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Day 20: Richland Center, WI to Madison, WI

Today started inauspiciously. Once again I snoozed my alarm, which I’d originally set for 6, and I woke up feeling a bit sore. Wound up getting up at 6:20 and hitting the road at 7:50. I really need to get better about early starts so I can take more advantage of the cool morning weather.

But that’s not all. The bike path I took through Richland Center to my hotel yesterday continued past the hotel, so I hopped back on it. 2 miles in, the pavement ended. But that was okay, because the trail continued as crushed limestone, and Taylor had told me that most of the unpaved bike paths in the state were crushed limestone and had pretty good surfaces.

Then, 4 miles in, the crushed limestone ended and I was on dirt. But by this point the trail had veered away from US-14, so I couldn’t just cut out to the highway, so going forward seemed to make more sense. At 6 miles, there was a small herd of maybe 7 or 8 cattle in the path. As I approached, I could see that most of them were actually calves, based on their size. There only seemed to be one fully-grown cow. And then as I got even closer, they got spooked by the sound of my bike and started stampeding. I’ve never actually witnessed a cattle stampede before. Fortunately they were stampeding away from me, but it was still scary! Eventually they got to a point in the trail where there was a bridge, and apparently the cattle are smart enough to not try to cross a bridge, so they momentarily veered off the trail. I took advantage of this to bike past them before they started stampeding back in the opposite direction.

And now comes the really fun part. For some background: I’m sure many of you are aware that much of the Midwest has had a lot of heavy rains and flooding since last fall. Because of all the rain, the water table is very high, so it now doesn’t take much rain to cause flooding in any sort of flat area or valley. The water can’t drain into the ground because the ground is saturated, and it has nowhere to flow, so it sits there until it evaporates. And if the spot is shaded, the water can take several days to evaporate. As a result, even though it hasn’t rained since Saturday, about a mile past the cattle I hit a muddy stretch of trail. A couple of times my bike skidded a bit, but I recovered and was proceeding slowly and cautiously. Even so, half a mile later the inevitable happened: The bike suddenly slid out from under me and I landed on my left side in the mud. The mud completely coated my entire left side, from shoulder to shoes. In addition my bike landed in such a way that both brake handles were coated. And of course my hands were filthy from throwing them out to break my fall.

Well, nothing to do but soldier on. At 9 miles I hit the tiny town of Gotham, but it was too early for the one bar (appropriately named The Bat Cave) to be open. At 10 miles the trail finally came back out to US-14 and I immediately switched to pavement and resolved, regardless of what Google said, to just follow US-14 until it turned into University Ave. and brought me into Madison. There was a nice tailwind too, so I was suddenly flying at 18 mph. Accident aside, I’m sure I could have made much better time if I’d just stuck to the highway. At 14.5 miles I finally got to a gas station in the small town of Lone Rock. Gas station bathrooms aren’t the biggest or the cleanest, so I wasn’t able to clean up as much as I would have liked, but at least I got a fair amount of the mud off, and the rest had dried in the sun by this point. I seriously wished I could take my bike shorts off and burn them, but I do have better sense than that. By the way, remember how I said New Glarus beer was everywhere in this state? This small town gas station carried 750ml bottles of the Raspberry Tart. When I say their beer is everywhere, I mean it!

Washing up ate up 45 minutes, so it was now after 9:30. I decided the best course of action was to just push through to Madison as fast as I could and make limited stops. So I sped along for another 8 miles until I got to a bridge over the very swollen Wisconsin River and couldn’t resist taking a few photos.

After that it was another 8 miles to the town of Arena, home of Arena Cheese.

Incidentally, the mouse with the cheese is part of their logo. Of course I had to stop there, and one cool thing was that from the gift shop they actually gave a big window to look in on the cheese-making process.

For those of you keeping track at home, that now makes three creameries and only one brewery for me in Wisconsin. (Spoiler alert: By the end of the day, breweries outnumber creameries.) Anyway, for $4 I got a 12oz bag of Cojack cheese curds. (That’s Colby mixed with Monterey Jack.) Wisconsinites talk about cheese curds that are squeaky fresh. Having these made me appreciate it; when you chew fresh cheese curds they really do squeak!

Leaving Arena, I plowed through the next 15 miles to Cross Plains. Well, ok, I made one stop because I couldn’t resist getting this shot of highways commemorating my birth year.

In Cross Plains I decided to stop for a frozen custard at Culver’s. (I still needed a bit of a pick-me-up after the accident.) Culver’s is a Wisconsin institution; they’re basically Dairy Queen only with frozen custard. And the custard was certainly very good, but the service was awful. They’re one of those fast food places that tries to make themselves “fancier” by giving you a number and having your order delivered to your table. Somehow it took them 10 minutes to deliver my custard. And then they brought me vanilla when I’d ordered chocolate. I told the woman that I’d ordered chocolate and she gave me a blank look. Eventually they rectified it, but it took a whole lot longer than it should have to simply get me a frozen custard.

And from there it was onward into Madison! Traffic was much heavier once I got east of Cross Plains. Even though the shoulder was wide it didn’t feel great to have so many cars and trucks whizzing by. But then US-12 crossed over and US-14 peeled off the join it. (Remember US-12? I biked it clean across Idaho, but I’d left it in Missoula.) Of course, University Ave. didn’t immediately have a shoulder so I was stuck biking on the sidewalk, but after a couple of miles it got a bike lane and things were fine the rest of the way into Madison.

