Until Seattle (and Starbucks) showed superior marketing, New Orleans was the coffee capital of America. I visited New Orleans for the first time while an undergraduate. On that 1976 trip I had Breakfast At Brennan’s as my first real gourmet restaurant meal. I can still remember the intensity of the coffee that accompanied the bananas foster. In 1976 no one served coffee like that back home in Virginia Beach.

Fast forward a few decades. America has changed. Good coffee is available almost everywhere. New Orleans has changed. Independent coffee houses have opened all over the city.

Writers who consider urbanity talk about the importance of a third place, a public setting to hang out that is not your home and not your workplace. On a recent stay in New Orleans I found comfort in cycling for an hour or two or three around New Orleans before sitting alone outdoors at some random coffee house reading (mostly The New Yorker) on my Kindle. These coffee houses are spread over a large area, some many miles apart from others. While traditional New Orleans coffee has been drip coffee with chicory, I always get a latte made with expresso and oat or almond milk. There are a three local chains (CC’s, PJ’s and French Truck) but most New Orleans coffee places seem proudly independent. Most were established in the years after the 2005 Katrina hurricane. I will group them by neighborhood.

Coffee houses in the Lower Garden District (our neighborhood.).

Hi-Volt, a three minute walk from our condo
friendlier and only a five to seven minute walk from our condo is one my favorites: Mojo

There are other coffee houses still within a fifteen minute walk from our condo.

Starbucks, corner Washington and Magazine
Tootie at PJ’s, corner of Magazine and Jackson

on St Charles Avenue a few blocks uptown of Lee Circle
The Vintage on Magazine Street and Seventh Street is a longer walk from our condo but its vibe is sometimes worth the hike. It is one of the few New Orleans places that successfully operates as a coffee house in the morning and a bar at night. They make their own beignets.

The other coffee places are beyond walking distance from our condo, in all parts of the city. Over my week and a half spent in New Orleans I bicycled all over.

Coffee houses in the remainder of Uptown

Cherry Coffee, 4877 Laurel Street

Coffee houses in the CBD and French Quarter

Mammoth Expresso, warehouse district
Maybe my favorite coffee house in all of New Orleans except that it gets too crowded; Envie Cafe at Barracks and Decatur, lower French Quarter
Croissant d’or, lower French Quarter
Backatown Coffee underneath some newer condos on Basin Street

Coffee houses in Faubourg Marigny and Bywater/Ninth Ward

Bywater apparently is attracting hipsters from all over

Petite Clouet, my favorite coffee house in Bywater. The young people running this place (who likely have moved here from somewhere else) are totally on-game, both in making coffee and with customer service.
Darth Vader moving in, corner of Elysian Fields and North Rampart Street

Coffee houses in Treme

Treme, the traditionally African-American neighborhood near the French Quarter, has been gentrifying.

The Flagpole, corner Esplanade and Bayou Road
Also on Bayou Road

Coffee houses in Mid-City and Esplanade Ridge

Hey Coffee is in an industrial area on the Lafitte Greenway just north of Claiborne Avenue
On the Lafitte Greenway just north of Broad Street
On North Carrollton Avenue near the Lafitte Greenway and Canal Street
also nearby, on North Carrollton Avenue near Canal Street
Morning Call dates back to 1870. It left the French Quarter in 1974 and moved to suburban Metairie. Since 2020 it has been at this new location near Cemeteries, on Canal Boulevard. Its big competitor was always Cafe du Monde, which is still very much in business in the French Quarter.
Park Island Brew, on Gentilly Boulevard across from the Fair Grounds
Pagoda Cafe, 1430 North Dorgenois Avenue
CC’s in Esplanade Ridge neighborhood
Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, Esplanade Ridge neighborhood

Coffeehouses in or near Gentilly

In my world this qualifies as diversity. Pontilly Coffee is on Chef Menteur Highway between Gentilly and New Orleans East, across the street from the Baptist Theological Seminary. The clientele is mostly African American. There are biblical quotes and slogans on the interior walls. I have cycled out here and enjoyed this place several times. On my last visit there were several people sitting around doing different kinds of art, holding court.

Metairie/Old Metairie

Metairie, across the line into Jefferson Parish, is New Orleans’ nearest suburb. The closest part, Old Metairie, is little more than five miles from the French Quarter, closer to downtown New Orleans than some parts of actual New Orleans. One can really feel the Red/Blue divide when crossing the Parish line, although Old Metairie is as upscale as anywhere in the New Orleans metro area. In my New Orleans neighborhood of Lower Garden District I sense lots of people are from Somewhere Else and you do not hear the distinct Brooklynesque White New Orleans accent all that often. At coffee houses in Old Metairie you hear that accent constantly, and no one wears a mask. I cycled to the area several times and enjoyed sitting outside, sipping my oat milk latte and reading.

Evolve is further out towards Kenner and the airport, past Causeway Boulevard. It is a nice place but full of unmasked people and no outdoor seating. I paranoidly took my coffee outside and sat on the curb!

Coffee houses in Lakeview

Lakeview is, as expected, near the lake and just inside the New Orleans line from Metairie. It has its own little downtown. While an upscale area it flooded badly during Katrina when the 17th Street Canal failed. Nearly all the small 1940-50’s one story houses that flooded have been replaced by much larger new two story monsters, lined up close together. I rode out there one day with Tootie.

We had coffees sitting on the sidewalk in front of Nola Beans in downtown Lakeview. It is next door to a Starbucks.

We then rode back the seven or eight miles back to our condo.

This trip would be a one nighter. I drove our Ford Escape Hybrid an hour and a half east of Chapel Hill. Tarboro is one of the prettiest small towns in North Carolina. I drove around Tarboro looking for a safe neighborhood where I could park. There were no “No Parking” signs anywhere, no signs about parking at all, really. Would anyone care if I left our car parked here for thirty something hours? I guessed I would find out.

parked on the street, Tarboro NC

I did not have room on the back of my bicycle for my peanut butter and jelly sandwich so I strapped it in its foil wrapping onto the top of my trunk bag.

I cycled through the town of Tarboro (population 11,000)

residential street in the wealthier part of Tarboro.

Tarboro has a “Common,” a downtown park that the locals will tell you that is the only Common in the USA other than Boston. Veterans Day was just around the corner and there was an American flag thing going. Tarboro is likely a very conservative place, so I guess when one is anti-Trump one needs to shout it out.

This house is in a prime location, facing the Common, with liberal banners
Tarboro Common flag celebration

I cycled through Tarboro’s downtown and onward east towards Williamston. Here is the loop I rode over two days.

Tarboro sits across the Tar River from Princeville, which states it is the oldest (1885) town founded by Blacks in the United States. I cycled northeast from Princeville. Eastern North Carolina is almost completely flat.

Note to Harvey: there are usually no shoulders on highways in North Carolina

Tarboro is very Southern feeling. (Its newspaper from about 1850 to when it closed in 2014 was The Daily Southerner)

I guess it was appropriate that for much of the day I bicycled through cotton fields. The plants were fluffy and white, ready to be harvested.

Out in the middle of nowhere on the flat landscape was this new looking giant house. Who lives here? Why?

After an hour or two out cycling through flat open fields I stopped for lunch at the first town I came to, Oak City, population 317. The air was clear and the day was silent. Oak City has a small park across the street from the fire station. I sat at the one picnic table and read The New Yorker on my Kindle while eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. About a hundred yards away the two fire/rescue people stood there, watching me pretty much the whole time. I guess this town does not get many visitors.

After lunch I biked over to the fire station to wave hello to the two first responders, then rode around town before heading east.

downtown Oak City NC
Mid century modernist post office, Oak City NC
Oak City NC
Outside of Oak City NC

It was fifteen or twenty miles further to Williamston NC. Most of the cycling was through open fields in a flat landscape with the occasional gentle slope.

buzzards feasting on an opossum

On this trip I passed several pre-WWII gas stations, most likely 1920’s.

I bicycled into Williamston NC (population 5,200). Williamston is on the Roanoke River and was a port town. It is a hundred miles from any ocean beach. By East Coast standards an isolated place, “out there,” a hundred miles to either Raleigh or Norfolk/Virginia Beach, a hundred-fifty miles to Wilmington NC. It sits at the crossroads of east-west US64 and north-south US17. The town has lost population since 1960.

Commercial activity is almost entirely on the big four lane highways. The older downtown is fairly empty.

downtown Williamston NC

An exception to the emptiness downtown was a brewery and an arts center. Locally owned breweries and coffee houses are sprouting everywhere in America. Williamston has a coffee place out on the highway, and for a thirsty bicyclist at cocktail hour, their own brewery, downtown, opposite the arts center. Unfortunately it was a Tuesday and the brewery is only open Thursday – Saturday.

I cycled around the older part of town.

oldest house in Williamston, from 1833

North Carolina builds highways! They promote sprawl. There are three tiers of auto highways in Williamston; the original US17 that runs down the town’s main street; the four to six lane bypass that was built in the 1960’s, and now a freeway passing two miles out of town. The newest and nicest Williamston hotels are out by the freeway. I booked a room at the Quality Inn, an older motel not downtown but on the wide but lightly used Business Route 17.

Almost adjacent to the Quality Inn is the Sunny Side Oyster House, built in 1935 when this location was likely a lonely shack out on the highway.

Later on I returned to the Sunny Side for dinner.

It seemed very old school. There are two rooms. You have a drink at the bar while you wait for a seat in the the inner room. Once seated you watch your oysters being shucked.

bar room
View from where I had dinner, sitting around watching oyster shuckers

Oyster styles are regional. The most popular oyster here was “steamed,” similar to what in Virginia Beach we called “roasted.” I have lived in and visited New Orleans on and off for years and in New Orleans I have never heard of roasting or steaming in-shell oysters. Here in Williamston the unshelled oysters are put in a large steaming device and when you order they ask how much you want them cooked. I chose lightly steamed. They were opened hot by the shucker as he stood in front of me, putting each oyster in the same small dish as I ate them.

