Sometimes genius comes in strange places and this summer it has been hidden all across the state in red boxes. The #ISU99 scavenger hunt has been a cooperative effort of the Iowa State University athletic department and the Extension service. Throughout the summer in each of Iowa’s 99 counties a box has been hidden that contains a jersey, water bottle, end zone pylon and assorted other treasures. Each day a different county is announced and clues are provided on social media as to where the box can be found.
The first person (or family) to find the box wins it, with other people who show up in the runner up spots getting t-shirts with the words “Cyclone State”.
My soon to be Iowa State freshman Hannah, has been obsessed with this game all summer and we both lamented the fact that we were busy working the day the box was hidden in Adair county at the “birthplace of hybrid corn”; which I might add yours truly called as the hiding place even before it was posted on Twitter. The hiding spots have been varied and usually it only takes one or two clues before pictures of the happy discoverers appear.
The fact that following the game has turned into a small obsession only fueled the excitement when we learned that Winneshiek County would be hiding their box while we were there on vacation. The planning began as the kids poured over brochures and visitors guides learning about the local sites and making lists of possible hiding spots. The guesses were debated and weeded through and talked about every time we were in the car, the passengers studying the countryside intently. What were the obvious hiding places….the fish hatchery…or maybe a park…or near the museum? All these were carefully considered and as Sunday morning approached they even began to figure out where to stage themselves in order to be centrally located and have easy access to highways. All very scientific I tell you.
So the first post of the morning said that the clue would come between 9:30 and 11:30 that morning. So into the car we go and for some reason part of me felt that Hannah should drive while her sister Paige sat in the front navigating and Max and I took up crash positions in the back. We circled and circled and circled Decorah, finding more interesting things that we hadn’t had time to check out, when suddenly the clue appeared. It was a photo of an old red barn and a wooden split rail fence with 4 courses of rails and the words “rise up and take Highway 9 to find the prize”. Well the only old red barn with that kind of fence we had seen was directly across from Luther college, known as the “Luther barn” (you can’t get to fancy when naming things) so Hannah shot off like a jackrabbit in the new ride (since labeled “White Lightning”). Screeching to a halt in the barn parking lot Hannah and Max jumped out sprinting for the fence, while I turned to Paige noting that this couldn’t be the place because this fence only had three rails and there wasn’t anyone around: there obviously had to be someone there to verify that you claimed your prize and hand out t-shirts to the runner ups. The kids quickly realized this and we were off again, racing towards a highway that would take us south to Highway 9.
When we came to the stoplight, I asked Hannah which way should we go as the highway runs east and west on the south side of Decorah. She didn’t skip a beat and said, “The sun rises in the east Dad and the clue said “Rise up!”. She darted across the intersection heading east a good fifteen miles over the posted speed limit and into the countryside. Highway 9 is hilly and curvy and tends to be a fairly busy stretch of road and we drove for what seemed to be a long time while Paige hyperventilated from excitement and Dad kept reminding the driver to slow down. Suddenly we popped up over a hill and there on the side of the road was a red barn with a four rail fence! Hannah screeched to a stop on the shoulder as the rest of us looked and spotted a red ISU Extension vehicle in the long driveway that lead past the barn. In a move that would make the Dukes of Hazard proud Hannah executed a maneuver that was part U turn, part Za Ga Zig Shrine car turn and we pulled into the driveway of the century farm third.
None of us were sad that day. Of course Ricky Bobby would say if you’re not first your last, but the kids got t-shirts, we got to meet some wonderful people (even locating the place before the mailman could recognize it –he was 5th.) More importantly, we made a great vacation memory that I’m sure the kids will talk about for years to come. And sometimes that is way more important than winning. See you next week…remember, we’re all in this together.