2018 Running Trip – Day 1 – Tucson, Arizona

Here we go again. The 2018 running trip is in motion, and I’m delighted to have my partner-in-crime Travis Griffith by my side this year. Leading up to the trip, I was able to surpass my $3,000 fundraising goal for Iron Phi. It’s always an amazing feeling to have people support you in your fundraising efforts for a cause, and this year is no different. Over the next week, I get to brag about my supporters while traversing the fourth largest state in the union – Arizona. This is the first running trip that will stay within the borders of one state, but the diversity of Arizona will undoubtedly provide an amazing backdrop for the run.

Travis and I flew into Phoenix on Thursday and made our way to Sam Eastman’s apartment. Sam and I are colleagues at Phi Delta Theta, and he was kind enough to loan his apartment to us while on a business trip to Chicago. We dropped off our bags and immediately made our way to Tempe for the Arizona State vs. Stanford football game. Both Travis and I are sports fans, so a new stadium is always a treat.

The next morning started off rocky with a delay in obtaining our rental car for the week. The details are unnecessary, but the picture below sums up our morning nicely – a waiting game.


When we finally found ourselves in the rental car, we headed a few hours south to Tucson, our first stop for the week. We planned to spend the morning exploring Saguaro National Park, and it did not disappoint. The park gets its name from the saguaro, a large cactus that is native to the Sonoran Desert that does not grow naturally elsewhere. It’s a sight like no other to drive through a park with these giant saguaros everywhere. Absolutely stunning. We hit a trail head for a 3-mile run/hike. As we stepped onto the trail, we were greeting by a small fox, curious of what we were up to. About halfway through the hike, I thanked Josh Lembrich for his donation. Josh and I went to school together at Iowa State, and one of my highlights of 2017 was attending Josh’s wedding in Colorado with friends.


The views at Saguaro National Park did not stop. It was tough to hike the rocky trails and try to take in the beauty all at once.


We jumped in the car and headed to Tucson. Our second stop was the Mission San Xavier del Bac, south of the city. San Xavier del Bac is a historic Spanish Catholic mission that was built between 1783-1797. It is the oldest European structure in Arizona. I thanked Andrew Norrie at the mission, one of my teammates at Phi Delta Theta. Today was a big day for Andrew as well, as he was able to celebrate the successful development of a new Phi Delta Theta group at the University of Minnesota, a project he has been working on for a few months.


We made our way to Downtown Tucson to run a few miles in search of some spectacular sights. We parked at Borderlands Brewing Company and started with a thank you picture by the mural that adorns its exterior. I had the opportunity to thank my wonderful parents for all of their support over the years. I like to say that I won the parents lottery, and to be a mile away from them with young kids is an absolute blessing. It’s been wonderful to watch my kids grow up with their grandparents just down the road.


Our next stop was the stately Saint Augustine Cathedral that towers above the Tucson skyline. Saint Augustine is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson. I thanked my Uncle Randy and Aunt Lori Good for their donation as I have many times before in front of great Catholic structures.


Our next stop was the Vergiss Mural. A fun fact about this mural is that the artist painted this design previously in Berlin, but it was destroyed pretty quickly when an art lover tried to remove it from the wall. There are a ton of great murals in Tucson. To be honest, I could have filled the day hunting for them. At Vergiss I thanked Brad & Mindy Carlson, two great friends who bring great joy to my life, and many others. Brad made my son’s year a few weeks back, surprising him with an Orioles hat straight from Camden Yards in Baltimore. Cal is named after Cal Ripken Jr. (and knows it), so he was thrilled to receive this gift.


Just around the corner, we found perhaps my favorite mural of all time – Bill Walton riding a jackalope. It’s randomness is incredible, but this is an absolute gem of a find. I thanked Ross & Megan Roti. Ross joined me for an incredible running trip last year in the Northeast states, and it will be a trip we never forget. I’m thankful for Ross & Megan’s friendship, and I know Ross was quite excited to sponsor this stop.


Our next mural find was the Greetings from Tucson mural. Despite a car parked directly in front it, cameraman Griff was able to navigate a manageable photo to show it off. Day one, and Travis is already showing off his skills. The best thing about this mural is that we would eat that Sonoran hotdog in the N a few hours later. I thanked Mike & Debbie Purdy, my sister-in-law’s, in-laws. Tucson is a very special place for Debbie as she grew up here! I’m kinda jealous that she grew up in this great city, and now I know why her son Jason roots for the Arizona Wildcats.


