pounding the mounds

In the late seventies, I was working on Main Street in downtown Luverne, where I grew up.

(It looked fairly similar to a street scene from the second season of the television show Fargo, which was set in Luverne in 1979, although there weren’t any buses and there wasn’t a butcher shop on Main Street — and no Butcher of Luverne.)

After work, I would hop in our Karmann Ghia and drive the short distance to Blue Mounds State Park.  On warm days, I would strip off my shirt, because although I never achieved the sculpted aspect of a bronze-god body, I could tan with the best of them.

Then I would run uphill to the entrance of the semicircular quarry, its face displaying the beautiful but very hard Sioux quartzite used to create buildings in Luverne and far afield.  Already breathing heavily, I would make my way up a pile of rocks on the right side, through an arch of stone, and, stretching to step onto a tall rock, would emerge through a crevice to the prairie above.

From there I would run the mown trails that crossed the treeless landscape (OK, there was one tree).

While I would occasionally cross paths with a person or two around the quarry, I almost never saw anyone on the prairie.  For all intents and purposes, it was mine.  A few glimpses of civilization, but mostly grasses and rock outcroppings and sky for as far as the eye could see.

Oh, and a herd of bison.  They were often on the other side of the range well away from me, but running alongside them when they were clustered along (this) fence was always a thrill.

I usually ran between two and four miles, although sometimes I would venture to the north end of the park.  If I ran the whole loop, it was about nine miles.  That took me past places from my grade school and early teen years — the swimming beach and the wooded part of the park where we’d fish in the stream and have gatherings in the picnic area — before heading back to the more mystical prairie and quarry where I gravitated as I got older.

I had to be a little careful running on the trails, especially when it was wet, although I never really had a running-with-abandon gear anyway.  Still, it was as close as I ever got to athletic nirvana.

Once, as I ran down a slope on the Western Loop Trail toward the highway, I saw the distinctive blue of a friend’s car coming down the road.  I thrust my fists into the air Rocky-style to show him what I was made of.  A moment I won’t ever forget.

(Normally on that part of the trail, I would be focusing on the smell of roast turkey riding the wind from the Blue Mound Inn across the way.)

Eventually I would make my way back to the quarry floor and run downhill to my car, drained in every way except spiritually.

This all came to mind because the inaugural “Pound the Mound” race will be held this May at the park.  Runners will tackle a ten-mile-plus loop, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you don’t have to limit yourself to one time around.  When you register, you can choose whether to do one, two, or three of those loops.

I’d give anything to participate, but my knee won’t be trail ready by then.  I haven’t run in many years, although I’m working toward trying to do that one of these days.  In the meantime, I find myself thinking about my days on the Mounds as I spend time on the treadmill preparing for that fateful first attempt, the sweat pouring down as it did all those years ago, although the atmosphere in the gym is a bit less inspiring.

I saw an article recently called, “Great Running Spots Across America.”  Included were Acadia National Park in Maine and Central Park in Manhattan, among others.  Nice places, all, and I’m sure that they would indeed be great running spots.

But I wouldn’t trade any of them for the Mounds.

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