Kate Crowley remembers her suggestion; she told her husband, Mike Link, that on the last day of his 39 years on the job as director of the Audubon Center of the North Woods he should hike up the trail, perhaps even into the sunset.
“One of us came to the conclusion that we should keep on walking,” she told me, “all around the lake.”
Not around Grindstone Lake, where thousands of students have dipped their toes since Link founded the nature center near Sandstone in 1971. The other lake. The larger one. Lake Superior. Eighteen hundred miles, two thousand miles? Who knew? No one has done it the way Link and Crowley have it planned.
They’ll leave on April 29 from Duluth, expecting to average 15 miles per day and five to six months on the “trail.” Except there often is no trail when the idea is to stay as close to the water as possible.
“Lake Superior is something we both love,” Link said. “It’s hard to describe how people can fall in love with a place. We were married on the lake, in a sailboat. We’ve sailed it, driven it, led trips on it.”
Three states, one province
Now they’ll see the whole thing — three states, one province — by foot.
Along the way they hope to draw attention to the many problems that face Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes. They’ll do public programming and scientific research. Every three miles they’ll stop and take four photographs, one in every cardinal direction.
A Web site will track their progress; a SAG wagon, driven by Hamline University graduate Amanda Hakala, will provide support and a communication system. Link said the trip will cost between $20,000 and $30,000; several sponsors, including Minnesota companies such as Granite Gear, Piragis Northwoods Outfitters, Lake Superior Trading Post, the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, and Lake Superior Magazine, are providing equipment or other services.
The couple knows of two other successful circumnavigations of Lake Superior, both by Ojibwe people. In each case, the hikers stuck to roads rather than shoreline. Link and Crowley will have to walk around private property, not to mention the spectacular cliffs the lake is known for.
“I’m worried about my old body,” Link said. “I’m 64 years old and there will be wear and tear on a body already pushed in many ways.” Crowley, 60, said she worries about staying healthy before the trip begins, while the two train for hours each day by skiing and hiking.
The issue of fresh water drives them. They’ll be sampling in streams and rivers for water quality. There’s a lot of water to look at, as the lake contains one-tenth of the surface freshwater in the world. That’s a quadrillion gallons — a 1 with 15 zeros.
“We did not want to walk it just to say we walked it,” Link said. “There is no baseline [data] for Lake Superior.”
The couple has five fundraisers coming up and perhaps a quadrillion details to complete before their late spring departure.
“I can’t wait to see new scenery every day,” Crowley said.