Bicycling and More

April 19

The plan for the three nights/two days we had left in our trip was to share some of the cycling opportunities in the area with Mark and Angie; they, too, were just starting the cycling season and wanted to take it a bit easy on some flat terrain. Two notable rails-to-trails conversions relatively nearby are the Tobacco Heritage Trail (Boydton) and the Highbridge Trail (Farmville).

Still, our first cycle jaunt was Jack’s and my usual tour of the North Bend campground. Our “game” is to take every paved left-hand turn we can make throughout the campground (even around the barriers to un-opened areas), hitting each campsite loop, boat launch, group-camp loop, picnic area, etc., and eventually ending up back at our campsite.


The last time Jack and I did this at North Bend, we clocked just over 10 miles. On this adventure, we added a crossing to the other side of the major hydro-electric dam, and got in nearly 13 miles all told (my average speed was 9.5MPH). We were all hungry, so we decided to skip going downhill (and then back up—a serious chug) to the picnic and launch area “beneath” the hydro-plant itself, and instead decided to head back out again, aimed at the Tobacco Heritage Trail, after a good nosh.

The day was splendid, although the wind seemed to never die, as was the case at First Landing. At lunch Jack and I decided the wind was strong enough that we rolled up the awning, leaving it attached to Roomba by the Kieder Rail, and secured the poles and guy lines so they would not blow into the lake.

We loaded the bikes on Mark’s four-bike hitch rack, piled into his van and headed to Boydton to find a trail head for the Tobacco Heritage Trail. As it turned out, the parking area we were looking for wasn’t in Boydton at all, but rather LaCrosse, a small burb just east of Boydton.


We got started around 2:45, and the beginning part of the trail at this section is paved, which is very nice for riding. But the wind was wicked (again), and we didn’t know exactly how far to go nor how long it would take us. Angie wanted to get back to camp (about a half-hour drive) in time to do some prep work for the dinner they wanted to host for us. So we decided we’d ride for an hour, turn around, and head back. 

Once we started peddling on the cinder/sand surface of the trail, things got more difficult because the footing didn’t seem to be packed as hard as some other cinder trails we’d ridden in the past. But the Tobacco Heritage Trail is a relatively new effort, and has been completed in sections only, so this was not surprising. The last time Jack and I had ridden this trail, we went all the way to Lawrenceville. On this day, we went about 14 miles (7 out and back). The return was a challenge since the wind was in our face the entire time, and still rising with significant gusts. We were all glad we’d decided to roll up our awnings before leaving camp.



Once we got back to camp, Mark and Angie beavered around getting our dinner together, and insisted we bring nothing but ourselves. The effort was made to sit outside while we enjoyed starters, but the final decision was to make the room inside their 1743 for all four of us to sit down because it was so cold and windy. We had a wonderful meal of “chicken pouches” done on the grill. All the veggies, potatoes, and meat for each person—in other words, each meal—was combined and secured in a foil pouch and roasted on the grill until done. It was quite yummy, with Cole slaw on the side, and ice cream and strawberries for dessert. 

April 20

On the final full day of our trip, we had an appointment to show our Alto to some folks who live nearby. While in Virginia Beach, a newcomer to the Alto-interest group on Facebook (to which we have belonged for years) asked if there were any owners in the vicinity of Boydton. Since we were going to be there, Jack invited Scott and Myra to come by North Bend. We spoke to them for about an hour, and they had really done their research—had even tried a friend’s longer American-made trailer—and asked really good questions. 

After Scott and Myra hopped over to briefly see Mark and Angie’s fixed-roof setup, we used Mark’s bike rack in our hitch (to share the driving) and headed to one of our favorite rail-trails, Highbridge Trail in Farmville. It was about an hour’s drive and we decided that we’d eat lunch in town before setting off on the ride. Scott had recommended a place on the river called Charlie’s and we found it and ate quite a good meal of soup and sandwiches (the full name might be Charlie’s Riverside Cafe or some such).


