In middle of last month (July 2015), because Americans are free to travel at will within the country by car and I wanted to visit my friend, Eric, I took a bike with me and drove to Alamance County, North Carolina. He’s been out this way to visit with us several times over the past few years, so I thought it might be a good time and simple neighborliness to pay him a visit at home. You may remember him from my earlier posts about swapping my Pouch E68 kayak for a Razesa road bicycle, and my posts about going back to Asheville to sell my Pionier 450S kayak – Return to Asheville Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Eric and I met in the 1990’s, when we were both attending seminary at Louisville, Kentucky, and were housed on the same dormitory floor. His room was at the top of the stairs and was a natural meeting place for the floor’s residence. Eric was sort of the community social director. We became friends, and some years later, Eric served as best man at my wedding; he is my son’s godfather and probably my closest friend.
Garmin Confusion at Asheville
The drive to Asheville was pretty uneventful I-40 through Knoxville and then follow the signs and drive up the winding, mountain road. As I ascended the mountains nearer Asheville I saw river outfitters’ school buses carrying rafts on top and crowded with tourists within. I listened to the Minor Prophets on the car’s CD player while driving because I’ve been studying Nahum to preach through the book, and all of the Minor Prophets in order and context convey a message I’m trying to discern.
I’m down to one pair of bib-shorts for cycling and my old Castelli jersey is showing signs of wear – threads coming loose, zipper-pull broken off – generally looking worn-out enough to replace. On my way to Eric’s house, I planned to stop for lunch (I brought a couple of sandwiches with me in the car) and buy a jersey and bibshorts at Hearn’s Cycling & Fitness downtown Asheville. I remembered that odd used bike shop from my previous visits as a friendly place, and thought it would be cool to have a Hearn’s bike jersey.
At Asheville, Garmin GPS – I used “Voice Command’s” Find Place feature – routed me to an address on Broadway that has no bike shop. I tried to remember the location of Hearn’s from my several walks through the downtown area, but consistently failed on my own to find the bike shop. I did drive past all the places I’d walked past or eaten at or window-shopped with on my two prior visits to the city.
Without any difficulty, though, I found the Four Points Hotel, where I stayed during my first visit to Asheville. Helpful hotel desk staff found for me the correct address for Hearn’s, 28 Asheland Ave. Garmin, supplied with the correct address, got me there without difficulty.
The vibe at Hearn’s was completely different than it was at the time of my first visit to Asheville. I had the impression that the grownups had gone off and left the store in charge of an indifferent and underage staff that knew little about cycling. Or, rather, knew something about cycling related to their own use of bicycles, but had little or no idea how to communicate that effectively to customers in a friendly, welcoming, and productive way. I did buy a set of cleats for my old SPD shoes to try out with the old SPD pedals I bought used at Stepford a couple of months ago. Next time I need a bike shop at Asheville, though, I’ll look elsewhere.
Before leaving Stepford, I googled cycling routes in Alamance County, North Carolina. The North Carolina Department of Transportation has detailed information in the form of maps and brochures by county and region. Here are the county maps: http://www.ncdot.gov/travel/mappubs/bikemaps/ The State of Tennessee offers nothing remotely close to the wealth of data North Carolina provides to interested cyclists. The cycling maps I’ve reproduced here were taken from this brochure: http://dotw-xfer01.dot.state.nc.us/gisdot/DOTBikeMaps/Alamance/alamance.pdf In addition to the NCTDOT website, googling this morning the phrase “bicycling alamance county nc” returned this link, as well: http://burlingtonnc.gov/index.aspx?NID=1499 . Burlington’s one of the three bigger towns of Alamance County. The other two are Graham, the county seat, and Gibsonville.
Heat and humidity in Alamance County during mid-July were oppressive. Daily thunderstorms provided some relief from climactic conditions and opportunities to practice rain-riding skills.
Eric lives in a 660 square foot two bedroom, one bathroom, condominium on the good side of one the three Alamance County municipalities that all run together to form a more or less seamless small urban or large town area. The condo, as these owned apartments are colloquially known, is part of a development built in the 1940s that resembles housing built for married officers during World War II. Brick exteriors, well-built interiors with hardwood floors throughout, but tiny compared to what we’re used to nowadays. Our expectations of comfort and personal space have changed a lot during the past 75 years.
Eric’s condominium reminded me a lot of his old dormitory room from seminary, only quite a bit larger. Books everywhere, as well as photos, pictures, wall hangings. Actually, a pretty comfortable small home. Eric filled me in on the goings on in his neighborhood; he seems very well informed and seems to know his immediate neighbors pretty well.
I arrived in the late afternoon Thursday, and got my travel gear moved into the spare bedroom, where I camped out with an inflatable mattress and a sleeping bag. I parked the bike in the living room, against a small couch Eric had inherited from a deceased aunt or uncle. We spent some time catching up, and then Eric gave me a driving tour that included a 20+ mile route he used to ride pretty regularly before he swapped me his old roadbike for my old kayak.
