Thursday, April 30, 2015

1,000 miles, one step at a time

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave
April 30, 2015

Loreen Niewenhuis says there's something addictive about her 1,000 mile walking adventures. She just finished her third. My story on Loreen for Second Wave.

Loreen Niewenhuis
Her Keen boots slouch comfortably in the closet, shoelaces untied. This is not the first pair of boots Loreen Niewenhuis wore on her series of three 1,000-mile hikes, but, at least for a while, this pair will be the last. For her next great adventure, Niewenhuis is clocking her distance by words instead of miles. She is a scientist, she is a hiker, but she is also a writer.

In 2009, as Niewenhuis felt the nest about to empty of her two nearly grown sons, and her marriage coming to what she refers to as a planned conclusion, Niewenhuis had a midlife crisis. 

“It wasn’t that it was such a traumatic time,” she says. “But I imagined my younger self and how she would have seen me today. I made my midlife crisis into a midlife adventure.”

So began the first 1,000-mile hike around Lake Michigan, resulting in Niewenhuis’s first of an adventure trilogy, A 1,000-Mile Walk on the Beach. She began walking in Chicago and would end her walk in Chicago seven months later, taking occasional breaks along the way, walking mostly alone. Her two sons and various friends and relatives would join her here and there, “but I hiked alone about 80 percent of the time.”

Niewenhuis grew up in the Detroit area and has lived in Michigan most of her life. As a kid, she says, “once a summer, my parents took the family to Lake Michigan. There weren’t sandy beaches like that on the east side. And the dunes. The dunes! I thought, this is amazing! That was the lake I grew up on.”

When Niewenhuis announced to her family that she was going to walk around Lake Michigan, at least one aunt was stunned. 

“Everyone in my family knows my love for Lake Michigan, so it was no surprise,” she says. “But every time I talked about my plans, my aunt would say ‘no, you’re not.’ Five times she said it. Other than that, to those who know me, for me to do this seemed natural.”

Niewenhuis has degrees in science, and she has worked in a hospital laboratory, in animal research, and on a bone marrow transplant group. She turned her passions to writing while raising her sons, and returned to school to earn another master’s degree, this time in the fine arts. The same year she went on her first 1,000-mile hike, her short story collection, Scar Tissue, was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award. In 2011, her novella, Atlanta, was published.

One year later, Niewenhuis headed out on ...


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