Farmville sits at the approximate middle of the entire rail-to-trail conversion. We headed toward the High Bridge itself, which is East of Farmville (we’ve ridden the trail west out of Farmville, but there is nothing to see and it’s an obvious, steady, significant uphill crank going that direction—truly exhausting outbound, but somewhat of a thrill coming back to town on the downhill).


The High Bridge itself has lots of history both before and during the American Civil War. Just beyond the bridge is a stop with reader boards discussing the Confederates’ attempts to protect the bridge, and the structure’s importance during Lee’s retreat to nearby Appomattox, where the war ended with his surrender.

With Farmville being a college town, there were many young adults using the trail on the day we rode. The infrastructure for this trail is excellent so we did not want for pit stops, and the cinder footing is well-packed and tire-friendly. Also, the wind had finally decided to give us a break, which was a good thing, since the High Bridge is indeed, quite high.

We started the ride at about 2PM and peddled for about 1.5 hrs. covering a total of ~17 miles. My average speed was 11MPH, while Jack’s was up to 12.5MPH because he “found his zone” on the return from the bridge, and smoked the rest of us back to the car.

It was our turn to do dinner, so we put together some Brunswick stew (the area is famous for its Brunswick stew), grilled some bratwursts, and accompanied the whole with some fresh-baked rolls (in the Omnia oven).

During this entire trip, we did not have one campfire, due to the winds and rains. So on our last night, the air wasn’t exactly still, but it was still enough that we did not fear setting ourselves or our surroundings alight, so we enjoyed our dessert of Trader Joe’s chocolate-filled crepes (heated in the Omnia) by the fire until about 9 or so, and called it a night. 


Mark and Angie wanted to be off early the next morning toward their next destination (Savannah). On our minds was the fact that our house sitter told us he needed to vacate by noon. Even though it’s just a 3-hour drive, we didn’t want the doggies to be left inside the house terribly long. So our goal was to be on the road no later than noon.

Thus ended the April Birthday and Bicycling trip. We hope to do a similar early-cycling adventure next spring.

PS – When we got home, the first thing we saw was our screened-in porch punched in on one panel, with muddy BEAR PAW prints on the outside of the screening. Interesting visitor in our absence, which the house sitter had heard during the 3AM incursion, and yelled at to chase it away. No damage done except the screen.

Difficult to see in the pic, but the muddy paw prints around and below the tear in the screen indicate the bear was probably not an adult, but certainly (by any measure) big enough. From the ground (my flowers!) it was standing on, it’s about 4 feet up to the tear.

And Now Something Completely Different

Words matter. The words we choose to describe our lives actually define our lives. We must be ever-vigilant to assure the words we utter and think are as true and honest and precise as possible.

Ever since I read Between the World and Me* by Ta-Nehisi Coates—and subsequently discussing the book with a group of very smart women—Coates has become my guru. He doesn’t know it, but he’s leading me on a journey I am willingly undertaking so that I might understand my own white privilege, and to recognize the habits of mind and the words ingrained in me, that keep my white privilege erected as a barrier between what the world really is and what I was taught it was. I believe—having been taught in my southern culture and communities and schools—the world I described yesterday with my southern words is actually a lie. That I was taught untruths, however, is no excuse for remaining uninformed and ignorant. I’m actively trying to fix that. And Coates has become one of my guides.

* I highly recommend reading Between the World and Me, which is a love letter to Coates’s son. Whites should read it humbly, making every effort to dispense with our egos and our excuses, and our self-protections. It is a difficult read under any circumstance, but even more difficult to gain insight from if we allow our white-ness to filter his experience; if we try to minimize his experience based on our own.

In this article (pasted in its entirety below, re-blogged from The Atlantic and with the original linked here) Coates generously offers a reading list that he recommends so that we southerners who were taught lies might “lose our stupid.” In my opinion, Coates uses the word “stupid” (a word I actually hate and nearly never use myself, as I believe it is overly pejorative) too liberally. 

