Archive for the ‘Virginia trips’ Category

When my son Henry was about five years old we drove through the North Carolina/Virginia town of Virgilina.   He could not stop saying that word, “Virgilina.”

Forty miles north of our hometown of Chapel Hill, Virgilina is not really much of a town.   Until recently there was only about one small store there.   The town has rebounded a little in the ten or so years since I last went here, now there is a pizza place and a Family Dollar store.

I parked our white Honda in Virgilina, in front of a store turned distillery which I think is now out of business.

 

For the fifteen miles to South Boston I passed through tobacco fields.

These were lovely country roads.

And fields with abandoned junk and tobacco barns.

 

South Boston, Virginia, population 8,000, is a small town in a remote location, a town founded on tobacco.   While not trendy it does not feel particularly downtrodden.    It has some nice older neighborhoods.

 

The downtown is mostly empty but it does have two or three restaurants.     Southern Plenty is open just for lunch but it was quite busy, with chicken salad sandwiches and various knick-knacks as well.   I sat there and read my kindle.

There are so many country roads around here that I was able to make it a loop, another lovely ride back to the car in Virgilina.

About two years ago I read the 2007 book Deer Hunting with Jesus by columnist Joe Bageant.   Joe grew up poor white working class in Winchester, Virginia.   His book is about rediscovering Winchester after living elsewhere.   While Joe’s politics, at least on the economic front, are quite leftist, ten years ago he described how cultural cluelessness by liberal Democrats left his friends and family in Winchester nowhere to turn but to Republicans.   The book talked a lot about the pugilistic worldview of the Scots-Irish who have been in Winchester for over two hundred years.  Joe essentially predicted the arrival of Donald Trump.

Winchester (population 27,000) is the northernmost city in Virginia, about eighty miles northwest of Washington DC.   Winchester is at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley, which today might also be called the I-81 Corridor.   I had been intrigued because north from Winchester I-81 passes through four states (Virginia / West Virginia / Maryland / Pennsylvania) in less than sixty miles.   Because of its Mason-Dixon Line location, significant Civil War battles, including Antietam and Gettysburg, happened in this area.    I decided to drive up there, park the car, and bicycle around the area for three days.

Donald Trump is connected to this area in other ways.   During the recent campaign the national media was always looking to explain the attraction of this seemingly buffoonish candidate.  During last year’s presidential campaign, when the media wanted to interview Trump voters, they drove to the easiest part of Red America to get to from Washington DC; the northern I-81 Corridor.   I heard all sorts of interviews of folks in this area during the recent campaign.  And even though the election is over, Trump still campaigns here.  Last Sunday, the same day I crossed over by bicycle into Pennsylvania, President Trump was speaking to a rally of his “base” just seventy miles further up I-81, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

I was further influenced by books I have read about Virginia politics.   Winchester was the hometown of Harry Byrd Sr., a virulent racist who was obsessed with balance budgets.  He led the Byrd Organization, a political machine that ruled Virginia for forty years.  He had national influence as well.  From Wikipedia: Byrd served as Virginia’s governor from 1925 until 1929, then represented the Commonwealth as a United States Senator from 1933 until 1965. He came to lead the “conservative coalition” in the United States Senate, and opposed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, largely blocking most liberal legislation after 1937.   

To check it out I drove four and a half hours north from Chapel Hill and parked our Honda in the lot of a Walmart on the south side of Winchester.   I pulled the Surley bicycle out and pedaled off, heading north.   It was already two in the afternoon.   My destination for the evening was Hagerstown, Maryland, about forty-eight miles north.   I would have to cross the Panhandle of West Virginia to get there.

Winchester (founded around 1759) seems Southern in attitude but looks somewhat Northern architecturally.   Houses are close together in the older part of town.   There is nothing very hip about this place.

 

 

 

 

 

Oh yeah, the other famous person from Winchester is country singer Patsy Cline.   I go to pieces. Crazy.

 

I would have a chance to see more of Winchester two days later on my return.   Going north on the “old road” US-11 that parallels I-81, the three lane road was a reasonably safe cycle and had lots of fun things to look at.  The West Virginia state line is just ten miles north.

