Why I take road trips

State Road 62 in southern Indiana, near the Harrison-Crawford State Forest

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.”

Hunh.

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.”

Hunh.

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.”

Oh really?

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.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield
US 40 on the left, the abandoned section through the hole in the brush on the right
Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield
Abandoned bridge on the abandoned alignment of US 40
Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield
Well overgrown abandoned US 40
Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield
Abandoned US 40, with current US 40 curving to follow the original alignment

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.

NB Old SR 67 SW of Edwardsport

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!

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!


Comments

19 responses to “Why I take road trips”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I don’t know what it is, but when I was in high school and college, and after that. If I had nothing to do, I was out driving and exploring the countryside and looking at how the exurbs lived. Gas was cheap, spare time with a camera in my hand seemed like the way to spend an afternoon. Wanderlust?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I used to do that in my early 20s too. Just go for a long drive to get out of the house.

  2. Bill Helbing Avatar
    Bill Helbing

    Great story, I try to make similar trips and I research them. Planning a trip to southern Ohio and discovered that the area was a major iron producer in the 1800’s. Who knew! Really enjoy your work.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s just that sort of stuff that makes these trips so valuable and interesting!

  3. Suzassippi Avatar

    I have always loved road trips–you just find the most interesting things.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you! I just drive along and see it!

  4. -N- Avatar

    I’ve been on the road since I was a kid and the family started moving every 6 months or so with a new job posting. I loved it and still do. Exploring on foot and on a bike and in a car is the best way to see the country and world around you.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Wow, opposite childhood of mine. We lived in exactly two houses, less than one mile apart from each other!

  5. -Nate Avatar
    -Nate

    Nice ;

    I’m old so I grew up traveling those old roads in the 1950’s and 1960’s before most were re aligned .

    I too still love to travel the back routes, if you collect older maps the better roads are often marked in blue .

    Glad you made it through the divorce ~ I had given up on my now ex Wiife yet it rocked my world when she bugged out leaving me with our 12 year old son .

    He and I continued to travel by old jalopy or vintage Motocycle, he’s in his 40’s now and still loves the open road .

    -Nate

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have a nice collection of older maps here that help me! Also a network of other roadgeeks who have done their own research.

      Wow, your wife just left you with you son. I’m sorry about that, for both of you.

      Here’s a story I told a long time ago about following these old roads:

      https://blog.jimgrey.net/2011/05/16/bursting-the-nostalgia-bubble-2/

  6. brandib1977 Avatar

    I love how the seeds were planted throughout your youth so the hobby would be ready to cultivate when you were ready.

    I began road tripping after my relationship ended as well. It provided badly needed therapy as it allowed me to run away from home when life was too sad to face. Now I’m running TO something instead of AWAY and I’m so glad. I’m planning my first road trip of the year for after my current project ends this month and am stoked.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Isn’t it funny how it worked out? I think I’m mildly on the autism spectrum and arcane things like this just appeal to me. Just look at all the knowledge I’ve accumulated about roads over the years!

      I look forward to your road-trip report!

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        You have accumulated vast knowledge from your travels and have inspired the rest of us to go out and seek our own roads to travel.

  7. J P Avatar

    I grew up in an area where US 30 was a major influence and remember adults talking about “Old 30”, something different from the 30 I knew. I was always fascinated by places and businesses that had once thrived but later disappeared as life moved on for most people. I recently drove a portion of Old 30 that was replaced by a new alignment when I was in college. I remember hating the curvy old 2 lane road when I had to drive it, but love it now.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      When the twisty two-lane was The Road, everybody had to take it and it was busy! Now these old alignments are the lazy byways.

  8. Daniel Brinneman Avatar

    I wrote my reasons after reading your post. Thanks for inspiring me. https://danielbrinneman.com/why-i-take-road-trips/

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s not often that someone responds to one of my posts with a post of their own. I like the practice. Thank you for doing it.

      1. Daniel Brinneman Avatar

        Thank you, Jim!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: