We arrived in Minneapolis a day before running the Boom Island Brewery Beer Run in July. A few weeks before leaving home we had booked our hotel through Hotwire. We frequently take advantage of excellent deals on hotels that are listed by star level, area, and price but without the actual hotel name revealed until you officially book the room. The unnamed “4 star boutique hotel” that Hotwire had offered at about half the rate for a traditional reservation turned out to be The Marquette Hotel. Its newly renovated sleek decor and professional, attentive staff made it a fabulous find.
Shortly after settling in we set off to explore on foot. We knew little about Minneapolis but headed toward the Mississippi River anticipating that there would be some interesting sights and activities along the river.
A series of signs provided extensive information about the history of the falls, the flour and logging industry, and the development of hydro-electric power. We had no idea that our stroll over the bridge would lead us to so much knowledge.
The street across from the river is lined with a wide assortment of tempting restaurants and outdoor cafes.
The appealing atmosphere of the outdoor patio of Aster Cafe easily lured us in for a cocktail and dinner.
Although we loved our seats outside we wished we’d had a chance to enjoy the ambiance of the bar.
As we strolled along the street we came across these chalk drawings on the sidewalk.
There was no sign of the artist, Phi_the_Chalk_Girl, but encountering these drawings added a lovely bonus to our visit.
After our race the following day we were determined to crack the bus code. Our attempt to get to the race by bus had been a bit of a fiasco that became a last minute Uber ride. Minneapolis has many numbered streets…and, as we finally noticed, avenues. Once it dawned on us that streets ran in one direction and avenues ran perpendicularly and that 1st Avenue was different than 1st Street we finally got it.
Arriving at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden by bus felt like a small victory. It was brutally hot by the time we arrived. Our progress around the grounds slowed to a crawl as we meandered through the exhibits.
We found these benches with quotations entertaining.
This iconic sculpture was especially popular because it sprayed cool water.
Although we were enthusiastic about viewing the exhibits, the heat was wringing every last drop of energy from us. Like a mirage, a simple sign stating “Sisyphus Brewery” and “air conditioning” appeared at the far end of the garden. Following the arrow across the street our relief must have been visible as we passed through the doors into a blissfully refreshing and lively pub. After a pint of William Wallace Scotch Ale for Mike and a strawberry soda for me we returned to the Sculpture Museum and resumed our stroll through the grounds.
Later that evening we enjoyed a dinner of local Minnesota fare at the FireLake Grill House. Our waitress, Amy, casually asked what had brought us to Minneapolis. We eagerly explained our quest to run a race in every state. As a fellow runner this concept seemed to ignite true excitement in her as she considered launching her own quest. Once again we couldn’t stop exclaiming about how truly life-changing this adventure has been for us and eagerly encouraged her to give it a try.
A sunset walk along the river after dinner completed our time in Minneapolis. The next morning we were off to North Dakota to begin our travels through the prairie.
“It doesn’t get more simple than this: walk / jog / run … drink beer … and raise money for local non-profits!”
That first line of the race website described exactly what we were looking for and when we arrived at the brewery we knew we had made a great choice for our first race. Instead of handing out race bibs with numbers, we were given a blank bib and asked to write our answer to the question of the day.
“What would you bring to a desert island?”
And my sweetie wrote “My Swiss army knife” which made my choice even better! It was amusing to read other runners’ answers. “Beer” was absolutely a popular suggestion.
When the race started at 11:00 a.m. the temps were already in the 80’s.
The not very shady but otherwise pleasant course crossed the Mississippi River twice before heading back to the brewery where we were treated to beer, music, and other festivities.
There were a number of shirt options to choose from. I think the one I chose perfectly describes our quest.
We were happy to add another glass to our collection.
Earlier in the summer a perusal of our trusty runningintheusa.com website had enlightened us about Mainly Marathons. It is a company devoted to helping runners reach their goal of running races in every state by organizing a series of races on consecutive days in various regions around the country. By offering races mid-week in adjoining states it’s possible to run in up to seven states in a week.