Yet I feel he might be forgiven, because I do hear his frustration with white people, and our propensity toward excusing and forgiving and lying amongst ourselves about our lives, history, and communities; and I empathize with his being tired of repeating to us what he and his darker-skinned patriots have been trying to convey for decades if not centuries.

I was having a discussion about just this subject with my mother the other day. While she is among the most liberal and enlightened nearly-90 y.o. southern-born-and-bred women I know, she was raised in Richmond, VA. Without getting too deeply into the weeds of our point-counterpoint, I feel her position might best be understood as nostalgia (as in having a soft spot in her heart for her milieu of childhood) rather than an outright desire to “never forget our glorious Southern heritage” (in which I honestly do not think she believes). Our discussion climaxed around the existence of the “Civil War Heroes” erected along Richmond’s infamous Monument Avenue. In counterpoint, I argued that, unless there were equal honors given to non-white heroes and heroines along the same route and equally prominent as those white Confederate tributes extant in the public square, then all of the statues required moving to museums or battlegrounds—including that of our blood ancestor, Robert E. Lee.

Both of us came away with quite a lot of food for thought.

And since our discussion began with John Kelly’s truly ignorant statements about the Civil War this past week (and those of our president earlier), I thought that fellow seekers of truth and deep understanding, who are, as I am, starting from a position of ignorance (if not stupidity) and humbly wanting to learn and do and think better and more truthfully, you might also want to read Coates’s recommendations (I’ve already read Battle Cry of Freedom but none of the others). I suggest this so that we do not simply hear stupid (as with Kelly’s ridiculous statements) and nod along without comment because we actually don’t know any better.

Without further explanation or fuss, I present here Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic, November 1, 2017

Five Books to Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War

29th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, U.S. Colored Troops in formation near Beaufort, South Carolina, 1864 Library of Congress

On Monday, the retired four-star general and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly asserted that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.” This was an incredibly stupid thing to say. Worse, it built on a long tradition of endorsing stupidity in hopes of making Americans stupid about their own history. Stupid enjoys an unfortunate place in the highest ranks of American government these days. And while one cannot immediately affect this fact, one can choose to not hear stupid things and quietly nod along.

For the past 50 years, some of this country’s most celebrated historians have taken up the task of making Americans less stupid about the Civil War. These historians have been more effective than generally realized. It’s worth remembering that General Kelly’s remarks, which were greeted with mass howls of protests, reflected the way much of this country’s stupid-ass intellectual class once understood the Civil War. I do not contend that this improved history has solved everything. But it is a ray of light cutting through the gloom of stupid. You should run to that light. Embrace it. Bathe in it. Become it.

Okay, maybe that’s too far. Let’s start with just being less stupid.

One quick note: In making this list I’ve tried to think very hard about readability, and to offer books you might actually complete. There are a number of books that I dearly love and have found indispensable that are not on this list. (Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America immediately comes to mind.) I mean no slight to any of those volumes. But this is about being less stupid. We’ll get to those other ones when we talk about how to be smart.

1) Battle Cry Of Freedom: Arguably among the greatest single-volume histories in all of American historiography, James McPherson’s synthesis of the Civil War is a stunning achievement. Brisk in pace. A big-ass book that reads like a much slimmer one. The first few hundred pages offer a catalogue of evidence, making it clear not just that the white South went to war for the right to own people, but that it warred for the right to expand the right to own people. Read this book. You will immediately be less stupid than some of the most powerful people in the West Wing.

2) Grant: Another classic in the Ron Chernow oeuvre. Again, eminently readable but thick with import. It does not shy away from Grant’s personal flaws, but shows him to be a man constantly struggling to live up to his own standard of personal and moral courage. It corrects nearly a half-century of stupidity inflicted upon America by the Dunning school of historians, which preferred a portrait of Grant as a bumbling, corrupt butcher of men. Finally, it reframes the Civil War away from the overrated Virginia campaigns and shows us that when the West was won, so was the war. Grant hits like a Mack truck of knowledge. Stupid doesn’t stand a chance.

3) Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee: Elizabeth Pryor’s biography of Lee, through Lee’s own words, helps part with a lot of stupid out there about Lee–chiefly that he was, somehow, “anti-slavery.” It dispenses with the boatload of stupid out there which hails the military genius of Lee while ignoring the world that all of that genius was actually trying to build.

4.) Out of the House of Bondage: A slim volume that dispenses with the notion that there was a such thing as “good,” “domestic,” or “matronly” slavery. The historian Thavolia Glymph focuses on the relationships between black enslaved women and the white women who took them as property. She picks apart the stupid idea that white mistresses were somehow less violent and less exploitative than their male peers. Glymph has no need of Scarlett O’Haras. “Used the rod” is the quote that still sticks with me. An important point here–stupid ideas about ladyhood and the soft feminine hand meant nothing when measured against the fact of a slave society. Slavery was the monster that made monsters of its masters. Compromising with it was morally bankrupt–and stupid.

5.) The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: The final of three autobiographies written by the famed abolitionist, and my personal favorite. Epic and sweeping in scope. The chapter depicting the bounty of food on which the enslavers feasted while the enslaved nearly starved is just devastating.

So that should get you to unstupid–but don’t stop there. Read Du Bois. Read Grant’s own memoirs. Read Harriet Jacobs. Read Eric Foner. Read Bruce Levine. It’s not that hard, you know. You’ve got nothing to lose, save your own stupid.

High Bridge State Park

We had an absolutely splendid day yesterday (Tuesday, March 22, 2016).

After a leisurely morning (with very little wind) and grilled sausage rolls for breakfast, we mounted the car hitch bike carrier and the bikes, I made ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch, and we took off around 11 for Farmville.
On various folks’ recommendations, we wanted to check out the High Bridge Rail Trail, which is a long (30-ish miles) Rails-to-Trails conversion with Farmville, VA at its center. What we hadn’t realized is that it’s actually another of Virginia’s excellent state parks.

Farmville is straight up Route 15 from Clarksville, about 55 miles. It’s a nice drive through pretty countryside, so we were poking around the city trying to find the “trail head” and some parking at around noon. There is a free municipal parking lot right at the in-town access point, and most folks suggested we should head east, which is the direction that incorporates the High Bridge itself, significant not only for its engineering, but as a integral supply line during the Civil War (more on the history part at the end of this note). “There have been higher bridges not so long, and longer bridges not so high, but taking the height and length together, this is, perhaps, the largest bridge in the world.” –C.O. Sanford, South Side Railroad’s chief engineer, 1852.
Headed eastward, the trail simply ends just after a place called Moran—about 15 miles from Farmville. Our plan was to ride the entire eastward length and back for a 30 mile day—our longest ride so far this year.
We stopped along the High Bridge itself to eat our sandwiches. Man, it was windy up there, at the tops of the trees. I took a silly panorama that doesn’t nearly show the height of the bridge, but that was me facing north, swinging the camera from my left across the vista to my right, with both bridge railings (right and left) included. Directly below most of the bridge is wetland and drainage to the Appomattox River, which really isn’t very wide along here, but also flows under the bridge.

The day stayed warm and breezy, and we stopped at a Civil War earthwork fortification that those who manned it (for protection of the bridge itself) called “Camp Paradise.” After that pause for some edification (more on that below), we rode without much in the way of stops (other than a pit stop in Rice) until the end of the trail. We ate a NutraGrain bar and turned around.

I took a couple of snaps along the way, but there’s not much to see. It was a mostly flat, well-maintained surface, more-or-less straight shot. We were hoping for a tailwind as we made our return, but that was not to be. Both of us, however, were pleased with our performance in stretching our fitness levels to be able to manage 30 miles without falling over dead. Both of us even were able to “up the ante” by taking the last few miles at a sprint (relatively speaking) into a significant headwind.

