Archive for the ‘Virginia trips’ Category

I was staying with Tootie at my family’s house in Virginia Beach and I drove the car less than an hour north to take a solo three or four hour bike ride on the Eastern Shore.    This involved crossing seventeen mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, one of the longest in the world.

The Eastern Shore (also called the Delmarva Peninsula) even now can be one of the most remote places on the East Coast of the United States.  Here is the bicycle ride I took that morning.

Press the minus sign on the map above, look how this tip of Virginia ends at the water.   Imagine how isolated this area was before the Bridge Tunnel was completed in 1964.   With the toll on the bridge $14.00 each way, the area is still not visited all that often.

I left the Prius right near the end of the bridge at a parking area for a rail trail in the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge.   The five mile long rail-trail parallels the main highway US13.

I bicycled north.   There was no one around, it was peaceful.

 

 

The smooth paved bike path on a former rail line continues for five miles both starting and ending at essentially nowhere, ultimately depositing a bicyclist on lovely empty country roads that pass through a flat landscape.

 

 

 

I passed this small post office.  Capeville VA 23313.

 

 

Almost every house out here had at least one boat in the yard.

 

 

 

I passed through the town of Cheriton VA, population 487.

I think they were saluting the flag at 8:30 AM, I am not sure.

 

 

I bicycled onward the four miles to the largest town in the area Cape Charles VA (population 1,000.)    Just outside of town I passed a perfectly preserved gas station of the brand Pure.  I think somebody now uses this as a residence.  I used to see these stations all over as a child when my family was on car trips.

 

In central Cape Charles I saw another former Pure station.

Despite being three miles from the main highway US-13 Cape Charles appears prosperous.  Apparently the town has become a destination unto itself.   Founded as a planned community by a railroad in the late nineteenth century,  Cape Charles was the endpoint of a rail line that ran the length of the Delmarva Peninsula, where rail cars were put on ferries to Norfolk.   Cape Charles was also the loading point for the car ferry to Norfolk.   This business went away after the Bridge Tunnel was completed in 1964.   Today Cape Charles preserves its turn of the twentieth century appeal.

 

 

Now there are actually a few new condos being built in downtown, as well as a brewery and restaurants.

 

There is a small beach.  It looks like the ocean but there are no sizable waves because it is the Chesapeake Bay.

Near the waterfront the older houses are larger.

On the way bicycling out of town I saw people social distancing while waiting in line at a pastry store.

It would be about seventeen miles back to my car in the wildlife refuge, cycling a different route through flat rural landscapes.

 

This crop duster had no fence around it, I was able to bicycle right up to it.

 

I passed through a small village called Cheapside.

 

 

I arrived back at my car by noon; I was able to have lunch back at the house in Virginia Beach.

Is there some way to take a safe overnight trip and not contribute to the pandemic problem?

Also, it is too hot to bicycle most places close to home during early July.   I even thought of driving up into Pennsylvania or Ohio to bicycle but temperatures there were also predicted to be in the nineties.

At elevation in the North Carolina/Virginia mountains there is cooler summer weather.   The major problem with bicycle touring on the Blue Ridge Parkway is that it is devoid of services.   Even drinking water is not always available.   The Parkway was specifically built to give automobile passengers an experience of being outside of commercial culture.   While it is not a problem for a car traveler that most motels and restaurants are several miles off the parkway, usually down a long hill, that can be challenging on a bicycle, especially when you have already been pedaling up and down hills all day.

I did find one small inn just north of the Virginia line that was near the Parkway and I booked a room for one night over the phone.  There would be no restaurant or grocery stores so I had to bring my own food.   On a recent morning I drove three hours up from Chapel Hill NC and parked at the Smart View Recreation Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway, elevation about 2500 feet.  It was not near any town but the closest ones are Floyd VA,  Hillsville VA and Meadows of Dan VA.  It would be a forty mile bicycle ride south on the Parkway to my inn.    I brought a change of clothes, two water bottles, lunch, dinner, and breakfast, and my ukulele.

 

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a delight to bicycle.   In this section there were stretches of ten or fifteen minutes between seeing a car.  Sometimes it felt like a giant bike path.  About half of the vehicles passing me were motorcycles.  The Parkway was built at a time when going for a car ride could be a liberating experience.  Who thinks like that now?   On a bicycle the weather was cool and the scenery lovely.

 

 

 

 

I stopped for lunch at the Rocky Knob picnic area.   I think it used to be a campground.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is funded and maintained by the National Park Service.   The picnic tables were totally falling apart.

If we are the richest country in the world why do we have to beg for donations?

 

I had said there were no stores on the Parkway but at the Meadows of Dan interchange within sight of the Parkway was this touristy store with real coffee.   I sat on the porch in a rocking chair and had my usual mid-afternoon cup of joe.

 

It had been a long but nourishing bike ride when I pulled into my motel at about 5:00 PM.

I was their only guest, but she said they were going to be full the following night. The Inn portion was like a suburban house divided into about eight rooms. Sixty-nine dollars including tax is a good deal.  The very welcoming proprietress apologized for the room decor which she said was too feminine.  She said she had a masculine-themed room that was not available. (!)

 

 

There is a great YouTube video of some guy with an English accent who cooks a chicken dinner in a motel room, using the coffee maker, iron, and hair dryer as heating units.   Here I had more tools than that.  This motel room had a microwave plus dishes and utensils, but no stove or pots and pans.   I have almost no experience in cooking solely with a microwave.   Can you boil pasta in a microwave, using a large coffee cup?  Apparently you can.

These were my groceries before leaving home in Chapel Hill, stuff I already had in my pantry.  I packed it all onto the back of my bicycle.    1/4 of a bag of Pisgsah Crunch mixed nuts trail mix, 1/4 of a box of pasta, the most expensive sardines I could find, one peanut butter sandwich for lunch, one piece of local Eco Farms squash, one unshucked ear of corn, 1/2 cup of plain raw oatmeal for breakfast, one chunk cheddar cheese, 1/4 of a box of local cherry tomatoes, Tupperware containers of olive oil and salt.  One lime.

 

Despite my lack of experience cooking in a microwave with no pots and pans it really worked!   I had corn on the cob as an appetizer course, then the main course of noodles with cheddar cheese and tomatoes with sardines on the side.   I have recently learned that good sardines are really delicious.  (Kudos to Bob from Tampa on his recent email to me about finding quality canned Spanish and Portuguese seafood.)