The flavor is less intense than the raw oysters I am more used to. I dipped them in either butter or pre-mixed tomato/horseradish sauce. Raw oysters are also available here, as are Alaska crab legs, shrimp, and scallops. For a second item, taking the recommendation of the server I had initially ordered scallops. They returned a few minutes later and said they had just run out. I got shrimp instead. They were delicious.

The scene was quite social, I enjoyed talking to the older couple who sat next to me. They live five miles outside of Williamston where they run a campground.

I am, correctly I believe, quite COVID cautious. Even though I am fully vaccinated I normally never go into a crowded indoor space like this but the Sunny Side Oyster House was too unique for me not to experience. No one, worker or patron in this establishment was masked. Everyone acted as if it was not a problem. It has been nine days now and I haven’t gotten sick, thankfully.

The free breakfast the next morning at the Quality Inn was so bad that I had to look elsewhere. They did not even have Raisin Bran, just English muffins with no butter or jelly. They had space age pre-made microwavable egg burritos and sausage biscuits. Gross.

Only a couple hundred yards from my motel was the Shamrock Restaurant. Getting that short distance without a car involved walking/running across a six to eight lane highway, then another six to eight lane highway.

Donald Trump sticker on the door of the Shamrock Restaurant, Williamston NC
posted at the Shamrock. Local theater seems to thrive in outlying communities like this. A great thing.

After my COVID chance-taking the night before I had no interest in crowding into the mask-less dining room. I got my breakfast to-go and ran back across both highways to my motel room.

breakfast tasted freshly made and delicious

It was thirty-five miles back to my car in Tarboro NC. There had been quite a lot of local truck traffic the day before. I chose more remote roads going back and I was rewarded with mostly quiet and peaceful country roads.

All day was bright and sunny with temperatures in the fifties and sixties. It has been about five years on this blog since I last repeated a V.S. Naipaul quote about Eastern North Carolina, from his book A Turn in the South.

It was a landscape of small ruins. Houses and farmhouses and tobacco barns had been simply abandoned. The decay of each was individual, and they were all beautiful in the afternoon light.

Cycling back onto the picturesque streets of Tarboro NC my car was still there. I packed up the bicycle in the back and to drive home. On the way out I stopped a few blocks away at the locally owned Tarboro Coffee House for something to drink in the car on the drive home; oat milk latte, one pack of sugar.

I was home by 5:00 PM.

Tootie and I drove down to our New Orleans second home on about October first and we stayed the whole month. It has been wonderful walking around every morning in our Lower Garden District neighborhood, all these amazing buildings within a hundred yards of our front door. To me it is paradise.

pristine 1850’s restorations one block from our condo
A couple blocks away, an artfully decrepit scene that could be from A Streetcar Named Desire

We rarely used our car. Both of us bicycled to and from the grocery store. Several times we bicycled to restaurants at night.

Tootie on her 1970’s Schwinn Collegiate

I felt a compulsion to bike ride more, to see the whole city! Just about every day that we were in New Orleans I bicycled for two to four hours. On the final day I brought my camera along. Almost all these rides were on the Surly Long Haul Trucker that I now keep in New Orleans. I still don’t really like the heavy feel of that bicycle but I use what I have. This bicycle does feel stable on these terribly bumpy and decrepit streets. This day I left our condo on St Mary Street at about eight in the morning, snapping pictures as I rode.

Directions in the older parts of New Orleans make little sense speaking north or south. They are better described as upriver (uptown) or downriver (downtown). Cross streets go towards the river or away from the river. The three or four hour bike ride I took shown below covered a large portion of New Orleans but by chance mostly excluded Uptown. Other than the French Quarter, Uptown is the area most visitors think of when visiting New Orleans. It is the area in the bottom left on the map below, between Saint Mary Street and Audubon Park. Tulane University is next to Audubon Park. I cycle through Uptown frequently, just did not on this particular day.

The twenty-five mile bike ride I took on the morning of October 27

I left our condo building.

Our building, 1325A St Mary Street

St Mary Street is a one way street going away from the river. I biked a block and a half towards Prytania Street.

looking up St Mary Street

The 1400 block of St Mary Street is by New Orleans standards a somewhat typical block but there is still lots to look at.

1400 block St Mary Street
1400 block St Mary Street
1400 block St Mary Street

I crossed Prytania Street, it was one block further to St. Charles Avenue

1500 block St Mary Street

I had only bicycled two and a half blocks; I crossed over St. Charles Avenue with its famous streetcar on the neutral ground. The tracks are a popular place for jogging.

It was only one block further past St. Charles Avenue where St Mary Street dead ends at a church on Carondelet Street.

corner, Carondelet and Saint Mary St.

I turned right on Carondelet Street. It may change names but Carondelet Street continues about five miles from here all the way downtown through the Central Business District, the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, and Bywater. Traditionally this side of St. Charles it is a rougher and poorer neighborhood. It has been gentrifying.

on the left just after I turned onto Carondelet Street.

