Slow Travel: A Slice of the American Midwest (+ What to Pack + Where to Go)

If you have a road trip planned this summer, consider starting in the lonely plains of Northern Indiana, where few tourists ever go. It’s my birthplace. Though I longed to leave it as kid (and did), I still know the good spots.

In order to tell you what they are, I have to start with a winter tale. Here’s how it goes.

Last January, I made the long trek back to my small hometown– a thing I rarely do. This was a special occasion. At 70 years old, my father found true love. He decided to have a tiny wedding at the last minute.

I had to go– snow storms or no.

The winter drive north to Indiana is long. The landscape evolves slowly from Tennessee’s rolling hills and limestone crags to Indiana’s flat sea of frozen earth.

The sun fell slowly and with firey drama into flooded corn fields. The utter darkness left little to look at for the next three hours except for the red and white lights of cars coming and going, and the occasional warm eyes of a solitary farmhouse in the distance.

Snow began to whip in sparkling typhoons over the two lane road. We don’t have snow like this in the South.

I stopped the car in a small town just before the land tumbles into the cold waters of the Great Lakes– my mother’s home.

I immediately curled up in the old wrought iron bed upstairs and fell into a deep sleep.

When I awoke, there was fresh snow and news of the impending the “polar vortex”. It was time to get ready for the wedding.

But first: breakfast. Breakfast in Indiana means one thing: The Olympia Candy Kitchen. This tiny diner manufactures its own candy by hand and serves up calorific Midwest breakfasts. I never leave without a box of chocolates.

After breakfast, we rushed to the wedding and to dinner. It was then that the snow hit. We waited until morning to drive back to Tennessee.

I barely had time to hit most of my favorite places before the polar vortex shooed me away. But I remember them.

As a child, I wandered alone in these fields, corn towering above my head. We scared up clouds of fireflies at night and played in the cold border stream in the day.

As a teenager, a car freed me. I drove over the unending numbered grid of two lane highways, just to listen to music somewhere that wasn’t home.

On Saturdays there was time to vagabond on Main street, going in and out of the dusty antique mall, hunting up vintage dresses and hardback novels.

We drank watery coffee in the all night diner and thick milkshakes in the afternoon at the Soda Shop. We planned our escape. Years later, I made mine.

And though leaving was my big adventure, my heart will always be tangled up in cold dark waters of the Great Lakes, in the melancholy plains that seem to point to nowhere.

If you find yourself near the northern plains of Indiana, it’s worth a visit. Go in the spring, summer, or fall (when the maple syrup is flowing).

Hardly touched by tourism, it has a wide open vibe and makes a good starting point for a lazy summer trip west on Route 66, which starts a couple of hours away.

My Favorite Spots

Goshen Brewing Company    This is truly special beer worth stopping for. You can get a growler or cans to go. And you will meet some nice people at the while your growler is being filled.

The Olympia Candy Kitchen I’ve been getting the biscuits and gravy and the pistachio ice cream here since I was a kid. You’ll want to bring home a box of their hand-made chocolates– this is even more important than the breakfast. My favorite is the toffee and the maple cream. Sit in one of the original booths or, if you want to talk about Notre Dame football, hang out at the counter. Someone is sure to chat you up.

South Side Soda Shop This diner is nearly 100 years old. I get the curly fries and a Lime Rickey. And if I were 15 again I would finish that up, skip the high school football game, and head out to the park like a vagrant.

Goshen Antique Mall You can still get good deals at this antique mall on Goshen’s Main Street. This is where I would hunt for treasures as a kid. Put aside some time to wander up and down Main Street and tool around the courthouse lawn. There’s a rumor that the odd booth there was built to stake out John Dillinger, but the Goshen Historical Society debunked it.

James Dean Gallery, Fairmont, Indiana James Dean’s hometown pays homage to him with this small but worthy collection. You’ll want to watch Giant and East of Eden immediately.

Indiana Dunes Yes. Dunes. Part of the national park system, these beautiful dunes and cliffs along Lake Michigan are worth a day trip, and a great way to get some nature in before heading to Chicago.

What to Pack for a Winter Wedding

Now for your story

What are your favorite spots in your home town? Has it changed much since you were a kid? If we were visiting, where would you take us?

This post contains a few affiliate links. It also contains just links to things I love. When you shop through the affiliate links, you can support the operation of this blog. Thank you for being here!

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