The shortest distance between points is beside the point.
shunpike: a side road used to avoid the toll on or
the speed and traffic of a superhighway
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Whenever we can, we shunpike. That is, we deliberately avoid the main highway, eschewing the speed and convenience it theoretically offers. Instead, we opt for the long way around — the shunpike. By shunpiking, we avoid the frustration of being tied up in racetrack-type traffic. For nearly any straightforward route to a major destination, we can find some sort of side route that gets us there just as well — better, to us, actually, although it inevitably involves more time on the road. But when the road is pleasant, that’s not so much of a problem.
On the way up to Boulder a week ago, we shunpiked eastward around the dreaded nightmare corridor of construction on I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock.
Just look at those construction markings along I-25 to the left here and you can see some of what we avoided.
It added an hour to our trip overall, but that was a most pleasant hour spent rolling through gently undulating fields.
Even as we skirted Denver to get to Boulder, we avoided I-470 entirely, instead opting for some side city streets. Found us a good pub for some grub on the way, too!
We knew this route from prior explorations coming and going to Denver and Boulder. Once we’d found this route a year or two ago, it quickly became our preference anytime we’re not specifically in a hurry. which these days, is all the time.
I love using the map app setting “Avoid highways” and that works well for us as shunpikers. Back in the days before cell phones and GPS and map apps, though, the tools of the trade were whatever detailed maps you could find and a good sense of dead reckoning when you wandered off the map’s roads.
We found an incredibly detailed full-sized road atlas called “The Roads of Texas” which shows all available roads, including interstates, state highways, city streets, country roads and even some private dirt roads in the middle of nowhere (which, in Texas, can be found nearly everywhere). That got us into all sorts of unusual places. My favorite was the dirt road that ran between the farmhouse and the barn with the old man sitting on his porch watching me drive past. I smiled and waved and he waved back as I drove off.
We gathered a collection of these “Roads Of…” finding similar ones for New Mexico, Colorado, and even Arkansas. We put each one to use and found some wonderful places while getting lost across several states. Once we shunpiked southward from Cloudcroft, New Mexico, angling for what looked like mostly empty space on the map, down in the southeastern edge of the state where road led up into the Guadalupe Mountains from the west as a way to cross into Texas. That’s where we aimed.
Well, after winding down from some of the higher elevations, we found ourselves on an almost featureless sandy expanse with barely defined roads which no longer had signs of any sort. Sometimes, there would be a fork leading off into the desert to the side, also unlabelled. Having been in the middle of nowhere multiple times, I can assure you this was the middle of the middle of nowhere.
Soon, it was hard to even tell whether we were really even on a road rather than some sandy flat stretch. The only thing that helped keep us oriented was the Guadalupe Mountains, off east of us, which were looming larger as we seemed to approach. That may have been our best shunpike ever, since we did eventually find the road that led us up into the Guadalupe Mountains and into Texas.
We have a clean record as shunpikers — w’ve never gotten so lost we could not find our way back.
One shunpiker’s guideline: never return the same way if you can go a different route.
So, on the way back from Boulder last week, we decided to spend the extra time to shunpike home via the westward route we had previously explored when we helped our son, Lucas, pick up his car from east of Boulder.
Heading westward from Morrison, we even added an extra dog-leg to route through Evergreen before we caught 285 to head go through Kenosha Pass.
We wanted to try another slight variation to our prior route home, so we turned off 285 at Jefferson and headed southward on county roads that promised to eventually wind around and lead us to Highway 9 and home by way of US 50.
Here’s where my modern technology betrayed us, though. As we wandered through some beautiful rolling hills (at 40 miles per hour — shunpike-style speed limit), the phone lost signal. No proble. Except that it also lost the previously displayed route on these back roads. Now, as we slowly meandered out into the middle of nowhere, I could not determine if we were still on the right road. I started to panic each time this happened, once diverting us off onto a 7-mile stretch of washboard-rough dirt road through a national forest, only to return to our main route, throughly rattled and ready to return to a “real” road.
I realized my panic was more of a problem than the loss of directions on the map app. Relax and keep going in the direction selected and watch for road signs leading where we want to go. That worked back in the day before GPS and it still works. We made it to Florissant fine and headed southward, almost on the road home — until we showed up at the edge of Cripple Creek.
“That’s not right,” I told Sara. “We have to turn back.” I checked our route and saw that we had missed a turn-off some 10 miles back or so. The good news was that those ten miles had been incredibly beautiful, so driving back through them wasn’t terrible and didn’t take long. The bad news was we were starting to lose daylight and still had many miles to go before we hit the main roads.
When we doubled back and spotted the missed turn-off, we saw how we had manage to miss it. We had been distracted by the llama farm on the left, pointing, laughing, and joking about llamas — when we needed to notice the small road sign telling us to turn right. Course correction completed, we rolled on home.
Hey, if you only take one wrong “short-cut” and only have to turn back once, that’s a great shunpike!
So, if you’re ever facing a simple straightforward ride, invite us along and we can help double the time and distance, quadruple the roadside beauty (at least!) and add in some mystery (“Where ARE we?”), some suspense (“Does this road really go ANYWHERE?”) — as well as romance and comedy.
We’re your guides to some serious shunpikes— guaranteed to get you lost and still get you there!