Walk 1000 Miles Around Lake Michigan? She Did It — Now I Don’t Have To

Loreen Niewenhuis trekking across sand beach. Niewenhuis photo.

Loreen Niewenhuis trekked across a sandy beach between Ludington and Suttons Bay on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore late in May. Niewenhuis photo

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.

Loreen hikes alongside Lake Michigan snow drifts. Niewenhuis photo

There was still some snow on the ground in March, when Loreen hiked between Union Pier and South Haven, Michigan. Niewenhuis photo

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.

loreen niewenhuis hiking between Muskegeon & Ludington, MI. Niewenhuis photo

A blustery day in May between Muskegeon and Ludington, MI. Not the sunny shore I remember from my childhood summers on Lake Michigan. Niewenhuis photo

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.

Loreen Niewenhuis trekking between Manitowoc and Milwaukee, WI. niewenhuis photo

I pictured gentle sandy beaches all around the lake. Here a cliff bars Loreen’s way between Manitowoc and Milwaukee, WI, in August.  Niewenhuis photo

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.

Loreen Niewenhuis approaches Chicago. Niewenhuis photo

Loreen approaches Chicago and the end of her journey in September. Niewenhuis photo.

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.

Map of Loreen Niewenhuis's walk around Lake Michigan. Niewenhuis graphic.

Loreen made the trek around Lake Michigan in ten segments.

loreen niewnehuis' 2012 route along the Great Lakes. Niewenhuis graphic

Loreen’s current 2012 route along the Great Lakes. Niewenhuis graphics.
















  1. Anne Pardee says:

    Thanks, Barb. Reminds me so much of Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” which I thoroughly enjoyed but was so happy to armchair read. Hiking the Pacific Crest – something I’d thought – in my fantasies – would be such a cool thing to do. I have a deep appreciation for those that do but at this time in my life, I’m so happy to read about it.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      “Wild.” Another book I definitely want to read. I’ve had dreams of hiking the Pacific Crest too — but with a back country backpack? I don’t think so.

  2. Jean MacGillis says:

    Great story, Barb! It’s the slanted beach that put me off that walk–and of course the rocks in some places. I’ve walked on it enough to know better. Just the walk from the Bass Lake outlet to Ludington was enough to show me my limitations. But, I’m glad someone did it for us!!

  3. Theresa Rugel says:

    What a great story you’ve told and a nice review of Loreen’s first book about Lake Michigan. I was just with her when she completed her second 1,000 mile hike for her second upcoming book, A 1,000 Mile Great Lakes Walk. She is an amazing woman who loves the lakes and I am really looking forward to the next book.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      I’m so glad Loreen has safely completed her Great Lakes walk. Congratulations to Loreen and all her supporters. I too am looking forward to the next book.

  4. John and Carol Dickinson says:

    Really enjoyed your story. It sounds as if you really wanted to do the walk, but glad you didn’t. It would have been a great adventure.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Maybe if the Lake had been a little smaller and summers a little longer . . . I might have made it.

  5. I really enjoyed your article! We tend to think of lakes edged by beautiful sandy beaches. Probably most shores we know have been cleared to suit ourselves.


    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Thanks, Trudy and Judy. Some of Loreen’s hikes were downright harrowing. She’s a lot tougher than I.

  6. Judy H Mitchelson says:

    Great story!


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