world from Northampton MA only eleven miles away. I have learned that in about 1890 Holyoke was the largest producer of paper stationary in the world. Huge brick factory buildings stretch along the canal that empties into the Connecticut River. Some of these brick mill buildings are repurposed, some not.

Eight miles further south along the river is Springfield MA (population 156,000) which looks a little more put-together than Holyoke, but Springfield still looks faded. I stayed in the Holiday Inn Express downtown.

Springfield’s most recent effort to re-find itself is a casino downtown, housed in a renovated older building. Good luck on that. At least it’s downtown.

Later on I sought out dinner. My gut reaction would not to do German food but Springfield’s longtime most famous restaurant is the German restaurant Student Prince Cafe (since 1935!). I had a nice time sitting at the bar. Unlike many big old-school places, Student Prince seemed really well run and the food was fine, the bar staff friendly and professional. Cross cultural note: since 2014 until very recently this German restaurant has been run by a local Asian-American restauranteur named “Andy” Sua Sun Yee, who had just died of cancer. I know this because there were notes of his passing at the entrance. The interior is dark but full of fascinating old stuff.

The next days’s mission was to cycle to Hartford CT, which sits thirty miles south on the same Connecticut River. That morning I had booked a promising sounding Airbnb in Hartford. I was able to cycle much of the way on bike trails along the Connecticut River, but these bike paths are disconnected from each other. At least half of the way I cycled on normal roads.

Breakfast in Springfield MA was the opposite of a machine-made hotel breakfast because I went to a coffee house a few doors down from the hotel, in the glassed-in ground floor of an office building. The ham and egg on bagel was delicious and custom made from a kitchen surrounded by Italian-American kitsch. The one indoor table was full of six older Italian-American looking guys. I ate outside.

Leaving the hotel by bicycle I headed downriver. Springfield has a lovely riverfront bike path to nowhere that dead ends. You have to turn around and come back to where you started! I got back on a regular street that crossed over the Connecticut River, and looked back at Springfield MA.

downtown Springfield MA

The “only” thirty miles to Hartford were by bicycle complicated ones. For a while there was a bike path along a riverfront road on the west bank. There were few signs and one had to construct one’s own bicycle route.

For a portion there was a lovely but bumpy bike path along the river.

Coming into Hartford from the north on the highway CT-159 that parallels the river it seemed I would have to bicycle through most of Hartford to get to my Airbnb on the southwestern side of town. I knew that Hartford has significant poor neighborhoods and urban problems. I had no way of knowing the proper route to avoid poorer “dangerous” neighborhoods. I pressed on, knowing that the risk of getting run over by a car was a much greater risk than getting mugged, and seemingly-safer suburban areas are usually more dangerous to bicycle than a grid of city streets. As the neighborhoods began to look poorer I could start to see the high-rises of downtown Hartford in the distance.

I was not staying downtown, which I still think was the correct decision, even though downtown Hartford has a few luxury hotels. I instead would be staying in residential neighborhood in western Hartford, an area where there were restaurants within walking distance. I first had to cross a huge section of Hartford. I took very few photos because I was bicycling as fast as possible!

It was a hot summer day and in a region where many buildings do not have air conditioning, people were out on the streets. In a poor neighborhood past downtown a Jeep Grand Cherokee came racing down a narrow urban street at an insane speed. It was not within a block of me so I was in no danger of being run over, but the car was driven in a manner that suggested he was being chased by either the police or fellow criminals. It was disconcerting, to say the least.

Breweries and local coffee houses are always good destinations when you do not know a city. It was a relief when I bicycled across a major set of railroad tracks and arrived at New Park Brewing, which I now know is at the beginning of the more prosperous neighborhoods of west Hartford. I stopped for a beer. They had outdoor seating.

While I sat by myself and read my book on the Kindle a group of women were about the only other people on the patio.

My Airbnb was less than a mile away. This part of western Hartford has block after block of what look like tract mansions from the year 1900.

