Megabus Part Deux is officially underway. There was no better way to start my 2013 trip than by going home to Fort Dodge, Iowa, to run the city where I spent 16 or so years of my life. We’re all proud of our hometowns, and I am no different. I would select no other place besides Fort Dodge to have grown up. It’s where the young gent below turned into a semi-mature young adult.
So a little bit about Fort Dodge.
Population – A little more than 25,000
Home of the Fort Dodge Dodgers and St. Edmond Gaels
Fort Dodge traces its beginnings to 1850 when soldiers from the United States Army erected a fort at the junction of the Des Moines River and Lizard Creek. It was named after Henry Dodge, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin.
The major industries of Fort Dodge are gypsum and limestone mining, drywall manufacturing, trucking, the manufacture of veterinary pharmaceuticals and vaccines. Gypsum rock is processed into drywall and plaster products at several Fort Dodge manufacturing facilities. Drywall was patented by a Fort Dodge resident, and the gypsum used to create the Cardiff Giant hoax of the late 19th century was mined at Fort Dodge.
Fort Dodge is the home major national trucking companies Decker & SMX. I’ve seen these trucks driven all over this great country. Give em a honk next time you see them. Friendly folks on board.
The Fort Museum has a replica of the Cardiff Giant, which was a fossilized giant humanoid “discovered” at Cardiff, New York. The Cardiff Giant was later proved to be a hoax, sculpted from gypsum mined at Fort Dodge.
Fort Dodge has been the location of Iowa High School Athletic Association championship events. Currently, the cross country championships are held at John F. Kennedy Park north of the town. Fort Dodge also hosts the Iowa girls’ softball championship tournament at Harlan Rogers Park.
Famous Fort Dodgers
- Nick Collison, professional basketball player for the Oklahoma City Thunder
- Karl King, conductor of Barnum & Bailey’s Favorite
- Lisa Koll, Olympian and NCAA record holder in 10,000 meters
Today’s run started at the Fort Dodge Senior High School, where I met up with my friend Blake Utley. More about Blake later. I was surprised to find that one of my favorite coaches, Rod Riessen, made the trip over to say hi. Coach Riessen was one of my football coaches/P.E. teaches in high school. I learned two very important lessons from Coach Riessen or “Riess” as we called him. 1) I learned what happens when you assume things (I think you all probably know the play on words), and 2) Never underestimate the value of an Australian push-up. I will also never forget the day of my first varsity football practice. We were doing drills with Coach Riess and I landed awkwardly on my hand. I was shocked to find out that my pinky finger was lodged in a 90-degree angle. I went to Coach Riess and stated, “Coach, I think I broke my f&*#* finger.” He agreed.
So I learned two very ironic things about Coach Riessen today that provided for some serious motivation during the run. 1) Coach, and fellow students at the University of Northern Iowa, had been a part of a Phi Delta Theta interest group when he was at school. While it didn’t work out, and they ended up joining SAE (I won’t hold that against him), it was purely ironic as I spent two years as the Director of Expansion for Phi Delta Theta, starting chapters across the country. 2) Coach Riessen lost his brother Rex to Lou Gehrig’s disease four years ago. I had no idea. He told us a very neat story about his brother was living in Indianapolis and Indianapolis Colt, Dallas Clark (fellow Iowan and relative of another PE teacher at FDSH) was extremely generous to the Riessen family as Rex fought his battle.
Coach Riessen, it was truly a pleasure to see you today.
While at the high school, I took my first donor picture in front of our sign. A big thanks to my cousin Amanda (Good) Buelcher for her donation. Amanda grew up around the corner from us, but her family ended up moving to the Seattle-area. It’s been years since I’ve seen her, but I look forward to when our paths cross once again.
From the high school, Blake and I ran to Dodger Stadium. I spent many days at the stadium, playing football and baseball and running track. It’s truly a gem of a high school stadium. We’re proud of our ivy-covered wall at the baseball stadium, and as a right-handed pull-hitter, I enjoyed the very short left-field fence! Here I thanked my fellow Dodgers Brad & Lindsay Klein, two of my best high school buds who ended up getting married. Brad & Lindsay live in Minneapolis with their adorable son Aiden. I’m lucky to see them fairly often in the fall at Iowa State football games.
I went rummaging through the archives at mom & dad’s house and found an awesome picture of Brad and I with another great friend Ben Carse. Classic. I think we were mimicking my dad’s clothes, which surprisingly enough are pretty hip now!
