What was once far now is near

Tales from Team 99 Counties: Don't fear the end

Dennis Lee (left) and Daren Schumaker celebrate finishing their 96th county in their quest to run all 99 counties in Iowa. (Kris Lee/community contributor)
Dennis Lee (left) and Daren Schumaker celebrate finishing their 96th county in their quest to run all 99 counties in Iowa. (Kris Lee/community contributor)

Editor’s note: Daren Schumaker of Cedar Rapids and Dennis Lee of Walford are attempting to run across Iowa’s 99 counties to raise money and awareness for the American Heart Association. They’ve completed 98 counties. This begins the final countdown to No. 99, Delaware County, which the two hope to cross on April 15. This is No. 96. Next: Scott

You can’t really understand what is near until you understand what is far. You can’t really understand the happy until you understand the sad. You can’t really understand the beginning until you understand the end.

However, once you learn to understand what is far, you always will remember what is near. Once you learn to understand the sad, you always will remember the happy. Once you learn to understand the end, you always will remember the beginning.

The way we understand and remember the world around us is with our senses — by seeing, smelling, feeling, tasting and hearing. We use our senses to understand the far, the sad, and the end so we can remember what is near, the happy and the beginning.

On Oct. 23, 2016, we departed Cedar Rapids at 5:15 a.m. for what would be our last trip to northwest Iowa — to Clay County. We had first made the long trek to northwest Iowa in January 2011 when we ran Highway 10 across Sioux County from Hawarden to just east of Granville, passing through Orange City and Alton. It was a long 33.35-mile trek and our 18th county. Although our destination was far, it was “near” and would be a “short” adventure compared to Sioux County.

We traveled west on Highway 20 until Early where we shot north on Highway 71 to Spencer, then west to the intersection of 100th Avenue and 350th Street which, for you geography fans, is about one mile north of Moneta. Shortly after we arrived, we were ready to depart. The weather was a pleasant 52 degrees with a 15 mile-per-hour wind out of the west-northwest. Such wonderful weather was to be expected as we had brought along our good weather lucky charm, Darl Van Rheenen.

We adjusted to the wind we felt on our backs during the first few miles, a wind that carried the sounds and smells of sheep ready for market and motorcycles ready for a ride. During our sixth mile we almost literally passed over the junction of the Ocheyedan River and Stony Creek, which is quite a sight.


The sights and sounds of our journey were more or less par for the course, and we passed the Clay County Attorney’s Office and the Clay County Sheriff’s Office — which are about as far west as you can get on West Fourth Street — during our 10th mile. We crossed the Little Sioux River and formally entered Spencer, where we followed West Fourth Street to the Clay County Courthouse. We posed for our obligatory photos and literally rang a bell to sound our departure.

We continued to follow West Fourth Street to Grand Avenue where headed south, again crossed the Little Sioux River, and resumed our eastward march along a trail through Leach Park — a trail that dropped us off on Highway 18 as we pushed through our 15th mile. We pushed onward, crossing the Little Sioux River for a third time and passing many a marsh where we were able to witness the synchronized dancing and darting of dozens of birds. We climbed a steady two-mile pull, a pull each of us felt in our legs and backs, between our 20th and 22nd miles. We realized we would have to run north — and then back south — on a gravel road in order to travel our required marathon distance.

With each step we came closer to our destination — our 96th county and 3:42:18 after we had started we had crossed 26.2 miles of Clay Count, ending on the western edge of Ruthven. The last time we stood in that exact location, we were preparing to run Palo Alto County. However, the circumstances were a little different. Today, we were ending and enjoying a 63 degree Sunday afternoon. Then, we were starting and dreading what would turn into a 20 degree Saturday afternoon blizzard.

We’ve learned to understand what is far, and now we will always remember what is near. We’ve learned to understand the sad, and now we will always remember the happy. We’ve learned to understand the end, and now we will always remember the beginning.

Reality is setting in. With each step — literally with each step, we are getting closer and closer to the end. What was once far away, beyond our sight and wildest dreams, now is so near we can almost taste the sweetness of completion.

However, with the sweetness of completion, comes the salty tears of sadness. The rest of our journey will be emotional for sure. We are using our senses to savor the things that will cause us the most sadness, the things that we are going to miss the most — the sights, smells, touches, tastes and sounds of a good old-fashioned cross-county run. However, our tears of sadness will easily turn to tears of joy. We’ve had some damn good times while having some pretty terrible times.

The train has left the station, our destination is nearing, and we are getting closer and closer to the end of the line. You can’t truly appreciate what you hold near, until you’ve been far, far away. You can’t truly appreciate happiness until you’ve suffered sadness. You can’t truly appreciate the end until you’ve experienced the beginning — and the journey.

Be glad to be sad. We will no doubt be sad, but we will be more glad that we undertook this adventure. Don’t ever let the fear of sadness keep you from finding happiness. Don’t ever let your fear of ending keep you from beginning what might be one of the greatest adventures of your lifetime.


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Inspiration through perspiration. Learn from life. Risk the far for the near, the sad for the happy, and the end for the beginning — and the journey. Trust the process.

l To make a donation or buy a T-shirt, email Dennis Lee at



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