Ready or not, the 2016 running trip has arrived. Life has been a bit hectic over the past month, and my preparations for the trip were probably at the lowest level since I began these trips five years ago. This seems to be a trend as I get older! Nonetheless, my dad and I were about the embark on an epic drive/run down the Mississippi River over the course of 10 days. The trip itself would be like none other I’ve taken, scattering my runs over 50 towns vs. 7, and sprinkling in A LOT of driving. I am humbled each year by the level of support that I receive for these trips, and I look forward to thanking all of my donors along the way.
Step 1 – Rent a one-way car from Ames that would transport us to the source of the Mississippi River all the way down to New Orleans. Luckily, we were equipped with a trusty Nissan Altima that gets 550+ miles to the tank! The New Jersey plates were a surprise, and they have already created a number of “Jersey?” looks on the road.
Dad and I left Ames at 8am on Thursday morning with 450+ miles in front of us to get to our overnight stay in Walker, Minnesota. An 8+ hour drive to begin in itself is a challenge! We utilized the interstate for the first few hours of the trip, but we ventured off-interstate to grab lunch in New Ulm, Minnesota, a distinctly German town that is proud of its heritage. We grabbed lunch at Veigel’s Kaiserhoft, and I was happy as a clam devouring my German wurst and sauerkraut toppings.
I’ve been on a search to equip our post-flooded basement full of fun art, and I must admit, I really wanted to take with me one of the pieces of art on the walls at Veigal’s.
We hit up the back roads all the way up to Walker, Minnesota, and we arrived with a few hours of daylight to spare. As many know, I love to utilize Airbnb on these trips as the platform has given me so many wonderful travel memories along the way. It’s the best, and I have a number of Airbnb stays lined up for this trip. I was able to connect with John and Diana who have an amazing place in Walker, Minnesota. Walker is approximately 45 minutes east of the source of the Mississippi River, and John and I hit it off immediately with our Iowa connection. John’s first question to me was…
Dad and I stayed in their loft-style apartment, and it was perfect for what we needed for the evening.
As a loyal Iowa State Cyclone, the Iowa Hawkeye flag even provided a nice welcome.
I asked John if there was anything from Iowa that he missed, and he mentioned Sterzing’s potato chips from Burlington, Iowa. With some help from my Leadership Iowa classmate Lisa Nafziger, I was able to acquire a few bags straight from the Burlington source. Enjoy John!
After a quick dinner, the two of us made it an early night and were up at 6am to get on the road. On the way to Lake Itsaca Park, the source of the Mississippi, we drove through LaPorte, Minnesota where I thanked my colleague Andrew LaPorte for his donation. It only made sense! Andrew is doing great things for Phi Delta Theta in the housing realm, and I love working with him.
We may have been the first tourists to arrive at Lake Itasca on Friday morning, and the early morning provided great scenery. I have a feeling that we’re going to be pleasantly surprised throughout the trip with the fall scenery and colors.
We made it to the source of the Mississippi at Itasca State Park. What a beautiful place! The Mighty Miss has a humble start in Northern Minnesota and the welcome center is very well done. I thanked Tom & Colleen, my uncle and aunt at the source. Tom & Colleen have been loyal supporters of my trips, so I always enjoy finding a great spot to thank them. Tom stays busy with the fall harvest during October.
2,552 miles! Here we go!
My first mile run of the day occurred in Bemidji, Minnesota, known for being the first city on the Mississippi River. Prior to running, we stopped by the Northwest Minnesota Foundation offices where they had some great gear waiting. A big thanks to Phil for equipping me with an awesome Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon long-sleeve shirt as well as a running beanie that I should have been wearing! I thanked my cousin Amanda and her husband Jayson in Bemidji. Paul Bunyan is king in these parts, and we found what could be the two greatest structures on this trip – Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.
Running through town, I found this incredible mural!
On the way to Grand Rapids, Minnesota, we spotted a unique Runner’s Choice opportunity – The Big Fish Supper Club, which apparently made an appearance in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Ain’t she great?! You can even rent out the giant Muskie as a cabin. I thanked my sister-in-law (Lauren) and her husband Tom. We celebrated Tom & Lauren’s wedding just a few weeks back in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and we couldn’t be happier for them.
Our next stop was Grand Rapids, Minnesota, an old lumber town now dominated by the Blandin Paper Company. You could smell the paper in the air, and we found a nice vantage point along the Mississippi. I grabbed a picture and then headed out for a short run through town.
I love the history of small towns and the industry that they bring with it. There was a beautiful sky above the imposing Blandin Paper Company. I thanked my Fraternity brother Andy Max in Grand Rapids. Andy and I have great memories from college, and nothing but laughter occurs when we are around each other.
