ST PAUL, Minn. — It's understandable if the COVID-19 pandemic and its corresponding restrictions on work and travel made life feel like an endless loop for the past year, but when life changed for Andy Morgan, he ran with it.
"It literally started one day, getting up and not knowing where I wanted to run," said Morgan, who lives in St. Paul. "I was kind of sick of running the same route and so I just ran back and forth in my neighborhood."
Morgan, an avid runner, enjoyed that run so much, that he decided to turn the endless loop concept on its head. He decided to start planning runs that would eventually take him down every single street in the city of St. Paul.
The idea seemed like the perfect goal for a pandemic, and he had another runner to thank.
"As I was running, I remembered a documentary that I watched about runner Rickey Gates, who ran every street in San Francisco," Morgan said.
Gates helped popularize the #EverySingleStreet trend, after he ran all of San Francisco's 49 square miles, which added up to 1,100 miles.
Because St. Paul covers 56 square miles, Andy soon realized that he'd have a bigger challenge, especially because he decided to add every single alley to his route.
"At the time I didn't realize, in St. Paul, it turns out there's a lot of dead end alleys," he said with a laugh. "I have now run about 1,700 miles and about 90,000 feet of elevation."
Kent Erdahl: "Talk about a survey of the roads. Have you sent notes to the city or the county?"
Andy Morgan: "I have not. I did think about that, like maybe I should put pins on all the really nasty potholes."
Fortunately, he was at least able to avoid stepping in any major trouble.
"I fell down pretty hard once this winter," Morgan said. "I hit a patch of ice and I actually [was] on the ground before I realized I was falling. That was... interesting, but everything was fine."
By running in the early morning, during a pandemic, Morgan said he kept safe too. Though, just because he never felt in danger, he realizes that many other runners might not have felt the same.
"As a white guy, I felt like I could go into just about any neighborhood and be okay, but as I was running through a lot of our neighborhoods, I realized that it's very different for different parts of our community," Morgan said. "That doesn't feel right to me."
That's why he never took his run for granted. He made sure to document each neighborhood as best he could, in order to gain a better appreciation for the city he loves.
"We see the city and a lot of times we think of the city skyline," Morgan said. "But this is actually a small percentage of the city. A very strong majority of the city, feels like small sections of strong community."
And even at a time of limited human interaction, he was still able to see the small signs of humanity that make each neighborhood unique and colorful.
He also sought the small bits of history that connect all neighborhoods, from 100 year old utility covers, to the many statues of Saint Francis dotting St. Paul.
"My middle name is Francis, so every time I saw a statue of Saint Francis I had to get a selfie," Morgan said with a laugh.
The journey was a unique way to connect with his city, but he says sharing the journey also helped him connect with a new community beyond all borders.
"There's people running on every continent that I could tell," Morgan said. "There's people running Seattle, Portland, Austin... all up and down the east coast," he said. "We all seem to like taking pictures of our city as we're running and post them."
Morgan recently finished his epic run, exactly one year after he took that first wandering run through his neighborhood, and in case you're wondering...
"Everybody keeps asking me about Minneapolis, but that's another year to a year and a half investment," he said. "I'm not ready to sign up for that yet. Plus it's on the other side of the river."
Since completing the St. Paul streets and alleys, Morgan realized that there were a few roads that he had missed, running through the city cemeteries. He's now nearly finished those, too.