By Robert Downes
Loreen Niewenhuis doesnt have much of a background as an adventurer or a
long-distance hiker, but nonetheless, in 2009 she completed a walk around
the entire circumference of Lake Michigan.
Today, the 45-year-old author from Battle Creek is on a new adventure,
embarking on a tour in support of her new book, A 1,000-Mile Walk on the
Beach, published by Crickhollow Books, with stops at bookstores
throughout Northern Michigan.
The book details her experience hiking from the Navy Pier in Chicago
counterclockwise around Lake Michigan in a seven-month odyssey from
March-October that was broken up into 10 segments. I hiked a total of 64
days, averaging 16 miles per day, she says in a phone interview.
Her new book is just part of the satisfaction Niewenhuis has from
completing her walk.
I know now that I can take on something this big -- a 1,000-mile walk --
and accomplish it, she says. I wanted to take on something that had the
possibility of failing -- something that would be difficult to do, but
worth it. Completing the walk made me feel more empowered and able than
Ive ever felt before.
Niewenhuis is new to writing as well as hiking. She grew up in the South
Lyon-Plymouth area; earned degrees in science from Calvin College and
Wayne State University; and worked in the field of medical and basic
science research while raising two sons with her husband, Jim, a
pathologist. I fell into writing later in life after I returned to
school and got my MFA, she notes.
As for adventure travel, she and her family had done a 40-mile hike in
Glacier National Park a few years ago, as well as a rafting trip out West,
but this was my first big hike.
So, what made her take on such an adventuresome project?
I had been contemplating doing something involving Lake Michigan for a
long time, she says. Its my place. Whenever Im feeling stressed, I
head to the lake; its the place where I feel the most connected and at
peace. Its a special place thats like no other.
She also decided to go it mostly alone. I did 80% of the hike alone, and
20% with friends and family. As people started hearing about what I was
doing, theyd email me and wed meet up along the route for a few miles.
What did her husband think of her trip?
He wasnt very enthused about the undertaking at the beginning, but as
the hike went along he became very proud and happy for me. We hiked the
last few miles together to the Navy Pier.
As her website notes, Niewenhuis walked through rain and snow as well as
sunny days. Obstacles in her path included the urban blight of South
Chicago and Gary, Indiana as well as nuclear and coal-powered plants,
rivers and limestone cliffs.
One day I hiked with my youngest son into a 35-mile-per-hour headwind and
one of the gusts blew me right over on my back, she says. We were only
able to hike five miles that day.
Navigating the urban wilderness of Chicago and Gary meant using a
hand-held GPS unit and researching the route online and on Google Earth.
I couldnt walk a lot of that route along the lakeshore because there was
so much industry, she says.
Hiking for long stretches on sand also had its challenges. I tried to
keep to the waters edge where the sand is packed down hard, but sometimes
I had to get up where the sand was soft and rolling and that really made
for workout and sore legs.
Although she carried a pack throughout her hike, Niewenhuis decided to
stay at B&Bs and small hotels, rather than camping. So much work is
involved in camping and I didnt want to get involved in that kind of
housekeeping. Plus, I wanted to stay at B&Bs to ask the owners about the
areas I was walking through. Theyd tend to know everything about the
history of the area and so many other things of interest.
Niewenhuis broke her hike into 10 segments in order to digest and reflect
upon what she had learned along the way.
It allowed me to research each segment, including the people, history and
geology of the places I was passing through; and then I could weave
everything together. The book, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson was
my model. He weaves in so much information and you feel like youre
walking along with him.
Another advantage to doing her hike in segments was that she had a rough
draft of her book done by the time she completed her hike. Revising the
book over the winter turned out to be another adventure, and so was
finding a publisher.
Today, shes looking forward to another literary challenge: publishing her
novella, Atlanta this summer. Its based on the people and
neighborhoods of the southern city where she once lived for four years.
She has also published a number of award-winning short stories.
In the meantime, theres a book tour that is taking her to bookstores and
libraries throughout the Midwest. Ive had a packed book tour with great
turnouts, she says. Lots of people come out who love to share their own
feelings and experiences of Lake Michigan.
Loreen Niewenhuis will offer a book signing and talk on Friday, March 11
at 7 p.m. at Brilliant Books in Suttons Bay and Saturday, March 12 at
Horizon Books in TC from 2-4 p.m. She will also give a lecture about Lake
Michigan on March 15 at 7 p.m. at the Inland Seas Education Center in
Suttons Bay. And on Wednesday, March 16 at Great Lakes Books and Supply
in Big Rapids from 2-5 p.m. Check out her website at