 

There are lot of public displays of patriotism around here.

 

 

Twenty-five miles north of Winchester is Martinsburg, WV, population 18,000.   It used to be a big B&O railroad town.   The population in 1930 was almost the same as it is now.

 

 

 

 

 

While the older parts of Martinsburg look gritty, it is “only” seventy-eight miles from Washington DC.   The DC sprawl seems to be creeping up here.  Martinsburg is the end of the line for MARC commuter trains that go all the way to Washington DC.  All along this bike ride I saw new housing going up, especially near Interstate Highway interchanges.

 

From Martinsburg it is was another twenty something miles up US-11 to Hagerstown, crossing the state line into Maryland about halfway there.

I am currently watching my son and a some of my friend’s offspring move to Durham NC; they all want the urban experience; live in a city where they can walk places.   But Durham does not really have many older dense residential areas like row houses.    If only it could all be transported to Hagerstown MD (population 40,000), where there are miles of older homes, probably available for a pittance.

 

 

 

 

I found a room for only sixty-eight dollars plus tax in a fairly nice 1980’s looking hotel, not actually downtown but within a short bike ride.   There are really only three decent looking restaurants downtown,  all on the same block.   One is a German place that has been there for years, with waitresses in fraulein outfits.   I ate instead two doors down at a place called 28 South where the food just OK, but the bartenders were friendly.

Next to my hotel in Hagerstown this piece of commercial modernism is essentially unused.  I am probably the only person who worries that this may be torn down soon.

 

The next day, for the first half of the day, I biked a big loop up into Pennsylvania.  The state line was about ten miles north.    Most people forget that the Mason-Dixon Line is mostly the Maryland-Pennsylvania border.   This auto auction was in Pennsylvania.

I did see a few Trump signs still around.  This guy built his own private monument; Trump must have answered his prayers.   Around the other side of his house, there was a No Trespassing sign saying:  Intruders Would Be Shot.

 

I bicycled through two pretty Pennsylvania towns, Greencastle and Waynesboro.    Compared to small North Carolina towns of similar size, these two towns seem so much more sturdily built,  probably because 100 years ago they were relatively more prosperous.

 

 

The countryside was beautiful.

 

 

I looped back to Hagerstown for a late brunch at a place next door to the restaurant I had eaten in the previous night.    Their version of eggs sardou.

 

Believe it or not, there really are liberals around here, because outside the restaurant an anti-global warming demonstration came marching down the principal street of Hagerstown

In walked outside to take pictures.

 

The other two guys at the bar were perfectly nice about it, but one shook his head and said that with all the problems so apparent in a town like this, global warming seemed a problem far away.

The majority of people I had seen in the past two days were white, overweight, and unhealthy looking.   Maybe it was a coincidence but the demonstrators looked healthier than the general public.

On that same vein, at that same restaurant was this special on the bar menu:

 

The rest of the afternoon was weaving through pleasant country roads towards my night’s destination of Shepherdstown, on the Potomac River that divides West Virginia and Maryland.  I passed by Antietam National Battlefield.   I had toured that battlefield by bicycle several years ago so this time I stopped only briefly.  22,000 Americans were slaughtered at Antietam on one day in 1862.  Unlike today, the military then was organized by groups that started in geographical locations, so one served with men from one’s home town.   Several hundred men from one particular Philadelphia neighborhood died together in about ten minutes.   The terrain here was steep small hills.

 

I spent this night in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, home of Shepherdstown University, a West Virginia state university.   All over America college towns just look more prosperous.  At this point on the trip I had bicycled through about fifteen small towns.   The downtowns of almost every one of those towns had looked commercially vacant, with poor looking people standing around.   Shepherdstown looked very different.   It had an elitist Main Street with gift shops and expensive restaurants.

 

Continuing to notice the red/blue divide, while the expensive restaurants looked a little stuffy, Blue Moon Cafe reminded me of Durham or Chapel Hill.   It was the first place I had visited in two days that had an obviously counterculture staff.   You could really feel the difference.   One review on Yelp viciously criticized Blue Moon for being full of “hippies.”    But it was relaxed and comfortable, at least for me.  I got their version of eggplant parmesan.