This is not the first time with an Airbnb that I stayed in a part of someone’s house, never saw that person, but was given full access to his or her’s house. The guy had texted me a code to open the front door. I walked through his lovely but busily decorated home (there is a suit of armor on the stairway landing) to get the the third floor apartment. “Make yourself at home!”

my Airbnb house

view the rainy next morning from that third floor window

My stay in Hartford worked out well. The apartment was nice, much better and lower cost than a hotel room. There were multiple rooms and everything was studiously clean. The TV and A/C worked. The neighborhood was comforting and I could walk to a decent restaurant. At the Tisane Euro-Asian Cafe I studied the crowded bar scene but COVID paranoidly chose to sit outside.

Thai noodles with salmon

My plan for the next day was to ride back south to New Haven CT, forty miles to the south. My first few miles from Hartford were on the bike path that parallels the CT Fastrak Busway, an eleven mile long highway built exclusively for buses between Hartford and New Britain CT. There used to be proposals to build this kind of transit back home between Chapel Hill NC and Durham NC.

bike path is on the right

transit station on the busway

Much of the city of New Britain CT looked poor and decaying.

On the far side of New Britain CT I discovered a lovely route over a small mountain towards the next town Southington CT. The route necessitated biking one or two miles up a very steep hill and I found myself alongside the local water source. There was almost no car traffic; it made the climb worthwhile.

Coming down the mountain I got back on the trail I had been on three days earlier, the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail which I took the twenty something miles back south to New Haven. On the way I cycled a quarter mile off the trail for ice cream at a place called Wentworth’s.

I planned to stay that night in New Haven. The few hotels available in downtown New Haven this night were over three hundred dollars. I looked elsewhere. I found an Airbnb in the eastern fringe of New Haven, a bedroom in a split-level suburban house. It had good Airbnb reviews but was remote from any restaurants.

Before going to the neighborhood with the Airbnb I bought a to-go Italian style sandwich at a place on the highway called Michaelangelo Pizza & Subs. The Airbnb person texted me a code to get into their home, even though they were not there, giving me full access to their house. The home looked spotless inside. After I had been there a while I met one of the two people living there, a slim thirty-something woman with long blond hair wearing a YALE PEDIATRICS t-shirt. She said she and her boyfriend were both Yale MD interns and worked long hours. The two doctors rented out one of their main floor bedrooms to Airbnb. The woman told me to “make myself at home.” She was welcoming but soon went into her room and closed the door. In my whole stay there I never physically saw anyone again.

I sat on their deck overlooking the backyard and ate my delicious Italian-style sandwich; once again so much better than Subway. I read my Kindle. In a strange way it way quite peaceful.

I had two days left on my trip. I decided to cycle northwest towards Danbury CT, a part of the state I had never visited. I first cycled two or three miles through eastern New Haven to a coffee house called Manjares.

I got an oat mile latte, one pack sugar, plus a croissant. The croissant was not fresh but I enjoyed the outdoor seating.

Across the patio three old guys looked and talked like what I imagine Yale professors would be like.

The forty mile ride towards Danbury was lovely, through the kind of scenery and cooler summer weather which New England is famous for.

no shoulder but very little traffic

New England stone wall

Never pass up a rural ice cream spot.

I came upon Sandy Hook just before the city of Danbury CT.

It is a place that has had its name stained by gun violence, really a tiny town that has grown into prosperous suburbia in past decades.

downtown Sandy Hook CT

Cycling into Danbury CT (population 86,000) I saw little else to photography other than the Sycamore Drive-In. Danbury is another less-prosperous Connecticut city surrounded by more prosperous suburbs. Danbury used to be called “Hat City” for the number of hat factories that used to be here, including Stetson, but no more. Men’s hats died as a business about the time of JFK. I did read that the hat factories left significant environmental damage by pouring cancer causing chemicals on the ground and into waterways.

Danbury CT

Danbury is not prosperous enough to have any downtown hotels but a group of newer motels are all clustered five miles from downtown, overlooking “scenic” I-84. This repeats the mantra from my brother Alex Marshall’s year 2000 book How Cities Work. Development is always going to cluster around transportation. It was a downer fighting traffic while riding my bicycle the last few miles.

It was uphill to Hotel Zero Degrees beside the freeway. The hotel was expensive but had a fancy restaurant attached so I would not have to go out again that night. Depressingly a group of tour buses pulled up the same time as me.

