Sacre Bleu! She is running away…

In FlightYou want to hear something funny? This was supposed to be a travel blog. Like so much of life, it hasn’t progressed quite as originally intentioned.

Enter my trip to my second Tredecem.

I really didn’t ever plan to do another 13.1. I decided after the first that running wasn’t really my thing and would concentrate instead on biking and gym-rattedness. Oh Life, you are funny with your lessons to never say never.

A need for a post-double century “what’s next?” combined with a Delta volunteer bump credit burning a hole in my pocket crashed into my desire just to get away for a while. I have had the driving urge to shake up my routine. Go. Do. See.

So I built up my running miles over the last 6 weeks and off I went to the exotic locale of Madison, WI.

What? I’d never been to the badger state before…

Race Notes

Starting LineOk I have to get it out of the way: the race was fantastic! I kicked some serious petutie (my own) and pulled almost 5 minutes off my previous time. Yay!

Much to the disappointment of the “full” people the 26.2 race was cancelled under the threat of unsafe temperatures. The 13.1 therefore included all registered runners. It was a mite crowded at the start but I enjoyed having the more of a pack to push and pull me along.

An overcast morning broke into clear blue skies as we wound through downtown and along the waterfront, by the end of the race it was indeed warm bordering on hot. While not the only one with camelback (though they were rare) I was the only runner I saw in Vibrams — maybe they were all further front (ha!) — but by mile 9 I was definitely feeling the road.

After keeping the 2:00 pace signs within sights (if not a half block) for most of the race I lost them around this point and my splits increased. Regardless, I finished the — slightly heartbreaking — uphill to the capital fairly strong and soundly beat my goal time. I might or might not have been playing Katy Perry.

Medal Earned

Besides that final hill it was a very nice course, varied and fairly well shaded. The race was well supported — good shirts and medals too — with encouraging pots of onlookers and cheers. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a first or 51st race to run.

Ok, non athletes can check back in now.

The Future-Librarian Recommends: Sacre Bleu

Like about 1000 times over I recommend Christopher Moore’s latest. I’m surprised it isn’t getting better reviews, though I know Moore isn’t for everyone. I might be in post-reading bliss but seriously it will probably go up into my favorite books of all time list. It made me laugh out loud, sigh and close the spine holding on to the wisps of beautiful sentences, and slow down at the end to make it last. It was one that immediately upon finishing you wish you could start again for the first time.

Best enjoyed feeling very Parisian under blue skies at an outdoor cafe sipping an espresso.

Always learning

Great Dane BeerI struck up a conversation with a scientist at the Great Dane (a great pub and brewery). He was kind enough to point me towards a solid stout, educate me on the genome as much as my brain was able to process and he was able to demonstrate with iPhone and napkin, and reveal the amazing Wolvarine-like qualities of the Zebra fish.

Discussing why on earth I chose this vacation destination (which was named for the president by the way), we talked — quite scientifically I assure you — about our natural inclination to compare and contrast different aspects of a new environment to what we have known before. Perhaps I’m a little too much of a nerd but when in a new place I have a habit of dropping into the “well it is like ___ but not like ____” game inside my head.

We don’t have to fly across the world to do this of course. Even just while exploring a few neighborhoods, towns or states away we can still play: What is different and what is similar to where? If you were plopped onto a new street in your hometown, how would you know you were still local and not teleported across the country?

If we open our senses and try to pick out the details — which travel naturally attunes us to — we observe all the little things that distinguish one place or region from another. Observations might not be dramatically profound but I enjoy putting on these travel-eyes to see and sense as much as possible.

The pieces of Wisconsin

Little Free Library along bike PathBy Georgia metrics mayhaps not but as noted it is rather warm by Wisconsin standards. The fantastic hostel I called home for the weekend was cool enough even sans AC. Windows open, I was able to enjoy the noises of the outdoors.

And oh my stars, the birds are loud.

Some kind of little brown chickadee type things that chirp. It isn’t obnoxious or annoying really, just prevalent. I noticed it walking down the streets, sitting along the lovely waterfront, and most especially in the early evening, even just a few blocks from the capitol and city center, the little birds were quite vocally happy about the warm weather.