 

 

The next day I left early with about forty miles to get back to my car at the Walmart in Winchester.  For the first fourteen miles I cycled on the C&O Canal towpath, a beautiful trail that parallels the Potomac River.

 

I had been hoping to find somewhere to eat breakfast.   Even after I left the trail and climbed a big hill there was nowhere.  Finally about 10:00 AM  I stumbled on this place like the Holy Grail.

Since I am now over sixty, when I am on the road I start to feel camaraderie with other men of a similar or older age, regardless of their backgrounds or political beliefs.   Three old guys were sitting at a booth in the Mountain View Diner, loudly praising Trump but I could not get close enough to hear all the details of what they were saying.

After breakfast the scenery was again beautiful.

 

 

Back in Winchester I was able to see their downtown.   They have done an unusually good job of closing it off to traffic and making it a pedestrian mall.    At lunchtime on a Monday it had lots of people eating outside.

Back in the Walmart parking lot our car was still there.   I was home in Chapel Hill in time for dinner.

Although she now lives in the Westminster Canterbury retirement complex on Shore Drive,  my Mom Eleanor Marshall still owns the small oceanfront house at 83rd street in Virginia Beach.   My sister Jane and her daughter Annie are currently living there.  Despite the fact that I have not really lived in Virginia Beach for over forty years, I have on and off bicycled around Virginia Beach and Norfolk since about 1966.  I realized that I had never bicycled round trip from the oceanfront to downtown Norfolk.  I was in town for two nights so I took the opportunity for this one day trip on a Friday.  The cities of Virginia Beach and Norfolk have a sibling’s long and sometimes bitter relationship.   Maybe I could discover some insight.

Because of the suburban sprawl I knew it was not to be a particularly pleasant bike ride.   I did expect the first quarter of the ride through the state park to be nice.  It was a sunny but cold day with temperatures starting in the low thirties, getting up to the fifties by the afternoon.   I put on gloves and balaclava at 7:30 AM at 83rd Street and biked south to 64th street, to connect with the dirt trail through First Landing State Park.  In the 1970’s this trail was called The Old Country Lane.    It is five miles of continuous woods, coming out near the bike path along Shore Drive.  The subsequent paved bike path along Shore Drive leads right to Westminster Canterbury.

Once you get over the fact that everybody living there is old,  WC has a friendly liberal vibe.  The residents make a visitor feel welcome.   The food is good.   I had a delightful breakfast with Mom even though she had to send back the pancakes, because they forgot the blueberries.

An hour or two later I left Mom and the bike riding got more contentious.   The Lesner Bridge over Lynnhaven Inlet is being rebuilt but there is a new pedestrian path that lets a bicyclist feel reasonably safe.

Virginia Beach, like most of America, does not make bike riding easy.  Once over the bridge I was able to weave through the streets of Chick’s Beach before crossing Shore Drive and heading west on First Court Road .  From there it was Shell Road to its termination on Northampton Boulevard.  (David Consolvo, does your family still own those apartments there?).    I had to daringly bike along Northampton for about a quarter mile before taking a hard right on the much calmer Baker Road.  Believe it or not, this led to the long but gentle Miller Store Road that loops around the runways of Norfolk Airport.   From that to Robin Hood Road.   And hell yes; before I realized it I was in the Norview area of Norfolk.

A little further is a part of town my Dad used to talk about;   he said that the streets were named after World War One battles.  In an African-American neighborhood a diverse crowd stood around Manny’s Burger.  I would have stopped for lunch but there was no place to sit down.

Weaving through the city streets I eventually ended up on the thriving commercial strip of Twenty-First Street.    I had just finished eating at a chain sandwich restaurant before I remembered I was just a couple of blocks from Doumar’s, over a hundred years old and claiming to have invented the ice cream cone.

From there it was an easy slog to downtown.    At this point I realized it was a long way back to the oceanfront, so I cheated a little and rode a small portion of my return on the light rail line, The Tide.