 

After finishing the pasta I sliced up the squash on the plate and added olive oil, salt, and lime juice and then microwaved it.   I had opened the window to the motel room, it was nice to have fresh air without the noise of an air conditioner.  Nevertheless eating in the room was too hot.  I took everything outside onto the porch.   There was a lovely view in the cool evening air.

 

It is really quiet out here, I could relax with the window open at night and listen to the silence.   I woke up the next morning, watched Morning Joe on TV, then prepared my oatmeal in the microwave.   Next to the coffee maker there were sugar packets; I added a packet on top of my oatmeal.

The woman who runs this place has interesting yard art.

On the bicycle I headed back out the way I had come the day before.   The Parkway was again lovely.

 

Stopping at the one gift shop/restroom building that I passed there were not a lot of masks or social distancing going on, although this was outdoors.

 

My car was still there and I made it home to Chapel Hill in time for dinner.

 

 

 

I really like Richmond, which is a two and a half hour / 166 mile drive from my home in Chapel Hill.  I can drive up there for the day.   On this trip I wanted to see the condition of the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue.   I drove off the freeway and looked for a place to park on the south side of town, across the James River from the main part of the city.    It was a neighborhood of trucking terminals and empty industrial spaces looking like a good place to dispose of a body.   On this Sunday morning no one was around so I figured my car would be OK for a few hours.  (Our 2005 Prius is full of dents and not really worth all that much!)  I pulled out my bicycle.  I had brought the Surley because fatter tires would be more comfortable on bumpy streets.

 

I bicycled towards the James River and the rest of Richmond.   This sketchy industrial wasteland only lasted about three blocks before I saw the first sign of gentrification, a former industrial space that has been converted to upscale housing.

 

On this trip I discovered thriving and growing urban neighborhoods south of the Fan that I had not biked through before.  Many of the late nineteenth century houses are smaller and some made of wood.   The Southside of the James River neighborhood of Manchester was typical.

 

In between older areas that had been torn down there was new construction going up all over the place.

Three of my four great-grandfathers fought for the Confederacy but I realized many years ago that their cause was wrong.   My first introduction in Richmond to Confederate “heroes” was passing over the James.

 

Earlier I had seen this while driving.

 

Most of Richmond is on the north side of the river.   I again passed through neighborhoods I had not seen before and I was impressed, thriving urban spaces south of I-195.

 

North of Cary Street I entered the large neighborhood called The Fan.  Houses were built bigger and fancier.

Monument Avenue runs along the north side of The Fan.   As a street and a piece of urban planning it is lovely.   Richmond has become a happening cosmopolitan city and to advance further as a city it might not be able to accept what these Confederate statues represent.   Bob Lee is the oldest and largest, erected in 1890 as part of the real estate development that was Monument Avenue.   It looked peaceful when I took this photo of the statue in October 2019.

 

This is what it was like on Sunday June 14,  2020.  It felt like the Berlin Wall is coming down.

 

 

 

The atmosphere was festive and friendly at 11:00 AM on a Sunday morning.  A group was performing some kind of dance routine.  This video is only twenty three seconds long.

 

African Americans were taking pictures of each other standing at the base of the graffiti covered statue.  They appeared to be proud to be there with their children to record this event.

 

 

“Give me liberty or give me death” was quoted by Patrick Henry in 1775 only about a mile away from here.

 

 

I bicycled up and down Monument Avenue on a delightfully unseaonably cool sunny day.   People. that I assume include residents of this upper class neighborhood were out in force, including picnickers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Jefferson Davis memorial is Monument Avenue’s most egregious; it honors less the man (who was not a Virginian) than the cause and the ideology.  This is what it looked like when I photographed it in October 2019.  The relatively small statue of Davis stands at the center.

 

The statue of Davis is gone now.  It was torn off by a crowd about a week ago.

 

 

 

 

The other three Civil War era statues were all covered in graffiti but not otherwise damaged.

Stonewall Jackson

 

Matthew Fontaine Maury

 

J.E.B. Stuart

 

 

 

The Arthur Ashe statue stands further west and was untouched on this Sunday morning, although I have since heard that a contrary group has defaced it slightly.

 

 

I stopped and took a break for my lunch (vegan chicken salad from Weaver Street Market in Carrboro NC on seven grain bread, carried with a gel pack to keep it cool) at the tiny but peaceful Scuffletown Park.

 

I turned to bicycle back to my car.   I passed through the Byrd Park neighborhood, another area that I had not previously bicycled through.

I crossed the James River on the Boulevard toll bridge.  The James River provides white water action right here in the city.

 

Back in the Manchester neighborhood near my car I got an almond milk latte to drink during the drive home.   Brewer’s Cafe is a locally and African-American owned coffee shop.

I was back in Chapel Hill NC about 4:30 PM.

About two weeks ago a friend emailed and asked if I could do my next bike ride to Chase City VA and document it.   This was a first.  How could I refuse?  He is an old friend and has been an enthusiastic reader of my blog.  He really wanted to read about Chase City.  It helped that Chase City is not too far from my home in Chapel Hill NC.

I have known Tom since we were five years old.   As teenagers we did all sorts of stuff including extensive bike rides.  Later, Tom was a high school teacher on an American military base in Germany for thirty years until his retirement last year.   He continues to live in Europe in a rural area where he and his wife can keep their own horses.

Tom and I grew up about a mile apart in Virginia Beach; his father was a dentist; his mother a housewife.  Both Tom’s parents were originally from Chase City VA and both his parent’s families went back many generations in Chase City.  When I visited Tom’s house in Virginia Beach as a child his parent’s talk frequently was about Chase City.  Other than Tom I do not know anyone who knows anything about Chase City VA; I had otherwise never heard of the place.

Chase City is in the heart of a region of Virginia called Southside.   With the exception of a few areas in the mountains Southside is the poorest and most remote part of Virginia.  After college in the late 1970’s both Tom and his older sister separately moved to Chase City and its environs.  Tom lasted five years teaching at minimal pay in a middle school before he quit to take the Germany job.   He described life for a single guy in Clarksville VA as bleak and hopeless.   His sister lasted much longer living in Chase City but moved to Charlottesville when she and her husband’s daughters were entering high school.   The consensus was that Chase City was just too remote.