There is a Yankee gaudiness that I usually associate with Long Island, but in southwestern Connecticut it was here at the Hotel Zero Degrees in spades on this Friday night, but all in fun. The room was clean and comfortable, good to nestle in after a long day cycling. There was at least one wedding going on at the hotel. The bar and Italian restaurant were partly left open to the outdoor air, making me a much smaller COVID worrier. I rarely get cocktails but when I do I almost always order a gimlet; gin and lime juice. Delicious.

Having clams and linguine in an Italian restaurant up North in Connecticut, even here in a Interstate highway hotel, it was bound to be good.

The free breakfast the next morning at the expensive hotel was lame. I made my own peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead.

I was near the end of my trip. I had decided that instead of trying to bicycle the final stretch into New York City I would cycle this morning twenty-something miles south to the Norwalk CT station and take the Metro North commuter train into Manhattan. Even on a Saturday there are trains almost every hour, costing only about fifteen dollars.

From my interstate highway hotel I cycled south into wealthy rural areas, the start of the southwestern Connecticut commuter region. I wanted to arrive Norwalk in time for the 1:00 PM train.

s

Not all houses out here are huge. Connecticut seems to have more 1950’s split levels per capita than anywhere, where the front door enters between first and second floors. I saw these constantly, all over the state.

Norwalk CT, as a city on the coast, suddenly seemed economically diverse.

I was only a mile from the train station and I still had an hour before the 1:00 PM train. Time for lunch, more Italian food! I ate almost this whole pizza.

I biked over to the train station. The bike went on the train with me, no need to fold it.

The trip to Grand Central Terminal took and hour and fifteen minutes. This magnificent train station that opened in 1913 services the Metro North commuter trains. Amtrak trains go from Penn Station across town.

my Bike Friday in Grand Central

Alex lives with his family in Park Slope, Brooklyn, although this day he was there alone. From Grand Central his apartment is an eight mile bike ride, mostly down Manhattan then across the Manhattan Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge.

Waiting at the 14th St stoplight when cycling down 2nd Avenue bike path in Manhattan

The ride to Alex’s place is not that tough if you know where you are going, but I had to stop constantly and look at the map on my phone, especially within Brooklyn. This afternoon the entire ride took about an hour and a half.

We went out to eat that night near his apartment at, what else, an Italian restaurant called Piccoli Trattoria. It was delicious.

My Amtrak train to North Carolina the next morning was scheduled for 7:20 AM from Penn Station. I left his apartment by bicycle at 5:30 AM.

roo
Brooklyn in the gathering light.

Having taken the time to plan my route, the bike ride to Manhattan was painless in the mostly traffic free early Sunday morning. It took less than an hour.

There is the new Moynihan Train Hall that opened in 2021 which I had not seen before. It is part of the Penn Station complex, to take the place of the original Penn Station that was torn down in 1962. I am always one to applaud new public buildings. This is actually a renovation of a former post office.

Moynihan Train Hall, Penn Station in New York

Unlike some other times in New York, Amtrak let me wheel the bicycle all the way up to the train door before folding it, which made traveling with a folding bicycle on Amtrak a true breeze, as was the train ride, although it was full pretty much the whole way. I did a lot of reading and I find Amtrak relaxing.

Arriving into New London CT by ferry the steeply gabled houses and rocky coastline immediately screamed “New England.”

New London CT is not a fru-fru place.   While not a complete wreck like Bridgeport CT or Trenton NJ,  New London looks like a working class town just trying to get by.   I find it exotic.  Its big employers are the U.S. Coast Guard and the large submarine construction base in Groton, just across the river.   My ferry landed in downtown New London.   I biked off the ferry and headed towards the address of an Airbnb.

 

 

 

This is the house of my Airbnb and the proprietor’s bumper stickered Volvo station wagon.  I had no idea what to expect.   It was an unusual Airbnb.

 

Her living room.

The Airbnb was a portion of an upstairs bedroom.    Most of the bedroom was my hostess’ art studio.

The opposite side of this small room was for me.   We shared a bathroom.

We found we had a lot of common interests and she was a pleasure to chitchat with.

That evening I biked the mile or two back to downtown New London to look for somewhere to eat.    There is not a huge selection of restaurants in New London anyway and on a Monday night many places were closed.   Thames Landing was only just OK.

