My Modern Midwest: Iowa, Mile By Mile


Zach Steele seems like an average guy. He works for a nonprofit, enjoys drinking IPAs and was a mediocre contestant on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” But last January, he dreamt up a wild challenge: run a mile and drink a beer in every county in Iowa.

Iowa, for the record, has 99 counties.

Steele wanted to cross all 99 off his list before his 30th birthday, which gave him a little over a year to sprint and drink. Polk County was easy — Steele lives in Des Moines. As his runs took him further into the country and across the state, he documented it all on social media via the handle @rundrinkiowa.

He ran through a ghost town and two national parks, down the main streets of small towns and across college campuses. He got lost, was chased by a dog and ran out of gas on the side of the road. He visited local breweries and drank Busch Light in townie bars.

Just one day before his 30th birthday, Steele ran in his 99th county: Dallas. His hometown of Adel is in Dallas County, and Steele was joined on his final run by family and friends. He followed that up with a well-deserved birthday beer.

For My Modern Midwest, Steele shared pictures of some of his favorite places in Iowa — to run and to drink.

Skyline. The pedestrian Women of Achievement Bridge crosses the Des Moines River dam, connecting the east and west sides of the river.

El Bait Shop. A mecca of all things craft beer in Des Moines, El Bait Shop is a Des Moines institution. Named one of America’s Top 100 Beer Bars in 2014, El Bait Shop has more than 120 beers on tap and 150 in bottles. With a large patio and perfect downtown location, El Bait Shop is the place for beer novices and snobs alike.

Exile. Barely two years old, Exile Brewing Company has become an anchor establishment in Des Moines’ emerging Western Gateway District. The restaurant and brewery pay tribute their owners’ and America’s immigration story with a full-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty’s crown.

High Trestle. Part of a 25-mile bike trail, the High Trestle Trail Bridge is a 13-story bridge across the expansive Des Moines River valley. The 41 steel frames over the bridge light up a cool blue at night and echo the entrance of a coal mine, a nod to the region’s history.

Nomade. A fixture of any visit to Des Moines is the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden, a collection of sculptures in a once-desolate area of downtown. The Nomade by Jaume Plensa is possibly the most striking of the sculptures, a collection of letters that combine to form a sitting man.

Jumping. On the northern wall of the triangular pump station, Expansion was installed in the fall of 2013. With almost 40,000 LED lights covering the 15-foot high and 21-foot wide wall, the display adds flair to the station that keeps the Des Moines River at bay.

Shattering Silence. Standing triumphantly on the southern edge of the Iowa State Capitol grounds, the Shattering Silence monument pays tribute to the 1839 refusal of the Iowa Territorial Supreme Court to return former slave Ralph Montgomery to bondage in Missouri. Overlooking the Des Moines skyline, the monument is a futuristic nod to Iowa’s progressive past and present.

Water Works Park. Water Works Park is a 1,500-acre park that stretches from the western suburbs to the edge of downtown Des Moines. The park is framed on one side by the Raccoon River and is the scene for miles 18 to 22 of the Des Moines Marathon. Full of trails, ponds and trees, it is one of the largest urban parks in the country.

Grey’s Lake. Located on the southwestern edge of downtown Des Moines, Grey’s Lake Park is the backyard of the city. The park’s namesake lake is encircled by a 1.9-mile bike trail and full of space for outdoor activities, including sailing, birding and biking.

Raccoon River Bridge. This bridge over the Raccoon River is part of a trail system that leads throughout the greater Des Moines area and connects with other trails leading in all four directions out of the city. Bike riders can practice on these trails for RAGBRAI, an annual bike ride across Iowa.