Before getting into the car for the ride back to Occoneechee, we hopped into the bicycling outfitters right next to the trail head, and picked up a map of the entire trail. The map/brochure doesn’t tell much about this specific trail, but it seems that it is a little over 30 miles total of reclaimed rail bed, with Farmville being right in the middle. The person in the outfitters said that the outbound stretch headed west is a 6 percent grade upward the whole way, with an easy coast coming back downhill to Farmville. Alan had told us he thought it was mostly wooded trail going west, and of course, headed that direction, you miss the bridge itself.
We got back and re-heated our chicken stew for leave-overs, built a fire (still little wind on our peninsula, and quite a lot warmer than yesterday), and enjoyed one of those rare moments when the sun sets just as the moon rises. Got a couple of pretty images of the sunset reflecting off Roomba and the lake, and then noticed the full moon rising over the treetops opposite the sunset. Simply lovely.

We called it an early night, even though we were eating our dinner at about 8:30-9PM.

Okay, here’s the history part.

High Bridge: In 1854 the South Side Railroad was completed from Petersburg to Lynchburg. To cross the Appomattox River east of Farmville, High Bridge was constructed. The bridge, 2,400 feet in length and ranging from 60 to 125 feet in height, was built on 21 brick piers. The original wood bridge had a pedestrian walkway beside the tracks and a wagon bridge below.

On April 6 & 7, 1865, all southern bridges were of strategic importance to the armies of General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant as they moved westward from Richmond toward Appomattox Court House. On April 6th, following the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, a small group of Union infantry and Calvary attempted to destroy the bridge but were deterred by Confederate horsemen who arrived on the scene. On the morning of April 7, quick marching Union troops came upon High Bridge as the Confederates were setting fire to it after crossing. Using the lower wagon bridge to continue their pursuit, Grant’s men pressed on, eventually coming in contact with Lee’s army around nearby Cumberland Church.

Camp Paradise:
Veteran, war-worn, French-speaking “chic Creoles” of the Donaldsonville Artillery detachment of 43 Louisiana Creole Canonniers received orders to guard High Bridge by the Lynchburg Confederate Military District Commander, Francis T. Nichols (a native of Donaldsonville). By June 1864, a bivouac of log cabins were built across the railroad tracks from the Overton house by the Canonniers under the direction of Lieutenant Camille Mollere.
The post, commanded by Major Victor Maurin, was tasked to man the four casemated earthworks fortifications, and their 21 artillery pieces, which covered approaches to High Bridge. Having been “feasted and pampered” by local families of Prince Edward and Cumberland Counties, the post became known as “Camp Paradise” by the gunners of Donaldsonville.
The Donaldsonville Artillery detachment took part in the Battle of High Bridge on April 6, 1865, after which they joined the Army of Northern Virginia’s retreat and surrendered with General Lee at Appomattox.

African Americans at High Bridge:
Engineer Department Activities. The High Bridge fortifications were built, in part, with the help of area free men of color who were conscripted for Confederate service. The Confederate Congress authorized the draft of free men of color to support military activities. Confederate records indicate there were about 30 black Confederates supporting the Confederate Engineer Department at High Bridge in September 1864. The Bureau of conscription authorized a draft for free African-Americans from Appomattox, Prince Edward, Amelia, Buckingham and Cumberland Counties to support Captain William G. Bender, the engineer in charge of construction of the fortifications. By December 1864, there were at least 50 men engaged in such work. These men were provided Confederate uniforms and blankets due to the cold weather.
While most of the African Americans documented at the High Bridge worked for the Confederate Engineer Department, pension records document men who were servants in the various companies charged with security of the Richmond & Danville Railroad. Records suggest some “Black Confederate” soldiers performed military duties.