Chase City (population 2,500)  is indeed remote.   The closest major cities are Richmond VA one hundred miles to the north and Durham NC seventy miles to the south.   Chase City is not on any major highway.   I started my bike ride in Clarksville VA (population 1,100) is seventeen miles south of Chase City.

During this coronavirus pandemic I do my bicycle rides so I do not have to physically get near anyone.   I bring my own food and water.  The summer had arrived; it was going up to ninety degrees this day.  My ride would have to start early to beat the heat.   I left our Chapel Hill apartment at 5:45 AM on a Sunday morning for the 75 minute drive to Clarksville VA.    At 7:00 AM I parked our car at a Hardee’s on the northern fringe of Clarksville, just three miles north of the North Carolina line.

 

 

 

 

Here is the bicycle ride I took.

 

I first biked through central Clarksville.

 

Virginia used to have matching state liquor stores all over the state.   They had glass bricks and double doors.  As a small child in the early 1960’s I used to ride with my father to the liquor store on Pacific Avenue in Virginia Beach.  In his Madmenesque persona he went to buy supplies for his nightly scotch and soda.  The store in Virginia Beach is long gone but here in Clarksville this must be one of the few of its type left.

 

 

The one attraction that seems to bring people and money to otherwise remote Clarksville is Kerr Lake.   Constructed 1947-52 by damming the Roanoke River, the lake straddles the North Carolina / Virginia Line and comes right up to downtown Clarksville.

 

I biked on US-15 as it crosses the lake.

I bicycled toward Chase City, first on US-15 then on state route 49.

I did not see any tobacco growing but there are a lot of old tobacco barns out here.

 

 

 

State route 49 had almost no traffic.

 

 

 

 

I had arrived at Chase City!

 

 

I noodled around by bicycle through the downtown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compared to other places I have visited Chase City is keeping up appearances.   Yes, most storefronts were empty but there was a real CVS downtown and the “city”  did not look completely dead.     Some civic organization had set up picnic tables right downtown.  It was still only 9:00 AM, time for breakfast!   I stopped and took out my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and read the Sunday NYT on my cell phone.

 

 

I am sure my friend Tom knows of houses of (mostly dead) relatives all over town.   I do not know which houses they would be so I took pictures at random.

 

 

 

 

It seems very Virginia to put all this detail into a historic preservation sign.

It was getting hot and I still had to bicycle all the way back to Clarksville.   Heading out of Chase City I passed THREE pre-WWII gas stations within a block or two of each other   The one with the fake Gulf sign has a plaque saying it was built in 1920.

 

 

On the way back I took a different route on smaller roads with even more pleasant bike riding.

I passed through the “town” of Skipwith VA.

I passed the county high school Bluestone High School (mid-century modernism!).  It sits by itself confidently in the countryside despite being in what seems to be the middle of nowhere.

As I passed back through downtown Clarksville on the way back to my car I saw this junk lying between two buildings.

I made it back to my car by 11:30 AM.   I was able to drive home in time to make a delicious lunch for myself at the apartment back in Chapel Hill.

Tootie and I had a free place to stay so why not escape for a couple days?    My late mother’s house was sitting empty.   We could still keep to ourselves and social distance.  We brought our own food and drove the four hours from Chapel Hill to Virginia Beach.

I have always had a soft spot for Bruce Springsteen because like me he grew up in a beach town, hanging around the boardwalk.    “as the wizards play down on pinball way on the boardwalk way past dark…you know this boardwalk life for me is through.  You know you ought to quit this scene  too.” 

 

 

 

 

Bruce may have hung around the boardwalk but I did not hear from him sing about bicycles.  For me the boardwalk was always about bicycles.   My friends and I rode our bicycles up and down that boardwalk.  Back and forth. We rode bicycles to our jobs working at various hotels and restaurants.   We rode bicycles to the amusement park Seaside Park so we could play skee-ball.

On this recent Coronavirus Sunday morning there were two bicycles sitting in the beach house garage.  Tootie and I started at 83rd street to ride down to 1st Street and back.

 

All the streets north of 40th are zoned residential.   Atlantic Avenue heads south and the streets tick off one by one.   There is a pleasant side street along Atlantic Avenue that locals call the Feeder Road.   For forty  blocks it functions beautifully as a path for walking and bicycling.

 

 

South of 40th street (the South End) the scenario changes abruptly to hotels and the boardwalk begins.   The boardwalk is just its name, it has always been made of concrete.   Hotels line the oceanfront for forty blocks.

 

In my sixty-four years I have witnessed the complete teardown of these hotels twice.   The photo below is from the 1940’s.   When I was a child in the early 1960’s the older wooden oceanfront cottage hotels had not changed much since this 1940’s postcard.

 

One by one starting in the late 1950’s with exactly one exception every single cottage type oceanfront hotel shown above was torn down and replaced by a motel.   The new ones had catchy names like the Gay Vacationer.   The old pictures below are taken from the internet.

Or this

 

By the mid 1970’s I had moved away and I only came back to visit family.  Over the past forty years almost every one of the Googie Mid-Century Modern architectured 1950-60’s motels have themselves been torn down, one by one, to be replaced by flat higher rising hotels along the oceanfront.

Tootie and I continued bicycling down the boardwalk strip heading south.   Back in my day there was not this bike path and the bicycles had to mix with pedestrians on the concrete boardwalk.

 

The boardwalk ends at 1st Street and Rudee Inlet.   Tootie and I turned around and headed back north.  Where we live in Chapel Hill and in some parts of Virginia Beach people cautiously keep social distance and wear face masks.   Here at the south end on a sunny but chilly Sunday morning people did not seem to care.

 

We biked back north, this time on the street Atlantic Avenue.   In the 1970’s my friend Steve used to work at the Schooner Inn motel.

I had said that every single wooden oceanfront cottage hotel in the South End had been torn down except one.  The De Witt Cottage was owned by three elderly sisters when I was a child.  They went to our church.  One of them used to baby sit for us.   Their home has been saved as a museum which sits forlornly between high rises.

This shows Tootie biking north on Atlantic Avenue.

The 1950’s-1970’s Mid-Century Modern motels are now historic structures and in Virginia Beach on the oceanfront only two or three remain, including the Seahawk Motel.

On less expensive non-oceanfront land there are other remaining motels, including the Cutty Sark and the Royal Clipper.

