Our shakedown of colonial American history begins in Elizabeth City, NC, just on the other side of the swamps and tidal flats from Jamestown, VA, the first permanent English colony in the New World. Along the way, we're crossing some of the greatest bridges on the East Coast, bridges that span the waterways that opened up this new country for exploration. Along the way, of course, we wouldn't mind a few great roads to keep us entertained as we cruise the early fall weather on a pair of shiny new Moto Guzzis.
Only an hour north of Elizabeth City, we traverse the first major body of water. It's not our first bridge, but the Currituck Ferry (no fare) which delivers us to US 615, where we ride late in the morning through the swamps and marshes that fill the bottomlands between North Carolina and Virginia. Like a high wire twisting over the wastelands, the roads are strung along the most permanent strips of land. There is hardly any traffic and the curves let us lean low for three, five, sometimes eight seconds before we come back up to exhale and grab another breath and go down into the next giant sweeper.
The scenery is speckled with evidence of its past, windows into this country's origins. US 615 into southeast Virginia carries us through countryside where historical markers cite skirmishes between Confederate and Union soldiers, or rebel takeovers of a local British colonial government in the 1600s. Meanwhile, the views span peanut farms, endless fields of tobacco, then cotton, and finally great expanses of swampland. The map identifies this area as The Great Dismal Swamp, and looking as far as the eye can see, the highest slice of land in view is the road we ride upon. The few structures that tried in vain to defy physics have broken apart and lie sunken in the mud, having given up the struggle long ago. Otherwise, nature in these parts has yielded man nothing but this road.
Some have said that eastern North Carolina should be a state of its own. Certainly few others west of the isles of Britain can be compared to the slow-speaking people who mingle an odd mixture of Old English and Southern accents and work the land here. At the same time, the politesse of southern hospitality lingers behind every smiling face. The smallest pleasures can mean everything - sweet tea on a hot day, a good-looking spray of flowers in the front yard, and taking a well-deserved rest in a rocker on the porch.
Virginia: A Nation's Chronicle
William and Mary, founded in 1693 as the nation's second college, quietly infused its students on the eve of the Revolutionary War with thoughts of rebellion. Thomas Jefferson, a law student at the school, was one of the radical young thinkers trading secret handshakes (unbeknownst to suspicious British sentries) beneath the tables of the Williamsburg taverns.
It's a different scene today at The Daily Grind, W & M's campus coffee shop, where the aroma of freshly roasted brew hangs about the students poring over their open books with highlighters in hand. Getting here from northeast North Carolina wasn't easy. Fighting traffic through Virginia Beach and Norfolk, the first tics of frustration crawled forth. Christian, with a wry smile and scant knowledge of the American judicial system, barked that he wanted to sue the guy in front of us at the light for using his windshield washer fluid too much. And it's probable the whole of Williamsburg could have become a party to this lawsuit if they hadn't provided a good coffee shop. Thankfully, the Daily Grind stemmed some very unnecessary litigation, not to mention the restorative effects it produced by re-caffeinating our photographer. The only bridge highlight along this stretch is the James River vertical lift bridge, built in 1928, with a widening project making it a four-lane in 1982. Cost of construction: $ 75,000,000.