I also found one of my favorite pictures from my baseball days. I’m the guy in the shin guards.
From Dodger Stadium, we headed towards Fair Oaks Middle School where I spent time as a 5th and 6th grader. On the way, we stopped by Josh Mason’s chiropractic practice and CrossFit facility. We were able to say hi to Josh and peek in to see a group of people getting ready to start their CrossFit workout. I gave an across-the-room shout to another one of my favorite coaches growing up, Coach Timmerman. Great seeing you coach, wish we could have chatted for a few minutes.
At Fair Oaks, I thanked a schoolmate of my mine, Nicole Beck, now Nicole Ahrens. If my memory serves me right, I think Nicole and I were on the same team in both 5th and 6th grade. She’s awesome, and Blake mentioned that she is now teaching in the FD school district. Thanks so much for your donation Nicole!
The next stop was one of my Runner’s Choice stops, the Blanden Art Museum. The Blanden Memorial Art Museum, the first public museum of art in the state of Iowa. It is renowned as one of the finest small museums in the nation for its extensive permanent collection as well as popular touring exhibits. Here I thanked my wonderful sister and brother-in-law, Anne & Don Davidson. My sister is one of my rocks, and I’m one lucky brother. Anne and Don live in Omaha with their sons Will and Graham. I’m lucky to be able to see them more now living in Iowa. Anne was smart to purchase a Runner’s Choice in each city, so she’ll be getting many a shout-out during this trip.
From Blanden, we ran to the next Runner’s Choice, one of the finest establishments in town, in which I will never admit to entering. Welcome to the Top Hat Lounge. Let’s just say that the Top Hat is a place where you can get a drink and watch a dance at the same time. I’m not talking about the March Madness Big Dance either. Here, I thanked Roger Griffith, who I consider my second father. I mistakenly added his very innocent wife Paula on the sign before realizing that it probably wasn’t the best of ideas to thank Paula, who I consider my second mother at the local strip club. Paula and Roger are the parents of my best friend Travis. I probably spent just as much time at the Griffiths growing up as I did at my own home. Come to think of it, I probably owe the Griffiths a gift card from Hy-Vee for a couple thousand dollars. Paula & Roger, thanks for your donation, and Roger, shame on you for not telling me that the Top Hat is a strip club 😉 You’ll be happy to know that your donation will be going to the cause and was not turned into twenty-five one-dollar bills. Ok, I’m moving on before I get into trouble.
Following our stop at the Top Hat, I felt that it was necessary to run to my church, First United Methodist. It wasn’t a planned stop, nor did I thank any donor, I just needed to cleanse my soul. Having said that, I don’t think I ever truly appreciate the architecture of the church until today.
From First Methodist, we ran to Phillips Middle School, where I spent my 7th and 8th grade years. Blake filled me in that both Fair Oaks and Phillips will only have one more year as middle schools. The schools are being consolidated and will live in a brand new building in town. We were able to drive by the building later in the day. It’s awesome!
Here I thanked one of my ridiculous partners-in-crime, Mindy Christensen. Mindy is one of my great friends and one of a few people who truly gets my randomness. I was able to stay with Mindy & Marshall in Chicago last year when I went through Chicago. Despite almost breaking a bone falling town her icy steps, we had a blast in Chicago. She and Marshall have since moved to San Francisco, one of my favorite cities in the world. I think a trip may need to be in the works.
I also found this etched into the building. I enjoyed it.
In true fashion, I have to embarrass Mindy a bit. I was able to find one of my favorite pictures of the two of us from middle school. Another classic!
From Phillips, we ran to EXPO pool, where I spent my summers as the resident pool boy. Oh the memories here. Here are a few of my favorite memories:
1) One day I was changing the hydrochloric acid pump at the pool (not sure how anybody ever trusted me to do this) and it exploded on me. No joke. Some of the acid got on my face and neck. I panicked, stripped down to my skibs, came out of the back shed and jumped in the pool to rinse off. Little did I know that swimming lessons were going on and I was stuck in the deep end 95% naked.
2) Prior to the pool opening one summer, I was in the pool (with no water) sanding down some of the sharp edges. A work crew was also there working on the pool and had this crazy Rottweiler with them. Well the crew decided to leave for lunch and left Cujo who paced the pool barking at me the entire time. I was stuck in an empty pool getting fried by the sun. Every time I’d try to get out an run to safety, the dog would terrorize me. I ended up staying in the pool until the crew came back. Let’s just say that I left the pool that day with a killer tan.