Following our small mural hunt, we grabbed a refreshment at Borderlands Brewing Company.


And I thanked Taylor and Haley Abel. Haley is Travis’ sister, and I’ll be thanking her at beer stops along the way. I stayed with the Abels a month back in their new home of Pittsburgh, and it was great to catch up with them and their growing family.


Our next stop was the University of Arizona. During our time on campus, I think I heard Travis ask himself 10 times why he didn’t go to Arizona for college. I don’t blame him. It’s a beautiful campus filled with the hustle and bustle that is associated with collegiate life. At Arizona Stadium, the home of the Wildcat football team, I thanked Brad & Mindy Carlson again.


And on campus, I thanked my favorite Texas Longhorn, Mario Villa, at the Arizona State Museum. Mario and I used to work together, and we cross paths fairly often at Phi Delt conferences. I always love a trip to Austin to see Mario. Mario traveled through Tucson back in the day when on staff at Phi Delta Theta.


Travis and I needed some food, and I was quite excited to test out the fabled Sonoran hot dog. The Sonoran delicacy consists of a hot dog that is wrapped in bacon and grilled, served on a bolillo-style hot dog bun, and topped with pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, and a variety of additional condiments, often including mayonnaise, mustard, and jalapeño salsa. They had me at hot dog. We stopped by El Guero Canelo for a dog, and I thanked my colleague Dylan Berg for his support. Dylan is my favorite North Dakotan and his state pride rivals my own. He has a love for local eats, so this stop was a perfect one for him.


We traveled north to Oro Valley where we would be staying for the evening. As I’ve mentioned many times before, my absolute favorite aspect of the annual running trip is finding amazing Airbnb properties and meeting the wonderful owners who rent out their space on the platform. Today was no exception, and Kathaleen so graciously hosted us for the evening in her beautiful home. This is her back yard!


I have found many Airbnb hosts over the years who have built smaller properties on their land to house family and friends, and then later gravitate to Airbnb to rent out their space. This is the same situation for Kathaleen, and it was fun to see her excitement about the many joys that renting her space on Airbnb has brought with it. Her property is so unique with touches all over that scream great hospitality.




I took this next photo from Kathaleen’s driveway. Not only is her property (and land) amazing, so is the view. Being there as the sun set offered me a picture perfect opportunity to thank Rob & Julie Waltz. Some of my favorite views can be found at Rob & Julie’s farm in Madison County Iowa, so I thought the moment was a good choice. I’ll be thanking Rob & Julie very often during this trip!


Those who knows Travis and me know that we spent a ton of time together growing up. We lived across the street from each other for more than a decade. When my parents purchased a ping pong table for our basement, Travis and I wore that thing out with a number of heated battles. We brought back the tradition on the outdoor table at our Airbnb. I confirm that both of us have developed some rust.


On our way to dinner, we paid a visit to Dragoon Brewing Company to sample the suds. We made friends with bartenders Stout and Ali and enjoyed the ambience of the brewery. We found great satisfaction in the fact that a guy named Stout was pouring our beers, and we loved learning that Stout has his own beer at Dragoon – Stoutstanding. We support it! I thanked Sean & Michelle Wagner at the brewery as I knew Sean would appreciate my choice of a fine IPA. Sean’s had some big news in his life recently, being named Phi Delta Theta’s fifth Executive Vice President. That’s a big deal in our organization as the Fraternity goes back 170 years!


A few funs shots from Dragoon. A big thanks goes to Tristan White of Dragoon for treating a few thirsty runners to a drink. Thanks Tristan!


Our final stop for the evening was the famous El Charro Cafe. Established in 1922, El Charro Café  is The Nation’s Oldest Mexican Restaurant in continuous operation by the same family, and, wait for it, the home of the chimichanga. How about this story?

Our Legendary Tia Monica Flin, is well-known as “The Inventor of The Chimichanga.” While frying her now famous El Charro ground beef tacos, she accidentally dropped a burro into the frying pan and when the oil splashed up she was about to lash out a common Spanish cuss word starting with “Ch” but because she was amongst her young nieces and nephews, changed it to “Chimichanga”, the equivalent of “thingamajig.” Thankfully for all of us, Monica was a controlled and creative cuss.


So I definitely had to try one, and I thanked Jason & Jadee Purdy in the process. Jadee is my sister-in-law and Jason is her husband. The Tucson connection is strong with the Purdees, so it felt good to bring them a little chimichanga love. Tillie and I hope to see Jason & Jadee and our nieces soon in Washington DC. Onward to Phoenix.



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