Running Stories

Hometown Heart

HOMETOWN HEART
Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon
Deadwood, South Dakota
June 1, 2014

The alarm went off at 4:15 a.m. on the 24th day of May. This was the beginning of the biggest marathon trip thus far. All my kids, their wives, my mother, my brother and our granddaughter, Amelia, would be at the finish line in Deadwood, South Dakota. This plus the fact that South Dakota is my home state set the table for a memorable trip and a memorable marathon.

We had the suburban loaded to the gills with luggage, food and “stuff”. There was a hard covered carrier on the roof and another with a soft case (quickly dubbed the body bag) sticking out of the trailer hitch in the back. The inside was occupied by our son Zach, his wife, Cassie, their daughter, Amelia, our son Andrew, our daughter Collette, Mary and me. Andrew’s wife, Jennifer, would be flying out to meet us in Deadwood a few days later.

We pointed the “big rig” south for a route that on day one would take us near Chicago, Illinois, through Des Moines, Iowa, a stop on the Missouri River near Omaha, Nebraska and finally to Pipestone, Minnesota where we would stay at the home of niece and nephew, Rich and Theresa Stangle.

Amelia was barely 13 months old but rode like a trooper. When Collette would tire of entertaining her and put her head into a phone or book, Amelia would let out a screech to get her attention. It was cause for some amusement from all aboard. I think the little girl figured this out earlier than we ever knew.

As the miles went by, I enjoyed listening to the 2 brothers chat while riding together up front. Grown with jobs and families, this trip was a rare opportunity for them to be together for a long stretch of time once again.

To fit everyone, it was necessary to have 3 people in the rear bench seat. This was a tight fit due to the fact that the kids were now grown ups. At each stop, there would be a foot race back to the car or a loud shout of “SHOTGUN!!” as individuals made an effort to capture the coveted front passenger seat. I thanked the lord that they were real grown ups because there was no crying, hitting or pulling of hair like the “old days.”

We ended up at the Surfside Club near Omaha, Nebraska for an evening meal. Zach had made arrangements to meet there with his college roommate, Matt Muelners, for a brief visit. Matt drove over from Lincoln where he was helping coach the Cornhuskers wrestling team. The restaurant was located on the banks of the Missouri River and the weather was perfect for walking Amelia around outside while the kids got caught up.

Around 10 p.m., we arrived at the home of Rich and Theresa Stangle. Theresa’s mother, Ann Crance, and Mary are sisters. Mary and I spent quite a few date nights in high school babysitting Theresa’s older sisters, Becky and Sarah. Later, Ann repaid the favor by watching Zach in her daycare as Mary and I started our working careers in our hometown of Timber Lake, South Dakota. Consequently, Theresa, who is the same age as Zach, and Zach are not only cousins but were good friends in their early years. After a long day and an even longer drive, it was great to be with family.

I had run the Quad Cities Marathon with Theresa and her sister Becky a few years earlier. A year or so after that, I met Rich and Theresa in Tulsa, Oklahoma and together we ran the Route 66 Marathon. Theresa and Rich had a baby, Eleanor, in October of 2012 and Theresa was now getting back into running. Theresa had registered for the half marathon in Deadwood and we had plans to share a cabin during the marathon weekend. We were all looking forward to getting everyone under one roof for a good weekend of catching up.

Rich was busy in the kitchen the next morning whipping up his specialty, chocolate chip pancakes. Amelia and Eleanor were getting acquainted and mostly sharing Eleanor’s toys. Zach, Theresa and I snuck out for a 6-mile running tour of Pipestone, Minnesota. It was a relaxing morning and much needed after the previous day’s push.

Eventually, the journey west continued. We stopped briefly at the Murdo, South Dakota drive-in owned and operated by my cousins Mary Ann and Donna Hieb. Their mom, Cecilia, who passed away several years earlier and my mother, Dixie, were sisters and grew up on a farm outside Timber Lake. I hadn’t seen Mary Ann and Donna in years. Their dad, Don, was one of my favorite uncles growing up but, unfortunately, he was up north putting flowers on graves in Timber Lake.

We got to Rapid City, South Dakota in plenty of time to get Cassie to a high school graduation party at the home of her only cousin. For most of her relatives present, it was their first time meeting Amelia.