Sometimes nothing is more politically charged than mass transit because what it represents.   To those who support light rail, even if they never ride the thing, it represents Virginia Beach and Norfolk becoming one urban city; somewhere where sometime maybe a car would even be optional.  To the detractors the opposite is their selling point.  They live in their suburban island; this transit system, this THING, would bring Norfolk’s diversity into Virginia Beach by the trainload.   Even though Virginia Beach is now about as diverse as Norfolk.   And the train requires government subsidies, taxes!

An abandoned rail right-of-way has sat empty through the center of Virginia Beach for seventy years, and the question of whether to build light rail on that line has gone back and forth for seemingly forever.   Norfolk had the funding in place and finally went ahead and built their portion, opening in 2011.   It extends all of seven miles and stops at the Virginia Beach border.    Virginia Beach in the 2016 election had ANOTHER referendum on the issue, and it looks like the rail line may never extend any further.

But the train was quiet and pleasant and I could wheel my bicycle onto it with ease as I left Granby Street downtown Norfolk.

 

I got off the train at the end, at Newtown Road.   From there a bicyclist has to dodge cars and look for secondary roads.   Three or four miles further I ran into Virginia Beach Town Center, built mostly in the past fifteen years.

I truly believe that the rivalry between Virginia Beach and Norfolk has poisoned the well for this metro region of 1.7 million.    Many of the leaders of Virginia Beach, now the most populous city in all of Virginia, actually grew up in Norfolk.   But there seems to be a lot of resentment.    Virginia Beach, other than the small strip along the beach, had never been anything other than a collection of housing developments.   The leaders of Virginia Beach have built what I call a fake downtown, replacing the semi-dead Pembroke Mall.    It is ten miles east of Norfolk’s real downtown.

I biked up to the Virginia Beach Town Center, which is designed to look impressive from a distance.

Other than to stop and use the bathroom at a chain restaurant, I just slogged on, about ten miles further.    Much of the way it was along Virginia Beach Boulevard, either on the sidewalk or the feeder road.    It was OK, and I biked this route many times in the 1970’s, but I am sure this is the last time I will ever do this.   I did not stop until I got to the Starbucks at Pacific Avenue and 31st Street,  one block from the ocean and the boardwalk.    I was almost back, so I could relax with a latte.

 

I drove from Chapel Hill to see Mom and my sisters and nieces in Virginia Beach, and found time to park the car in downtown Norfolk, take out the bicycle and bike around Norfolk on a cold afternoon in late December.

Biking around downtown, I could see that Norfolk is still recovering from being essentially torn down by the government in “redevelopment” during the 1950’s and 1960’s.   The modernist skyscrapers of the 1960’s are now looking for their next life; the former Virginia National Bank building (later bought out by Bank of America) was the tallest building in Virginia when it was built in 1967.    They were taking the letters off the building;  the signs say they are converting the building to apartments.

p1060485

 

My Dad was from Norfolk, born in 1911.  Until he was thirty years old he mostly lived at his parent’s house at 608 Redgate Avenue, Ghent, Norfolk.    He told told me that once, on a dare, he had driven his sister’s Model A Ford through Selden Arcade, all the way through to the street on the other side.

p1060475

But Dad said he always felt he was somehow different.   He told me that sometime in the late 1930’s, after he had spent six months traveling around Spain,  he was pretty much the only person in all of Norfolk who spoke Spanish.   In the early 1950’s he and my Mom moved around the United States trying to get a graduate degree, but just after I was born in 1955 he moved from Colorado with his new family back to the Norfolk area, in Virginia Beach.

If Norfolk would just try a little harder, bicycle commuting would be a complete natural.   It is relatively dense and as the land is as flat as Amsterdam.  I doubt it is much more than a mile by bicycle from the center of downtown to 608 Redgate Avenue, the house my grandparents bought in about 1908 and lived in until they moved to Virginia Beach in 1946.   It looks completely unchanged.

p1060476

 

p1060479

Here is my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather sitting on that porch, about 1916.

img_1938

 

If you ever come here be sure to pronounce the place correctly. This license plate tells it all.

 

p1060481

I biked around for another hour of so, going as far as the waterfront in Larchmont, near the Hampton Boulevard bridge.