For this trip, I took the Jamis Supernova rain bike because stormy weather had been predicted by www.noaa.gov; turns out I made the right choice. I got caught in rain and thunderstorms every ride. The Supernova, equipped with Clement X’Plor USH tires handled slick, wet conditions in town and in the country without the slightest problem. I visited Elon Bike Shop initially in search of cycling togs, but also out of tourist-like curiosity; while there, I did buy a bell and some wheels.
My visit lasted five days and four nights. I rode every day, even the day I arrived, if I recall correctly, except the Monday I left. My rides took me through Graham, Burlington, and Gibsonville – the Troi Villes referenced in the title line, above. I also rode through Elon (and visited the university there as well as the famed Elon Bike Shop) and Ossipee near which municipality I crossed the Haw River on my way to and from Berea Christian Church’s building (built in 1903) – where on a couple of rides, I rested and drank Gatorade, ate a snack, and snapped a few pictures.
During my rides I saw fields of cultivated tobacco growing green and healthy-looking, as well as soybeans and corn in abundance. The crops in Alamance County looked better than most of what I’d seen earlier in the summer while riding through East Central Indiana. While riding I came upon a couple of derelict houses. One appears to have been built of cinderblocks stamped with a starfish design, and intended to resemble houses built over a century ago. The other house appears to date from the 19th Century and could at this point provide shelter only for the birds of the sky and the small, wild animals of the fields and hedges. The chimney is still standing, but it appears the section of house in back where the kitchen was probably located has long since returned to the ground. After I rode past the broken house, I wondered about the family or families that’d lived there. Were they happy? Did things turn out well for them?
On Friday, Eric and I visited his family’s lakeside dacha at a private hunting and fishing club. I saw an albino deer stuffed and displayed in a glass case at a gas station bait shop on the way out to the lake.
We grilled out (chicken soaked in a marinade that defies adequate description) and spent most of a lazy day reading (me), fishing (Eric) and talking. I’d gone for a ride in the morning and was pretty worn out by the time we got to the lake. Because I was pretty spent, I didn’t take my old companion, the Pouch E68 folding kayak Campsis Radicans, for a paddle around the lake. Still, it was good to see the old boat again, and to remember how ill its badly fitting hullskin made me (which is why I was so willing it to swap the kayak for old roadbike). A family of ducks swam over to the dock and disruptively demanded to be fed. Eric gave them some dog food he’d gotten from somewhere, and the ducks were satisfied for a while.
On Saturday, 18 July, my grand tour took me on a circuit that included the county seat, Graham, where I attended a rally in support of a monument in remembrance of the Confederate soldiers of Alamance County who gave their lives during the the American Civil War. I listened to an informative and well-reasoned speech made by a member of the local Sons of the Confederate Veterans camp. In a separate post, I’ll talk more about the rally, but here let me say that if 20 years ago you’d told me I’d applaud and express hearty agreement with the statements made from a man wearing a Confederate uniform in support of Southern heritage and values, I’d have said you were crazy. But I would have been wrong. After the speech ended, a thunderstorm broke and rain poured down on me as I rode on.
The town of Gibsonville is memorable for its model railroad hobbyist store, Bobby’s World of Trains, an outdoor model railroad, a Saturday market on the green, and an ice-cream shop. I visited the hobby shop where I snapped some pictures of its train-table. If you have any interest in electric model trains or railroading, you should pay this place a visit. The owner and customers seemed friendly and knowledgeable. They’d even heard of Tennessee’s Chapel Hill Ghost Light, a phenomenon I saw many years ago. Bobby’s World of Trains is located at: 113 Lewis Street, Gibsonville, NC 27249 Telephone: (336) 449-7565.
I visited Six Scoops ice-cream shop and ordered two scoops in a cup getting something closer to two pounds of ice-cream made on site. Six Scoops has a Facebook page here. I got lost on the way out to find a very old Lutheran church building, but found my way back to the familiar course I’d been riding since my arrival. One of my ancestors, William Jenkins, was a Lutheran pastor who made his way to Bedford County, Tennessee, from North Carolina.
On Sunday morning, I attended a worship service with the church to which Eric belongs – a mega-church in nearby Greensboro called Westover Church. I enjoyed the service and the outgoing friendliness of the diverse, upscale congregation. This came as a great surprise to me, given my tendency to disparage big, showy, institutional Christianity. On reflection, though, it seems that should not have come as a surprise – if a large congregation did not offer a pleasant experience, it probably would not long remain a large congregation. In the afternoon, I again rode a circuit that included Berea Christian Church and Gibsonville. In the evening, I worshiped with a Reformed congregation – Beacon Baptist Church near the Burlington airport. If I’m able to visit Eric again next year, I plan to again attend that congregation’s worship service. Again, on reflection, it seems to me that Westboro Church presents as informal, but its organization is doubtless highly structured and somewhat formal in its operation. Beacon Baptist Church presents as formal, but I had a sense that it may be less so in its actual operation.
A Long Drive Home
The drive home was uneventful – I stopped at a Cracker Barrel on the Tennessee side of the mountains for lunch. Getting back to my own county, I encountered heavy rain. Rain bothers me less than it used to.