We signed up for four races in their inaugural Prairie Series.
Our first race of their series was in North Dakota. This race actually ran in Minnesota and North Dakota and runners were able to choose which state they wanted it to count for. All of these races start at 5:30 a.m with an optional early start at 4:30. Although we had happily opted for 5K races, many runners were doing half and full marathons. The temperatures were sweltering so the early start helped runners beat some of the later day heat.
All of the Mainly Marathon races are held off-road in parks, at schools, and similar locations. Runners do a specified number of short loops to cover the designated distance for the chosen race. The races we did had loops of about 1.3 to 2.2 miles.
They use a rubber band system in which after every loop you pick up a rubber band to keep track of your distance.
We gathered with our fellow runners in Minnesota for the start of our North Dakota race.
Before we walked across a short bridge to North Dakota where our race would start we received our instructions:
“Take this Dixie cup and run with it back to the rubber band table and then head out on the full loop. Turn around at the zebra cage and come back for the next rubber band. When you are finished with your race go to the timing table and say, ‘I’m done!’ and they will give you your time.”
These are, without a doubt, the most unusual directions we have ever heard at the start of a race. To be honest, we were a bit foggy about the details, but we followed other runners and asked volunteers as we went along. We did turn at some sort of cage in what I believe was the Chahinkapa Zoo but alas, there was no sign of a zebra although we did hear peacocks. We also heard thunder which got progressively louder and was soon accompanied by flashes of lightning. Part way through our race it began to rain but we were able to enjoy a rainbow and sunrise before it began to pour.
The next morning as we entered the park in South Dakota the sight of figures with single lights on their foreheads moving silently towards us was a bit eerie and made us think of aliens for an instant. Quite a few early runners were already on the course. As the sun rose we were once again treated to a beautiful sunrise and a scenic location.
In all of these races there is one main aid station that runners go past as they do their loops.
Since we were only doing 5Ks we didn’t need much but there appeared to be an extensive selection of food, drinks, (including individually marked bottles and cups for specific runners) as well as first aid and comfort items like bug spray, sunscreen, and Vaseline.
We finished our portion of the Mainly Marathon series with races in Nebraska and Kansas .
We found the runners and volunteers to be exceedingly kind and encouraging. No one was disparaging to us for “only” doing 5Ks. The atmosphere was very low-key. There are no awards for placing. In fact, given the number of loops that runners complete I think it would be hard to keep track of who was ahead of you. Timing is casual-no chips, just a volunteer at the table at the end who gives you your time when you tell them you have finished.
The medal system is quite a collection of hardware! You start with a medal and then add state medallions as you complete them.
We really appreciated the opportunity to run consecutive races in neighboring states to avoid making multiple trips from home. And we found the series to be virtually stress-free (except for remembering how many loops to do and where the course went). But I think we’ve probably done our last Mainly Marathons race.
Mainly Marathons is a for-profit organization (although they noted that they do donate a portion of their income to “various organizations”) and our impression of the event was that the focus of the runners was to complete their races. While those are entirely acceptable reasons for races, we missed the feeling of participating in something beyond our own goals. One of the most rewarding parts of our quest has been to run races which benefited specific causes.
While planning this trip, Mike wisely suggested that we run a couple of races that were not part of the series in order to participate in events that had other beneficiaries. As the week progressed and the Mainly Marathon races became “repetitive and redundant” (note the Gilmore Girls line) the thought of running in a “real” race was refreshing.
The Head for the Cure in St Louis, Missouri was our final race and it was exactly what we had hoped for. This race, which is one of many held by this organization, is devoted to raising awareness and funding to support the brain cancer community. As soon as we arrived we felt a bit of relief to once again be running for a cause other than our own quest. The race took place in Forest Park which is a gorgeous venue.
Despite sweltering temperatures
the race organizers were prepared to keep runners comfortable.
