It’s a little ironic to me that after four and half weeks on the road this summer, our biggest adventure yet may happen right here in Delaware. By the time this post is published, Hurricane Irene will be nothing but a memory – and hopefully not too bad of one for us! Part of my hurricane preparedness is to get some posts ready to go in case we lose power for several days.
In any event, while I wait for the storm it seems like the perfect time to sit down and start telling you my summer stories – and I know that’s what you really want to hear anyway, isn’t it? Today I’m dreaming of a fun August day we spent in Madison, Wisconsin as part of the Austin-Lehman Active Family Challenge.
Austin-Lehman Adventures has been named one of the best adventure tour operators in the world by authorities like Travel and Leisure Magazine and National Geographic Adventure Magazine (you may also remember that they gave me some love last spring by choosing my site as a top ten travel blog). They love to encourage families to get out and take active vacations wherever they may be. So when they said they’d send me a $50 gift card to get out and about with Matt and the boys while on our trip to Wisconsin, I took them up on their generous offer.
The four of us were joined by Matt’s sister Becky and her husband Tim as well as our friends Sabrina and Dom who live in Madison. We started our day at the Budget Bicycle Center, where $20 a person got us bikes, helmets, and locks for the entire day (note that we borrowed a bike for Teddy from one of Becky and Tim’s neighbors but the bike shop does rent bike trailers and tandem bikes for families with younger kids). The staff at the store is friendly and helpful and they also gave us a free map of Madison that had all the bike routes clearly marked.
With 43 miles of bike trails and 87 miles of bike lanes Madison offers a pretty amazing mix of city riding and bucolic trails that’s perfect with kids. Within minutes of leaving the bike store, which is on a busy urban street, we were meandering our way along Lake Wingra through the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, the road dappled with sunlight.
Hard to believe we’re in the middle of the city, isn’t it? The neighborhoods around the Arboretum are really nice too, and don’t have a lot of traffic – perfect for a family bike outing (if you want, you can stop by the nearby Henry Vilas Zoo, which is free). From the Arboretum we made our way over to Monroe Street, where there are a variety of lunch options. At Sabrina’s excellent suggestion, we tried Bluephies, which had one of the most creative menus I’ve ever seen. I’ll save a full review for another post, but thought I’d share a photo of one of the desserts that filled the case at the front of the restaurant.
After lunch we were into some full-on city riding, and since at this point there was no bike lane, we stuck to the sidewalk without any trouble. After passing the University of Wisconsin football stadium, we rode over to the brand new Union South building (another great option at this point would have been to take the Southwest path over to the Capitol City path for a ride around Lake Monona).
We had hoped to take advantage of the union’s bowling alley or climbing wall, but during the summer neither is open until late afternoon. So instead, we crossed the street to the University of Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery building, an amazing new space for scientific research. Like any university science building it houses labs and classrooms, but it is also designed to encourage the public to interact with researchers in a huge open space called Town Center that contains three restaurants, a gorgeous atrium, and a number of interactive exhibits.
We spent a lot of time exploring the fountains, discovering that our movements caused music and lights to play using the Fibonacci sequence (this is a mathematical pattern where each number is the sum of the last two numbers – don’t say I never taught you anything).
All this thinking and experimenting was a lot of work and in spite of our big lunch, we were now all ready for a snack. The kids loved riding through campus to Bascom Hall, home of the university’s creamery, where milk from the school’s dairy herd is made into cheese, butter, and my family’s favorite treat: Ice cream.
Sabrina and Dom had to head back to the bike store at that point so they could get home and let their dog out. The rest of us rode over to Lake Mendota where we followed a small piece of the bike path that lines the lake’s edge over to the Memorial Union before heading back into city traffic. I’ll admit to being a nervous mother during this last piece of the ride, which took us along a bike lane that was at times lined on either side with traffic. But Teddy handled it like a pro.
Our ride in Madison was the perfect combination of indoor and outdoor fun and at a (fairly flat) five miles was easy enough even for a young rider. It also would have been simple to extend our ride by going around Lake Mendota – a route that offers a combination of path and neighborhood riding.
Many thanks to Austin-Lehman for offsetting the cost of our bike rentals and ice cream – and for their enthusiasm for getting families out into the world. Another dream for me would be to go on one of their all-inclusive trips. They offer designated family adventures where children as young as seven are welcome (on their Costa Rica Family Adventure, they allow children as young as five). These trips accommodate up to 18 guests and have three guides, making them intimate, authentic affairs. With 82 different itineraries across 29 countries and activities including cycling, hiking, rafting, and cultural exploration, they truly offer something for every family.