Cycling two blocks further downtown on Carondelet Street a former milk processing factory was just torn down and trucks were clearing the site for redevelopment.

with the milk facility torn down you can see the high rises of downtown. The French Quarter is just downriver, beyond those tall buildings.

Six or eight blocks further Carondelet Street passes under a freeway. Dozens of homeless people have moved underneath the overpass.

homeless encampment

Now cycling in the Central Business District I could look again at the forty-five story skyscraper formerly known as Plaza Tower. It must have seemed like a good idea when it was built in 1968 but it has been abandoned since 2002. It is in a difficult location and rehab efforts have failed. I still like its style. Its top floors are currently wrapped, presumably to keep debris from falling.

City bicycling in New Orleans is wonderful but one does need to keep one’s eyes affixed to the road. Potholes are everywhere.

barely marked crater in the road, O’Keefe Avenue

I passed by the entrance to the swanky Roosevelt Hotel.

I bicycled across Canal Street, formerly the main downtown shopping street. Its retail is struggling.

this famous Walgreens sign is from the 1930’s

Downriver across Canal Street is the French Quarter. Burgundy Street through the French Quarter is an excellent street to bicycle on. There are almost no bumps or stop signs.

Burgundy Street
Burgundy Street
Burgundy Street, lower French Quarter

The French Quarter gets less touristy the further downriver one goes from Canal Street. During this month of October I had been bicycling to coffee houses all over New Orleans searching for the perfect croissant. Disappointingly, nowhere in New Orleans had a croissant as crispy as those at Foster Street Coffee in Durham NC. The Croissant D’or on Ursulines Avenue in the lower French Quarter came close, and it was nice to sit in its courtyard eating my croissant with an almond milk latte, one pack sugar.

Croissant d’or
breakfast in the courtyard

I got back on the bicycle and headed out.

Looking back uptown in the direction I had come from

I cycled about three miles further downtown, out of the French Quarter, through Faubourg Marigny and then into Bywater, also known as the Ninth Ward.

cycling downtown on North Peters Street
Bywater cottages

I turned around at Poland Avenue where Bywater ends at the Industrial Canal.

Bywater has become trendy. At the turn onto Poland Avenue this building is now an upscale wine bar called Bacchanal.
Poland Avenue
Jack Dempsey’s, old school restaurant on Poland Avenue, famous not for the quality of its food but for the size of its portions!
bar on Poland Avenue

I bicycled back uptown in the direction I had come from but now three blocks over, on Burgundy Street, back through Bywater and Faubourg Marigny. There seemed to be a lot of dog walkers.

early 1920’s monument in Bywater listing names of veterans of World War One, but only veterans from the Ninth Ward, “White” on one side, “Colored” on the other.
house decorated for Halloween

I crossed St. Claude Avenue and headed out St. Bernard Avenue, through an area tourists rarely visit; the Seventh Ward.

Seventh Ward

Heading out St. Bernard Avenue I soon crossed South Claiborne Avenue, a street famous among American urbanists as one of many places where the 1960’s exuberance to build the Interstate Highway System lost its moorings. South Claiborne was and is a center of African-American commercial life in New Orleans. I-10 replaced South Claiborne Avenue’s oak trees with a freeway. The pre-1960 supermarket is still here.

Underneath I-10, the formerly oak tree lined neutral ground of South Claiborne Avenue.
South Claiborne Avenue in the 1950’s (photo from Smithsonian Magazine)

There are current serious proposals to tear down this section of I-10, but as with most such things, it is complicated. Meanwhile, I cycled under the freeway and resumed cycling on St. Bernard Avenue, which is wide and relatively safe for bicycling. St. Bernard Avenue continues for five miles, all the way out to the Lake Ponchartrain lakefront. The further from downtown one gets the newer the buildings become.

back to the present day, my view cycling down St. Bernard Avenue
seafood market, St, Bernard Avenue
early 1900’s houses, St. Bernard Avenue
much newer housing as I neared the Lakefront

New Orleans has its own beachfront, albeit on a concrete beach that almost no one swims from. (Lake Ponchartrain is brackish and extremely shallow; difficult to keep clean.) It does make for a pleasant bike ride.

UNO is on the lakefront with its Modernist style campus. I needed a bathroom so I impersonated a student by walking into one of the classroom buildings.

Looks like a motel! That is not necessarily a bad thing; Liberal Arts Building, University of New Orleans

I bicycled along the lakefront over to West End where hundreds of pleasure boats are moored.

Facing the West End yacht harbor are lines of “boat houses”, a fancy spot to hang out in while you stare at a vessel moored in your living room.

boat houses, West End

I assume this is a working shrimp boat; the twenty-four mile long Lake Ponchartrain Causeway in the background

I started cycling back home, this time through City Park; an enormous piece of land stretching southward from near the Lakefront, originally with four golf courses and two stadiums, including the one where the Beatles played in 1964. City Park was almost all inundated during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but has been slowly rebuilt and re-defined. Its current sculpture garden is one of the best anywhere. Along Marconi Drive on the west side of the park there is a newish bike path, one of many bayous on my left.

