Over 25 days in August and September, Alyssa Armbruster and Julia Robson hiked the roughly 330 miles from Downtown Milwaukee to Lake Superior, crossing trails and country roads, to raise awareness of the fragile state of the Great Lakes. Along the way, they endured rainstorms, agonizing blisters and mosquito-infested swamps, and benefited from the assistance of more than a few taverns, where people recognized them from the local TV news. Robson dreamed up the feat while she and Armbruster were forestry and preservation employees at Milwaukee County Parks – the walk was in response to proposed cuts to the EPA and its Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Armbruster, who worked seasonally, stepped away from the department for about a month, but Robson had to use “all of my vacation and accrued overtime hours.” An upcoming documentary will chronicle their walk for a cause.
Where did you sleep?
Alyssa: We had a little tent we shared, and it was awesome. We stayed at a lot of state parks until Green Bay, then after that we were in national forest. We had intended to camp out there, but we ended up running into so many people that offered beds and couches.
What did you talk about for 25 days?
Julia: We didn’t talk that much, especially on 20-mile days. We would go five miles and take a break, and then we would talk. When you’re walking with a 30-pound pack, it takes it out of you.
Why go on such a trip?
Julia: People in our generation weren’t around in the 1960s and ’70s, prior to the Clean Water Act, prior to regulations that cleaned up a lot of the water sources we cherish now. We don’t realize how far things have come and how bad it was. I was frustrated by that. Walking was a nice segue for a good conversation because people want to know why you’re walking 300-some miles.
A lot of people set out on long walks, but not many people finish them.
Alyssa: You gotta get past that first week and a half. It really hurts.
Julia: She and I are both very competitive. If she wasn’t stopping, I wasn’t stopping. It was almost comforting to know when my feet were killing me, her feet were hurting her just the same.
What happened that surprised you?
Alyssa: When we started, everybody asked, “Aren’t you afraid to be out there as two girls in the wilderness?” In my head, I was more concerned to run into a person who was dangerous than a wild animal. We’re used to wildlife. But after the first bar we went into and met so many amazing local people, my perceptions totally flip-flopped.
What about mosquitoes?
Julia: They showed up in Michigan.
Alyssa: Michigan had a week of 90-degree weather. I turn into a monster when I overheat. It was a 20-mile day, and it was swamp on either side of the road. I had bites all over. That was the only day I had thoughts that I wanted to quit.
Would you ever do something like this again?
Alyssa: If I was with Julia, I’d do it again.
Julia: We want to keep the cause going. But I don’t think we’ll do that duration again. ◆