 

The next day I bicycled east towards Westerly, Rhode Island.   This was my day’s route.

On the way out of town Muddy Waters Cafe in central New London is a really nice place for my kind of breakfast.    Those from Durham NC take note:  there was a Merge Records sticker on their front steps!

 

I crossed a high bridge over the Thames River.

I then bicycled east mostly on small and curvy roads, frequently with short bursts of very steep grades.

 

 

Brick walls were are ubiquitous.   I cannot imagine all the work in earlier generations hauling these stones out of the ground to enable trying to eke a living out of this rocky landscape.    You see these walls for miles through otherwise wooded areas, indications that these areas were once farmland.

 

I was still on the lookout for great clam chowder.   Clams and especially lobsters are pretty foreign in North Carolina.   Right near the Connecticut / Rhode Island state line there was a takeout seafood store with two chairs and one table for those who wanted to eat-in with plastic utensils.   After polishing off a bowl of clam chowder I ate $ 8.70 worth of amazing lobster salad, also sold by the pound.

 

 

I bicycled a long way through surprisingly wooded and remote-seeming land.    I was quite tired in the late afternoon when I pulled into the charming town of Wakefield RI.   There was a place called Brickley’s with very good house-made coffee chip ice cream.

I had not completely planned this bicycle expedition through Long Island and New England.  I had had vague ideas about going all the way to Boston.   One advantage with Amtrak is that it is relatively flexible.    I had had a great trip but I had spent enough money and I was ready to go home.  I haggled a deal over the phone for a quite nice (fru-fru!) conventional Bed and Breakfast in that same town Wakefield RI.  I booked Amtrak to leave the Kingston RI station at 7:11 AM the next morning, taking me all the way back on one train to my Toyota parked in Richmond VA.  I would be home in Chapel Hill NC by 8:00 PM that same evening.

Leaving at 6:15 AM I bicycled the eight miles to the station, almost all of it on a rail-trail bike path.

 

 

I have a special shout-out to TLC Coffee Roasters in West Kingston RI who I found at 6:55 AM.  They had, “to go” a large decaf coffee, refrigerator oatmeal for breakfast, and a quite good pastrami sandwich for lunch.    On Amtrak you should always bring your own food.

Tootie had a delicious dinner waiting for me in Chapel Hill when I got home.

 

I wanted to go bicycling somewhere alone, where I could ponder life and think about Henry.  Tootie was going out West the same week with friends.

The weather in July is cooler up north.   I planned a loop around New England lasting about a week.  If I cut across the corners of several states, I might be able to bicycle through all the six New England states in a week.

Taking Amtrak to the Northeast from Chapel Hill is much faster if you drive to Richmond VA.  I bought a low cost Amtrak round trip ticket to Boston, but planned to get off the outbound train early,  somewhere in Connecticut.

I drove up to Richmond and stayed at a dingy motel in the suburbs, for my train early the next day.  I had a great dinner alone at the bar of Richmond’s Mamma Zu, one of my favorite Italian restaurants anywhere outside of Italy.

Amtrak has gotten really easy if you have a folding bicycle.  You can wheel it right up to the train car, fold the bike, then carry it about thirty feet to the luggage rack, and settle in your seat.   It was about nine hours up to New London CT, but I found the trip relaxing.   I had gotten some homemade muffins from a friend of my Mom’s and they were delicious.    I got off in New London about three in the afternoon,  and bicycled in the direction of Rhode Island, twenty-one miles to the east.  The ride along the Connecticut coast was lovely.   I arrived Westerly in a couple hours, but did not stay in Rhode Island very long.

P1020791

I eventually crossed back into Connecticut, and cycled another twenty miles or so towards the small city of Norwich.   The road passed through the picturesque kind of New England that we always hear about, including peaceful stretches of forests.    Jumping out of this serenity was the revenge of the Native Americans, the Foxwoods Casino (and parking garage), springing up  from the wooded countryside.

