Green Dot Roads, New Jersey To North Carolina

The concept of the journey has nearly vanished from contemporary life. To “embark upon a journey” sounds archaic; instead, these days we “take a trip” and just want to “get there.” And if, God forbid, our arrival is delayed for any reason, it kindles a blaze of righteous indignation. But every motorcycle trip is a journey. The destination is not all-important; sometimes it’s only an excuse for the expedition. Just select a good road and see what it brings. Best of all, there’s no room on the bike for righteous indignation: too bulky.

For many years, I’ve been guided in picking quality roads for my motorcycle journeys by those little green dots on the map, the graphic indicators of a scenic route. I’ve found that those green dot roads are always great for riding. So when I planned a journey to see my father in Wilmington, North Carolina, I decided to point my ’04 BMW R1150 GS to green dot roads in seven states.

Logistics dictated that I begin the scenic portion of my ride in New Jersey. To get there from Connecticut I took the Whitestone Bridge to Queens, New York, then the Verrazano Bridge to Staten Island, and the Outerbridge Crossing to Perth Amboy, New Jersey, passing the hospital where I was born. Inside, surely, were squalling newborns who will one day take their own motorcycle journeys. I wished them well as my own adventure began for real. In central Jersey, I picked up my first green dot road, County Road (CR) 539, which I rode south past Six Flags Great Adventure and Ft. Dix, where my father went through basic training before seeing combat in Korea. CR 539 lead me to State Route 70 west, first through the Pine Barrens Reserve, then south past cranberry bogs carved into the woods on County Road 541. Throughout the Pine Barrens there are mysterious, unmarked side roads that vanish into the deep woods. Do they end at hunting cabins? Moonshine stills? Paramilitary encampments?

The last green dot road for the day was US Highway 206, which I rode south through the Wharton State Forest to Hammonton. From there, I cut west to meet Interstate 95, taking the bridge over to Delaware to stop in Newark. In the motel that evening, pulling on a cold can of beer, I thought about the many visits I had made to Wilmington over the years and wondered how many more I might be allotted: a limited number, surely, because my father has cancer. That knowledge colored the odyssey and cast all things in a more vivid light. He had fought it well, but the silent adversary had recently crept closer to his foxhole, like an enemy soldier on a moonless night.

In the morning, the Beemer looked good waiting there for me in the parking lot. Frankly it takes a lot to make the visually awkward GS actually look good, but it does happen, especially when the bike is out on a journey. Then the machine somehow comes in to its true self, especially if it has some road dust or mud on it.

The plan was to ride green dot State Route 9 down along the neck of the Delaware Bay to Odessa. But that didn’t happen. After crossing the drawbridge at Delaware City, I rode down to Port Penn, founded in 1763, with a published elevation of 10′. But some parts along 9 are even lower, I think. In fact, some sections were under water. I could have done the hairy-chested thing and ridden right through, but instead I looped northwest on State Route 310, dry footed, to State Route 213 in Maryland. This green-dotter took me past soy bean and corn fields from Elkton down to Galena, just past the Sassafras River, an estuary of the Chesapeake Bay.

The next stretch, on US 50/301 across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to Annapolis, then down the Patuxent Peninsula on 301, was not officially scenic but still good riding. In Richmond, Virginia, I connected with State Route 5 to Williamsburg. It was a weekday, and I had green-dot 5 almost completely to myself as I rode through white cotton fields and black-water swamps along the north shore of the James River.

The next morning, I rode out of Yorktown down to North Carolina on US Highway 258. After catching US Highway 158 east (near the town of Tarheel), my progress was abruptly arrested in the town of Poplar Branch, where I encountered Digger’s Dungeon, home of the Grave Digger monster trucks. The colossal excess of these machines, the battleship-scale raw tonnage of them, is a sight to behold. There is evidently some indigenous form of Southern psychosis that figures an engine is just about right when it’s a 540″ big block that inhales white alcohol and exhales blue flame from eight angry orifices.

Humbled by the ordinary scale of my life, I got back on my munchkin motorcycle and made my way to the Outer Banks, past the Wright Brothers memorial at Kitty Hawk and down to Manteo, then across the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge to the mainland. Now I was on the Albemarle Peninsula, heading west on green dot US Highway 64 across the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and into the slumbering town of Columbia. From there I turned south on green dot State Route (SR) 94 through the East Dismal Swamp, where the ringing ghosts of chain gangs haunt the sumac and scrub oak. The road cuts straight across Lake Mattamuskeet where locals go to hook catfish from the roadside. SR 94 ended at my final green dot road, US Highway 264, which I took west to Washington, on the north shore of the Pamlico River. There I picked up US Highway 17, a main north-south thoroughfare that I’d traveled frequently on previous trips to see my father. I rode it south to New Bern on the Neuse River. (In the October 2010 issue, Jon Langston wrote about riding 17 north from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to Virginia).

I began to think more about my father, who I would see in a few hours. I somehow missed the turn for 17 and, lost in thought, mistakenly blasted west on US Highway 70. I was reminiscing about my father’s ’58 Chevy Delray (the model you got if you couldn’t afford a Bel Air or Impala). It had so many levers and dials on the dashboard that I told him I would never be able to learn to drive a car. He smiled and assured me I would. Then I remembered him teaching me to drive, 13 years or so later, in his Volkswagen. I daydreamed about how great it would have been if he had been a motorcyclist, and I could have ridden with him.

I was nearly all the way to Kingston before I realized my error. Fury rising, I pulled over and paced heatedly back and forth near a wrecking lot. The junkyard dog barked at me for a short time until he sensed that, of the two of us, I was the meaner one. But soon I was able to let go of my anger and shrug off the indignation. It’s just a mistake, I told myself. It isn’t cancer. I mounted the GS and raced to Wilmington with my priorities straight.

I had a great visit with my father despite his diminished mobility. We talked about what a lousy sense of humor the Grim Reaper has, and how one must always conserve just enough strength at the end to spit defiantly in his eye.

As for those of us kindred spirits who journey on motorcycles, we each have our own odometer and there are only so many miles on it for us to turn. Every one of them is glorious and good. Every road is a green dot road. So get out there and live; get out there and ride. RB

Story By Lee Kessler

Story as published in the 2012 June issue of RoadBike magazine.