While Zach and Cassie attended the formal graduation ceremony, the rest of relaxed at the house and watched Amelia. Amelia was fascinated by the chickens outside. She even did a really good imitation of a rooster crowing.

After picking up Zach and Cassie at the completion of the ceremony, we finished the day’s drive to Grandma Dixie’s in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. Belle Fourche sits on the prairie north of the Black Hills and just east of the Wyoming border. We watched a big thunderstorm roll in from the west. I had forgotten how I missed the big sky and watching the weather change before my eyes.

The next morning, Zach and I took another running tour. This time it was the old west town of Belle Fourche. In the John Wayne movie, The Cowboys, the ending of the cattle drive was the railhead in Belle Fourche. I thought about this as we ran past a statue of a local cowboy hero on main street and jumped over the train tracks by the grain elevator.

Zach and Cassie headed over to Rapid City to spend the day with Cassie’s parents and other relatives. The rest of us plus Grandma drove out to my brother Gordy’s place in Montana. To get to his house, the 70 some mile route took us through South Dakota, then Wyoming and finally onto the gravel back roads of eastern Montana.

Gordy was helping manage a 600 head cattle ranch on something like 20,000 acres of what is really “big sky” country. We got to see the nice house the ranch owners built for him, took a walk along the Little Missouri River that runs by his back door and had lunch with his co-workers. It was a relaxing afternoon visiting, catching up and mostly not driving much.

May 27th was day 4 of our big family adventure. We loaded up early and headed north. We went through the rural South Dakota towns of Newell, Faith, Dupree and Eagle Butte. Close to home, a right hand turn onto a gravel road took us to what was once my Grandpa Rusty’s farm/ranch. My dad had grown up there. I had played there as a kid. Gordy and I had farmed and milked cows there. Zach took some of his very first steps on the dirt under our feet.

Wind had pushed the old barn down long ago and the farmhouse had burned to the ground in a lightning storm more than 20 years earlier but the original wooden granary and the milking barn were still standing. The old tree in the middle of the pasture that we thought was so far away as kids was leaning closer to the prairie. The plum tree thickets were thriving.

Too many memories flooded into my brain. The old windmill, the water tank, the rope in the hayloft, catching horses, shooting prairie dogs, herding cattle, rolling the John Deere 80 down the hill and popping the clutch to start it, swimming in the dam in the pasture, feeding hay in the bitter cold winter, and getting a messy cow tail in the face while milking. There was simply not enough time to re-live each one. Is there ever?

Mary and I dropped the kids at Ann and Roy’s in Timber Lake. We needed to drive another 40 miles over to Mobridge to pick up Mary’s mom, Anna. Anna was in the nursing home but able to come over to Timber Lake for a family party in our honor at Ann and Roy’s later that evening. It made for a long day but living in Michigan had left us unable to fulfill our share of the family “duty of care” during Anna’s years in the nursing home. When Ann asked if we could pick her up, there was no hesitation.

While at the nursing home, I stuck my head into Ben Ehly’s room. Ben had been my high school football coach and an important influence in my high school years. He wasn’t happy and didn’t look well but he did light up when Mary and I stepped into the room. We had a short but nice visit. I kidded him that there was no way he could get better with a Minnesota Vikings blanket on his bed. He smiled and that’s how I chose to remember what I worried could be my last visit with him.

We wheeled Mary’s mom, Anna Reinbold, out to the car and headed back west of the Missouri River to Timber Lake. Ann and Roy hosted a great supper (that’s what we call dinner in SD) at their house that evening. Three of the four Reinbold brothers, Gene, Tony, and Bob were present. Mary, Ann, Deb and Fran represented the girls in the family. All in all, 7 of the 10 Reinbold children were present on a cool South Dakota evening.

Also in attendance was our niece Sarah Crance Schweitzer, her husband Joel, their boys, Evan and Ethan, our nephew Luke Crance and 2 of my mom’s sisters who lived in Timber Lake, Carol Crance (Roy’s mom) and Irene Winterberg. We closed out the night of visiting and catching up around a fire pit with just Luke, Ann and Roy.

The next morning, May 28th, Zach and I got in an early morning run around Timber Lake. I showed him where I played baseball with Kelvin and David Lawrence and other kids from the neighborhood. It was always a special treat when Kelvin and David’s dad, Pepsi, would join in the game. I have been to a lot of professional ballparks but none compare to that back yard. Home plate was where we dropped the bat, first base a tree branch, second a bare spot in the middle and a corner of the garage was designated as third.