We bicycled back to the beach house.   It was almost lunchtime.

Where to go next?   “Normally” in January I take short furious bike rides in the cold, because I know once warmed up I will get the chills if I stop.   Sometimes I have taken the airplane to Florida in January for brief trips because biking in sixty and seventy degree temperatures is a delight.

These two January days the weather home in Chapel Hill NC was predicted to be Florida without the airplane ticket.   Friday and Saturday were predicted the be both sunny and warm with a high temperature of about seventy.   The world might be coming to an end but why not enjoy it on a bicycle?

Three hours car driving northeast into Virginia the temperatures were predicted to be just as warm.   Early on Friday morning I put the Bike Friday in the back of the Prius and set out, not really knowing exactly where I was going or what route I would bicycle.

On the way I settled with the almost non-place of Charles City VA because it sits at about midpoint of the very nice and almost new Virginia Capital Trail; a fifty-two mile long paved bike path between Richmond and Wiliamsburg.   I had bicycled the Richmond end of the trail with Tootie a couple of years ago.   This time I would bicycle the Williamsburg half, and then maybe beyond to Yorktown, somewhere I had essentially never visited.

 

At the Charles City Courthouse municipal complex I parked the car.   There were lots of spaces; I correctly assumed no one would care if I left my car here for thirty hours.

I set out east on the bike path.   I parallels the two lane Virginia route 5 along the north bank of the James River.

 

Only thirty miles from downtown Richmond; Charles City County is strikingly rural and unpopulated.

From Wikipedia: Charles City County;  population in the year 1790 was 5,600;

in 1960: 5,500;

in 2019: 6,900

Despite the low population the area is dripping with history.   Two presidents (John Tyler and William Henry Harrison) come from this small county.   From all sorts of eras (Jamestown and Pocahontas, Revolutionary War, and the Civil War) important things happened here.   The state historic signs are ubiquitous.

 

 

Part of my aversion to all this history is what is leaves out.    It is a huge step forward that this next sign was prominently situated next to the Charles City County courthouse.  In a town this small any gathering of 75 people probably included anybody who was anybody.

 

 

The first ten or fifteen miles of bike path passed by several “plantations”  with pretentious names, most dating from the 1600’s, where high value crops like cotton and tobacco had been planted and harvested by mostly slave labor, then exported by the deep water access of the James River.  In 2020 it is mostly woods; quiet and peaceful.  For now there were no tacky subdivisions.

 

I was almost all the way to Williamsburg when, after crossing into James City County, the bike path finally started to pass subdivisions, gated communities, and golf courses.

 

 

Bicycling into metro Williamsburg from the west on Monticello Avenue, there were miles of newer commercial sprawl, Food Lions and Old Navys.   One normally would expect a courthouse to be in the downtown center.  Not here.  Mixed right into the strip malls was Williamsburg’s new courthouse; one of the strangest looking municipal buildings I have seen in a while; putting the “colonial” touch on courthouse utility.

 

A mile or two further I arrived into the part of town normally referred to as Colonial Williamsburg.  It features the state university that is The College of William and Mary and the restored colonial town.

 

 

 

Backed by private money particularly from the Rockefeller family and starting in the 1920’s, the restored town is not so much historic preservation as historic re-creation.  Over fifty percent of the buildings in the historic area are reproductions.  Costumed actors are hired to look the part.

I grew up an hour away by car in Virginia Beach and my parents took my siblings and me to Williamsburg many times.   They wanted us to know about our country’s history.  Maybe because of all those visits I find this historic re-creation annoying and I have only been back here one other time in the past forty years.  I cannot think of a concrete criticism, so I will pass this as my personal quirk.   It certainly was not a right / left – conservative / liberal thing back in the day. (My mother voted for George McGovern!). But it seems to be like that now.

 

I had a nice almond milk latte at Aromas Coffeehouse, then biked out of town towards Yorktown.   On the edge of town I was impressed by this modernist motel.

The Colonial Parkway connects Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, towns that were significant around the year 1776 or before, but the road is much more derivative of parkways inspired by the designer Frederick Law Ulmstead and the bureaucrat Robert Moses.   Begun in 1930 and completed in 1957, the Colonial Parkway was built when car travel still had the now unimaginable promise of being a relaxing and scenic experience.

The Colonial Parkway has freeway-like overpasses and a tunnel beneath Colonial Williamsburg, but a speed limit of mostly 35 or 45 MPH.   I is quite pleasant for bicycling.

 

Intentionally bumpy road surfaces and brick overpasses under the I-64 freeway do not evoke George Washington but are indeed attractive.   This day there were repairs.

 

The second half of the parkway to Yorktown parallels the York River.   US Navy installations line the river as well, as these areas are accessible to ocean going ships.   I learned that is why British general Cornwallis used this area as a landing spot for the battle he ultimately lost to George Washington’s army.

The village of Yorktown is at the base of the York River Bridge.

I had not realized that Yorktown was so small.   Current population is 190, and it was not much of a town even back in the day, although now suburban sprawl and military bases are nearby.   There are two or three bars and restaurants on the waterfront.   I stopped by the Yorktown Pub for a beer.  Not touristy at all, the other patrons seemed to be all talking about boats and fishing.

 

Sitting at the bar I searched on my phone for somewhere to stay.    The best deal seemed to be an actual B&B, not an Airbnb, the Marl Inn, just a couple blocks uphill.   I called them on the phone.  Yes, they had a room.  I biked up there, they had patriotic decorations outside.

 

The room was clean, spacious, and comfortable.   There were lots of patriotically labelled things lying around.    Also, when I turned on the TV it was already tuned to Fox News!

Dinner was back at the Yorktown Pub; I bicycled down the hill in the dark.  Tootie and I go to New Orleans a lot and places like the Yorktown Pub have been disappearing down there;  loud, informal, and reasonably priced small family run seafood restaurants.   Here is Yorktown I came back to the same seat at the bar while there were people waiting for tables.   I started with clam chowder. Virginia is far north enough for clams, and I love clams.   A bowl costs only $ 1.50 more than a cup, so why not?

 

Rockfish is common around the Norfolk area but I had not known of it until my sister Jane introduced me a couple of years ago.   Here they allowed for half orders and I got it broiled, with a side of rice.  I came with a plastic thing of tarter sauce (old school!)

