Wednesday, September 23, 2009

940 Miles Down - 60 To Go

This afternoon I met Loreen Niewenhuis who has spent the last six months walking 1,000 miles around Lake Michigan. She didn’t do it all at once, but rather in ten smaller segments. She started in March at Navy Pier in Chicago and plans to end at the same spot this coming Saturday afternoon. Today she walked from Racine through Kenosha on her way to Zion. I had the pleasure of spending some time – and a very small portion of the walk – with her. You can see the route she followed and the segments on her blog Lake Trek.

I met Loreen about a mile north of where I live. She was easy to spot – a lone figure sporting a walking stick that she told me has been with her from the beginning. I asked her why she was doing this hike. She said she has always loved Lake Michigan and that was part of the draw. The other part is that she wanted to do something “big” and something for herself. Loreen is the mother of two almost grown boys; the mother within me understood what she was saying.

As we walked back toward my house, I filled her in on Kenosha. When she learned that I had lived here in the 80's, then left and came back in 2004, she asked if things were different now. I told her a little about the economy here, the loss of auto industry jobs, a story that as a Michigander she was all too familiar with, and how Kenosha has been dealing with that loss. I also told her about the influx of “Illinois folk” and its impact on the city, and that Kenosha’s major employer now is the Illinois-based Abbott Labs.

“But your interest is in Lake Michigan, I said, “So I will tell you one thing that is different. Thirty years ago, no one seemed to even notice that Lake Michigan was here. I would walk our kids or our dog in the parks along the lake and often would be the only one around. It was a greatly undervalued resource. Perhaps that was an indication of the times everywhere – we took our natural resources for granted.”

‘What I see now is an ever-increasing appreciation of the wonderful resource we have. The lake shore has been developed for recreation and people are down here all the time.”

“So now that I have told you about Kenosha,” I said after I felt I was monopolizing the conversation, “tell me more about your trip.”

Loreen has gone though three pair of boots on the trip, often walks alone, although at various points family or friends have joined her, and she travels light. Today she was carrying a backpack which she said weighs about 25 pounds.

Her overnight accommodations have been varied. She has camped (and on those treks carried a heavier backpack), stayed in motels, and with people she knows along the way. The cool summer was to her advantage, but there were times when she walked into strong gale force winds and in the rain. She notifies communities that she will be passing through – some respond, others don’t. The Sheboyan Press wrote a nice article about her – check it out.

We got to my house and Loreen sat for about an hour. When she got up to leave all she wanted was to refill her water bottle – although the bottle she carried has a fancy filtration systems so she can drink right from the lake. I walked her as far Eichelmann Beach, where she continued south and I turned back toward home.

I enjoyed the brief time we had together and hope our paths meet again. As we parted, I started to give her some advice about what she would encounter between here and Zion, her next stop. Then I stopped myself.

“You’ve made it 940 miles without me. I guess you can make the next 60 miles without me, too.” She laughed – and pulled out her GPS – then went on her way.

Loreen isn’t posting on her blog while she is walking, but will when she gets back home. Next week I will check out her blog. She plans to write a book about her trek. Next year, I will watch for it. I will also think about what I might do for myself that’s “big”.

How about a 10,000 mile trek around all the Great Lakes?

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