Ultrarunners gathered at the Pederson ranch in Zumbro Falls, Minnesota, after a devasting example of the power of the Zumbro River when on steroids, representing in microcosm the heart of trail racing throughout the country. This group by proxy shows the deep human spirit one gathers foot-by-foot, making way on steep, unforgiving paths.
One day in late September, 2010, a very large system of rain stopped suddenly, deciding to go no further for a few hours, just stop like a runner all cramped up, over a wide area of southern Minnesota. While hopping around grabbing its calf, the system dumped an incredible amount of water on the mountains and valleys and flats of this region of planet earth. Small when viewed on a global sense — we read of floods all of the time — but incredibly moving when it afflicts one of us, particularly those who have given to others unfailingly like the Pedersons and helped create the whole world of trail running and ultra endurance misery — no, strike that — fun, I meant fun, for legions making way over hill and dale, day or night, in good conditions or in conditions that will get better.
What Zumbro Falls and Hammond and Owatonna and Faribault and other unnamed communities and towns experienced was the latter — conditions that will get better. The unplanned and unneeded urban renewal began as soon as residents could reenter their abodes protected now not by alarm systems or neighborhood watches but by the National Guard with roadblocks and questions.
Larry Pederson has been trail running since his (long) beard was some other color than its current silver. Few of the volunteers gathering at their place throughout the week to “share six hours of your time to help out and move a piece of furniture, wipe a picture off, help tear out some carpeting” as Trail Master Donny Clark appealed have ever seen his beard other than its silver. Young and old were there, all dressed to attack the challenge like one dresses to challenge Superior’s Crosby-Manitou mountains in the heat of summer — appropriately.
The best garb for the week included boots, rubber gloves, and clothes that would do okay if wet and worse.The National Guardsmen responded after I told them the residence I was going to, getting the orange band signifying one was approved and scanning at the list of names for the Saturday work session, “That Pederson place, there’s a whole list going there.” The activity was something akin to a three-ring circus as acts of re-creation, cleaning or rebuilding were all simultaneously going on with a chorus of hammers, pressure-washer motors and broken glass providing the tempo.
Although only in a tiny spot of the whole region, one could see lots of similar activity at neighboring homes and the United Methodist Church between the Pederson place and the river.
I met four pretty women, or I assumed they were underneath the splatter spots of mud, helping clean out the church of dirt, grime, Bibles and hymnals, and anything else that had found its way in. Floods are non-discriminatory. They leave their calling card, mud, on anything touched. They were part of a group from the Lake City Methodist Church helping here just like trail runners were just next door, and just like others from other groups were helping out over there and over there, and over there, too. Everyday this has been going on.
I have written trail runners are some of the nicest people one will ever find. Leaders of distance trail races on out-and-back courses will take the time coming back in as many of us are still going out to give a words of praise or encouragement to the weary trail urchin. There’s a certain calm overcoming one, amidst the challenges and discouragement of the day, allowing a trail runner to see beyond the current bad patch to get to the next level in mental adjustment where a more favorable place lies.
In the Pederson ranch project, all were there to help one hammer at a time, one sawblade at a time, one more piece of wood, for Larry and Colleen to get back to that favorable place termed ‘normality.’ And throughout their street, the other homes of 177 residents of Zumbro Falls, and all other afflicted towns and homes of this region, the same things were happening.
It is spirit building in a way, repopulating the place in ones heart that collects goodwill, optimism and hope, to know all of this is happening. None said it better than Colleen, standing on the front door stoop after Larry had spoken a few words during a welcomed coffee and food break. She patted her heart and said all helping out means so much there.
And her voice trembled. And with human empathy, many teared up right with her.
Then, it was back to work, as Larry reminded us, “It’s only 26 weeks until the Zumbro 100 Mile Endurance Race,” another great day in America like today.