From there, we went by the old trailer park where my mom raised us after my dad’s death. The 10×50 trailer was long gone but the memories came back as the gravel crunched under our feet. I kept the flood of stories to myself for another time as I pointed out a spot next across the road at the end of the Thares’ property where I had played trucks and soldiers in the dirt as a child. I commented that I was pretty confident that if we dug a little we could find a spoon, army soldier or a broken toy truck axle.

After that, we ran by the low-income housing project on the south end of town. Across from the Lutheran Church where everyone turned around while cruising main street on a Saturday night was a stick-built, government project house with 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom and an unfinished basement. Mom moved us in there when I was in 5th grade.

It was the first time any of us had a room of our own, even mom. It ended our years of bunk beds, no yard and going to the laundromat. I watched my first Green Bay Packer game on our first colored TV on our first carpeted floor in that house. More importantly for my kids, I proposed to a young girl in that house. As we pushed on, I thought about how far and how long ago the day she said “yes” really was.

Immediately after getting cleaned up, I headed down to Moreau-Grand Electric Cooperative’s office. I had gotten my first job there back in August of 1983. The current manager was Melissa Maher. Melissa came to Moreau-Grand one year after I did. Whenever I am in Timber Lake, I enjoy stopping in and catching up on current events, her family and old times.

Next, we had a lunch date with my aunt and uncle, Dick and Mary Jane Anderson on their ranch near the small reservation village of White Horse. White Horse is off the beaten path by any standard and only accessible by 15-20 miles of gravel roads. We stopped along the way to visit their son, Lyle, his wife, Kim and daughter, Sloan. Amelia got to pet her first horse but didn’t really know what to think about such a big animal.

For the second marathon trip in a row, we were surprised to see John Anderson. He was visiting his brother with his wife, Delonne. It made for an even better lunch to have more family around the table at Dick’s home near the Moreau River. I hadn’t visited with Dick and Mary Jane in years and this was the first real meeting for my kids. It was another great 2-3 hours catching up and getting reacquainted.

We arrived back in Timber Lake in the late afternoon. I got dropped off at the county highway shop. It was near quitting time and I wanted to catch an old high school friend and one of the groomsmen from my wedding, Chip Long. I believe there are some friends we may not see or call for years but whenever life allows our paths to cross, it is like we just saw them yesterday. They are the ones we know would “have our back” at any time (even though we never make the call). Chip is one of those friends for me.

Chip had a few head of cattle to round up at his ranch after work that day so it felt completely natural to ask no questions and simply climb in his truck. The plan was he and I would get on ATVs to herd them from the pasture into his corrals. Now, I had herded my share of cows while growing up but I can’t say I was too excited about using an ATV across rough prairie at 52 years of age BEFORE I was to run a marathon. Luckily, Chip’s son Derek arrived prior to us getting started and he took my spot.

So, I got to see the new house he had recently built, visit with his wife, Rita and their daughter, Danielle, who was studying for her nursing license. Chip had worked on the county road crew during the day since high school and built up his herd of cattle on nights and weekends. It was nice to see Rita and visit in the country house they had talked about years ago.

Once loaded, we pulled the trailer to the livestock yard in Mobridge. After a stop at Taco John’s for supper and the drive back to Timber Lake, Chip dropped me off at the home of Mary’s sister, Deb, where we were being treated to supper that night. It was after 8 p.m. and I was way late. Well, Mary wasn’t too upset. It wasn’t exactly the first time I lost track of time when traveling with Chip! Some things never change but as we age, they are appreciated so much more.

After 9, somebody suggested we go out to the farm where Mary grew up. Her brother, Tony, and his wife, Linda, had recently added on to the farmhouse. Mary wanted to see the addition and the kids wanted to see where she lived as a child. I was beat but only smiled and “went with it.” We had not been back home in 4 years and who knew when we would return next. I think it was almost 11 pm when the busiest of days ended.

May 29th was day 6 of our big family adventure. It was time to leave Timber Lake and head back to Belle Fourche to meet up with Jennifer. Grandma Dixie picked her up at the airport and we met them in Belle Fourche.

From there, we headed over to Harney Peak. At just over 7,000 feet in elevation, it is the highest point in the United States east of the Rockies. On a clear day, you can see Wyoming and Nebraska from the abandoned fire tower at the summit. We had walked the 3-mile path to the top with Grandma Dixie several years earlier. The boys wanted to do it again with their wives.

