I like to think that my love of road trips and road maps began as a child when my grandparents would take my sister and myself to Michigan to visit our cousins over Memorial Day weekend. They picked us up after school on that Friday and we would drive as far west as the Cranberry exit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike where we would then stay overnight at the Red Roof Inn (I often salute or nod at the inn every time I drive that way as an adult). But even before those trips, my grandfather gave me a map of the United States that said “Anastasia Karel, World Traveler.” I loved learning about the history of the country and its early explorers, and it makes sense that I would want to discover those same paths that others traveled before me.
From the late 1980s through my young adulthood family road trips were a regular part of my life, but we never went further west than Michigan, south than North Carolina, and north to Montreal. In college a favorite form of stress relief involved picking a local road and driving on it as far as I could reasonably go (or until I hit a dead end). But those were state roads, like PA 272 and 462, and while they helped me feel like I was going *somewhere*, there was no larger purpose behind those trips.
When I moved to Philadelphia for graduate school, I sold my car to my sister, and relied on public transportation for the next 9 years. At some point, and I wish I could remember when, I got the idea into my head that I wanted to drive every single road that exists in the continental United States. I Googled the phrase “drive every road,” and what was the top result? An article about a man from Lancaster, PA, who decided to drive every road in Lancaster County! I wonder if Google knew that I was from Lancaster, or if at the time this was simply the most relevant search result out there? I vaguely thought the article was from 2006, but thanks to my dad’s expert research librarian skills, we were able to find the article the last time I visited! If you’re curious, in 2003 a man named Clair Miller was featured in the Lancaster New Era about his project to drive every road in the county. He marked his progress with a highlighter on a 67-page street map book of Lancaster County, and at the time of the article, figured that he had driven well over 5,000 of the roads in the book.
I couldn’t get the idea of driving every road out of my head, and once I became a car owner again, I would find myself mentally noting “new roads” that I traveled. If I got lost or took the wrong turn, oh well, at least it was a new road! Gradually I realized that I needed a more defined subset of roads to drive, and settled on the old US route system that was established in the 1920s. A list of all the routes, both current and former, is available on Wikipedia, and by my count I have 195 routes to tackle.
It’s only been about 5 years since I started actively choosing US routes over the interstates, but one road trip in 2013 helped set the stage. In April of that year, my friend Emma and I traveled to California, PA, to see Bob Dylan and Dawes (https://www.bobdylan.com/date/2013-04-13-convocation-center/). Aside from the fact that we almost got kicked out, the show itself wasn’t particularly memorable. What is important, though, is that this trip was the first time I drove on US 40, the National Road. We were looking for a Starbucks, which seemingly didn’t exist anywhere in southwestern PA at the time, and our phones didn’t get good service to search for one while driving. Somehow, I ended up on route 40 and figured as long as the signs said west, we were going in the right direction. I noticed that the street signs identified the road as the National Road, or Old National Road, and I had one of those feelings that I’ll never forget: a sense of wonder and intrigue, wanting to know more about where I was and why was this road called such.
I look for US routes whenever I have extra time to explore, and learned the hard way that sometimes a route may look more direct on the map, but because of the speed limit or topography, there was a reason it was less traveled. I’ve often wanted to create a system to track my road trips, and starting this blog was one way to do that, but I might have to invest in an old-fashioned atlas of the United States and buy a couple of yellow highlighters to keep in the car.