The race route traveled through quiet tree-lined roads in Forest Park. The addition of hills after four totally flat prairie races along with the heat made this race a bit more challenging. But we persevered and were thrilled to cross the finish line and complete our 34th state race.
There were many groups gathering to run in honor of loved ones. The stories presented about survivors after the run were incredibly poignant and really reiterated our feelings about wanting our races to benefit a meaningful cause.
We were surprised to hear our names called during the awards ceremony. I (amazingly) won first place in my age group and Mike won second place. This unexpected bonus completely topped off the fabulous experience of this last race in our week of traveling the prairie states.
In eight days we traveled to seven states and ran in six of them. We opted out of the chance to run in Iowa since we had checked that state off in an unexpectedly terrific experience at the Lagomarcino Cocoa Beano race in October 2015.
Once again, this trip provided us with the opportunity to run some terrific races and see new areas of the country-and an extraordinary amount of corn! More about our travels in the next post.
Date Run: July 15, 2017
Quest Race #: 29
The Bottom Line: The Boom Island Brewery Beer Run was the perfect run to start our 6 state adventure. We loved the idea of writing an answer on the bib instead of being assigned a number.
States: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas
Dates Run: July 17, 18, 20, 21, 2017
Quest Race #s: 30, 31, 32, 33
The Bottom Line: Running four races in four states in five days was an excellent way to check several states off of our quest list. It also gave us an opportunity to experience a totally different kind of race. This was our first opportunity to run a race with a Dixie cup and rubber bands!
Date Run: July 22, 2017
Quest Race #: 34
The Bottom Bottom Line: Running in a variety of types of races during the week, culminating with the Head for the Cure, completely solidified how important it is to us to have the races we run benefit a cause much more significant than our quest. Looking back at all of the races we have done since starting this quest, the ones that are most meaningful are the ones where we felt our presence had benefited something much grander than our adventure. And we are looking forward to many more.
Our adventures in Michigan continued the day after running the 13.Wine Half Marathon. We enjoyed breakfast at the Blue Plate Cafe which was just minutes from the Lakeside Inn on the Red Arrow Highway. The food was appealing and the service was prompt and friendly.
Fruit, granola, and yogurt breakfast.
At the suggestion of our new 13.Wine Half Marathon friends, Ron and Lori, we continued north on the Red Arrow Highway to St. Joseph’s or St. Joe’s as the locals seemed to refer to it. We were impressed by the immense sandy beach and the recreational facilities such as a fountain pool and a remarkable carousel housed inside a glass enclosure. We walked out to the end of the jetty (?), pier (?) that offered a chance to venture out into Lake Michigan without leaving land. After our stroll, we thankfully sought refuge in the air conditioned carousel building to escape from the still oppressive heat. Sitting in comfy chairs watching the carousel whiz by with enraptured children was an ideal way to recover from the heat before meandering up the hill to choose a spot for lunch.
View looking down into St. Joseph’s
Mike on the jetty.
We settled on Caffe Tosi which is a bakery, restaurant, and coffee shop. The atmosphere was welcoming and the food was just what we were looking for.
We had lunch at Caffe Tosi.
After lunch, our travels continued to Saugatuck, the second place that we had been encouraged to visit. We found it to be an enchanting water-side town with a multitude of galleries, wineries, and restaurants.
Uncharacteristically, we had no lodging reservations – a situation that we found liberating. After strolling through the town and scoping out a few establishments, we stopped for tea and then perused the local Yelp listings for some suggestions.
We enjoyed refreshments here while we contemplated our lodging options.
Stellar reviews and a quick call answered by a most welcoming innkeeper directed us to the Beechwood Manor Inn. A drive of only a few blocks brought us to a quiet, tree-lined residential street. The Inn was beautiful and as soon as we walked in the door, we knew we had made a wise decision.
The Beechwood Manor Inn
Our room was gorgeous, spotless, and luxurious.
Quiet new-age music was playing when we entered causing me to instantly feel I was in a spa. Bliss!
We enjoyed coffee on the porch the next morning before savoring a gourmet breakfast in the dining room.