The New York Times keeps running articles describing Norfolk as ground zero of the effects of rising sea levels caused by global warming.    The most expensive residential real estate is waterfront; streets that dead end on a beautiful view.    These lots were usually built by filling in former swamps.   Contrary to the situation in New Orleans, in Norfolk it is the rich people that frequently face the worst flooding.     Still, it was all nice this December afternoon.

p1060483

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

High Bridge Trail State Park is a thirty-one mile long east-west rail trail in rural Virginia.   The trail crosses through the town of Farmville around its midpoint.

I sold this as being “an hour had a half” straight north of Chapel Hill, but it is 120 miles and at least two and a half hours drive to Farmville, Virginia.    This area of the state is distant from any major city.  We drove our Honda with two bicycles in the trunk but did not get to downtown Farmville until about one o’clock.  And we had to have lunch.  We compromised by putting the bikes together and riding west down the trail for fifteen minutes, then turning around and riding back into town.   We would then do the other direction after lunch.  We split a sandwich at Charley’s Waterfront Cafe in Farmville’s surprisingly vibrant downtown.   The downtowns of the majority of small towns in rural America look depressing and vacant.   There is a consistent thread that makes such a downtown look healthy: the presence of a college or university; here is Farmville it is the public Longwood University.

After lunch we biked east down the rail trail.

Version 2

About five miles east of Farmville the rail trail crosses the high bridge.  Built in 1852 the former rail bridge is 160 feet off the ground at it highest point above the Appomattox River on the former rail line between Petersburg and Lynchburg.  Wikipedia has a nice picture drawn in the 1850’s.

edward_beyer_-_album_of_virginia_-_the_high_bridge_near_farmville_cropped

 

Riding across the bridge we hung out on a beautiful day and admired the view.

 

Version 2

 

 

 

Version 2

 

We biked a little further and then turned around and rode back to our car in Farmville.   On the car ride home we saw this interesting drive-in just outside of South Boston VA.

 

Version 2

I had read about the recently completed Virginia Capital Trail,  a delightful paved bike path that runs over fifty miles from Williamsburg to Richmond, along Virginia state route 10 on the north shore of the James River.   Historic plantations, many from the 1600’s, line the route.    The original Virginia colonial settlement of 1607,  the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and most of all the Civil War; it all happened here.       There is a creepy old schooledness about the area.    The level of history seems oppressive; it makes it hard to concentrate on the present.  It felt very Southern.    Tootie commented that she could sense in the air some of the pain from all the slaves that used to work this land.

In the middle of Labor Day Weekend, we drove up from Chapel Hill and parked the car at Charles City Courthouse, just over thirty miles from downtown Richmond.   We pulled two bicycles out of the trunk of the Honda and set off.    The plan was to ride to Richmond, spend the night, then ride back.

 

p1050475

Along the way you cannot see the river unless you turn off the path and bike several miles down dirt roads that dead end at some plantation house sitting on a bluff overlooking the river.   About eight miles into the ride we turned down a side road to go see Shirley Plantation.   I had remembered my parents taking me to visit it when I was a child.   As a farm it claims to be the oldest family business in America, founded in 1614 and with the same family running it since 1638.   The same family has lived in this house since it was completed in 1738.

 

https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/01/06/44/0a/shirley-plantation-charles.jpg

 

The bike path runs along farm fields growing both corn and what I guess is soybeans.

p1050478

p1050541

There are almost no restaurants along this trail and hardly even a mini-mart.   We had brought our own picnic lunch, and stopped to eat, sitting on a fence.

p1050485

There is so much history, and there are so many historical markers, that sometimes they bunch together.