I was still a little hungry and here they had gumbo!   It is NOT a typical Tidewater Virginia dish but here it was spicy and delicious for $ 6.25 a cup.

The bartender was a real pro.  It was fun watching him work while I ate.

 

I skipped dessert but ate some chocolate covered nuts in my room.    The next morning I biked around the tiny settlement of Yorktown.   They are trying to make a mini-Williamsburg of this.

 

Among a very small number of businesses is a nice locally owned coffeehouse.   I got my usual light breakfast; roll and a coffee.

 

I’d like to say a took I took a different route for the forty miles back to my car, rather than just doubling back. However in suburban areas, outside of the street grid of major cities bicycling can be dangerous.   I did not want to bicycle, even on a Saturday, on crowded four lane highways.   Except for one portion through Williamsburg I bicycled back the same way that I had come, on Colonial Parkway and then the Virginia Capitol Trail.   It was all good.

One final note:   Bicyclists bring business.  Charles City County Courthouse, where I had parked my car, is not even a real town.   It is a newer municipal office complex in a rural area adjacent to a major bicycle trail. There is a restaurant occupying an old house.  On this warm Saturday at 2:00 PM that restaurant was completely filled with bicyclists.  Many were eating outside.

 

 

My car was still there.  I drove back to Chapel Hill in time for dinner,  stopping at the Starbucks in Petersburg VA for something to sip while on the road.

I set out to walk Richmond, Virginia from one end to the other.   This was not a bike ride.  If I do many more walks instead of bike rides I will have to start a new blog!

Richmond VA has a genuine city feel and is close to home.   This was an urban hike:  point to point.   We started in Church Hill, a Richmond neighborhood east of downtown, the site of St. John’s Episcopal Church,  where Patrick Henry gave his famous 1775 “give me liberty or give me death” speech.    I am from Virginia Beach and my father grew up in nearby Norfolk.   We had always snickered at the supposed snobbishness of the Richmond elite.  “These” people have traditionally lived on the west side of town.  Why not walk from Church Hill on the east side, to the temple of the upper class on the west side, the Country Club of Virginia, a place I had never seen?   This would be our route, starting in the bottom right corner of the map below.

 

Accompanying me was my friend John Ripley.   Among his many talents is that he has been a successful professional photographer for forty years.  John gives me photography advise sometimes.  The pictures in this blog are mine, as you can see from the incorrect focus on the picture below.   Even on his own time John cannot stop himself from taking pictures.  He brought his super-expensive camera.

We live near each other in Chapel Hill / Carrboro NC.    We chose to drive to Richmond in less than three hours, take our walk, and drive back, all in the same day.   We parked the car on the street in Church Hill.

Richmond Walk Oct 2019 003

Yes, I agree that Confederate monuments are morally and politically problematic, but if someone tries to take down all the Confederate monuments in Richmond it is going to be complicated, to say the least.    Here in Libby Hill Park on Church Hill we saw our first.

The park sits on a cliff above the James River.   Richmond has gradually and quietly become a very cool place.   Whom I guess to be VCU art students were taking pictures of themselves wearing various outfits; they brought along a portable changing room.

John took pictures of the view of downtown.

 

Church Hill is a lovely older neighborhood, kind of off to itself.

 

As we walked down the steep hill towards an area called Shockoe Botto.  Some historic homes have survived.

 

 

Main Street Station has been visually assaulted ever since I-95 was built in the 1960’s but the station still looks good on a sunny day.

 

 

John tried to capture the same photograph.

From Shockoe Bottom we walked uphill towards downtown.

My brother Alex has counseled me that iron front buildings were the first stage of the skyscraper revolution in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  I had not known Richmond had one of these.   We walked by the Stearns Iron-Front Building, from 1869.

 

The Virginia State Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson, completed in 1788.   The side wings were added in the early twentieth century.

 

This is John photographing my namesake, built in 1929.  I am not related to the famous Chief Justice.  Although the owners kept the famous sign, it is now apartments, not a hotel.

 

A fascinating novel about Richmond is The Shad Treatment, written in the early 1970’s.   Along with lots of Virginia politics, it describes the places in Richmond where its elite congregate.  The novel changes all the names.   We walked by the Commonwealth Club, a downtown club that is well, just a club.  No golf course.   In The Shad Treatment it is called it the Confederate Club!

Further uptown walking towards VCU there is a mix of the old and the not-so-old.

Very much like what was done with Moore Square in Raleigh, Monroe Park in Richmond has been recently redone.   It looks very nice, surrounded by attractive buildings on all sides,  including this 1920’s theater.   It used to be politically incorrectly named The Mosque, now renamed after a tobacco company, The Altria Theater.

 

VCU, or Virginia Commonwealth University, has been mushrooming all over surrounding neighborhoods.   John and I stopped for lunch at this coffee house. We found the menu to be all-vegetarian.  We split a tofu based sandwich;  delicious.   John took a picture of the place while I photographed from the other side.

 

 

A large area spreading west of the VCU campus is colloquially called The Fan, miles of late nineteenth and early twentieth century row houses.   John stopped to take a picture of this artfully growing vine.

I have a heavy coffee table book called Great Streets, one author’s selection of his favorite twenty urban streets in the world.   It includes parts of Paris, Barcelona, and Rome.   Amazingly it includes Monument Avenue in Richmond VA.  It is indeed a lovely street.  Statues of Confederate “heroes” appear every two blocks.  On the eastern end it begins with J.E.B. Stuart.

Two blocks later rides in Robert E. Lee

In the current discussion of whether to remove Confederate statues, I do believe there are gray areas; discussions of tone, place, and content are appropriate.  Two blocks after Robert E. Lee the monument honoring Jefferson Davis crosses the line further than any Confederate monument I have ever seen.  Every time I come here I am shocked at the extended creepy verbiage about the valiant lost cause and Davis’ underhanded full arm salute.

John and I were so grossed out by Jefferson Davis that we headed off Monument Avenue for a parallel street.   Before leaving we admired and photographed this row of houses.

The walk continued.   There is actually street life in The Fan.

The further west we walked the newer the buildings became.   I guess these houses are 1930-40’s.

We walked across I-195 and as the houses became newer they were more set back from the street, with larger yards.

 

Owning a 1990’s Volvo station wagon makes a certain kind of style statement.  John my co-walker owns three, if you include the one he passed down to his adult son.    Here in Richmond we passed by someone who evidently also owns three, and chooses to park them on the street!