Our hosts could not have been more welcoming and accommodating. They provided suggestions for activities and dinner. They offered beach chairs and towels for a visit to the beach and had a bottle of wine ready for us after we returned from more touring. They recommended the Everyday People Cafe for dinner and arranged for us to have a table within moments of arriving there. The restaurant was buzzing – obviously the hot spot of the area. We loved our waiter whom we decided was a toss-up between Richard Dreyfus and Billy Crystal. He was personable and unobtrusively attentive. Perfect! The food was, as my grandfather used to say, “an epicurean triumph”.
As we drove back to the inn we had to stop to take pictures of the stunning sunset. It had been a truly outstanding evening.
The next morning we enjoyed a gourmet breakfast at the inn then began our travels back towards New Buffalo where we planned to spend the night before flying out of Chicago the next morning. We had been reading about the dunes as we traveled in this southwestern area of Michigan but had not really encountered them first hand. The Warren Dunes State Park was on our way to New Buffalo so we decided to stop to see if we could actually experience the dunes. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that there truly are impressive dunes in the area.
When we reached the top of the first dune we were greeted with more dunes.
The view of Lake Michigan from the top of the dunes was impressive.
The weather had been threatening all day but as we walked near the beach some impressive cracks of thunder and bolts of lightning sent us scurrying for the car. Our next plan was to visit more of the wineries in Baroda.
Gravity Winery was our first stop. The skies were becoming dramatically dark and thundery as we entered the winery. We were met by an enthusiastic employee who explained their tasting system where you choose 4 wines and they pair them with cheese for the whites and chocolates for the reds. After making our tasting selections we enjoyed the weather excitement as we sat on the covered patio to do our wine tasting.
We were impressed with all of the wines that we tasted and after some pondering we purchased a bottle of Lemberger to take with us.
We had run past Free Run Cellars during the race and we knew we wanted to visit it. The name caught our attention and also provided a photo op for the typically camera-shy, Mike, who volunteered this perfect pose.
We sampled the wines and loved them. Sadly, we were unable to ship them home so we left with only a cork screw. We were truly impressed with all of the wines we tasted while on the Michigan Wine Trail. We had been clueless about this fabulous wine country. The ability to visit multiple sophisticated and distinct wineries within one town was an unexpected surprise. We loved the intimate feel of these small wineries which clearly invested so much personal devotion to their products.
Our trip continued the short distance back to New Buffalo. What a difference a couple of days made. What had been a town teaming with tourists on Saturday was now, on Tuesday, a relative ghost town. Apparently midweek in late August was not the peak of tourism. We ventured down to the beach and were met with literally hundreds of seagulls covering the beach…as well as signs indicating that the beach was closed due to E.coli. Ah ha! That may have explained the shocking difference in tourists.
Once again, we did not yet have plans for where to stay. After some research we happened upon the Lake Country Inn.
The Lake Country Inn, New Buffalo, Michigan
Due to the quiet pace of the town there was a sign directing visitors to call a number if interested in the inn. We called and were assured the owner would be over momentarily…which she was. She gave us a tour of the available rooms which are all a different, distinct color. They were all lovely but we/I selected the “Green Room”. The inviting over-sized chair and ottoman were a big selling point.
This inn also offered towels for the beach, as well as a community kitchen with a fridge for saving leftovers or chilling wine, wine glasses, cork screws, dishes, etc. A continental breakfast is served in the kitchen in the morning.
We settled in and enjoyed our bottle of wine from Gravity before heading across the street to Brewster’s Italian Cafe for dinner.
We needed to leave for the airport early the next morning so we enjoyed a quiet last vacation evening in our indulgently cozy room.
The Bottom Line: What had started out as a chance to run a fun race in Michigan evolved into an enlightening and highly enjoyable mini vacation. We would highly recommend a visit to this region for a chance to taste fabulous wines, view the stunning beauty of Lake Michigan and the dunes, and to experience the establishments, sights, and culture of the local towns.