DAY 20 – SUNDAY, JULY 28

MONTICELLO TO ELK RIVER

Which side of the river to run on is always a question. And on Day 20, we had planned on the west side, but the locals said no, take the east side. One reason was a detour that would have put us way off schedule, but the more important reason was Dave and Eileen Anderson, their home on the east side approaching Elk River, Minnesota, and their offer of a hardy breakfast on our trek into town.

As luck would have it, Dave and Eileen came out to the Monticello event on Saturday night and gave us this insight. So when we set out Sunday morning, the intent was to head their way. Of course, as things go, I went. That is, I went the wrong way—I loaded the wrong route into the bike computer and headed down the west side of the river for about 1.5 miles until receiving a call from Tom to tell me to turn around.

Now. Perhaps I should have known I was on the wrong side of the river. Perhaps. But as I’ve been told, and I’ll just accept at this point despite the misogyny, either my artist brain or my female brain make me less inclined as an internal compass.

So, I doubled back, touched base with Tom, realized the route never got loaded (so I wasn’t a complete nincompoop), and got on my way with some basic directions. As I pedaled on, the sky began to look more and more ominous. I knew the stopping point should be around 8 miles, so I was working hard to get there before the sky broke open upon me. Up ahead I saw the van at the edge of a driveway, and I pulled up to a stop. Drop. Drop Drop Drop. The rain began to fall. And then it fell.

I ran with the bike to the porch. I could see Tom’s silhouette inside. I knew I would find hot coffee and warm breakfast in there instead of wet and cold and mosquitos that were keeping me company out here. My quest continued, and once inside I found the smell of bacon, the sound of a downpour, and the view overlooking gardens and native plants approaching the river—quite a reward. Tom and I sat down with Dave Anderson and learned of his work building this home little by little over time, and his even greater dedication to a conservation farm some miles away, full of native plants and ridded of the invasive buckthorn thanks to Dave’s vigilance. 

After we’d eaten our full of eggs, bacon, hash browns, freshly made zucchini muffins, plump blueberries and cherries, coffee, orange juice, and water, the rain began to slacken and Tom took his cue, changing into running shorts and shoes. We took our leave, and Tom set off down the trail toward Elk River. I went on ahead to arrive at the Elk River Lutheran Church right in downtown along the riverside. Lee Davies, our designated host, flagged me down in the front of the Church parking lot. The morning service was nearly at an end, and he was hoping to introduce me before the congregation exited. 

The pastor noticed Lee’s entrance, and offered him the microphone. He introduced me and I just made a short statement inviting folks to come out that evening for the ice cream social and storytelling event. Not long after, as people were leaving, a soaked-to-the-bone Tom walked in the front door. Lee and his wife Peg immediately offered to get us home to their house, get Tom a shower and some food, and so off we went, back down the road where we just came from—as it turns out Lee and Peg live just a few houses down from Dave and Eileen Anderson!

We got settled in to their beautifully finished basement, our home for the night, and then visited upstairs for a few hours. We had a photoshoot with the stuffed moose and bear in their loft! Now Lee and Peg didn’t mount these animals themselves, but a good friend of theirs who passed away was the game hunter of record and rather than leave them in storage, the Davies gave them a home. What a sight! We Learned about the construction of this beautiful timber frame home, a fairly recent accomplishment after the Davies lived on this riverfront property in more of a cabin for nearly forty years until straight-line winds came through the area and devastated much of their home. Their response was resilient—a reset, rebuild, renewal.

We left the Davies to head into town and meet up with Chloe Briggs and her father Chad, both longtime residents of the river—in their case the Elk River, just before it converges with the Mississippi. Chloe works at the local brewery, Aegir Brewing Co, a recent addition to the Elk River downtown. But according to Chloe, in just the last year and a few months, Aegir has really taken off and truly created something of a community and culture that was previously lacking. In fact, Aegir and the river itself, is the reason that Chloe has returned to Elk River after spending her undergraduate years in the Twin Cities and her graduate school years in Scotland.

We talked to Chloe and her father both about the changes in the art scene in Elk River. The loss of the Arts Alliance that previously provided space, facilities and opportunities for artists. Chad Briggs is a ceramic artist and has kept his own studio on the river for years. Chloe is a painter, and her sister is a writer. They know another metalworker who lives just down the way from them as well. Together they have dreams of establishing a river residency across their properties. Perhaps if Chloe decides to stay in Elk River for the long haul all these dreams will come to fruition, but Chloe is a woman who needs multiple homes to feel grounded. She has a home in Scotland now with her partner still there, and a home in Elk River with her family. How the logistics of that will work out is yet to be seen.

Later this afternoon we met up with Pastor Nathan Mugaas, shepherd of Elk River Lutheran Church and also our partner in organizing Relay here in Elk River. He led us up to his “corner office” on the second floor of the church. You see, the church is retrofitted into an old bank in the downtown of Elk River, so the corner office is quite a literal aspect of the architecture. We spoke about Nathan’s calling, his family, has path from North Dakota to Minnesota. He gave us a tour of the myriad collected items in his office—from Star Wars memorabilia, to a Jesus action figure, to the Book of Concord (Confessions of the Lutheran Church), to a disco ball, to the latest Richard Rohr book, to an oversized microphone. Later that night, just after a well-attended storytelling event at the church, Pastor Nathan asked if I’d ever heard of “perichoresis” — this word that describes a Greek tradition of three dancers interweaving into a blur, a word that has been adopted in the Christian tradition to describe the Trinity, how God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are in us, dancing perhaps, within us.

I believe Pastor Nathan was seeing the spirit of the movement we are after in this Relay, seeing this spirit from the people we convened with, seeing it converging, dancing, and that in this, we are blessed.