I expected Minnesota to be like Iowa. Not just because they’re both in the Midwest, but because they’re both other-side-of-the-Mississippi runs. Even though Iowa was on a cold, cloudy morning, and Minnesota would be a warm, sunny afternoon I imagined I’d have similar experiences in the two states. The difference came because I had a partner.
In the past three months my boyfriend Chuck has joined me to run in three states. He’s a runner too and has his own project of ascending every state high-point, so joining me in my journey is a natural fit. In fact, I could easily see him joining me for the next eleven states. I could also see one of more of those states as girls trip or even a solo adventure. That’s the fun of this project: I never know exactly what the next state’s travel and run will look like. Sure, I started with places I wanted to visit and then made plans but I’ve never planned more than a handful of states ahead. What’s more exciting is that once I’m in a state, as well-planned as a run can be, I can never quite picture the route. I’d run the National Mall I’d seen in pictures and accomplished tons of courses I’d plotted on Google maps, but truly seeing each step of the route is usually not possible. Not until Minnesota.
Chuck and I drove to the Wisconsin-Minnesota border from northern Wisconsin. We drove over the Mississippi to a dropped pin on my iPhone map. That pin was off a main road on a stretch of homes along the river. As soon as we arrived I thought, “yeah, I could run this.” Though I’d been hoping for a tree-lined path, the homes had a mix of modern and colonial architecture I imagined myself gazing up at as I ran. There was a bit of construction going on under a rust-colored steel bridge but there was also a green marsh on the other aide. I was content to stop right there, get out of the car and explore on foot. Instead, Chuck kept driving. I thought we were going just a little further down to park but we continued to drive down the street. Houses continued on one side as the marsh turned to railroad tracks and a community garden, tall with sunflowers, on the other. I sort of wanted him to stop driving but he had been so kind and patient to do all the driving that I wanted him to stop where he was comfortable. When we came to a dead end after a little over a mile, my heart sank a little. We’d just driven the whole running route. Some people may find knowing exactly where you’re going to run comforting. But I kind of liked the surprise of it all. In fact, part of the point of the project was to put myself in new places and situations to see what would feel right. In the last few years of searching for relationships and jobs that would stick, I had learned to embrace the exploration. So, I thought to myself as we circled back to park, “now we’ve seen it. Now I know exactly where I’m going.”
When we got out and started to run I thought what it meant to know exactly where I was going. On one hand, I knew to watch for those beautiful houses and sunflowers I’d seen from the car. On the other hand, I thought I might get bored because there would be no surprises on the run. Then I thought—more symbolically about my relationship—what it meant to know where I was going with no surprises. So much of life is uncertain, especially right now when the person running the country launches one fury of hatred after the next. It would be nice, for the first time in a romantic relationship, to know that I had someone I could count on in the midst of so much uncertainty. Whether or not Chuck runs with me in the next 11 states, trusting that he’s with me in life is a comfort I’ve never had before.
That peace of mind was far greater than the physical sensation of running. It was hot, sticky, and the huge slab of award-winning frozen chocolate mousse pie I’d enjoyed just an hour earlier was not helping the situation. Still, would I rather run with a terrific partner after having a terrific piece of pie or run alone, without dessert, as I had so many times before? The answer was partner and pie for sure. For the last half mile Chuck and I ran alongside the marsh. It was still hot, the pie was still there, and to add to it we had to keep swatting little black bugs from our faces and arms. Then I looked at Chuck and he looked at me. Both of our chests were covered in bugs. When we got back to the car he dusted them off himself and I helped him brush off the bugs he couldn’t see. Then he did the same for me. So I guess I hadn’t known exactly how the run would be. Just because there are big houses and pretty gardens doesn’t mean there won’t be a swarm of nasty critters nearby. The best we can hope for is a safe place to run and a special someone to join us. Bugs are always around but pie and a partner make them a little more manageable.