Today’s work took me to the latest rails-to-trails bike path in Wisconsin: the Badger State Trail. Madison sits on the hub of an excellent multi-use system with Southwest Path right through town past the stadium, Capital City Trail right between the lakes, Military Ridge taking you all the way out to Dodgeville and Glacial Drumlin heading east to Waukesha (starting in Cottage Grove). The Badger State Trail is nearly complete; the section from Paoli (about 6 miles south of Madison) all the way to Illinois and their Jane Addams Trail to Freeport, IL, is already laid out with crushed limestone, 40 bridges and a 1,200-foot tunnel. The Stewart Tunnel has a bend to it so you cannot see the light at the other end. Bring a light or brave it blind! The pigeons at the southern end might put the spook in you if you don’t expect them. Their cooing is transformed in the tunnel and becomes a low pulsing sound like the blood pounding in your ears. You’ll cross the Sugar River Trail and so you have the option to cut back to the undeniably Swiss town of New Glarus.
I did and stopped by the New Glarus Hotel (rumored to be a great place for fondue) and thought that $10.50 was a might bit much for deep-fried cheese curds (egad) especially for lunch, so I crossed the street and stopped in at the unassuming Puempel’s Olde Tavern. How olde is that? Try 1893! Some Austrian murals inside were painted in 1913. The dollar bills crumpled around fifty-cent pieces and a thumbtack and flung against the high ceiling, however, are only about 15 years old. But in a hundred years those will be even more amazing than they are. (One did in fact fall while I ate a great $4 soup and sandwich lunch special. No one really knew what to do with it. Pocket it for luck? Try to put it back up on the ceiling? Tip jar? It was still sitting uncertainly at the edge of the bar when I left – much like a couple of other clients with a couple lunch hour beers.) New Glarus Beer is on tap here including Fat Squirrel and there were plenty of bottled varieties in the fridge including the big-bottle Belgian Red made with cherries. The back bar is classic and barkeep Daniela is Swiss (I mean really Swiss, born and raised, not like I am “Polish”) so the character here is matter-of-fact rather than gussied up for tourists.
Back to the trails… Badger is mostly shaded, but a 12-mile stretch from Monticello to Monroe has no facilities. Don’t try to hop on at Sun Valley Parkway outside Paoli. The trail passes below and there is no way down unless you fall (not advised). It’s a state trail so there’s the $4 daily fee ($15 annual, good on ALL state trails). In the future the trail will depart from the western end of the Southwest Path and cross over the Capital City Trail. Get a map (here) and go find that tunnel!