 

p1050538

 

p1050529

We did find a mini-mart when we were almost at the Richmond city limits.

p1050490

On the other side of Richmond, the west side, Richmond sprawls out for many miles.  On this side, the southeastern side, there are still woods and fields within a few miles of downtown.

p1050521

We were both sufficiently tired when we rode through downtown and Shockoe Bottom, then uphill from the river to Richmond’s uptown neighborhood of The Fan.

p1040468

There are plenty of hotels in Richmond, but almost none in The Fan, so we had booked an Airbnb.   This one was run by Catherine, about our age, who says she is a dancer.   She inherited the row house from her parents.  She rents out part of the house as apartments, and lives in a two bedroom portion, one bedroom of which she rents out on Airbnb.     Compared to some other Airbnb situations, this one felt more like we really staying at her home, with all the good and bad that entails.  She was super nice and interesting, but we did not have a private bathroom, and we knew she could hear us through the wall.  It was the first cool day of the end of summer, and the windows were open, and our room had a screen door to the outside.   The breeze was calming and therapeutic as we chilled out and read our Kindles.     We had a fetching view of the wall of the house next door.  It all felt pleasantly urban.

p1050503

At about sixty thirty we took a long walk in the refreshing cool air through The Fan and into downtown.    Broad Street is the traditional wide shopping street of Richmond, but has had mostly empty storefronts for the past forty years.   As the Richmond downtown revitalizes, these spaces are gradually filling up.    After checking out several options, we sat at the bar and ate Italian at a place on Broad Street called Graffiato, in a space with high ceilings.

https://i0.wp.com/bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/richmond.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/c/2d/c2d228b6-3791-11e4-a99a-0017a43b2370/540e09269f39e.image.jpg

Across Broad Street was an interesting piece of milk bottle architecture.

img_1503

The next morning we biked about ten blocks across town to a Starbucks on Broad Street.   On the way, we passed through parts of the VCU campus, which is pleasantly integrated into the urban fabric.   This brutalist building from 1971 is singularly unattractive, but you have to admire their chutzpah in getting the thing built.

p1050509

p1050512

The bike ride back to the car in Charles City was a pleasant on this sunny day, at least before it got hot.    The bike path was sometimes so busy that you had to take care not to run into people.    On the southeast side of Richmond, former industrial areas are being rehabbed into apartments overlooking the James River.

p1050518

 

The wind was now at our back.  Life was good, but we were both tired as the day progressed.  When we got back near the car  Tootie reacted after telling me to stop taking her picture so much!

p1050534

 

It was only about ten years ago that I discovered the music of The Carter Family.  While various Carters performed in various combinations up until recently; and indeed continue to perform, the original nineteen twenties recordings are what struck me.     These recordings were produced by Ralph Peer, who I just read a biography of.    He was not a touchy-feelie folklorist but a businessman who revolutionized the record business.  He successfully found musical acts outside of the then American mainstream, and made it a profitable relationship for both parties.

Ralph Peer came to Bristol, Virginia in the summer of 1927 looking for talent to record.     He set up a portable studio in a rented room, and put out the word for locals to come audition.  The Carters lived twenty-five miles away in the mountains outside Bristol in a settlement called Maces Spring, Virginia.    The Carters; husband and wife A.P. Carter and Sara Carter, and Sara’s cousin Maybelle Carter borrowed a car and drove down the mountain to Bristol.    Many say the Bristol sessions,  which also included the future star Jimmie Rogers,  were the real birth of country and bluegrass music, recorded folk music, and Americana music.

I wanted to take a bike trip in that region and maybe feel the mountain vibe of the Carter recordings.  The weather was predicted in the nineties all up and down the East Coast, but amazingly at least ten degrees cooler up in the mountains.   And I had never explored this border region between northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia, near the far northwestern reaches of North Carolina.   I could have actually biked up to the Carter homestead of Maces Spring, but the bike path from nearby Abingdon seemed a more pleasant bike ride.

I drove three and a half hours on the Interstate from Chapel Hill to Abingdon, Virginia, which is eighteen miles north of Bristol.   I parked the car around lunchtime on the street in Abingdon and took the bicycle out.    My first day was to be on a rail trail called the Virginia Creeper Trail leading thirty-five miles east from Abingdon into the mountains, with the town of Damascus at the halfway point.

Once I started biking on the Virginia Creeper Trail, cell phone reception soon ended.    I had only two Carter Family songs on my I-Phone’s hard drive, so I listened to Wildwood Flower and one other song over and over, playing through a small Bluetooth speaker.   Wildwood Flower consists of just Sara Carter’s vocals and eighteen year old Maybelle Carter’s amazing guitar, which sounds like two guitars instead of one.

