The 1,000-Mile Great Lakes Adventures

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Relentless Lake: Erosion Control

The lake is in motion. In a storm, it becomes a force, pounding, relentless. The shoreline is subject to the lake and to the moisture which drains into the lake.

In addition, the composition of the shore can determine how it erodes. Sand will fall away at a faster rate than clay revealing the clay in huge, sculptural deposits.

People have tried many methods to shore up the shore. The classic, low tech way is to just deposit a load of massive rocks or chunks of concrete at the waterline. The idea here
is to let the waves bash away at these impediments instead of the more fragile shoreline.

The seawall is a more high tech improvement on this idea. A line of wooden pillars driven into the shore was the first incarnation of the seawall, and that has evolved into wood and steel construction.

Concrete poured in various configurations are also used to hold back the storm.

Another concern is to preserve the crumbling cliffs. Planting dune grasses and other anchoring plants can help. Some people have used netting or tarps to protect these
escarpments (with various levels of success).

It's a battle that is slowly lost, it seems, no matter what method is employed. The lake doesn't stop, doesn't quit, never goes completely quiet. Little by little, it will take what is owed, and people will rebuild their ramparts to hold back the erosion, maintain their beaches, to attempt to stop the slide of their structures into the water.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Calvin College Lake Trek Video

A 1,000 mile walk on the beach from Calvin College on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lake Trek Sound Piece for WMUK

I'd never had someone record my footsteps, so this experience was a new one for me. My local NPR affiliate, WMUK (broadcasting from Western Michigan University's campus in Kalamazoo), produces short 'sound pieces' to use during the morning and evening news broadcasts.

I met Andy Robins, News Director at WMUK, in South Haven where he walked with me, capturing the sounds of the Lake Trek with his digital recorder.

All of the sounds that you hear in the piece were recorded that morning, Day 4 of Segment 3 of the trek. Even the gulls cooperated, calling out as if on cue.

After the recording session on the beach and in town, I finished the script for the narration (adding a couple of sounds -- like the dredging barge and zebra mussels -- that weren't in the original script). Then, I met Andy at the studio and recorded my part. Andy took the two parts, narration and sound, and expertly mixed them to finish the piece.

This piece plays when you open up this blog.

Next time you're in South Haven, stop in at Black River Books. The owners usually have their labradoodles there, Booker and Dewey, and they love to greet people. Check out all of the independent bookstores that I've visited so far with the links in the sidebar. By the end of the Lake Trek, I will have stopped in at 30 indie bookstores all around the lakeshore.

A big thanks to WMUK for the great experience!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Invasive Species

The Great Lakes ecosystem is vulnerable to invasive species. The photo to the left is of a mass of zebra mussel shells. This species was introduced into Lake St. Clair in the mid-80s and quickly spread throughout the lakes. Native to the Caspian Sea region, this mussel was brought here like most invasive species to the lakes, in ballast water.

It occupies a niche in the ecosystem that was not occupied, so the mussel population exploded.

The second photo is of an alewife. This is a fish native to the Atlantic. If you've ever been on the beach in the spring after a quick warm-up in the temperature of the lake, you may have seen massive die-offs of the alewife population. They cannot handle the stress of a quick change in temperature.

A new regulation was recently put into effect that requires all vessels coming into the Great Lakes system (from other fresh water systems) to rinse out their ballast tanks with salt water. This will purge most fresh water species before they can be transported into the Great Lakes, but it is not a perfect solution. This point is illustrated by the alewife, an Atlantic Ocean species.

So, what is the solution?

There are ways to treat ballast water to insure that no live creatures or plants survive to thrive in the Great Lakes. The water can be treated chemically or with UV light. What needs to happen for this to happen? Lisa Jackson, the new head of the EPA, vowed to review regulations for the Great Lakes. She could enact a new ballast water regulation. While there is no pending legislation in Congress, it is a good idea to alert your representatives to your concern over invasive species in the Great Lakes.

Why should you care? Zebra mussels, alone, have required up to 5 billion dollars to contend with since they arrived. Water intake pipes used to bring in lake water (for cities like Chicago) or for industry (like the three nuclear power plants on Lake Michigan) get clogged with the mussels and have to be cleaned. These mussels also compete for the food that small fish eat, making it tougher for fish to thrive.

It is virtually impossible to eliminate a new species once it has been established in the lakes. It is surprisingly easy, though, to prevent their arrival in ballast tanks.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Segment 3 complete!

Segment 3 took me from South Haven to Grand Haven, April 6-9. It mapped out at 50 miles. I had planned three days for this segment, but the weather on Monday was WILD, high of 37 degrees, but the wind chill was in the 20s. And the wind! It was sustained at 30mph with gusts up to 40mph.

The two photos are of the same stretch of beach. The one on the top was taken today (the 9th), the one on the bottom was from Monday (the 6th). The lake responded to the wind with giant waves. You can tell how high the lake was during the storm by the same vertical stake in each photo.

Monday's 5 miles were hard earned and felt like 25. I added a fourth day to this segment to cover the ground I was unable to make on Monday.

My son, Lucas, joined me on this segment. He's 16 and was on his spring break this week. It was great to be on the lake with him.

I passed the 150 mile marker during this portion, and have now covered 175 miles. The West Michigan media picked up on the story and it was fantastic to share the story of this adventure. Check out the links in the sidebar.

Segment 3, Day 4 South Haven->Pier Cove 14 miles

High of 49 degrees.

Since the weather on Monday was so brutal, I added an extra day to this segment to cover the ground between South Haven and where I began on Monday.

