By Barbara Falconer Newhall
Walk around Lake Michigan . . . the whole thing. That was my plan. I’d start in late spring and finish up in the fall. I’d walk the perimeter of the beautiful Big Lake, as my brothers and I called it when we were kids, blogging all the way. And when I was done, I’d write a book about it.
That was the plan.
Lucky for me, Loreen Niewenhuis beat me to it.
I love Lake Michigan. To me it is an embracing, loving presence. I wanted to embrace it back by walking every inch of its perimeter, my feet in the water, cool waves lapping at my ankles.
I’d start on the Lake’s eastern coast near Pentwater, where I, my mother and her mother had spent our girlhood summers. I’d work my way south along the coast, head west to Chicago and north past Milwaukee, then across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and south again to Pentwater, my home spot.
I’d circumambulate the Lake, clockwise Buddhist-style, breathing in the fresh lake air, the miraculously white beach sands of Lake Michigan under my feet. I’d commune with beach grass and pine and oak forests, with sea gulls, lady bugs and monarch butterflies.
There would be a couple of big cities to get through, of course – Chicago, Milwaukee. And there was the depressingly industrialized southern end of the lake at Gary, Indiana. But mostly it would be an idyll, just me and my lake.
Years passed. I got busy with other projects. My fantasy and I, we aged a bit. In time, it dawned on me that beaches slope, and making the entire pilgrimage with one foot downslope from the other would do something awful to my ankles, knees and hips.
Hmmm. Maybe I’d bicycle around the lake instead. Or, better yet, drive. Spend the night in comfy B&Bs, and do a little walking during the day.
My friend Nancy Crisp, an artist who lives in Traverse City, liked my walk-and-drive-around-the-lake idea. She volunteered to join me for a leg or two.
But in the end, it was Nancy who shattered my around-the-lake dreams.
She sent me an email. I’d been scooped, she said. Somebody had written my book. The author was Loreen Niewenhuis. The book, A 1000-Mile Walk on the Beach.
I ordered the book. I read it.
Loreen’s journey – and mine if I’d actually had the misfortune to undertake it – was not a walk on the beach. It was a grueling 1,019-mile, 64-day trek broken into ten segments with extensive day- and week-long R&R breaks between.
From March 16 to September 26, 2009, Loreen tramped through swamps, wetlands, forest thickets and industrial sites toxic with mercury, asbestos and PCBs. Also, a homeless camp and a sketchy neighborhood with a public service billboard that read, “Don’t shoot me, I want to grow up.” She clambered over fallen trees. She scaled rock piers. She forded streams and staggered up sandy bluffs.
She was chased by mosquitoes, house flies, horse flies, deer flies, and an imaginary cougar so real to Loreen that she walked backwards for a spell because she’d heard that cougars attack their prey from behind, sinking their teeth into their victim’s necks to paralyze them so they can be eaten without a struggle.
Loreen did all that for you and me. And now I am thoroughly off the hook.
I do not need to take a 1000-mile walk – forced march – around my not-so-benign-after-all Lake Michigan. Someone has done it for me – all 1,019 sandy, rocky, marshy, mosquito-ridden, sometimes pristine, often polluted, but always sublime miles of it.
As a literary effort, Loreen’s book is no match for nature books like Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge. But Loreen is a well-informed, passionate cheerleader for an endangered lake that needs all the help it can get.
As for me, I found Loreen to be wonderful company on the trek I didn’t take. Thank you, Loreen.
A 1000-Mile Walk on the Beach: One Woman’s Trek of the Perimeter of Lake Michigan, Loreen Niewenhuis, Crickhollow Books, 2011, $16.95 paper.
Note: Loreen is just now finishing up another adventure — a 1000-mile walk along the Great Lakes. And she’s blogging about it. Have fun, Loreen! And . . . yet another woman has circumnavigated the lake — this one made news with her rowboat recently.
Want to read about a real Michigan poet? Check out this post about “Jane Johnston Schoolcraft and the Indian I Wanted to Be.” And check out plans for a kayaking route around the perimeter of the lake. And here’s a conference to discuss walking, biking, kayaking around the lake.