We have been waiting through uncertain times and working to bring this idea to light for almost two years. In the spring of 2020, we published the last print magazine. Today we are excited to resume RUN MINNESOTA MAGAZINE as a fully digital publication. Our mission is to connect the Minnesota running community by crafting digital stories that highlight the people, the places, and the region’s races. We seek to foster an inclusive running culture by producing work from diverse voices of all abilities.
We hope you enjoy this inaugural feature and we look forward to bringing you stories and news that inform and inspire.
– Sarah Ahlers McInerney, Executive Director – Run Minnesota
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Words: Jess Koski
Images: Rick Novitsky
Before I landed on Reservation River Road, in Grand Portage, I lived on an old farm outside of Two Harbors, Minnesota, on another dead end road, and my oversized red mailbox was a quarter mile down the narrow dirt driveway, on the main road.
On my long runs I had two choices of routes; at the mailbox I could turn right, or I could turn left. Either way gave me many miles of dirt surface, forgiving on the old legs.
Sundays morning often brought a small group of champions, or wannabee champions—the likes of Charlie Mahler, Jason Lee, Dan Conway, Katie McGee, and Scott Jurek for a 20 mile “jog and giggle” as Dan called it, even though he never let the pace slow to a jog.
If we turned left there was a straight stretch of about three miles, so on the return trip we could catch a glimpse of red a good two miles from home. We were the proverbial horses headed for the barn, except, instead of hay, we were headed for a sunny porch and a cold beer.
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One cold morning, recently, my wife Julie dropped me off at the eastern edge of the reservation with a promise to check in with me at Mineral Center—about 10 miles in. I was attempting my most ambitious, in terms of distance, training run ever—41 miles. You see, I had one last running goal languishing in the old bucket, the 100 mile. It might have been all over and done last November had Covid-19 not struck. So here I was four weeks out and getting in my last big effort.
We motored up to the scenic overlook a few miles west of the border as the sun was just peeking up over the lake. Rick Novitsky, photographer extraordinaire, had a tripod up and was doing a time-lapse of the sunrise and we chatted about photography and the good news that the bathrooms were open.
Anyway, I set off west, down Mt. Josephine, and took an uphill on Joe’s Road. It was still frosty but the sun was warming things up some. At the top, where you intersect with the old border at the Pigeon River, I found an encouraging note and a snack of a couple of Fig Newtons lying on the road. Good old Julie Louise.
Now, trudging westward in the warming morning, I encountered my first vehicle since the highway. We both slowed to a halt and the driver, who happened to be Bob Vogel, the Tribal conservation officer, scanned me up and down, said, “Not very smart to be out jogging up here this time of the year without any orange on.”
I laughed in agreement and stripped off my jacket to reveal an orange shirt. As I turned to resume my trot he quietly called after me.
“I saw your wife sitting in her car at the Mineral Center parking lot.”
Bob knows everything that happens on the Rez.
One foot in front of the other puts me past the Grand Portage Trail, the road to Partridge Falls, Mt. Maud, and then Mineral Center and an enthusiastic greeting from wife and dog.
But this was only just one quarter of the day’s work, and I commenced to climb up to Rengo Road, probably the most pleasant section of the journey, with its rolling narrow path, maple ridges, and overlooks of the border country and the lake.
Eventually I found myself crossing the reservation’s west boundary and back on the well-maintained gravel surface of Otter Lake Road.
Long story, or I guess long run, short and I’d covered the length of the Arrowhead Trail to Highway 61 with one stop at Deb and Brian Bennet’s driveway for a water top-off; Deb, of course, is a former ultramarathoning standout. Then only the five miles from Hovland to Rez River Road remained.
By this point I was pretty knackered and looking like an escaped lunatic hobbling along the side of the highway.
“Each curve in the road, each green mile marker, indeed each telephone pole brought me closer to home.”
I had a pain in my lower back that caused me to list to the right as if I’d suffered a stroke. I settled into a pattern of a minute of running and a minute of walking.
And then, there it was… a mere half-mile ahead. The turquoise mailbox glimmering in the late afternoon sun. Wincing to a halt, I pulled the mailbox open and snatched out a couple of pieces of junk mail and a postcard from an old friend.
I felt triumphant as I picked up the pace down the gravel of Rez River Rd to finish the 41-mile circumnavigation of the Reservation. A feeling that was tempered quite a bit by the knowledge that I would have to continue for nearly another 60 miles in a month.
So, how did that all work out?
The back issue that I experienced that day came back to haunt me at the 100 mile Tunnel Hill race in Illinois and I was forced to hang up my sneakers at 61 miles.
Not to worry though… today I walked down the road to that turquoise mailbox, placed an envelope inside, lifted the little red flag and committed to another attempt in 2022.
See you on the backroads!
Jess Koski, writes and runs on Anishinaabe tribal lands at Gichi Onigaming, Grand Portage MN.
Rick Novitsky, Photographer and retired Tribal forest ranger and state park ranger for the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.