 

The further out we walked the less pedestrian friendly these wealthy neighborhoods became.   There were many spots where there were no sidewalks.   There are lots of dead end streets.   Walking became difficult at times because there was nowhere to walk.

John was not tired.  He can walk all day at high speed.   He was confused, however.   “Why are we doing this?” he asked.  Walking on a narrow near-highway was not fun.   I encouraged him to press on. We finally found better streets to walk on.  We had set out with a goal, we had to complete the mission, to walk to the Country Club of Virginia.

Just before arriving at our destination we passed St. Catherine’s School.   I had heard of this place all my life but had never seen it.   It was, and probably still is, where the elite of Richmond send their daughters.   It is definitely referred to in The Shad Treatment, I cannot remember what the author changed its name to.

 

We had to hustle across some traffic filled streets but finally found a dead end road that led to our destination.   We had arrived, we had completed our ten mile walk.

One inspiration for this Richmond walk was a conversation I had had six years ago on one of my bicycle trips.  I had found myself eating dinner at the bar of the nicest restaurant in Staunton VA, about a hundred miles from Richmond VA, talking to a man who was maybe just a few years older than me who was overnighting on a business trip.   Unprovoked by me he started baring his soul, talking about regrets in his life.   He described himself as a successful lawyer in Richmond.   He had lived in Richmond for thirty years but was originally from New England.   He loved golf.   He expressed regret that he had spent the prime years of his life in Richmond because he said he was never accepted there by the locals.   The worst stain was that he had never been asked to play golf at The Country Club of Virginia.   Not even once.  What could I say?  I just listened.

 

 

John and I walked inside the club for a brief moment, then called an Uber.    The Uber guy took us back to our car on the other side of Richmond.   We were home in Chapel Hill NC in time for dinner.

I had always wanted to bicycle to Martinsville VA, just to see what was there.   I do know that it is a fading textile and furniture manufacturing town.   Greensboro as a starting point put me sixty miles closer to my destination.    With the Bike Friday in the back I drove a little over an hour west from Chapel Hill to Greensboro.   I did not know where to safely park for three days, so I just chose a residential neighborhood where people were already parking on the street; a neighborhood slightly northwest of downtown.   I pulled the bicycle out the back.   Martinsville was fifty-five to sixty miles away, almost straight north.

This was the bike ride over three days.

The first part of the ride was through Irving Park, which surrounds the Greensboro Country Club.   Some people still like having a huge house opening onto a golf course.

 

 

Courtesy of work by the NCDOT in the 1950’s and 60’s, Greensboro may be the worst bicycling city in America.   One can bicycle through individual neighborhoods, but these neighborhoods are isolated by huge freeway-like arterial roads with fast moving traffic.  Think Wendover Avenue, Battleground Avenue, Friendly Avenue.   They go on and on.

Greensboro has recently tried to make amends to bicyclists.   There are now a decent number of greenways including the Atlantic & Yadkin rail trail, which extends for about ten miles straight north from north central Greensboro.

 

 

North Carolina calls itself “the good roads state.”   I bicycled over this freeway under construction across north Greensboro.   I think I have my facts straight on the outer loop issue.   The NCDOT probably intentionally makes their actions obtuse.  Back in the late 1980’s the NC General Assembly,  pushed by Charlotte real estate interests, passed a gas tax increase where the proceeds were specifically limited to funding only a list of outer loops around the largest North Carolina cities.   This tax continues and the building goes on.    Insanity.

After the A&Y trail ended I could continue on country roads.   Even though this was a weekday the traffic was light and the cycling pleasant.

 

North Carolina wrote the book on suburban sprawl.    Housing subdivisions continue for miles and miles north of Greensboro.   Eventually the housing petered out and I was bicycling through former tobacco fields and abandoned tobacco barns, and the occasional tobacco crop.

Thirty miles north of Greensboro is Madison NC.   I was impressed Madison has its own locally owned coffee house, but I was not in the mood for coffee.  I wanted lunch.

 

Lunch would be barbecue at Fuzzy’s.

I always get the same thing at these kind of places, barbecue sandwich with slaw on top and a small Brunswick stew.   The whole meal was less than five dollars.

 

Martinsville was still almost thirty miles further.   Leaving Madison the terrain got progressively hillier as I rode north.    The final push was all uphill, as Martinsville sits on a bluff above the Smith River.  Little of downtown Martinsville warranted photographs; it was something of a letdown.

I was really tired.  This had been a long ride and the last part had been uphill.   There was at least was one place open downtown, the Daily Grind.   I collapsed into a chair to drink an almond milk latte.

 

There was no place to stay overnight downtown.   I would have to go back down the hill to the motels along the older highway.    Yes, there were a couple restaurants downtown for dinner this night, but rain was predicted and there was no way I was bicycling back up that hill.   I coasted downhill.

If one reads Trip Advisor and Hotels.Com reviews carefully one can sometimes find a cheap old motel that is NOT dirty and depressing.   Just like the reviews said, the Scottish Inn is owned by a South Asian family who seems to care about details.   The bed and other furniture were new, as were many of the bathroom fixtures. $46.00 including tax is a good deal.

 

Also a good deal was Los Norteños Mexican restaurant across the street.   This area is not pedestrian friendly; I had to run quickly across this highway.

 

I ate at the bar.

I had just been in New York City a week earlier and was shocked that even “affordable” restaurants were charging $ 14.00 or more for a glass of wine.    This is only a theory but I’ll bet the two restaurants in downtown Martinsville charge $ 8.00-10.00 for a glass of wine.     Three miles away on the highway at Los Norteños an imported beer costs $ 2.75.     In Greensboro sixty miles away or in Chapel Hill it is easy to spend, with drinks, way more than $60.00 per person for dinner.   Here I ordered exactly what I wanted and WITH two drinks the total bill, before tip, was $ 15.66.   I also ate a ton of chips and salsa for which there was, of course, no charge.

 

I walked and ran back across the highway to my motel room.

 

The next morning I started early, to beat the heat.   This guy was having a smoke.

At 7:30 AM I passed this nice piece of commercial modernism.   These Martinizing buildings used to be all over Virginia.