From Grand Rapids, we drove the Great River Road down to Brainerd, Minnesota, a popular tourist area in Northern Minnesota. Brainerd is surrounded by many lakes (go figure in Minnesota) that attract outdoor enthusiasts year-round. I got my mile in and joined dad at an all-day breakfast joint to fuel up for the day. At Brainerd’s famous water tower, I thanked Mike & Deb Sedlacek. Deb and my dad worked hand-in-hand during his career, and I know how much my dad loved having her around! I was also able to sport my new Mill City Suds Run running shirt. I love state outlines (and beer), and thanks to Mike Cofrin at Podium Events, I can now support both in style. Podium manages a number of runs in the Twin Cities where we would end up at the end of the day.
From Brainerd, we drove down the river to Little Falls, Minnesota, a fun little river town that once had a very famous resident – Charles Lindbergh. The Charles Lindbergh State Park offered a great place to park and run along the way. I thanked my fraternity brother Jason Brannon for his donation. Jason has been very kind to me on these trips and is a fellow runner who now lives in California. Thanks Jason!
While Lindbergh’s childhood home was closed for the season, I was able to take advantage of the scenic trails in the park. The surface provided a nice cushion for my aging knees.
From Little Fallas, our next stop was St. Cloud, Minnesota, a bustling town a little over an hour north of the Twin Cities. The two of us were ready for a nap by the time we reached St. Cloud, but St. Cloud State offered a nice spot for a campus tour/run. Dad fueled up with coffee while I toured the campus by foot. On campus, I thanked my mother-in-law Julie and her husband Rob for their donation. I have a number of spots where I’ll be thanking them! As I always mention, we’re blessed to have many family members close to us in Iowa. We get to watch their cocker spaniel Scotch every so often, and I love that dog!
The Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul) are great, so I was excited to get there for the end of day one. Our timing wasn’t the best, getting into town during rush hour traffic. Minneapolis traffic can be a beast, so I had to make an executive decision to forego my run in Saint Paul (for now) in order to get in my Minneapolis run, get to our Airbnb place on time and meet some friends for dinner. We entered into the University of Minnesota campus that was alive with people. The Gophers hockey team was playing that evening, so the campus was alive and busy. The Gopher football, basketball and hockey stadium are all next to each other on campus, so I took the opportunity to thank Jay & Heidi Longnecker. Fellow Cyclones, I see them often at football games, so I thought it made sense. Jay is a Phi Delt volunteer so I get to see him often. Here I am at TCF Bank Stadium wearing my other gift from Mike Cofrin at Podium Events that helps with the RBC Half Marathon & 6K that supports the Ronald McDonald House. Thanks again Mike!
Another great shot of the stadium during my run.
I arrived back to the car on campus and spotted a sight that I thought represented Minneapolis well. Known as Mill City, you can see different mills throughout the city that represent the great industry in Minneapolis. Beginning in 1880 and for 50 years thereafter, Minneapolis was known as the “Flour Milling Capital of the World” and more informally, as the “Mill City.” The city grew up around the mills. In 1870, the city’s population was 13,000. Twenty years later, it had grown to nearly 165,000.
I thanked my high school pal James Thompson. James and I grew up together in Fort Dodge and spent much time playing sports throughout our live. Some of my best memories with James include hunkering down in his room playing NBA Jam.
We drove into NE Minneapolis, an area of town that is becoming very popular for those looking for a great restaurant and good craft beer. I connected with Nick and Susan on Airbnb and immediately fell in love with their “Grand Old House.” What an amazing property! The couple has two rental opportunities within the house in addition to their own living quarters. Nick met us outside and showed us to our basement studio.
I love seeing how people turn their spaces into comfortable lodging experiences for weary travelers, and the studio was no different. Their son had taken pride in making the basement space rentable, and the studio was just what we needed.
I gave dad the honor of staying in the Prince-inspired bed room. So great!
My absolute favorite aspect of my running trips is meeting up with old friends. Minneapolis attracts many Iowa State grads, so it’s always tough to see everyone I want to see in Minneapolis when I visit. I was fortunate enough to have four of my fraternity brothers join me that evening at Indeed Brewing Company – John Frahm, Bret Zimmerman, Andy Smith and Ryan Boatman. Life gets so busy, so I am appreciative that these gents took some time to welcome me to town. And Indeed’s beer did not disappoint!
In all, we drove 400+ miles on Friday, and I ran six miles. We started the day in the car at sunrise and ended it at sunset. Whew! While I had to cut my running short by a mile, I’ll be making it up on Saturday as we head down to Lacrosse, Wisconsin.