 

By necessity, both railroad tracks and roads in the mountains tend to follow stream beds.  The scenery around the railbed was gorgeous, the air crisp, the life in the shade of summer sun invigorating.

P1050227

 

P1050248

 

P1050250

The path also went through open fields and by numerous houses and small settlements.

P1050229

P1050230

I stopped for water and a bathroom break in Damascus.   This is a small town, less than a thousand people, not served by any four lane road.  It is one of the very few towns directly in the path of those hiking the Appalachian Trail.    It retains its old-time feel, even as it has become a magnet for hikers and bicyclists.    There was this apparently hand sewn needlepoint prayer in the public men’s room in a public park of Damascus.

P1050240

 

One of the pleasures of rail-trails are that they are relatively level, even in the mountains.   This trail is about level the first half from Abingdon to Damascus, and then turns uphill in a steady but slight uphill grade.  The second half gains fifteen hundred feet in altitude in fifteen miles until the trail abruptly ends at the North Carolina border.  I had made a reservation at a bed & breakfast that night in Damascus, but I still had some energy, so I rode ten miles further uphill on the trail, and then doubled back down.   As the trail gained altitude the scenery became even more lush.

P1050242

 

P1050247

Riding back down to Damascus was particularly easy, as the grade was just steep enough that one did not have to pedal, but not so steep as one would have to brake constantly.

I arrived tired and thirsty back in Damascus.  While Damascus feels quite old school on some levels, on the highway near my B&B is The Damascus Brewery, where half  of the six cars in the parking lot seemed to be Subarus with North Carolina plates.  I stopped for a porter.

P1050255

 

P1050256

The B&B was an interesting place.  I had made reservations that morning because I predicted that the supply of rooms on a summer weekend in Damascus might be tight.   However, this place has four rooms and I was the only guest.  I had the entire renovated and very clean 1895 house to myself.  The owners sleep in a garage apartment next door.    They were extremely polite and helpful, and had lots of cookies, wine, and coffee on hand in case I wanted any.   There was a Ted Cruz sticker on their Honda, the other car had a special In God We Trust Virginia license plate.

P1050259

I biked into town to find dinner, and poked my head into each of the three places.    I was surprised that nowhere was crowded.   The Old Mill Inn was actually quite O.K.   I ate outside next to the river.  Inside there was a guitar guy playing competent but uninspiring versions of 1960’s hits, accompanied by a rhythm machine.  That was disappointing as I had expected to hear something more homegrown.   I know from the mountains of North Carolina that roots music is indeed thriving, at least somewhere.

IMG_1450

I rode my bike back to the B&B in the gathering darkness.

I decided that night that I would ride the next day to Johnson City, Tennessee fifty miles to the south, over a mountain.

I woke up in the morning and stared at the ceiling.

P1050258

 

Breakfast was substantial:  three eggs with a lot of salt, bacon, home fries, biscuits, fresh fruit.   It was delicious but I usually do not eat so much in the morning.   I forced myself to eat it all, since lunch would be a long way away.    I bid the owners goodbye and took their picture.

P1050260

The Tennessee line is only about a mile south of Damascus.   I rode through town and then into the woods.

P1050261

For almost twenty miles the road climbed upward through Cherokee National Forest, topping out on a county line.   It then descended about fifteen miles to Elizabethton.     Cars passed only about one every ten minutes.   It was all beautiful;  I felt at peace with myself, for once.   I passed through the shortest tunnel I have ever seen.

P1050269

 

P1050278

The road interspersed between wilderness and areas of housing along the road, becoming gradually more populated as I descended into the valley.  Along this road, and also along the path the day before, I saw an unusual number of decaying recreational vehicles.  Some seemed to be weekend getaways permanently parked, others just left in someone’s front yard to die.

P1050236

P1050238

P1050251

P1050276

P1050290

P1050292

P1050298

P1050309

P1050353

 

I saw this interesting church.

P1050266

 

And a lot of unusual yard art.