 

My bicycle ride today would be thirty something miles over very hilly terrain to Stuart VA.   This area is all not technically part of the Appalachians, it is the Foothills.   The crest of the Appalachians is only a few miles to the west as my ride paralleled the ridge.  Martinsville and nearby Bassett are very industrial with textile and furniture factories, many or most permanently shuttered.

 

1962 Falcon

 

 

 

 

 

I entered Stuart on a back road where this completely abandoned lumber factory sits next to downtown.

 

Stuart VA (population 1,400) was renamed in 1884 after the Civil War general, who was born nearby.

At the Stuart Family Restaurant, on the site of what looks like a former Wendy’s my breakfast-as-lunch (two eggs over easy, bacon, grits, whole wheat toast, coffee) was delicious and included as many cups of coffee as I wanted.  There was no rush.  It cost $ 4.67.

Stuart at population 1400 has two downtowns, Uptown and Downtown.   It is quite a hike uphill between the two.   Uptown has the courthouse, two hotels, and a locally owned coffee house.

 

Just a block uphill from the coffee house was the Uptown Suites of Stuart, unusual in that someone is actually using the second story of an old downtown building in its initial use as a hotel.  My room inside seemed all new.  I believe the owner has other interests in town and there is not a full-time desk clerk.  There was great TV.

 

 

 

For dinner that night I walked down the steep hill from Uptown even though it seemed as if very few locals ever walk this route.  I ate at Tony’s which on a Saturday night had only one other patron.    Eggplant parmesan was delicious, and with a first course salad and one beer cost $ 10.83 total.

 

 

The next morning I got up and bicycled sixty miles back to my car in Greensboro.    The early morning light made the countryside look vivid.

 

 

Fifteen miles south of Stuart VA I had breakfast at Pinto’s Cafe which sits by itself on a two lane state highway in northern Stokes County NC.    It felt very “out there.”   Total bill was $3.80 for eggs, bacon, grits, toast, and coffee.

 

Back in Greensboro, my car was still there, although the guy whose house I parked in front of came out and talked to me.   He was really nice, he just wanted to know whose car that was!   He congratulated me on my bike ride.

 

I am originally from Virginia Beach VA but have lived in North Carolina for thirty years. North Carolina, it is said, is an island of humility between two mountains of conceit; i.e. Virginia and South Carolina.    I enjoy bicycling in central Virginia and looking at all the history signs along the road, even if I perhaps irrationally get annoyed with the weight of the past, the traditions that Virginia seems inundated with.

My idea for a two or three day ride was to drive two and a half hours north from Chapel Hill, park the car in suburban Richmond and bicycle somewhere from there.   I chose Mechanicsville as a starting point, nine miles northeast of downtown Richmond.   At about 11:00 AM I parked our Prius at the Mechanicsville Walmart and pulled my folding Bike Friday out of the back.     Apparently anyone can park in a Walmart parking lot for any length of time.  Many Americans associate freedom with freedom to park.  Freedom!  After parking the car I bicycled up to the store, locked the bike, and went inside to buy a toothbrush.    Maybe I do not get out much,  but the Mechanicsville Walmart seemed like the largest store interior I had ever seen.

I honestly had expected to be able to bicycle away from Mechanicsville into the rural Virginia countryside.   Instead, I found myself bicycling through miles of non-connected exurban housing developments and strip malls.   I tried to cycle on minor roads but they kept bringing me back to the same general area in the northern Richmond suburbs.   There were a lot of people eating at a restaurant in a strip mall so I stopped for lunch.

By late afternoon I had bicycled over thirty miles but really had not gone anywhere.  I was disappointed.  It was my fault, I had not done enough planning.  I thought about biking back to the Walmart,  putting the bike in the car and driving home.  Instead, I biked fifteen miles further over to Ashland VA, home of Randolph Macon College, a town whose claim to fame is the CSX and Amtrak main line that runs down the middle of its Main Street.  There was a low price at a Motel 6.   Motel 6’s are usually OK but this one seemed sleazy, with junk spread around the lobby.   If I may generalize, South Asians usually do a good job of running motels.  Not here.

 

With the current state of television, hotel TV’s are now particularly useless because one has to be old school and watch what is playing at that time, with ads. Instead,  I sat in the weak and lumpy bed and watched the legal drama The Good Fight on my phone.

 

 

Later on I bicycled downtown to the tracks and sat at a bar/restaurant called The Iron Horse.  I had meatloaf while the bartender and I watched the trains go by.   The place was mostly empty on this Monday night.

 

 

I had thought this trip was a washout, but it got better!   The following day, riding towards Fredericksburg, the bike riding immediately became much more relaxed.  North of Ashland car traffic almost ceased and I found myself bicycling on lovely country roads through either forests or horse country, where the land is chopped up into large residential plots.  I saw very little actual farming.  I started seeing signs marked US Bicycle Route 1 and started following them.

 

 

Being Virginia, there are, of course, lots of historical markers, even on back roads.   I find this one creepy.  I’ll never wash that pitcher again.

 

The circuitous but scenic Bicycle Route 1 crossed actual U.S. Highway 1, which is the older highway that parallels Interstate 95.    Washington is the closest really big city to where I grew up, Norfolk and Virginia Beach.   Both my parents had horror stories about driving on US-1 between Richmond and Washington before I-95 was built.  Mom talked about driving with me and my siblings in our station wagon on this four lane road in the 1960’s with no center divider and jammed with high speed heavy trucks.  Mom said she had nightmares about it.    Dad said he had lost several friends to traffic accidents during the 1930’s-1950’s on what he claimed was called “Bloody One.”      The highway looked physically the same as my 1960’s memories but with clearly not as much traffic.   I was just bicycling across.

The final miles into Fredericksburg were through the national battlefield park.

I was ready for a break at fifty-six miles when I pulled into Sammy T’s in downtown Fredericksburg.

On these bike trips of mine I rarely cycle more than fifty miles per day.   On this trip, maybe it was the wine, but I started thinking:  I had already bicycled fifty-six miles, it was only 2:00 in the afternoon, the wind was at my back and I wasn’t at all tired.   Why not bicycle a Century, one hundred miles in a day?   I hadn’t done this in years.    I finished lunch and headed off towards D.C.

I bicycled through the older parts of Fredericksburg with the Strava app still set on my phone. I now had a goal: one hundred miles in a day.

As I biked across the river.  I learned this day that Fredericksburg marks the fall line, the highest navigable point on the Rappahannock.