When I reached the University of Wisconsin’s main campus, I peeled off onto one of their many bike paths to explore. The campus is actually very long and linear, sandwiched between University Ave. and Lake Mendota. Conveniently there’s a bike path along the lake, which I took to get across most of the campus, but I do wonder what students do in the winter. Do they just have really long shuttle bus rides if they have to get from one end of campus to the other? Anyway, here’s a nice view from above the lake near the student center.

And then from the student center I turned inland to check out the main quad, which also has some nice buildings.

While I was looking around the main quad, this guy on a recumbent bike started chatting my ear off. I did learn some useful things, like that the State Capitol was worth a visit, or that there’s a nice terrace on Lake Monona that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. More immediately though, I saw a big cluster of food trucks over by the library, and I hadn’t had lunch yet, so I excused myself to go over to get something to eat.

This is the part where I show my coastal liberal elitism, but boy was it nice to have an arepa for lunch! I hadn’t had one of those in forever. Guess I really am spoiled by the food options available back home.

After lunch, I headed a short distance over to the State Capitol. It was definitely worth checking out! In the main rotunda they had an exhibit on the 19th Amendment, in honor of the 100th anniversary of Wisconsin ratifying it. I learned that Wisconsin was the first state to be declared to have officially ratified the amendment, even though the Illinois legislature ratified it an hour and a half sooner. In order to have ratification officially declared, the legislature needs to send paperwork to Washington, and Wisconsin got a courier to depart more speedily than Illinois did, so they’re considered to have been the first state to ratify the amendment. The rotunda also had a great upward view of the inside of the dome.

While in the rotunda, I also discovered the Capitol has an observation deck, so I headed up to see it. If you only do one thing in Madison, that one thing should be to visit the observation deck at the State Capitol.

Notice the Frank Lloyd Wright terrace by the lake in the first photo. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit it.

As a quirky geographical note, Madison sits on an isthmus between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, which is why there are such good lake views in both directions. As a result of this geography, even though the isthmus runs northeast-southwest, streets running northeast are considered “east”, streets running southwest are considered “west”, and so on. Once you’re off the isthmus, the grid rotates by 45 degrees to align with the cardinal directions. Very confusing.

By the time I finished at the Capitol it was after 3, which meant I could finally check into my AirBnB and get out of my filthy clothes and take a shower. After that it was beer time!

Madison recently made the list of the 25 US cities with the most breweries per capita, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there were four breweries within walking distance of my AirBnB. First up was Working Draft. They make a really good Vienna lager. That’s saying something, because so many breweries make a really bland, nondescript Vienna lager. It’s fairly difficult to make one that actually has character, but Working Draft succeeds with flying colors. The other beer they had that I particularly liked was a Citra IPA. Need I say more?

A couple of blocks away from Working Draft is Giant Jones. Unfortunately, they’re so small that they’re not open on Tuesdays. Luckily, Working Draft had their Weizenbock on tap, so I was still able to try a beer from them. It’s not a style I’ve had before, but it was a hazy bock beer with wheat in it, and it was quite tasty!

Also within a couple of blocks of Working Draft was a small farmers market that runs on Tuesdays from 4-7. I hadn’t been to a farmers market since Missoula, so I decided to check it out. (I actually passed through a number of cities and towns between Missoula and Madison that host farmers markets, but it was always the wrong time of day for the market to be running.)

While I was talking to one of the vendors, I mentioned my cross-country ride, and he said I should talk to the cheesemonger because he has once biked from Wisconsin to Texas. So I went over to the cheesemonger, and he promptly asked me if he had seen me at Arena Cheese this morning. Turns out he’s the dairy farmer who supplies Arena with the milk for their cheese, so his stall had the same selection of cheeses that I had already perused at Arena this morning. He also commented that I had looked a lot filthier this morning and he noticed that I had changed clothes. Did I just hear Chekhov’s gun firing?

After the market, I wandered over to O’so Brewing. They’re actually based farther north in Wisconsin, but they just opened a taproom in Madison back in the spring. A lot of their beers were either fruit sours or barrel-aged strong beers, so I tried a few of each. For fruit sours, I particularly liked the Blood of the Cherry cherry sour and the Arbre Qui Donne peach sour. Both did a great job of bringing out the fruit flavors while balancing them with the sourness of the beer. For strong beers, my favorite by far was the Liquid Soul, an imperial stout aged in Bulleit bourbon barrels. The bourbon flavor complemented the beer very nicely.

Finally, I walked another couple of blocks to One Barrel. They were definitely the most creative of the three, and also my personal favorite. Everything I had here was really good. My favorites were the Breakfast Beer imperial coffee milk stout, which wasn’t overwhelmed with coffee flavor unlike most coffee stouts on the market, and the Hot Scotch chipotle scotch ale. The spiciness of the chipotle just worked well with the flavor of the scotch ale somehow. Creativity points also go to the Tovernaar’s Quest black saison with Sichuan peppers and blood orange. If you have to ask, you don’t want to know, but it was also very good and possibly the most unusual beer I’ve had this entire trip.

Phew! Madison was exhausting. In hindsight I wish I had another day here, but hopefully I’ll get back here soon and be able to explore the city much more throughly. In the meantime, I’m well past my bedtime and really need to rest up for tomorrow. Of note: When I entered Madison my average speed was 16.3 mph. However, I took such a leisurely time biking around the university and downtown that my average speed dropped by quite a bit just over the course of a few miles.

Total distance: 61.8 miles
Average speed: 15.7 mph

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