I used to hate driving.
With a fiery passion.
Have you ever pondered the “if you were rich would you rather have a personal chef, personal trainer, chauffeur, cabana boy, etc.” question? I was all, “chauffeur!” all day, every day* but since moving to Cambridge (our amazing little town in southern Wisconsin) I’ve realized something: I don’t hate driving – I just missed backroads.
I was born and raised a small town country girl, driving my family’s loud and rusty farm truck as soon as my feet could reach the pedals. When I went off to college my three hour drive home was all country highways, curvy backroads, and sweet freedom. After college I moved to Madison, WI and realized stick shifts suck when you’re stuck in traffic, and having your windows down is basically like being in the same car as the driver next to you.
Now that we’re back to small town life it’s a 20 minute drive to the edge of the nearest city, 30 minutes to the closest Target, and fifty-eleven-hundred stoplights to the closest Whole Foods Market. I accepted this as the “sacrifice” I’d be making to move here, but neglected to factor in one major thing:
Hello, backroads, you old friend, you.
A 20 minute drive along a scenic countryside with zero stoplights is a heck of a lot different than a 20 minute drive to go two miles in the city. It’s now safe to say that since moving to Cambridge I’ve rediscovered my love of driving.**
My daughter Kate (you guys, she’s 7 now) didn’t get there quite as fast as I did.
We had gotten used to car time equalling iPad time more often than not because, HELLO, being stuck in traffic is boring, there is only so many times I can sing along to Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood with enthusiasm, and NO mommy doesn’t want to play “I Spy” another Starbucks for the fifty-eleven-hundredth*** time.
Okay, so we move to Cambridge, there are zero Starbucks to spy, I love our new backroads, and my kid still wants the iPad every time we get in the car. Something had to give, so I tried all the usual Wisconsin tricks:
“Kate, look! Cows!”
“Kate, look! Horses!”
“Kate, look! Um…corn looks good for this time of year, don’t you think?”
Girlfriend wasn’t impressed.
Mom challenge accepted.
I noticed a couple of barn quilts in our area that I was pretty sure Ms. Fruit Ninja hadn’t spotted, so one day in the car I said to Kate, “Hey, kiddo! Do you know what a barn quilt is?” I went on to explain what they were and how beautiful they are and how special it is to spot one – an amazing and unexpected surprise when you turn a bend. Then I drove her past one (one we’d driven past dozens of times but she’d never noticed) and pointed it out to her, exclaiming how special it is because each one is unique and many have personal meaning to the barn or building owners.
I could tell her curiosity was piqued but I hadn’t hooked her yet, so I laid down a challenge: “Now that you know what you’re looking for, let’s see if you can spot any other barn quilts along our drive.” Then I took a little detour and drove down a backroad where I knew another barn quilt was hiding. I kept checking the rearview mirror and was pleased to see (read: gloating) she was ignoring the iPad, focusing instead on the scenery outside her window. Soon her face lit up and she shouted, “Mom! Mom! I see one!! Pull over – we need to take a picture!!!” We pulled over, snapped a pic, and admired that barn quilt like it was a national monument.
Kate looked out the window our entire drive home; the iPad on her lap forgotten entirely.
A few days later, I was driving Kate to her swimming lessons (20 minutes of backroads away) and she said, “Mom, let’s see if we can find more of those barn quilts.”
We had already driven past the two barn quilts I knew about so I said, “I’m not sure if there are any others in our area…”
To which Kate shrugged and replied, “Let’s just go for a drive and see if we find any.”
I wasn’t optimistic, but it was summer (this was last summer; 2016) and we had no plans for the afternoon, so I agreed we could give it a try.
After her swimming lesson we hit the Culver’s drive-through for lunch, cranked up some music, and set off to explore brand new backroads in search of barn quilts. Kate made a rule that if we saw a town we had to turn and go in a different direction – this was a backroads only day. I was enjoying our drive, the new scenery, and most of all, our chat (this was the day I learned, for example, that she likes mailboxes shaped like houses, and she’d love to go to a rainforest and swing from vine to vine). We talked (and sang) the entire time, both of us admiring the well-loved and once-loved houses we came across, and pointing out the beautiful and interesting things we noticed along the way such as pretty vines, the unique shape of a roof, a beautiful old tree…I thought nothing could get better than driving backroads and chatting with my girl.
And then we spotted it.
A barn quilt.
Kate was in charge of picking our roads and deciding if we’d turn right or left, and her right turn request led to us spotting it. I honestly didn’t expect to see any barn quilts that afternoon – they’re rare – so to drive upon this beauty was such a surprise!! This time both Kate and I were shouting and pointing and exclaiming, “Look! Look!! A BARN QUILT!!”
Had you been in the car with us you’d have thought we found the Holy Grail.
We pulled my Nissan Rogue over, grabbed my phone and snapped a pic of our backroad treasure – our first (unexpected) barn quilt.
That was my favorite day last summer. We drove around the countryside for hours, we talked and talked and talked and talked…and, much to my surprise, shock, and joy, we found three barn quilts total that day.
The iPad never even made it in the car.
That was last summer and now Kate and I call our little backroad adventures “Barn Quilt Hunting.” If we’re going somewhere Kate will say, “Mom! Let’s take all new roads we’ve never driven before to get there, and let’s go barn quilt hunting!” Sometimes she sets a goal and says, for example, “We’re not going home until we can find at least FOUR new barn quilts today.” So then we drive all around the countryside, finding new backroads to explore, admiring mailboxes shaped like houses, beautiful flowers, and trampolines that don’t have safety nets (she’s consistently appalled by this), and we talk and talk and talk and talk and talk. Sometimes we hit our Barn Quilt Hunting goal, and sometimes we don’t, but I’ll tell you what – we’ve discovered no less than 78 ways to get from Cambridge to Madison, and all of them involve zero stoplights and unlimited screen-free quality time with my kiddo.
Anytime we see a barn, building, shed, house or garage with a barn quilt we pull over and take a picture – that’s how we know we’ve “hunted” it. Here are a few of our finds to date:
Kate and I love our barn quilting hunting so much that we’ve decided to take a little road trip to Shawano County, Wisconsin this week – Monday through Wednesday – to drive their barn quilt tour. When I first suggested the idea of an overnight barn quilt road trip to Kate she was thrilled and exclaimed, “Let’s set a goal! How about…TEN barn quilts?!” I told her I thought we could do better than that considering we’ll be gone for multiple days, and mostly barn quilt hunting each day. So then she exclaimed, “TWENTY barn quilts!”
“Higher,” I replied.
“Whoa,” she said, eyes wide. “Thirty?”
“I think we can do better than that…”
“FIFTY?!” she asked.
And then I had the pleasure of telling her that in Shawano County there are at least 326 documented barn quilts, and we’ll be seeing them all – not to mention the barn quilts we’ll discover as we make our way there and back on our beloved backroads.
Ooooh, we can’t wait!
*Now? Personal chef, please.
**You know what else I’ve rediscovered? My love of country music. Most notably, Eric Church. We’ll circle back to this at some point.
***Do you guys remember this? “Fifty-eleven-hundred” was a number Kate said once – sometime around age three – to get her point across to me that she meant A LOT o’ stuff. It stuck and is now my new favorite number. (Trumping the number 3 which did me proud once in a situation involving a gullible babysitter, a pissed off older sister, and finally getting to sleep on the top bunk.)