During the twilight of my sophomore year winter break, Madison felt like an icily lonely place. I’d come back to stay in the dorms after returning from an alternative break to Mobile, Ala., and there was not another soul to be found on my already quiet floor. And as exciting as being able to shower with no one in line, belt out Regina Spektor songs in my room and watch “Step Brothers” with no one around to judge me all were, the novelty of it wore off after a few days.

One frozen morning, I had an ambitious idea and no one to talk me out of it.


(I must preface this with an important note. Don’t ever do this at night, and if you want to embark on an adventure alone, keep someone in the loop about your whereabouts. And at least know the general route of the area you wish to go. I once found myself very alone and very south on Park Street late at night, which in hindsight was not a wise decision. Safety first, kids.)

Although it was my sophomore year, I knew very little about Madison. I rarely went beyond State Street, and even my knowledge past the 400 block was severely lacking, largely due to my glued-to-the-phone lifestyle of my freshman year. So I made a plan – start riding buses and just see where they take me.

That chilly January morning, I bundled up and went to a stop on University Avenue in hopes of exploring the city. A half hour later, I found myself at the West Transfer Point, immediately regretting not planning more and waiting another half hour for the next round of buses to arrive. This was before I traveled alone on a cross-country Greyhound trip and a month in Europe, so I had yet to perfect my “I know exactly where I am so you should leave me the hell alone” face, which led to a bit of unwanted attention. But it was mostly a safe, low-key day on the far west side with stops at West Towne Mall, Point Cinema and McDonald’s.

Other bus adventures have led to entire days wandering around Willy Street (if you’ve never been to Mother Fool’s Coffeehouse, drop everything you’re doing and go there right now), Hilldale Mall, Monroe Street, Westgate – oftentimes discovering that the best places in Madison require a little worthwhile legwork to get to.

For those who have yet to explore Madison beyond route 80, check out cityofmadison.com/metro. It has routes and schedules that are (usually) updated live. And if you get lost, remember to use your “I know exactly where I am so you should leave me the hell alone” face to any passersby.

What’s left on your UW bucket list? Tell Katie your aspirations/adventures at [email protected] or tweet @kforanmchale.