While visiting my brother in Madison, Wisconsin, I planned to make one of my so-called long training walks, as I’m preparing to walk a marathon in October. My training has been going well, so I was ready for a 22-mile walk. Following the theme of a couple of previous walks (Military Ridge Trail, Southwest Commuter Path) I decided to explore another of Wisconsin’s multi-use state trails, the Badger State Trail. To my surprise and delight, I noted that this trail goes through a tunnel about 21 miles from my Madison home base. Perfect! My brother and I drove to an access point about a mile south of the tunnel, walked together through the tunnel and another mile or so, and then my brother walked back to his car (around the tunnel, on Tunnel Road) while I continued north, planning to finish my walk at his home base.
Like the Military Ridge Trail and several other long-distance multi-use state trails, the Badger State Trail is on a former railroad right-of-way. An interesting characteristic of the railroad routes is that they have a maximum grade of about 3%, which is really quite flat – flatter than the terrain. So the trail seems to alternate between being in a trough carved into a rocky hill and being on kind of a levee, often between corn fields. My brother observed that the land goes up and down but the railroad stays flat. It certainly seemed that way! In any case, the entire elevation gain over the 22-mile route was only 350 feet. And the “climb” near the middle was actually less than 1% grade.
The Badger State Trail covers 40 miles between the Illinois state line and the outskirts of Madison. An anticipated highlight was the Stewart Tunnel, about halfway between Monticello and Belleville. This tunnel crosses through a rock ridge. It is 1200 feet long: not the longest in the state, but unusually dark because it is curved, and you don’t see the other end until you are well inside. The bicyclists in the picture are using the recommended protocol of walking their bikes in the tunnel, and they used their lights.
The trail occasionally crosses country roads. One such crossing was next to a farm house where there were pretty flowers in the yard, including this unusual-colored lily.
Along much of the trail there are trees on both sides. In many places the trees almost meet overhead, providing welcome shade on warm days.
In other areas there were breaks in the trailside vegetation, providing views of farm buildings and corn fields. In my non-expert opinion, the corn seems to be doing well this year.
In the town of Belleville the trail passes Library Park, a city park in which this brick building is located. When first built in 1894, the building was used as village hall, library, firehouse, and jail. The park and building are on the National Register of Historic Places.
About a mile north of Belleville I encountered a sign next to the trail indicating that a side road was ahead. As I was curiously looking for the side road I was startled to hear loud rustling in the vegetation next to the trail, followed by distinctive bird vocalizations a little farther along. When I investigated the commotion I found a sandhill crane walking in a zigzag path through the field next to which the trail passed.
The initial vocalizations I heard were from this individual. Soon, however, I realized that there were additional vocalizations coming from the place where I’d heard the loud rustling. Investigating further, I found a group of 4 more sandhill cranes. I watched the cranes for several minutes, and then suddenly they took to the air and flew off. I was barely able to capture some of them in flight just as they were being obscured by the leaves of a tree in the foreground. This picture is not a multiple exposure, but 3 of the cranes in the group. It was quite a treat to see these magnificent birds. (And I never did find a side road.)
A portion of the Badger State Trail is coincident with sections of the Ice Age Trail, a National Scenic Trail that crosses Wisconsin roughly at the southern margin of the glaciers of the most recent ice age. The Ice Age Trail signage – sometimes distinctive logo signs and sometimes simple yellow blazes – seemed to come and go along many miles of my route.
Here is another example of traditional farm buildings that happened to be next to the trail.
I also passed many examples of roadside wildflowers, including bergamot, chicory, brown-eyed Susan, and others whose names I don’t know. In addition there were several typical country birds such as red-winged blackbirds, yellowthroats, and goldfinches. One pair of redwings sang like I’ve never heard before, but my pictures helped me confirm the identification afterwards.
At the Purcell Road access point, 12 miles into my walk, the trail becomes paved for the remaining 6 miles to the outskirts of Madison. I became aware that the skies were getting darker – although I was aware of a possibility of isolated thundershowers, I’d been hoping to finish my walk dry. This was not to be! Although grey clouds were starting to cross my path behind me, a quick call to my brother (at his computer) informed me that the storm cell was moving northeast, not straight east. I was not going to be able to out-walk it.
Sure enough, before I reached the 16-mile point it started to rain, with accompanying thunder rumbles signifying cloud-to-cloud lightning. I certainly thought about how I could shelter in place if needed, but mainly I wanted to keep moving and cover the remaining 6 miles. By the time I reached the end of the Badger State Trail at 18 miles, I had gotten fairly wet as the cell passed over and had subsequently almost dried out. The end of the Badger State Trail is at a rather complicated trail intersection, where the Badger State Trail becomes the Southwest Commuter Path and crosses over the Capital City Trail on an overcrossing. I was surprised about the overcrossing, but I believe it is related to different trails requiring different types of use pass. After another mile the Southwest Bike Trail crosses over the beltway, where I’d turned around on a previous walk, so I started passing familiar landmarks. As I approached the Saturn sign of the Planet Trek exhibit I noticed that the trailside paddle markers seemed to be wearing hats! These charming decorations were hand-knit and had clearly been designed and made just for the paddle markers. Here is the one just west of the Saturn sign. The small tag attached to the top of the globe with a paper clip says “You are here”.
While I was enjoying the paddle marker decorations, all different from each other, it started to rain again. My brother had advised me that a second storm cell was due to come by, directly through Madison. This one was a larger cell, or else I was closer to the middle of its path: the rain was stronger and lasted longer. When I arrived at my brother’s home base, it was still raining pretty hard and I resembled the proverbial drowned rat. Fortunately, I’d managed to keep my camera and other electronic devices (cell phone, GPS, etc) dry. My shoes had gotten a nice washing in clean rain water, and everything that was wet was carefully cycled through the dryer. Usually I avoid walking in the rain, so the experience added kind of a unique dimension to this walk.