She tackled the hike in 10 segments spread over 7 months. On the final days of winter, she took her first steps south from Chicago’s Navy Pier, and, with brief breaks between segments, completely encircled the lake and approached the same spot from the north in the first days of fall.
It took 64 days of determined walking, averaging 16 miles a day (daily hikes ranged from 5 to 25 miles). Niewenhuis said she, “encircled the lake with my footsteps, recorded it in my muscles and bones.”
Niewenhuis is an author of literary short stories, a mother, scientist, and an individual who has lived in Michigan most of her life. She has been constantly drawn to the big lake and was the perfect person to undertake the adventure and to write about it with a clear voice, avoiding romanticizing the lake or her own undertaking.
A MFA graduate and a past medical researcher with a bachelors of science from Calvin College and a masters of science from Wayne State University, she offers witness to both the natural beauty of much of the lakeshore and a concern for the lake’s health as she explored the long and troubling pattern of ecological abuses and environmental challenges.
Niewenhuis discovered that Lake Michigan, like all great places, is not a single uniform experience, but is different each day, every step to round the next bend, each beach or bluff. The hike traces this incredible variety, from the urban blight of South Chicago to the popular state parks of dunes and vistas to small towns and lakefront cottages to the lonely isolated wild stretches where few people go.
She hiked the lake counter-clockwise, “always keeping the lake on my left.” She walked the lake in rain and snow, in gale-force winds and calm sunny days. She had to navigate around obstacles ranging from limestone cliffs to deep rivers to steel refineries, nuclear and coal-fired power plants.
Niewenhuis conveys a sense of the magnitude and diversity of the lake she loves, a place elemental to the four Midwestern states that form its shores. From a ground-level perspective, the book explores the natural and human history of Lake Michigan . . . and raises important questions about preserving our wild places and protecting fragile ecosystems on which we all depend.
The book will offer inspiration to anyone interested in Great Lakes environmental issues (from invasive species to water quality to local tourism) and to anyone interested in what it means to take a really long walk and look closely at oneself and one’s place.