6 Hours to Wisconsin

Wis-Iowa-mapsI am the one member of my family who crossed the Mississippi and headed west– granted, only as far as central Iowa, but still. Which means getting back to central Wisconsin requires a six-hour drive.

It used to take longer. When I started this trek in the 1980s the Interstate Highway speed limit was 55 miles per hour. By 1992 my husband and I had a baby, and travelling with a baby adds time to any trip, with extra stops for feeding and diaper changes. Baby #2 arrived in 1994 and the trip to Wisconsin took longer still.

But we kept making the journey — for me, because I wanted to see my parents and family back home on the farm, and for my kids, because I wanted them to have a strong connection to their family and farming roots. And my husband, a one-generation-removed misplaced farm boy at heart, always enjoyed playing farm. So off we’d all go.

We travelled with no minivan, videotapes, or DVDs. We did it the old fashioned way — in a fully packed Buick Century station wagon. We brought our lunch, drinks, and snacks, as well as toys, books, paper and crayons for the kids. We knew every rest stop along the I-35 and I-90 corridors, as well as any other family friendly stops that featured playgrounds and decent bathroom facilities. As we travelled we read books, we looked out the window, and we talked to each other. The journey was part of the fun.

At first I packed the toy and book bags until the kids were old enough to do it themselves. Then if they discovered miles down the road that they didn’t have what they wanted, too bad. It was not my problem. Our road trips taught them responsibility.

Today our kids are young adults, making their own way in the world. However, they still head back to Wisconsin for family and farming when they can. (My plan worked.)

My husband and I are empty nesters now, so we are back to making the trip to Wisconsin by ourselves. We usually still pack our lunch, drinks, and snacks. I load up my tote bag with books to read, and pens and writing paper so I can take notes when inspiration strikes. We can make the trip to Wisconsin in six hours. However, when we’re not in a rush, which is most of the time, we stop along the way — for flea markets, antique stores, and really good cinnamon rolls from a particular convenience store chain. The journey is still part of the fun.

Laura Sternweis

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