Archive for the ‘Virginia trips’ Category

Here is the bicycle ride Tootie and I took late one afternoon in September 2020.

From the southern tip of the Sandbridge Beach neighborhood of Virginia Beach there is no public road for cars on the barrier island all the way to the North Carolina state line and then a few miles beyond that. When I was in high school in Norfolk/Virginia Beach in the early 1970’s my friend Steve Johnson and I used to bicycle to various political meetings, especially city council sessions. We all thought it very interesting. One of the most impressionable of these early 1970’s events was a public hearing held at the Virginia Beach Dome where adults got really, really upset. The hearing covered a proposal to prohibit most cars on the beach south of Sandbridge, that area of the newly established False Cape State Park. At that time there was a large car-centered culture of driving four-wheel drive and similar vehicles on this remote beach, twelve miles south to the North Carolina line and fifty or sixty miles south to Nags Head NC. It was the Wild West down there. I had gone on such Jeep trips once or twice. That remote beach was like a freeway with thousands of vehicles a day. The beach buggy thing came crashing down with laws in about 1972 prohibiting most vehicles on the beach at the new False Cape State Park. The Trumpian grievance and anger I saw that early 1970’s public hearing is still palpable. Speaker after speaker berated the do-gooders taking away all the fun. No one appeared to care about sea turtles. An elderly woman from a bird watching group was shouted down.

I have lived elsewhere the past forty-something years but I had heard from various sources (especially my friend Patrick Masterson) that False Cape is a great bike ride. I have learned that False Cape State Park is the only state park in Virginia that is essentially non-accessible by private automobile.

It was mine and Tootie’s thirty-seventh anniversary. We got delayed and we did not start riding until after five in the afternoon. It would get dark soon. We parked at the lot of the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge, took our two bicycles from out of the Prius and started riding south, first through part of the wildlife refuge, then into the state park.

We hung at a boat dock overlooking Back Bay.

It was beautiful and silent. Most of the trail is a gravel path a few hundred yards inland from the beach, on a barrier island about a quarter of a mile wide. We saw only two or three other people the whole time we were in the state park. We were just single digits in miles from the North Carolina line but darkness was approaching. We turned around and bicycled back to our car. In the car it was a forty minute drive to my late mother’s house in Virginia Beach where we had a delicious dinner.

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.