P1020794

There were a few more miles of woods before arriving downtown Norwich.  The city seemed poor and depressing.  I cycled to the other side of town to a motel near the Interstate.  Near this motel was this pizza truck, which had pleasantly lit picnic tables outside.    They did not have wine, but encouraged you to go to the liquor store just a quarter mile down the road.    I bought a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and ate pizza and salad there by the side of the road.   It was too much wine for just one person, so after the truck closed at nine p.m., I shared wine with the proprietors, a hipster looking twenty something couple.

P1020797

Heading out the next morning, I surmised that if I really had it together, I might make it all the way across Connecticut to Springfield, Massachusetts, about sixty miles to the north.    New England is covered in rail-to-trails but some are in better shape than others.   I rode for part of the day on a rail-to-trail that was unpaved but otherwise very pleasant.

P1020804

I had come to New England in part to escape the North Carolina heat.   This day was starting to get pretty hot; and it was lunchtime.   I stumbled onto Shady Glen Dairy Store, which I was advised has been on this rural highway since 1948.   A milk shake and their distinctive cheeseburger with oversize cheese certainly hit the spot.

IMG_0470

I rode on through the afternoon, through pleasant countryside.

P1020813

In Vernon, Connecticut, I passed this interesting church, called Sacred Heart.   I am not the only person who finds this type of architecture interesting; someone has put up a web page about this building.  Constructed in 1972, it has been abandoned for over ten years, due to roof leaks and falling pieces of ceiling.

P1020805

 

I did make it all the way to Springfield, Massachusetts.   New England must be incredibly segregated.    I realized I had not seen a black, tan, or hispanic looking face all day.   The minute I crossed into the city limits of Springfield, the situation was reversed.

P1020823

 

Springfield, where basketball was invented in its YMCA,  is a city that looks like its best days are behind it.    Springfield’s downtown would pleasantly front the Connecticut River, except that the river is blocked by Interstate 91.  This was the view of the river from my hotel room.

P1020816

 

Springfield did have an old school German restaurant (Student Prince) with a colorful scene at the bar.   The pork shoulder was very satisfying.

IMG_0475A

 

Heading again north the next morning, I hoped to get to Brattleboro, Vermont by nightfall.   The weather that day was perfect; cloudy with high in the seventies and a strong tailwind.    Cycling up along the Connecticut River through towns like West Springfield and Holyoke, things looked pretty depressed.

P1020824A

However, crossing over into South Hadley, home of Mount Holyoke College, the towns became cutesie in a hurry.    From there rural  countryside and scenic roads led me north.   One of the better meals of the trip was this lunch in a nice restaurant just before the Vermont line; a gourmet Massachusetts take on the burrito.

P1020838

Brattleboro, Vermont looks like the quintessential American town.

P1020842I had dinner overlooking the Connecticut River.

 

 

 

IMG_0488

The next day was predicted to be hot, so I left Brattleboro very early, riding east into New Hampshire.   The bike ride started along the Connecticut River, then cut inland on a rail-to-trail.    The trail started nicely enough, following a rocky stream.

P1020852

However, the trail deteriorated, and got so rough that I eventually quit riding it.

 

bike path on abandoned rail line in New Hampshire

bike path on abandoned rail line in New Hampshire

 

 

Before I got to my destination of Keene, I stopped to get some water at a store.  Not all New England is quaint.  It can be quite poor.

 

P1020855

I arrived into the town of Keene, New Hampshire by late morning.  Keene was as picturesque as Brattleboro.   It was Sunday, and I had a nice eggs benedict brunch at the bar.    I did not drink all these bloody mary’s;  they were for someone else.

2013-12-11 13.26.41

 

The next day, a Monday,  was also going to be hot, so I left again very early for Manchester.    Most of the bike ride was along verdant small roads.    I did start to run into a different vibe, one that I had not experienced yet on this trip.  I was starting to see the exurbs of Boston; subdivisions of large new McMansions more than sixty miles from downtown.

I had heard of Manchester in the constant coverage of presidential politics.  I assumed that it was another quaint New England small city.   It actually looked more like Springfield, Massachusetts; a fading factory town struggling to find an identity in the modern economy.

P1020871

After eating only in restaurants for several days, it was nice to just chill eating on the bed with the TV.   In blazing (for New England) heat, I got to my hotel room in Manchester about 2:00 PM with supplies I had gotten from a Fresh Market, including wine, olives and tortilla chips.    The playoff of the Open Championship was just underway.

