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Poetry in motion

North Liberty man is running in all 99 counties; Sullivan plans to write a poem on each county

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Tyler Sullivan, of North Liberty, runs along North Highway Street in Otho on Saturday. For the past three years, Sullivan has been running throughout Iowa as he moves closer to his goal of visiting all the counties and writing a poem about each one. To this point, he has run in over 900 towns.

OTHO — Birds chirping, a soft breeze and a barking dog.

Those were just some of the things Tyler Sullivan felt and heard during a morning run in Otho on Saturday.

Sullivan, of North Liberty, is well on his way to reaching his goal of running in all 99 counties in Iowa. He plans to write poems for each county and compile them in a collection of books.

For the past three years, he’s also been trying to run in as many Iowa towns as possible. After Saturday, he has run in over 900 town. He’s visited 89 counties.

“I love seeing my state,” said the 33-year-old runner. “Seeing the small town wave. The little things. The festivals. Seeing our state come together.”

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Tyler Sullivan, of North Liberty, poses along Sun Street in Otho on Saturday.

Sullivan said he got the idea to spend time in more Iowa communities back in 2015.

“I had a girlfriend who lived in Mason City and I lived in Iowa City,” Sullivan recalled. “As I was making the drive I went through counties I’d never heard of before and wondered if there was something special there. So every time I visited her, I picked a county to visit and then she would pick a county.

“We went our separate ways and then one of my friends asked if I’d ever thought about running these towns.”

Since that time, Sullivan, who ran track and cross country at Regina Catholic High School in Iowa City, has been chipping away at his goal.

For each town he visits, he runs at least 1 mile based on the population.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Tyler Sullivan shows two of his self-published books that are dedicated to his grandparents. Sullivan plans to write a collection of books featuring his poetry about Iowa towns.

“I try to run the perimeter of the town,” Sullivan said. “That way I get a better clear view of what each town has to offer.”

One of his favorite stops so far has been Pocahontas County.

“I met Leonard (Olson) and wrote a poem about the Kaleidoscope Factory,” Sullivan said. “I was excited to meet him but he was more excited to hear about my trips. I based my poem on making a kaleidoscope — reds to blues back to red — I was able to make a kaleidoscope with that poem. It was a magical experience to share my poetry with others.”

On Saturday, he ran in Dayton, Burnside, Gowrie, Harcourt, Callender and Otho.

“Dayton had the rodeo,” Sullivan said. “In Lanyon, I had a dog come at me. The owner said, ‘Don’t worry; he’s calm.'”

He liked the welcome sign in Callender.

“I like it because it shows all four seasons on it,” Sullivan said.

While there, he picked up a cupcake from Hummingbird Confections.

“I enjoyed their cupcake,” he said. “It’s great to visit local businesses. The restaurants have homemade food.”

He thought the town of Otho seemed patriotic.

“It looks like they have a big Fourth of July coming up,” Sullivan said.

He planned on running about 16 or 17 miles Saturday.

In terms of poetry, Sullivan said it could be weeks or even months before one is written about Webster County.

“The poems randomly come to me,” Sullivan said. “I just write whatever comes to me. I first started writing a poem for a girl I liked and never shared it with her. I started writing about lessons I learned. I don’t listen to music when I run — it’s mostly my thoughts.”

He’s written 370 poems. He has two self-published books dedicated to his grandparents who have both passed away.

He hopes the poems he is writing now will bring a fresh perspective to the beauty of Iowa.

“I want to show people how beautiful Iowa really is,” he said. “Every town I run through has some kind of special impact on me, and hope others can appreciate Iowa, too.”

Sullivan typically doesn’t run a whole county in one day, but he did so in Fremont County.

“I’ve done almost 23 miles in Fremont County,” he said. “I knocked out the whole county in one day.”

When it comes to what makes Iowa special, Sullivan said it’s the people.

“The people are wonderful,” he said. “We are very nice people. Very caring.”

Sullivan has eight counties left to visit. He’s going to have his family draw the names of the counties out of a hat to see which order he will visit them in.

“I’m in no hurry to finish,” he said.

He plans to be back in Webster County to run in Fort Dodge. And when he does, he would like someone to run with him.

“I like to run with people and have them show me their town,” Sullivan said. “I like to run the track of the high school for the last part, like a victory lap.”

To contact Sullivan, visit his Facebook page “Iowa’s Scenic Views By Foot.”

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