 

I continued to follow signs for Bicycle Route 1, which guided me on smaller country roads.  Unfortunately, the suburbs of Washington DC start at Fredericksburg, sixty miles out.   Roads had more and more traffic.

And despite the sunny weather predictions, it started to rain; hard, in the middle of nowhere surrounded by lots of traffic on a two lane road.   There was nothing to do but soldier on.   My goal this day was a mileage, not a specific destination.   An hour or two into the ride I must have missed a  Bicycle Route 1 sign.  I was off the route.  I just kept bicycling until I reached a strip of motels outside of the U.S. Marine Base in Quantico VA.    The mileage on my Strava app read ninety-six miles.  I continued on, circling around a residential area for half an hour trying to add four miles but Strava refused to move!   True fact:  I had not turned on the Strava app until half an hour into the start of the ride that morning.   I was not going to be a slave to some computer application.  I am confident I did somewhat over one hundred miles.   Really.   Here is a screen shot of my phone.

 

I booked a room at a Quality Inn next to US1 and I-95.   After a rest I walked across a sea of parking lots to the chain restaurant Ruby Tuesday.    The military is quite diverse, there was an interesting multiracial group of people sitting at the bar.   Salmon cooked rare with hickory bourbon sauce was healthy and delicious.

For the next day, to bicycle the safest and most pleasant route it was still at least fifty miles further north to Union Station in downtown Washington DC where I could take Amtrak back to Richmond.   After my experiences six months ago in Savannah I swore I would never bicycle again on an openly dangerous road.  For the first few miles through the Marine base there were few options.  Because there was no easy route other than the six lane US Highway 1, I took an Uber the first seventeen miles, from Quantico to Lorton.   North from Lorton the Mount Vernon Trail goes all the way to central D.C., first along the highway, then along the Potomac River.

 

Around President Washington’s Mount Vernon the Potomac River is much more of an estuary than a river.

Too much history.    Tour buses lined up outside Mount Vernon.

On my phone I keep a list of future bicycle riding destinations.    “Hollin Hills-Alexandria VA” has been sitting there awhile.  It comes, I think, from an article I read in the Washington Post about a development with dozens off 1950-60’s modernist tract houses.   Maybe Palm Springs CA is such a big modernist destination because houses show off better in the desert.    On the East Coast houses are hidden behind trees.

 

 

 

I bicycled through old town Alexandria.

 

North of Alexandria the Mount Vernon Trail circles Reagan National Airport.

 

 

The bike path then crosses the Potomac on the Fourteenth Street Bridge arriving into the District right in front of the Jefferson Memorial.

 

It was a pleasure to bicycle Washington crosstown to Union Station, where only an hour in advance I had booked Amtrak leaving at 3:30 PM for Richmond.    There are several ways to take a bicycle on an Amtrak train but it is often complicated.   It is not complicated with a folding bicycle.   You just lug it on any train, no case required.

I arrived into Main Street Station in Richmond that evening and spent the night downtown.   In the morning I bicycled through downtown Richmond and then out to the Walmart in Mechanicsville.  Our car was still there.

 

I drove up to Danville VA on a recent Thursday, just to get out of town and to see somewhere that feels different from North Carolina.    Danville is only fifty-five miles north of Chapel Hill and I can drive there on two lane roads in about an hour.     The city limits of Danville abut the North Carolina / Virginia line.

About a hundred yards into Virginia I parked the Prius and took the Surly out of the trunk.

 

I have bicycled around Danville several times before, including about a year ago when Tootie and I drove up to Danville on a Sunday morning and then bicycled around, a trip that was not previously mentioned on this blog.  On that other trip over a year ago, Tootie and I both were temporarily insane (judgmentally challenged!) for about two hours.

We were so taken by the lovely large old houses in Danville, and their low prices, that we decided we needed to buy one.    We live in a condo in Chapel Hill on the seventh floor.   Like many people our age, we fantasize about moving somewhere or buying a second home somewhere.   Why not, instead of a beach house or a mountain house, why not buy a Danville Virginia house?   We could invite all our Chapel Hill friends and family up for long weekends!   We could host dinner parties in Danville!

OK,  we were temporarily insane.   We got over the idea.   On this current trip I did not really dream of buying Danville real estate, but I did enjoy biking around Danville and its several distinct historic neighborhoods.

While Danville is north of Greensboro and Durham, North Carolina, it is much more Southern than either of those places.   Danville had enormous textile mills that have pretty much all closed.  Danville has a significant wholesale raw tobacco business;  this too has declined.  Danville has not boomed like the nearby Triangle cities in North Carolina.   In 1920 Durham, Raleigh, and Danville were about the same population at about 21,000 each.    Now Durham is 260,000, Raleigh 465,000, but Danville is now just 43,000.

I biked from the Food Lion down a steep hill.  Danville is full of steep hills.   To get off the main road, I bicycled first through a poor neighborhood.

 

 

 

Coming up from the south, I then biked into a previously wealthy neighborhood that is  remarkably intact.   I would call this the southeast side of town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This red brick house is for sale, $ 154,900 for 4376 square feet, seven bedrooms, five baths,  and it looks to be in pretty nice shape.

check out the real estate listing.

https://www.zillow.com/homes/for_sale/Danville-VA/79104692_zpid/31172_rid/globalrelevanceex_sort/36.58504,-79.396794,36.578165,-79.405355_rect/16_zm/

Just north of this neighborhood is the downtown, then a warehouse district.   Five or ten years ago most of these brick warehouses were empty, now they are slowly coming to life.   It is certainly not hipsterville but it is making progress.

 

 

 

 

Five years ago I would not have believed that Danville would have a coffee house.   They do not have Starbucks yet, but they do have the Crema and Vine.  I stopped for my afternoon latte.

 

I bicycled across the Dan River and through hilly middle and lower income neighborhoods on the other side.

I like mini-golf, which is easier to play than the real thing.  This place looks really old school.  I wish I had had someone to play with.

 

 

Back on the south side, I bicycled across a steep ravine to the relatively prosperous west side of Danville, the area near Averitt University.   This is another historic neighborhood.

 

Further west is what remains of the huge Schoolfield textile mill of Dan River Inc.    This is what it looked like back in the day.Image result for schoolfield mill

 

It closed in 2006 and was sold off brick by brick; the used bricks being one of the few things of value.    They left one concrete building and the smokestacks.