The Marconi bike path runs right by the tennis complex, impressively busy on a weekday morning

As the path through City Park ends I was directed to a bike lane on Marconi Drive as it passes under railroad tracks
I then cycled on Orleans Avenue through the neighborhood called City Park

I was by now very close to one end of the Lafitte Greenway, which stretches almost three miles from near a corner of City Park to the French Quarter. Those who lived and bicycled around New Orleans with me back in the 1980’s would not believe the dramatic change the Greenway has brought to cycling in New Orleans. The Greenway crosses an area of town that none of us ever thought about, or if we thought about it, we thought it as dangerous slums we could never visit.

Lafitte Greenway as it crosses Carrollton Avenue
a coffee house and new apartments lining the Greenway
Lafitte Greenway
Lafitte Greenway
Greenway approaches the CBD and the French Quarter

The Greenway ends at Armstrong Park. I cycled across Basin Street and Rampart Street, then into the French Quarter.

Basin Street, as in “Basin Street Blues”
Second line band warming up for some kind of event, French Quarter

It was less than two miles through the city back to my condo building on St Mary Street.

Cycling up Dauphine Street, French Quarter
Cycling Baronne Street, CBD
Baronne Street passing back underwear the freeway and beside the homeless encampments

On Baronne Street in an even now sketchy area I passed by the building of the late great Uglesich’s oyster bar, open for eighty-one years until 2005.

I took a left off Baronne Street onto St. Andrew Street, my home on St. Mary Street was only three or four blocks away.

A weeklong bicycle tour through the middle of nowhere in Upstate NewYork and Pennsylvania? Why not!!!

The focus of this tour was the sixty-two mile long north / south Pine Creek Rail Trail in north central Pennsylvania. On the map below it is the line between Wellsboro PA and Jersey Shore PA. My friend Lyman Labry and I bicycled total about two hundred sixty miles over seven days.

Getting to a starting point was complicated! Lyman lives in Texas but was visiting in nearby Durham NC. I picked him and his bicycle up in Durham at 8:00 AM and we drove my Ford Escape Hybrid about seven or eight hours north to the Harrisburg PA airport, where we picked up another car, a Hertz rental. We drove both cars seventy miles north before parking my Ford across from a bike shop in the town of Lewisburg PA. The guys at a bike shop said they would keep an eye on my car for week. We then drove the rental car four hours north to Rochester NY, where we planned to turn in the rental car the next morning.

transferring folding bikes into the rental car

By car we arrived into Rochester NY at 8:30 at night, just before closing time at a restaurant called the Owl House. We luckily got an outdoor table; drinks and each a sesame noodle bowl. Gourmet health food! While both Lyman and I fully vaccinated, I am a worrier about COVID. I wanted to stay out of crowded indoor spaces and to eat al fresco. During the next week we would be bicycling through an area where vaccine rates are low and Trump support high. After leaving Rochester we saw almost no one wearing a mask.

It was a Saturday night and hotels in Rochester were either full or very expensive. I had found an unusual Airbnb in what I now know is the poorer northwest side of Rochester, the Maplewood neighborhood. The hostess did not seem to mind meeting at eleven at night to a large early twentieth century house, on a street of similar houses. It had seemed to be an especially good deal because Lyman and I each had our own room.

As we walked in we were requested to leave our shoes at the entrance. We added to the pile and walked up the stairs.

My room as it was presented, soap, toothbrush, towel, bible open to the Old Testament
Lyman got the larger room, no open bible, LOVE wallpaper, roll of toilet paper

Both rooms opened directly onto a kitchen whose refrigerator was stuffed with other people’s food. There was a Jamaican flag on the mantlepiece in the other room. Another guy, who seemed perfectly nice but whom we did not know walked into the kitchen, he was staying here as well. Across the kitchen was the shared bathroom for the three of us.

non functioning old fashioned pay phone, plastic flowers

In the morning I walked around the neighborhood, waiting for Lyman to wake up. The neighborhood looked generally well maintained. Most houses were cut up into apartments. I learned later that houses in this north side neighborhood sell for less than half the price of houses on the other side of Rochester a few miles away.

A very old looking man was sitting on his porch Frisbee-ing pieces of bread out onto the sidewalk. I guess he wanted to watch the birds.

Our bicycles were still in the car as left the Airbnb and drove first to downtown Rochester;

Kodak Building in the distance

then to Cafe Sasso on the wealthier southeast side of town for breakfast with a bicycle touring hero of mine who lives in Rochester. I had met him on Amtrak a few years ago. Harvey Botzman has circumnavigated all of the Great Lakes by bicycle, some more than once, and he has written books about it.

Cafe Sasso
Harvey showing me some route details (photo by Lyman)

Before leaving Lyman and I drove and Harvey bicycled a few blocks away to see local architecture.

Lyman and Harvey in front of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Boynton House, from 1908

We could finally start bicycling! We drove the rental car a few miles to the Rochester airport, pulled our folding Bike Fridays out of the back, and returned the car to Hertz. Getting away from the airport by bicycle was easy, as the three hundred mile long Erie Canal Heritage Trail runs right next to the Rochester airport.