Mary and Grandma decided to hang out around Sylvan Lake with Amelia. I was faced with a dilemma. Should I rest my legs for the marathon or relive old times with my grown kids and make the hike. It wasn’t a technical climb but it would be a semi tough walk up the steep incline. I decided, albeit reluctantly, that family time was more important than my marathon time.

It was a beautiful day. We made the climb in decent time and only got lost for a short while near the top. Zach, full of energy, kept running ahead and leaving us behind at times. I tried to keep the others together and not push to hard for their sake and mine. Andy, just like when he was a kid, stopped for every toad and creature in our path. Collette, who we had to force to make the walk several years earlier, simply wanted to redeem herself so her brothers would stop talking about the infamous “no good, can’t go” hike of her younger days.

After that, with a little daylight remaining, the kids headed over to Mount Rushmore as Jennifer, the one non-South Dakota native in our clan, had never been there. Mary, Grandma, Amelia and I headed to our rental cabin in the town of Lead. We had 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, a large kitchen, living room, washer, dryer, hot tub and a garage. Lots of room but with the Crances coming too, it would be plenty full for the next couple nights.

Shortly after settling in, I got a call from Theresa. Eleanor was sick. She and Rich would not be coming. Thus, Ann and Roy cancelled, as did Joel, Sarah and their boys. I was disappointed but there was nothing that could be done. We would have more room so Grandma Dixie and my brother, Gordon, joined us. We resolved to unite with the Crances somewhere in the future.

The fast pace of the trip slowed to a crawl on May 30th. I laid around the cabin and soaked in the hot tub while the others went out and about in Deadwood and Lead. They came back with some great pictures. They had stopped at a local studio, dressed like gangsters from the 20s and taken some group and couple shots.

More resting and relaxing took place the next day. Everyone was dragging and feeling the effects of the long trip. Collette was sick. Amelia was teething. We were also concerned about the fact that whooping cough was going around the Rapid City area.

In the afternoon, Tom and Candy Dooper, good friends from our days in Lusk, Wyoming arrived. They were one of the young couples with kids who reached out to us after we arrived in Lusk back in the fall of 1991. We had watched each others kids grow up, went for walks, enjoyed evenings out and many other activities during our 6.5 years in that small Wyoming town. When I got offered the job in Wisconsin, Tom was the first person I called. The sick feeling in my stomach still comes back when I think about it years later.

We went for a short walk with them. This time it was a grandchild in the stroller and not one of our kids. Then, we simply sat on the porch and visited about all things Lusk. Mary and I would think of a name and they would fill in the story. Yet again, we had a great time catching up. As they drove away, I thought about another friend who would have my back at any time. Silently, I was grateful for the path life had led us on. No matter the time or distance, we still had many good people in our lives.

June 1 finally arrived. It was time to run a marathon. Breakfast consisted of a bagel with peanut butter and water. Mary dropped me at the fair grounds for the bus ride to the start. The Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon was a point-to-point course on a rails-to-trails route through the heart of the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. Completed in 1998 and named after former Governor of South Dakota, George S. Mickelson, it follows the historic Deadwood to Edgemont Burlington Northern railroad line.

It was a chilly wait under overcast skies near the tiny town of Rochford. I was on the first bus and able to watch the more than 400 marathon runners slowly trickle in over the early morning hours as the sun rose in the east.

Eventually, the buses stopped coming and we all gathered on the road behind the starting line. The first mile would be a quick down hill loop on mostly pavement before the course headed south toward Deadwood on the trail of crushed limestone and gravel.

Using the steep grade and my excitement to finally be underway, I ran 8:06 on the first mile. This was much too fast and I knew it. I was breathing hard and needed to get under control. This would be easy as the gradual uphill of the railroad route took over in mile 2.

Mile after mile as I chugged up the incline on miles 2 through 8, I maintained my goal pace of 8:40. I thought to myself, “Why is this so damn hard?” This is when the elevation dawned on me. The starting elevation in Rochford was almost a mile high at 5200 feet. Years ago, I was used to living at this elevation in Lusk, Wyoming but after 11 years in Michigan, the old lungs were fighting hard for all they could get in the thin air.