Thursday was calm and sunny and I was wise to make the decision to not attempt this stretch on Monday. Some of the shoreline would have been impossible to walk or climb during the storm (and some rocky stretches were challenging even without the wind and waves).

There were some stretches with a wide, flat beach. And there were even some large deposits of clay that had eroded into massive, sculptural shapes.

Segment 3, Day 3 Holland->Grand Haven 19 miles

High of 49 degrees.

The day started off pretty brisk (the sand is white because of the frost in the first photo), but warmed quickly.

Lucas and I had a nice stretch of beach to walk up to Port Sheldon where we had to go inland due to the river, Pigeon Lake, and then the land owned by the power plant there.

It was in Port Sheldon that I passed a milestone on the Trek: 150 miles! Lucas took a photo of me with the Port Sheldon sign behind me at that very spot.

We walked inland for a few miles past the power plant to Kirk Park and back to the lake. This is where some news crews caught up with us.

Lucas let me do the final 8 miles alone this day since Phil was able to swing by and get him at Kirk Park.

The day was crystalline clear. The kind of day you want to inhabit and consume, to make it part of you.

It was wonderful to see Phil and Lucas waiting for me on the beach in Grand Haven. It was a long day covering 19 wonderful miles of the lakeshore.

Segment 3, Day 2 Douglas->Holland 12 miles

High of 41 degrees. Winds 20mph.

We hiked inland from the lake the morning of the second day. The Kalamazoo River snakes between the cities of Douglas and Saugatuck. We had to walk through the lovely city of Saugatuck in order to get past the river.

We stopped in at the Singapore Bank Bookstore and met the owner, Judy. (Singapore was a small town that was abandoned near Saugatuck in 1875. The building that houses the bookstore was moved to Saugatuck.)

We saw a couple of flurries while walking through the town, but we walked on to the state park just north of town and back to the lake.

We made good time on the lakeshore and covered 12 miles this day. We met up with Mark Copier (who took photos for the Grand Rapids Press article) at the Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Then we connected with Rick Wilson (reporter from the Grand Rapids Press) for an interview over a hot cup of coffee in Holland.

My brother, Phil (LakeTrek Transporter) met up with us in Holland. He drove us from the hotel to the north side of Lake Macatawa (the large, inland lake in Holland) for the start of day 3.

Segment 3, Day 1 Pier Cove->Douglas 5 miles

High of 37 degrees, winds 30mph, gusting to 40mph!

My son, Lucas, joined me on this segment. We had the wildest weather of the trek so far on our first day. Five inches of snow fell at our house (about 90 minutes inland from the lake), so we knew the lake would be pretty worked up from the storm.

The waves were giant and the wind relentless. Lucas even tried using his backpack as a windbreak for a while (photo below). We began north of South Haven due to the weather and I added a day to this segment (Thursday) to return to the lake to cover the part we missed this first day.

The going was slow since the wind was constantly in our face. We had to shout to be heard over the crashing waves. At times we had to quickly scale the large rocks and hang on when an especially large wave tried to grab us!

Honestly, it was FANTASTIC!!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

What's in that Backpack??

My friend, Stew, asked me to show what I carry in my sling backpack, so as I was packing up for Segment 3 of the Trek (South Haven to Grand Haven), I thought it would be a good time to show just what goes in to packing for a segment.

The weather is going to be cold on this next part, in the high-30s to mid-40s. And we might get some SNOW. Yep. Since this is only a three-day segment, my pack will actually be a little lighter than you may expect.

The first two photos show the stuffed, then exploded pack. Since I'll be wearing at least four layers, I need to pack fewer extra clothes.

This is what I'll wear on Monday (a little shout out to Spalding University where I got my MFA).

I always carry rubber bands and trash bags and extra ziplocs (in addition to the ones for snacks and my maps). The red bag has band aids, antibiotic ointment, toothbrush, advil, etc.

Technology plays a part in the Lake Trek. I carry a cell phone and a GPS and a flashlight from my friend Vickie and her husband, Gene. I always have my business card and post cards with me, too.

Snacks are essential. I carry Bob's Beef Jerky (he's a butcher in South Haven) and Almond M&Ms (in Spring colors!) along with dried fruit and granola.

Extra layers like a t-shirt, wool vest, and a warm scarf come in handy. The blue bottle has built-in filters so I can drink water right from the lake. The red Swiss Army knife was a gift from my brother (and Lake Trek Transporter), Phil.

I carry gloves and paper maps with me. I take notes each day on the back of the maps for that day.

The silver ball attached to the strap of my pack was a gift from my friend, Robin. Inside there is a little compass.

I just got my new, larger pack for upcoming longer segments, and I look forward to showing you what goes into a seven-day pack!

Friday, April 3, 2009


Several people have asked me how I get around all of the obstacles on the lake (rivers, streams, industry, power plants). For most of the big obstacles, I just hike inland to a point past the thing I want to get around, then hike back out to the lake.

With large rivers, I just go inland to the nearest bridge and cross over, but with smaller streams and creeks, I have learned to be a little more creative with my crossings.

With many streams (especially this time of year) there is a lot of debris (trees, stumps) in the water that can be used for a careful crossing.

For deeper streams that lack a good downed tree to walk on, I've devised the 'two garbage bag' method of crossing. The feet stay DRY!

For shallow or narrow streams, there's always the walk through (with waterproof boots) or jump over methods.

It's all about getting safely to the other side, and avoiding getting soaked in the process (especially when the day is cold).

[*I mailed out more hats this week. Don't forget to sign up by clicking the hat in the sidebar! They are very cool hats.]