Erie Canal Heritage Trail

The next major town with places to stay was Geneva NY, fifty-five miles to the southeast.

We crossed and re-crossed the Erie Canal

After about fifteen miles on the trail we turned south on conventional highways. Harvey had bragged to us that all significant New York State highways have paved shoulders, and he claimed to know the guy who in the 1960’s implemented this policy. It is absolutely true that almost all two lane highways in my home region of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia lack these wide paved shoulders.

a New York State highway south of Rochester
Lyman bicycling on the shoulder
Sometimes there was so little traffic that we felt we could take the whole road!

In the afternoon we returned to cycling on a path, this time for a few miles on a roughly shod rail trail called Ontario Pathways. The ride was bumpy but lovely.

We arrived into Geneva NY, population 13,000. I attended Maryland’s tiny Washington College for four years in the 1970’s. The college that cruelly prevented mine from winning the Division III lacrosse national championship was a college that we had never heard of: Hobart College in Geneva NY. Now I could see it for real, at the top of one of the the Finger Lakes: Seneca Lake.

Where should we stay? Hotels were over two hundred dollars and we would have to share a room. Harvey wisely had encouraged us to look at Airbnb. Lyman and I got separate Airbnb’s located about a mile apart for about total seventy dollars each. Each was run by quite different eccentric fifty something guys. Lyman’s Airbnb was messy and artsy and the host had a 919 area code on his cell phone, (he said he used to live in Clayton NC.) My Airbnb guy was a photographer and neat freak, obsessed with order and cleanliness to an almost OCD level. Those are great attributes in an Airbnb host. He was married with children but I did not see or meet them.

My host’s clothesline

We went looking downtown for a nice meal where we could eat outside. The temperature was in the low sixties but we had hats. Many of the restaurants in town were closed on this Sunday night. At Bella’s Sicilian Ristorante and everywhere else in Geneva NY no one else seemed to care about COVID and the other patrons were jammed indoors unmasked. At Bella’s one table on the sidewalk Lyman and I split an eggplant parmesan (pasta and side salad included) and a bottle of wine. The service was prompt and friendly. Like most mainstream Italian restaurants in America, a portion for one is really a portion for two, especially if you get an extra salad. This was my favorite kind of food and a very good deal. I could do nothing but leave them a big tip.

on the sidewalk at Bella’s, Geneva NY

We biked back to our respective Airbnbs.

Geneva NY

The next morning we went to the local Monaco’s Coffee. I had an almond milk latte with one pack sugar, and some kind of breakfast thing, a cheese scone? It was unusually fresh and delicious.

It was forty miles south along the western shore of the Finger Lake Seneca Lake to our day’s destination Watkins Glenn.

We had brought along peanut butter and jelly for lunch and at about the halfway point the otherwise vacant looking town of Dresden NY had a nice picnic table in its park.

Abandoned looking hotel/restaurant, Dresden NY

It must be a Northeastern thing. On the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, with lots of chickens and ducks running around the yard, was an absolutely gourmet ice cream parlor. I had seen word of the Spotted Duck on Google Maps and we had to cycle off our route for more than a mile, almost all uphill. The ice cream was clearly homemade with high cream content. There were exotic flavors.

Note: two flavors served on real utensils, a non-plastic metal dish with a non-plastic actual metal spoon

It was still quite a few miles into a headwind before we finally arrive into Watkins Glenn.

photo by Lyman Labry

I grew up devouring my father’s subscription to Road & Track magazine, so I knew all about what Watkins Glenn once was. From 1961 to 1980 Watkins Glenn NY was the home of the Formula One car race U.S. Grand Prix. The car track is a couple miles out of town and continues to host other racing events, especially NASCAR. The track complex also has had rock concerts, including the 1973 billing of the Allman Brothers, The Band, and the Grateful Dead that drew six hundred thousand. Although there was no apparent event this day, hotel space in the faded tourist town was tight and we got one of the last rooms at the Watkins Motel on the south side, two double beds. For an older motel it was unusually clean and pleasant, with a welcoming proprietress.

friendly owner, Watkins Motel

A lot of restaurants are closed on Mondays and restaurants in tourist towns are already suspect. I really did not want to eat a bad dinner indoors. It was a lovely evening and much more pleasant to sit outside our motel room in the blue chairs in the fading light and drink a bottle of local Finger Lakes wine, accompanied by Whoppers and fries from the Burger King across the street.

Almost a year after the election; woman wearing a WOMEN FOR TRUMP hat inside Burger King, Watkins Glenn NY

Early the next morning I walked around the town of Watkins Glenn.

Is this Ford LTD a 1971 or 1972?

The town of Watkins Glenn was originally built and promoted in the late 1800’s not because of car racing but because of the gorge on Glen Creek. I had visited Watkins Glenn State Park with my parents in the 1960’s when I was about eleven years old and I remember thinking: this gorge is the coolest place I have ever been. The park is adjacent to downtown; we could walk there from our motel.