3) The infamous pool-draining incident of 1999. Yep, I accidentally drained the pool. That is all.
At EXPO, we met Ryan Takatsuka, my second running buddy for the day. More about Ryan later. Ryan decided that we need to jump the fence to get my donor picture. So we did. Here I thanked Mindy again, as Mindy was a lifeguard at the pool.
From EXPO, we ran to Feelhaver Elementary School, where I spent my elementary days. Here I thanked my sister and brother-in-law again.
The night before, I located one of my favorite pictures of my sister and me on a family vacation in Saugatuck, Michigan.
From Feelhaver, we stopped at my house, 1718 North 14th Street. It was so great to see the old place. The family was home, so we inconspicuously took the pic, where I thanked my immediate family.
There aren’t enough words to state how important my parents and sister are to me. My parents watch Cal every Friday which is awesome. I know that their positive influence will wear off nicely on Cal. My parents are my role models, and I am one lucky guy.
I had to find a classic pic of the fam. Mom doesn’t like her hair, but hey, it wouldn’t be a classic pic without a few bad hairstyles.
From my house, we made the long trek to Harlan Rogers Sports complex, our final desintation. The complex is a source of pride for us Fort Dodgers. Each year, the Iowa State Softball Tournament is held here. I used to work at Harlan Rogers doing concessions, parking and even umping a few games. One of the neatest things about Harlan is that it has little league fields that are replicas of Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and Yankees Stadium. Pretty cool.
Here, I thanked my mother-in-law Julie and her husband Rob. Rob and Julie are awesome. They live on a farm in a house on a hill in Madison County, Iowa. One of the Bridges of Madison County is just miles away. I always love visiting them. So get this, there is a neat tie-in at Harlan Rogers. My wonderful wife Tillie was born a day after Julie and Tillie’s dad Tim were at Harlan Rogers at one of Tim’s games. At Harlan, Julie was told to go home by her nurse. Sure enough, Tillie was born soon thereafter.
So a huge thanks goes out to Blake Utley, one of my running buddies today. Blake is one year younger than I am, but we played sports together all through high school, mostly because he is an awesome athlete and played with us older folk. I want to brag a bit about Blake here. Blake teaches at the high school and is a coach for the baseball team. Blake created a class that turns high school students into half-marathoners. He teaches them how to train properly, coaches the mental aspect of running and trains with them in preparation for their first half-marathon. Over the last three years, 130+ student at the high school have accomplished a half marathon. I think this is truly remarkable. Talk about a value-added class! I’m biased, but I truly believe in the many lessons that can be learned through running, and Blake is teaching that to our youth. Well done Blake!
We snapped a quick picture at Harlan. Two-thirds of the 1999 FDSH line-backing core right in front of you. Believe it or not.
My other running buddy for the day was classmate and great friend Ryan Takatsuka. The Takatsukas are FD legends. Ryan’s parents Deb and Alan just finished up 30+ years of teaching at FDSH. If you ask any Dodger, I’d predict that 75%+ would name either Deb or Big Al as their favorite teacher. I spent many days/nights at the Takatsukas hanging with Ryan and his twin brother Kai. Big Al may not remember this, but I will never forget a conversation with him during my senior year of high school. He called me into his classroom after school and had a very real conversation with me, one that I needed to hear. While I won’t go into details here, I wanted him to know that it changed my world.
So here’s my chance to brag about Ryan. First of all, Ryan was a cheerleader at Northern Iowa. As a fellow short man, I have mad respect for this. Ryan is probably 5’8’’, but I always marveled at his ability to do the many cheerleading lifts. My shoulder would fall off. Secondly, Ryan is keeping the Takatsuka legacy alive at FDSH. He teaches in his mother’s classroom and uses his father’s desk. So great.
We snapped our picture at the Fort Museum in front of our famous Fort. Ryan asked if I thought it’d be tough to get inside for a picture. I laughed. My type of humor brother.
No trip to Fort Dodge would be valid if I didn’t stop by the local favorite – Taco Tico. It has a cult following, and I’m a part of the cult. Here, I thanked Mindy one last time (she’s also a member of the cult) and devoured the Sancho platter with a side of crustos. Mmmm.
I had an absolute blast visiting my hometown. The memory was a churning all day long, and I am damn proud to be a Fort Dodge Dodger.
Until next time, I gotta get the heck out of Dodge to catch my bus.