I saw Mary, Zach and Gordy near the mile 8 marker. The incline grew steeper between miles 10 and 14. I kept my legs moving but my mile times in that stretch of the race ranged from 9:13 to 10:04. I was losing my goal time but it didn’t bother me. I quickly switched my focus to the four hour mark and the fact that the railroad grade would head downhill after 14 miles.

Passing my small band of spectators again, I pointed my “engine” downhill. Gravity was in my favor but the weather was becoming a factor. It had begun to rain. There were periods of semi-heavy rain and other times just a drizzle. The limestone and gravel began to turn to mud.

I got back to my goal pace on miles 15 through 18. I simply let it roll on the nice downhill grade and saw the mile splits range from 8:57 to 8:31. I needed to average 9:10 to get a 4 hour finish. It was within reach. I passed Mary and Gordon one last time.

Much to my benefit, I wouldn’t pass Zach again. He was dressed to run and strode in next to me. Yes, this isn’t necessarily legal and is frowned upon at some races. I didn’t care. This was my home state, a public trail, and it certainly wasn’t crowded. Most importantly, I was glad to have someone to run with.

Run with that is but not necessarily talk to. Zach was a bundle of energy and wanted to help. He kept encouraging me with comments like “you got this” and “you can do it.” It got to the point where I had to say, “Son, I love you and I am glad you are here but just shut up and run.” While he had the energy to talk, I was at the point in the race where it hurt and I had no energy to listen.

I hit my second 10 minute plus mile split at 20 miles. I thought, “Shit, you can’t go double digits for the next 6 miles and expect to get under 4 hours.” I took another drink and popped my second helping of cherry tablets from CherryWorks, a new sponsor (shameless plug but the honest truth).

Others can judge what happened next and why. Was it Zach’s help? Was it the Succeed carb drink? Was it the cherry tablets? Was it the downhill grade? I believe it was a combination of “all of the above.” Over the next 6 miles, my splits were under 9 minutes on all but 2 of them. My slowest mile during this period where the wall typically shows up was a 9:13. I was tired but smiling wide on the inside.

I often don’t run with my phone and I never answer it. Oddly, my phone rang sometime during this last 6-mile push. More oddly, I answered it. The voice on the end of the line was Andrea Aberle Nielsen, a high school classmate of Mary’s. On the run, I told Andrea, who lived in nearby Rapid City, where she could find Mary. This trip was really all about catching up I guess.

Zach peeled off near the finish and I crossed the line in Deadwood (elev 4,500 ft) on my own. Andrea was the first person I saw as I ran down the finishing chute. I spotted the rest of the family along with some friends of Grandma Dixie’s shortly thereafter. It was the largest crowd of supporters I had ever had at the finish. I looked down at my watch as I bent over to accept my medal. It read 3:58:45. I had conquered the incline, the rain, the mud, thin air and a busy vacation. I was more than happy.

While we enjoyed a nice celebration, it was also time to head home. After cleaning up at the cabin and saying our good-byes, we put Deadwood in the rearview mirror. When I set the GPS to home after turning east onto the interstate, it showed we had 667 miles to the next turn! We all got a good chuckle out of that. Nothing like the wide open spaces of the west!

A few hours later, we made another stop at the Murdo Drive Inn for a little ice cream treat and to let Amelia get free from her car seat for a short time. Cousins Donna and Mary Ann were there once again. This time, their father and my uncle, Don Hieb, was there as well. One more visit and one more opportunity to catch up with family as we headed east.

It was a quiet and uneventful trip the rest of the way. After a night in Iowa, we arrived back in Michigan. We had jammed as much time, visiting, friends and family into the trip as we could. As I looked back, I could not find any wasted time or anything that I wanted to do differently. It was a great trip and one that will long be remembered.

I love South Dakota and the little town where I grew up. I continue to feel blessed by the people I have met, friends I have made and places I have lived since leaving so long ago. Life has shown me that hearts can be big enough to call more than one place home and home is truly where you put your heart. I am so happy that we had the time to put our hearts into this trip.
My official post-race results:

76 out of 450 finishers overall
64 of 199 men
9 of 34 men in age 50-54 group
10th of 16 men in 25-29 group
10 of 26 men in 30-34 group
10 of 19 men in 35-39 group
13 of 26 men in 40-44 group
6 of 22 men in 45-49 group
8 of 25 men in 55-59 group
3 of 10 men in 60-64 group