Other random observations:

  • Despite being “America’s Dairyland” and passing numerous farms on the 2 hour drive from and to Milwakee, I saw lots of corn but only one herd of cows (and no real live badgers).
  • People have truly inane conversations while walking down the street. Evidence: “Oh, it looks like a bar but it is closed”…”Why?”…”Um, I don’t know” — I guess if someone passed me talking about loud birds they might say the same thing.
  • Memorial Day weekend is not the best time to explore a new city. Places are closed and for the most part people are doing their own thing and not so much out and about.
  • I don’t know what industry supports the town of Oconomowoc (lake-based tourism perhaps?) but the name is sure fun to say — one of many Indian names in the region.
  • From the duh! department: there are a lot of bars. In every town and neighborhood. They also seemed to identify with one particular brand: Papst, Budweiser or Bellmans Old Style. I saw one small town which had no traffic light but 3 bars — one of each — right in a row. I wonder if bar and beer fidelity is passed from one generation to the next.
  • Sign from a marketing genius: Fine Detailing     The Finest of Detailing
  • Little Free Libraries! Yay! (the one pictured was on a bike path, one of two I saw)
  • Nothing compares to the silence of a huge crowd of people on a crisp Memorial weekend morning, gathered facing the flag while the national anthem is sung. So thankful for those moments for remembrance.

Madison, WI travel tips

The Hostel was clean, well appointed and the staff friendly and helpful. While some might not appreciate, I liked that it was no-shoes past the front door as it dampened noise and made it that much cleaner. The bed was a little on the lumpy end but I slept well enough. The other hostelers I met were all quite nice. Best of all, the location is fabulous – right down town and it was an all of 3 block walk for me to get to the starting line.

Librarian of the Weary Traveler The Weary Traveler: Food and Beer. How can you argue with a place that serves local beer, local eats (farms listed on menu), vegan options and kombucha (with or without vodka)? A homey place that has games like scrabble and not one, but 2 dictionaries in the corner? A corner with books and a pop-art painting of a bespekled, bluehaired librarian watching over the action? (pictured – I discovered that the second time I went as I was sitting under it the first time, her name is Clara btw, as painted by her sister). Weary’s Tom Ka Tofu soup is ah-maze-ing and what made me return for lunch. If they had been open Monday I would have probably three-peated. Oh we are such creatures of habit.

Mother’s Fool: Coffee. Good brewed black and RedEyes in this funky joint. Couches and tables for work, though no outside seating, it was a throughly delightful place to finish my book. They have a bevy of vegan baked goods options and it is a good thing for my waistline that they don’t take plastic and I had to scrounge around the bottom of my bag for funds for just one treat or I would have done a lot more damage. The vibe made me want to return (instead of trying something new) and I discovered the barista-suggested pecan sandy is finger-licking good.

Honorable mentions: Ground Zero for Coffee (plus treats and work space) and the Great Dane for most excellent Brews (and sweet potato fries).

Other good places: Monty’s Blue Plate Diner (vegan almond-milk french toast was perfect post-run fare). On the State Street Walk (kinda touristy but nice): Fair Trade CoffeeKabul Afghanistan and Paul’s Book Store. The Union Memorial Terrace on campus is lovely. I heard good things about the museum and the capitol tours (though I didn’t take them).

In Sum

Capital SunsetMadison is (with lots of lanes and kiosk rental program) bike-friendly, vegan-friendly, and friendly-friendly, with lots of bars and coffee shops, the weather was beautiful, and I found it walkable, cultural and accessible… and yet… it just didn’t suit me.

I liked it fine and am glad I made the trip but by Monday afternoon I was ready to go home. I can’t identify a specific why. I think perhaps Madison is too similar to Athens.

Watching a nice storm rage in, waiting for it to pass again so I could walk over to the Dane, I just felt like I’d hade enough. And that was that.

For all my quantifying and qualifying, looking at details, scientifically identify parts and pieces to compare and contrast, they do not sum up the whole picture. As with great art, we must experience new places for what they make us feel.

It isn’t the brushstrokes, it’s the je ne sais quio the entirety creates.

In traveling — the sensing, the opening up, the discovering — we feel. So while we might be exposing ourselves to new places, we are also creating and discovering new parts of ourselves.

Au Revoir Madison


Greater or less than the sum of its parts? Do you have similar/different feelings about the land of the badgers? Another town/state you visited where you had a similar experience? Comment it up!

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