P1050262

 

P1050274

P1050291

P1050302

P1050304

P1050307

P1050305

 

I was clicking pictures while biking and by accident caught this slice of life.

P1050303

 

Elizabethton is one of the oldest towns in Tennessee, dating from the 1780’s.    I was reminded how Tennessee in the late eighteenth century really was the western frontier, and places like Elizabethton were the gateway to settlement of new lands further west.

Elizabethton has an older downtown strip, typically partly vacant and depressing looking.   In a prominent position where the downtown strip meets the Doe River, this bank building was more impressive.

P1050310

P1050311

In that same downtown strip, a slice of cheese pizza at Jiggy Rae’s Downtown Pizza really hit the spot for lunch.

P1050314

For this day, Elizabethton was my return to civilization, to the Real America of Walmart.    There is a nice rail trail bike path called Tweetsie Trail that goes all the way the ten miles to Johnson City, much of  it through suburban sprawl.

P1050318

Entering Johnson City from the east, this snow cone truck had considered and creative concoctions.

P1050326

 

Being me, I bought the smallest and simplest, a small chocolate, even though I had just ridden a bicycle fifty miles in the heat.

P1050328

Others were not so simple.

P1050327

P1050329

 

Other than the snow cones, Johnson City, population sixty five thousand, seemed just O.K.    I spend the night there and had a nice dinner, but nothing seemed distinctive.  Like other cities, the formerly vacant downtown is being revitalized with bars and restaurants.  I snapped pictures as I rode out the following morning.   This brewpub in a former train station does look nice.

P1050334

P1050338

P1050339

 

P1050340

High on a hill in what looked like a nice older neighborhood was this gem.

P1050345

It was Sunday morning.   Under fifteen hundred feet in elevation, it was going to be hot.  My mission was to ride twenty-five miles to Bristol Tennessee slash Virginia, then the additional eighteen miles back to my car parked in Abingdon VA.

In the suburbs near the Interstate I stopped for an Egg McMuffin.   I had not had one in a while.  It was not as good as I had remembered.    I checked out the other McDonalds patrons at 8:30 on a Sunday morning.

IMG_1452

Sundays have less traffic and car drivers seem less in a hurry.   That was helpful, because there is really no other route between Johnson City and Bristol than this highway, although it did have a full lane wide shoulder.

P1050348

Two thirds of the way to Bristol, I passed the Bristol Motor Speedway, a NASCAR track.    It looked enormous.  From Wikipedia I learn that it is popular because it is a short track with steep banking.    I was shocked to learn that it is the eighth largest stadium / sporting event center in the WORLD.  It holds 160,000 people  Who knew?

P1050361

Seriously, this is not a hotel.   These are condominiums across the highway from the track, for really serious fans.

P1050359

I rode a few more miles before getting into the city of Bristol.

P1050364

Bristol is in two states.  The main downtown street State Street divides the city, with one side of the street in Tennessee and the other Virginia.   I am sure that there is a “nice” area of Bristol but I somehow missed that.   The neighborhoods in both sides of town that I biked through looked impoverished.    Downtown, however, seems OK.   At 11:00 AM on a Sunday people were having brunch.

 

P1050379

 

P1050376

And this is where the Carter Family got their start in the record business, right within a block of the two photos above.   Of course, the building has been torn down and it is now a parking lot.

P1050377

I will confess that the recording of Wildwood Flower shown earlier in this blog was not actually recorded in Bristol; it was recorded nine months later when Ralph Peer had the Carters come up to the Victor studio in New Jersey.   But some of the early Carter Family hit records really were recorded in the original Bristol sessions.  This one touches on a frequent Carter Family theme: death.  (Girl to boy: I know you do not love me, so when I die, I hope you stare at my grave and weep.)

 

It was getting hot, so I got back on the bike to pedal the eighteen miles to my car in Abingdon.

US11 from Bristol to Abingdon parallels Interstate 81.   Biking on the “old road” one passes highway stuff from long ago.   This motel pool seemed stuck in time.

P1050385

This motel has become a mini-storage, but they kept the sign.  And then there is the drive-in movie.

P1050387

P1050390

P1050389

P1050392