I have seen nowhere else where water cuts so intimately through rock. It is like a miniature Grand Canyon, squeezed together. Lyman and I spent about an hour walking up and back on the walkway through the waterfalls.

Back at the hotel room we pumped our tires getting ready to leave. Lyman’s front tire and tube essentially failed. While we had brought spares it would be better just to buy new ones but there was no bike shop in Watkins Glenn. Luckily, I bicycled two miles over to the Walmart in Watkins Glenn. A BMX tire and tube from Walmart fit Lyman’s bicycle perfectly.

Our next destination was Corning NY to the south. Heading out of Watkins Glenn we cycled the first fifteen miles off-road on the Catherine Valley Trail.

South of Watkins Glenn the trail goes nearby Montour Falls
Then the rail trail continued

The trail ended near Horseheads NY, part of suburban Elmira / Corning. We got back on regular roads to ride the remaining fifteen miles to downtown Corning NY while dodging highly trafficked areas of dying shopping malls and Walmarts.

Corning NY (population 11,000) feels like a much bigger place. It is home to the famous glass museum and the glass technology company of the same name. Lyman and I looked for a coffee spot.

photo from Wikipedia

Market Street Coffee and Tea sadly does not make lattes, it just sells brewed coffee by the cup. We made do and sat out front, looking at hotels on our phones.

We decided to take a cheaper hotel, the Quality Inn, on the clearly less hip north side of the Chemung River that divides the town, but splurge on separate rooms. We bicycled over there in a light rain. We would still be able to bicycle back across to downtown that night for dinner.

View looking from the hotel parking lot

A little later it was a short bike ride to a brewery called The Iron Flamingo. Breweries have popped up everywhere in America; Corning has at least three. Inside the Iron Flamingo brew pub there were a few people, unmasked, sitting socially around inside at the bar. I nervously insisted that we take our beers out to a picnic table in the yard. The beer was delicious.

It was about dark when we starting cycling back across the river to downtown, looking for a place to eat. We went to Nickel’s Pit BBQ because we could sit outside and almost everywhere else was closed. Lyman (originally from Louisiana) swears the sandwich we split called The Cajun was the best thing we had eaten on this trip, even though the sandwich had little to do with Louisiana. New York State barbecue joints do not feel constrained the “rules” of barbecue of more famous barbecue states. This place also charges fifteen dollars for a sandwich. Ouch.

We headed out the next morning, stopping first in a coffee place on the fringes of Corning.

There was expected light rain or drizzle as we cycled into the woods near the New York/Pennsylvania state line.

Shortly after crossing into Pennsylvania we unexpectedly came upon this barrier. I fault Google Maps for not indicating this.

Touring cyclists takes these warning signs with a grain for salt, in most situations a cyclist can get around these barriers. This was an exception, we would have had to swim across.

Someone left a bridge-out scarecrow!
A boat! let’s steal it and paddle across!

We declined the temptation to steal a boat and had to turn around and cycle the long way around. Our original route was following a creek with small mountains rising from each side, so the detour involved some steep hills.

For lunch we looked for some kind of restaurant in the town of Tioga PA (population 650).

Tioga PA

We watched a woman make us submarine sandwiches (with too much mayonnaise!) at a Citgo station mini-mart. Repeating a pattern seen all across central Pennsylvania and southern New York State, this tiny town has made a huge effort to honor military veterans. We ate our sandwiches sitting around a tiny veteran’s memorial park, hoping the rain would not start again.

It was still seventeen miles to our night’s destination of Wellsboro PA, the only town in the region that has motels. Right after we started cycling after lunch the skies opened up and we both got quite wet. We pulled into Wellsboro looking to dry out.

Wellsboro PA (population 3,200) is isolated; by car it s two to three hours drive to either Buffalo NY, Rochester NY or Harrisburg PA, four hours to either Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or New York City. The town is cheerfully well maintained and has an obvious tourist industry.

We had made a reservation at the Penn-Wells Hotel, right on Wellsboro’s Main Street. Its building goes all the way back to 1869 and was heavily renovated in 1928. As with most older hotels the rooms are small so we got two adjacent rooms. The floors were creaky and slanted but everything was clean and the mattresses firm.

hallway, Penn Wells Hotel

Despite the rain and the small choice of restaurants that evening I kept my insistence that we eat outdoors. Lyman cheerfully went along. The Wellsboro House Bar & Restaurant served us beer and dinner outside under the overhang. It worked out quite happily.

I got salmon with potatoes and vegetables
Lyman had a cheeseburger with chips

The next morning we did not started cycling until almost noon because of rain. As we were heading out of town my rear brake cable repeatedly jammed. I theoretically could have fixed it myself but luckily we were a few blocks from a bike shop called C S Sports and we waited an hour while they re-cabled my brake.

workshop of C S Sports

The Pine Creek Rail Trail is sixty-two miles long with its northern terminus just three miles from Wellsboro. It follows the Pine Creek Gorge for almost its entire distance. For most of the area there is no cell phone coverage at all. As we started cycling down the trail we were surprised as to how well it is maintained with smooth fine gravel or pavement the entire distance. We planned to cycle the trail in two days and had a reservation at an inn at about the halfway point.

