Profile: Loreen Walks 1,000 Miles Around Lake Michigan -- Join Her for the Final 10 Miles!

by crandell | 08/19/2009

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Loreen Niewenhuis walking the beach. Photo Credit: Mary Vermeulen
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Self-portrait of Loreen at Navy Pier.

Chicagoans can enjoy fantastic waterfront walking and biking on our city's 18.5-mile path along the shores of Lake Michigan, but have you ever wondered what it would be like if you didn't stop and just kept going? Writer Loreen Niewenhuis from Battle Creek, Mich., is finding out on a 1,000-mile walk around the perimeter of Lake Michigan, which she plans to write a book about. She stepped off from Navy Pier on March 16 and is walking counter-clockwise around the lake. The most recent leg of her trip got her as far as Manitowoc, Wis. You can read about her journey on her blog at http://laketrek.blogspot.com. Loreen is inviting people to join her on the Chicago lakefront on September 26, 2009, for the last 10 miles of her trek -- see the bottom of this post for details.

Why did you decide to do a 1,000-mile walk around Lake Michigan?

I was looking to take on something big, something that would challenge me both physically and mentally. I have always felt a connection to Lake Michigan and had spent a lot of time on the lakeshore. This year, I decided to walk completely around it, to truly know every step of its shore. It's been an amazing adventure so far.

On your website, I see you divided the trip into ten segments with breaks in between. Which segment has been the most difficult, and what's the farthest you've walked in a day?

While each segment had its unique obstacles and challenges, I think Segments 1 (from Chicago to New Buffalo, Mich.) and 6 (from Suttons Bay to Mackinaw City, Mich.) were the most difficult. Segment 1 took me through the most industrialized part of the lake and I had temperatures ranging from the 30s to the 70s. Segment 6 had some remote stretches, especially Fisherman's Island and Wilderness State Park, which were both beautiful and difficult. I have averaged 16 miles per day on the trek, and my longest day was 25 miles (from Denmark, Wis. to Manitowoc).

In your first blog post about your trek, you mention you wanted to have a more intimate interaction with Lake Michigan. Why do you think it is that walking is the most intimate mode of travel for experiencing a place?

Walking allows a full sensory experience. And I feel like when we walk through a place, we record it in our bodies and minds much more completely than any other mode of movement. When I'm hiking along the shore, I am part of it. I feel the wind, hear the lake and the gulls, smell the water and the blooming flowers. Travel by other means insulates us from fully experiencing a place.

The American landscape is generally known to favor those traveling in cars over those on foot. What are some challenges you've faced while trying to walk, and what places along the way have offered the most welcoming pedestrian environment?

The state of Michigan has a huge car culture due to the 'Big Three' (now not so big) being historically based here. Michigan's State Supreme Court recently ruled that the lakeshore is public in the zone that has been 'scrubbed free of vegetation.' So, for most of the lakeshore on the Michigan side, I walked right at the edge of the water. There were natural obstacles along my trek, including limestone outcroppings, rivers, wetlands, bogs, and dense forests. And there were man-made obstacles like nuclear power plants, iron mills, container ports, oil refineries, and limestone quarries. I've walked many miles on the side of the road when I've been forced inland by an obstacle, and most roads are hostile to pedestrians. US12 through Gary, Ind., was probably the roughest stretch of road I've walked so far.

One thing I love about Chicago is the way the city has preserved its relationship with the lake and kept it open for people. The city of Green Bay is just the opposite: the bayshore is fully industrialized and an elevated highway rises up over it. It's completely inaccessible to walkers.

Do you walk a lot when you're at home and on vacations?

I walk as much as possible on vacations. It's the best way to fully experience a new place. I do walk at home, too, and am doing more running now that I'm in good shape from my Lake Trek.

Is there any particularly memorable moment from your trek you might want to share?

There are so many. There was the fawn sleeping in the rolling dunes near Manistee that I almost tripped over. There was the stretch of lakeshore west from Seul Choix Point that transitions from limestone ledges and walls to a gorgeous, wide, sandy beach. And the day in April when I walked only 5 miles due to a 35 mph headwind with gusts well over 40mph. Those 5 miles felt like 25.

Walk the last 10 miles with Loreen in Chicago!

You're invited to walk with Loreen on the last 10 miles of her trek (the last day, Sat., Sept. 26). You can join in at any point along her route. Following are the approximate times she'll be moving south along this 10-mile stretch of the lakeshore (she'll be walking as close to the water as possible):

9AM: Meet at Loyola Park where W. Touhy Ave. ends at the beach.

11AM: Passing through Lincoln Park near Montrose Harbor

1PM: Leaving Lincoln Park

Between 1:30-2PM: Arrive on the end of Navy Pier!

There will be a celebration on Navy Pier and a chartered cruise that anyone can join in on (there is a fee for the cruise, which also includes lunch). Details are available at http://www.loreenniewenhuis.com/laketrek/index.html .