I think it started as a kid, when my dad used to call the main road through town “Dixieway,” even though it was actually called Michigan Street and also US 31. “Why do you call it that, Dad?” “Well, that’s an old name for that road. It takes you to the south, to Dixie.”
Then in college, a buddy of mine grew up in Brazil, an Indiana town about 15 minutes away on US 40. Except that through town, US 40 was called National Avenue. “Why is it called that, Dave?” “That’s just an old name for this road.”
Then I learned that US 31 wasn’t always a four-lane divided highway in northern Indiana that bypassed a lot of cities. “Oh yes,” someone told me, “it used to go right through Plymouth and Rochester. You can still drive the old route if you want, it’s still there.”
Then in the summer of 1986, when I was 18 about to turn 19, I had a summer job driving as a courier. I delivered stuff all over northern Indiana and southern Michigan. I spent a lot of time on highways, me and a little Ford Pinto, or sometimes me and a big Ford van. Sometimes I had to go to Plymouth, which took me down US 31’s original path. I saw some old road where US 20 and State Road 2 intersect north of La Porte, clearly left behind after that intersection was reconfigured many years before.
Isn’t that interesting!
I got busy with life, graduating college, starting my career, marrying, having kids. I remained curious about the old roads, but I put them on the back burner because I was busy with everything else.
Then my marriage failed. I’ve written about it a lot before, so I’ll summarize: the end was horrible and the divorce was brutal. I was in terrible emotional pain, and my mental health suffered enough that I needed medications to stay stable.
Because I didn’t live with my kids anymore, I had a lot of unstructured time on my hands. I didn’t know what to do with myself. The weekends were especially hard because there was so much unstructured time, especially early on when I lived in a tiny one-room apartment where home care was nil.
I didn’t want to be home anyway. I wanted to run away, far away from my sadness and pain. I wanted to not think constantly about all that had happened and all that I lost.
I don’t remember anymore why I decided to spend some weekends exploring roads, except that it was something my friend Dawn and I wanted to do together. On July 15, 2006, a suffocatingly hot day, we got into my little red car and drove from downtown Indianapolis to the Illinois state line on US 40 and the National Road (including Brazil!), following all of the old alignments we could find. Read all about that trip here.
I recall clearly the moment I became hooked. My research told me that there was a very short segment of US 40 abandoned just west of Plainfield. When we got there, we discovered an abandoned bridge.
THIS WAS WICKED COOL. I wanted to find more old and abandoned segments of roads! Even better, this was so interesting that I was consumed by it on the trip. I didn’t ruminate at all over the hard things I’d been through. Happiness and joy had been hard to come by, but I experienced them in abundance on this trip.
Many weekends during the fair-weather months went to road trips in those early years after my first wife and I separated and divorced. I’ve chronicled most of them here over the last couple years, and I’ll report on the last of those early trips over the next few months.
I made fewer trips after about 2012. I had recovered from my divorce, I was busy finishing raising my sons, and I had taken on other things that filled my time. One of them came directly from my road-trip hobby — getting Indiana’s historic Michigan Road named a state byway. I’m still working on Michigan Road things as co-founder and current president of the Historic Michigan Road Association. Then I got remarried, and my career took on greater importance. I made some road trips, but usually I just followed a road I knew well already. I always made photographs and shared them with you here.
I started itching to explore new-to-me old roads again a couple years ago, and finally did it last October when my longtime road-trip companion Dawn and I drove State Road 67 southwest from Indianapolis until we ran out of energy and time about 2/3 of the way to Vincennes. It was glorious! My favorite moment was when we found a segment of SR 67’s original alignment that was hardly still a road.
I hope to make one good road trip every year from here on, following a road I’ve never explored before. I’ll keep sharing what I found here!