On a regular basis, I often ask myself the poignant question, "What the hell am I doing?" And as I find myself tripping over my own footsteps from eight years before, I'm asking that question a whole lot more. "What the hell am I doing?"
Biking my 2001 walk seemed like a fun and sensible thing to do... I could revisit the places and people I saw nearly a decade ago, and I could do it in a fairly rapid pace, while still exercising and challenging my endurance. But when it ends up with me walking along the exact, same shoulder I walked in 2001, it feels ridiculously stupid and pointless... like watching a rerun of a game show you just got through watching. ("Wow, I can't wait until she picks case number 12! I can't wait to find out how much is inside... again!") And I've been shaking my head even more ruefully than usual after deciding to extend my walk beyond Madison, WI, and try to make it all the way to La Crescent, MN... adding an additional 150+ miles to my trip. "What the hell am I doing?"
After leaving the backyard of my newly acquired friend, Ty, I trotted along County Road A until hitting Stoughton, WI -- a small town south of Madison, whose streets are lined with Norwegian flags and is home to the term "coffee break." The best thing about the town, though, was that it had a bright and beautiful McDonald's restaurant. It had been a few days since experiencing cheap food, free refills, and unlimited, hassle-free seating time. McDonald's are wonderful for being able to sit and not worry about a waitress coming over to bother you or an uneasy local owner eying you suspiciously as you wear out your welcome. Most fast food joints have young, apathetic workers who couldn't care less how long you stayed at that corner booth.
After Stoughton, the rain started coming down and my feet started getting rather wet as I trudged along Highway 51. Eventually, I found refuge at the Rodeway Inn in South Madison. The rate was a fairly reasonable $49.95, which I was able to get reduced to $43.95 by just looking pathetic. However, a few hours earlier at a convenience store, I must have looked downright nefarious, because the big bearded dude behind the counter accusingly asked me as I walked through the door, "What do you want?" I stopped and looked at him oddly, and then he continued, "You're not supposed to have a backpack in here."
"Well, then, I don't have to stay," I plainly replied and walked out the door.
After a good night's rest at the Rodeway Inn (which, by the way, was huge! It took me literally 6 minutes to walk from the front desk to my room.), I got up the next morning and raced to Ella's Animatronic Deli on the north side of Madison. It's a deli/restaurant that is filled with hundreds of mechanical toys, robots and gadgets and has a full-scale merry-go-round out front. The place looked like the Choo-Choo Diner times one hundred... not only were there trains, planes and automobiles, but singing clocks, dancing cartoon characters and a plethora of trinkets I would had loved to snatch for my own. I was ready to go inside for lunch, but the wait for a table was over an hour, so I went to a nearby KFC instead.
By nightfall, I was on the west side of town and ready to do some serious walking... instead of sightseeing strolling. I found my way to Route 12, which was a heavy-duty 4-lane freeway that prohibited pedestrians. Fortunately, there was a nice bike trail that paralleled the highway, so I could walk through the dark night without fear of cars, trucks or cops. A few miles later, I hit a large stretch of farmlands and all was black, except for the occasional headlight or distant porch light. Needless to say, I was quite surprised when I walked around a bend and discovered a small bar called the Missouri Tavern, situated in the middle of nowhere. The converted farmhouse glowed in the dark like a majestic spaceship; a large beacon of cheap booze and loud music. Figuring it was a good time for a break, I sauntered into the honkytonk, to the sheer delight of the young bartender. "Let me guess," he beamed while waving his index finger at me, "you're a hiker!" I nodded and he proceeded to give me a free round of beer. "You look like you could use this," he shouted over the blaring country music, as he slid a frothy glass jar of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
After a couple more rounds of PBRs and finally realizing that the 23-year old ladies were not staring at me because of my masculine beauty but for my awkward, shabby appearance, I made my exit. But before I left, the still enthusiastic bartender plopped into my hand three wooden coins... each redeemable for a free drink. "In case you ever come by the Missouri Tavern again." A few miles later I found a patch of pines next to a large farm and set up my tent for the night.
The next morning I walked 10 more miles to the Sauk City, a town of 12 thousand nestled along the grand Wisconsin River. Still a little hungover from the night before, I knew I needed some nice greasy food, so I bustled over to the town's McDonald's. While there, I spotted a rather curious old fellow who came in to buy a pair of 1-dollar chicken sandwiches. As he placed his tray on his table, he reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a salvaged McDonald's cup he obviously had been saving from a past visit. He then took the dented paper cup over to the soda fountain and essentially stole a serving of Diet Coke. He didn't show a hint of guilt or nervousness as he boldly downed his pilfered beverage.
Around 6 o'clock, I headed north through town, weaving around schools, residential homes and laughing/mocking teen drivers. After I passed the municipal airport and a grungy hotel that advertised "10 stays, 1 free," I got back into sparse farmland. I ended up sleeping in an abandoned field, just south of the town Bluffview.