Monday, July 13, 2015


Today’s post is all about 144. When I was in elementary school, 144 had special significance: it was the end of the “times table” that we used to learn multiplication by rote:

We suspected that there must be numbers beyond 12x12, but they were somebody else’s problem.
If you ride a bike in Washington County, then you know 144 as a state highway. And you probably avoid it. I usually do. Between Slinger and West Bend it’s kind of busy and as it passes Big Cedar Lake you have to assume that drivers aren’t giving the road their undivided attention. In West Bend, 144 runs along heavily traveled parts of Washington Street and Main Street, and finally Barton Avenue. As 144 leaves town to the north, it intersects with a bunch of roads that local cyclists enjoy: Wallace Lake, Newark, Forest View, County Highway A, Shalom, Boltonville Road, and Scenic/Jay. But 144 itself gets little bike traffic.

State Highway 144 goes where you want to go, but it may not be the best route.
It was easy—to say nothing of prudent—to avoid 144 when its shoulders were still narrow and broken. Between West Bend and Boltonville, the road was repaved a couple of years ago and the shoulders are now so wide that a cyclist can ride several feet to the right of motorized traffic. Despite the high speed limit, 144 is now arguably safer for cyclists than the much narrower town roads in that part of the county. Still, we avoid 144. Have we simply not broken an old habit?

I typically use 144 only to connect Wallace Lake and Newark. Yesterday I rode from Boltonville south to Highland Drive. I felt safe, but there was no disguising the fact that I was on a state highway. As a driver I appreciate wide pavement, gentle curves and gradual elevation changes. As a cyclist I know how those same features can become boring. For me, 144 is no longer off-limits, but it will never be as much fun as the neighboring town roads and county highways.

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