P1020870

The next day was forty something miles to Portsmouth NH.    Google Maps indicated a rail-to-trail for much of the way, starting near downtown Manchester.   The first part was unrideable.

P1020873

I got off the trail and onto the highway,  and tried the trail again a few miles out.  It was much nicer.

 

P1020874

I eventually tired of the dirt path, and rode on two lane roads through small New England towns.

P1020875

Portsmouth, New Hampshire is the kind of town so quaint that people pay a lot of money just to hang out there, to soak in the atmosphere.   I had booked an Airbnb a day in advance.   The best New England seafood on the entire trip was the chowder I had for lunch at this dive bar in Portsmouth.   It tasted intensely of lobster.

FullSizeRender

I crossed the Piscataqua River into Maine the next morning.

P1020884

Southeast Maine is a rocky coast, intersperced with areas of beach.   If you stayed off the principal highway the road north was gentle and accommodating;  residential.

 

P1020890

On this warm sunny day in late July the beach crowds were out in force.

P1020896

P1020906

P1020907

 

P1020885

In the small towns along the coast, parking seems to be one of the big money makers.

P1020904

I stopped for fried clams before getting on the train south.     They were OK; not as great as ones I have had on other trips.

P1020912

 

Just after lunch, I caught the southbound Amtrak at the station just outside the small town of Wells.   In about two hours, it took me to Boston’s North Station.   I biked across downtown Boston to an Airbnb in Chinatown.  The next morning I left on a 6:00 AM train south to Richmond, and my car.

View from my window in Boston

View from my window in Boston

 

 

 

Lowell, Massachusetts

Lowell, Massachusetts

 

Photo of me photographing Lowell MA

Lyman’s cellphone photo of me photographing Lowell MA

 

Lyman and I bicycled for five days across a broad arc west of the Boston area, following the fall line; the waterfalls that powered the first American industry.  We slept in the downtowns of each of these cities: Providence RI, Worcester MA, Lowell MA, Gloucester MA, and Boston.   I now realize this industry started very early,  as early as the late 1700’s.     Some of this was based on textile technology  we had stolen from the British.  Many of these factories had closed by the 1920’s, or earlier.   In some places they now are vibrant rehabbed loft spaces, in other places they are empty abandoned buildings.

This empty mill in a small Massachusetts town looks a lot like Bynum or Saxapahaw, North Carolina.

smalltownfactory

 

According to Wikipedia,  Lawrence, Massachusetts has torn down many of their old factories.   To a first time visitor, you would not have guessed that.  There are many, many huge brick mill buildings.

Lawrence, MA

Lawrence, MA

 

 

Lawrence MA

Lawrence MA

 

Most of the bike riding between these towns was delightful.    “Highways” that had a speed limit of forty miles per hour, with wide shoulders, meandered through the woods and towns.    I now theorize that Northeastern roads have wide shoulders, not out of concern for bicyclists, but because they need somewhere to put the plowed snow.

 

ruralhighway

 

ruralpostoffice

 

We stopped for ice cream in a small town in Massachusetts.   What could be more all-American than this?

 

Pirates Cover Drivin

 

In a few places there were greenways.

 

bikepath

 

We parked our bikes to have a beer in Lowell MA.  This town looks grungier than the photo indicates.

 

BarinLowellMA

In Gloucester, the fishing town vibe permeated everything.    The first impression is that Gloucester is a working class coastal town that looks neither gentrified nor abandoned and depressed;  an intact town of eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings.  I do not see many places in America like that these days.

 

 

Gloucester MA

Gloucester MA

 

 

A final note about architecture:  we did see a few interesting modern buildings:

 

Someone said Rhode Island has the highest concentration of diners in America.    This is in Pawtucket, just north of Providence.

Modern Diner

 

Modernism plopped amidst the brick industrial mill buildings of Lowell, MA.

 

ModernismLowellMA

Brutalism in Boston.  BrutalismBoston

 

We spent the final night in an AirBnb in Roxbury, Boston.    Cycling through downtown Boston at 5:30 AM to Amtrak at South Station was exhilarating.