It had been raining for days so the water is the creek was high

Steep slopes rose from the left side of the trail, and impromptu waterfalls cascaded down. There had been a lot of rain but the sun was now coming out.

It was so peaceful that I had to stop and play a song! (the image will correct its alignment)

In the late afternoon we arrived at about the halfway point of the trail. Cedar Run Inn is next to the trail and is essentially the only lodging around here. This welcoming place is the rare American small hotel that offers quality food and lodging for one low all-inclusive price. We paid $ 95.00 per person, including dinner and breakfast, cash only! I had made reservations almost three weeks in advance for a weeknight and they said I was taking the last available rooms. In talking to other guests, many had been coming here for years, most were from other parts of central Pennsylvania, and none were touring bicyclists.

Cedar Run Inn

There is a full bar in the inn. We settled for beers, which we took out onto the porch.

We were given separate small rooms upstairs with a bathroom down the hall, passing a bear skin on the way up the stairs.

Myself, the COVID nervous ninny, I was facing the first restaurant of the trip where we had no choice other than eat indoors. Sure, both Lyman and I had been double vaccinated, but no one here, employee or guest, wore masks. It did help that the food was delicious!

In the morning we ate again at the restaurant, a full blown American breakfast.

We packed up and set out by bicycle.

This man who we met at the inn was lifting the bicycle off the bike rack on his car, then going for a day ride with his son and daughter-in-law. Nice guy. Ninety years old.

Once again, the scenery was lovely, the trail smooth, car traffic non-existent.

The trail crossed and re-crossed Pine Creek, It was all so peaceful that I had to again break out the music, this time a song by John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats.

Pine Creek empties into the Susquehanna River at the incongruously named town of Jersey Shore PA and our Pine Creek Rail Trail ended there. We had not passed anywhere to eat all morning but near the end of the trail we arrived at what turned out to be a biker bar. (Motorcyles!) We got two cheeseburgers. Yes, several guys looked vaguely threatening but I passed this off as a style issue. Lyman was more concerned, we took our sandwiches and beers to a table out by the trail.

We bicycled onward though the streets of Jersey Shore PA. At a stoplight I saw a pickup truck whose tailgate had been painted (not just stickers) to indicate NO VACCINES, NO MASKS, TRUMP.

Jersey Shore PA

It was still seventeen miles to the larger town of Williamsport PA, where we had reserved an Airbnb. Part of the distance we unfortunately had to cycle on the four lane highway US220.

We headed onwards until we arrived in Williamsport PA; population 28,000, about the same population as it was in the year 1900 when it was a lumber boomtown. Its claim to fame since the 1930’s is being the home of Little League baseball. Our Airbnb was run by a reliably eccentric couple (she a graphic designer, him a political filmmaker) who live in a large turn-of-the-twentieth-century brick house.

Our hostess Melinda showing us our room. She and her husband have several rambunctious dogs.
the back of their house

A little later we bicycled the mile or so to downtown Williamsport, once again looking for somewhere to eat, but also to eat outside. It was Friday night and the restaurants were really crowded. Drinking beer and having dinner on the sidewalk outside the Bullfrog Brewery was a great time although the food was only just OK.

We watched across the street as people were arriving at the Community Arts Center; a 7:30 PM show by the Machine, a Pink Floyd tribute band. (The following night would be oldies standbys Tommy James & the Shondells!). I now know that inside the Center it is a gilded 1920’s former movie palace. We watched as the patrons were asked to put on masks, about the only time in Williamsport we saw anyone wear a mask.

we watched from across the street at the Brewery

Our Airbnb was quirky with a narrow dark back entrance and an elaborate kishy decor. Our hosts had no obligation to feed us the next day, but they cooked us eggs just to be nice. They certainly had no obligation to offer to drive us the first twenty miles of our bike ride the next day, so that we would not have to cross over a mountain on a freeway in the cold fog. We folded our bicycles and put them in her car. Melinda’s Jeep was colorful. One of her dogs came along for the ride.

Melinda dropped us off. I gave her a twenty dollar bill which she did not ask for. We had only fifteen miles to cycle back to my car that had been parked for a week in Lewisburg PA. While Lewisburg seems a prosperous town with the vibrancy of having Bucknell University, just north of Lewisburg the town of Milton has seen hard times. Milton must have once been an important place because in the 1930’s the U.S. Postal Service chose to build a certainly expensive and lovely Art Deco post office with likely original artwork. Lyman insisted that we go inside. As a retired historic preservation architect he was impressed that the Postal Service has kept the building mostly original and intact. (photos by Lyman)

Post office, Milton PA

carving in the Milton PA post office

Back on the bicycles, we headed on to Lewisburg. The guy at the bike shop had succeeded, our car was still there!

We drove back to Chapel Hill NC which took almost ten hours, arriving about 9:00 PM. Lyman’s partner Gillian was waiting with my wife Tootie at our friend Maxine’s house. We had their dinner leftovers which were really delicious.