Woman Completes 270-Mile Walk to The Clearing

“If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs… then you are ready for a walk.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

 There are few who encapsulate the spirit of Thoreauvian walks. Typically, we walk to the store or to school and work as long as it is not too far, the weather is nice and we have the time. But Siobhan Drummond left those excuses back in Evanston, Ill., when she set out from home on a 270-mile walk to Ellison Bay. This week, she arrived at The Clearing Folk School with a new walking stick, a few blisters, and new stories about a route she traveled for years.

“I’m looking around and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, there’s so much to look at.’ It’s like this little slow-mo movie of complete serene beauty,” said Drummond during one of her final legs through Peninsula State Park. “Over and over again I’ve used the things I’ve learned at The Clearing. It ended up being kind of the point of it – to write about what I see, to experience the rural as closely as possible, especially the natural parts of it.”

The walk took less than one month, with most days averaging out at 11 miles. Some days were shorter, such as the quick jaunt from the west side of Sturgeon Bay to the east side across the Sturgeon Bay Steel Bridge. But other days were longer, such as the 22-mile trek from Mishicot to Kewaunee, encouraging Drummond to pick up a walking stick at the Walgreen’s in Two Rivers.

“People would recognize that I was hiker, especially after I bought the hiking stick,” said Drummond. Despite the occasional questions about her trip from curious passersby, the month went by quietly.

Friends and supporters could join Siobhan on her 10-mile walk through Peninsula State Park on Sunday, Oct. 25. Photo by Jackson Parr.

Friends and supporters could join Siobhan on her 10-mile walk through Peninsula State Park on Sunday, Oct. 25. Photo by Jackson Parr.

“A lot of it was solitary but I lead a solitary life anyway and I like it that way. I’m not used to a lot of socializing but I did meet people,” said Drummond. “People asked me about where I was going and what I was doing, but I didn’t really have any long conversations.”

So what did Drummond do all day as she walked with little more than a spare set of clothes in her backpack?

She carried a pen and paper for journaling and a small watercolor kit for painting. On breaks for food or a stop to enjoy the scenery, she would document her experience, either through words or paintings.

“I’m still a complete novice at watercolor technique so I have a lot to learn,” admitted Drummond.

By writing about and painting the world around her, skills she learned at The Clearing, she felt her trip aligned closer with the mission of the folk school than she had predicted.

“The whole ethos at The Clearing, staying in touch with the world that you live in, that’s what this has all been about.

“I have not listened to music much,” said Drummond. “When I ran out of memory on my camera I went in and dumped most of my music. I never even think of music for some reason.”

Instead, she watches the road and thinks. She thinks about her own struggles during the walk or back at home as well as broader questions that she can finally dedicate time to. Sometimes she thinks about whether her lodging that night will have towels.

“One irony is that last night’s lodging was the one place in the entire trip that did not provide towels and I thought, this is hilarious. The day it rains, I’m going to some place that doesn’t have towels,” said Drummond about the wet Saturday before she arrived in Fish Creek.

But Drummond enjoys walking in the rain, and any other tough circumstances were few and far between.

“Now that I’ve done it though, I might leave a little bit more up to chance because that always worked out well,” said Drummond. “Every time I got into even just a little pickle, like where do I find a washer, I would invariably find some interesting place. That was neat. After I figured out what was happening there, I made a point of stopping in places that I’ve never been in before or places that I would not normally go into.

“I didn’t really run into any trouble at all,” admitted Drummond. At least, nothing unexpected.

The physical toll of walking dozens of miles each week taxed Drummond every day and she was disappointed to find herself unable to adapt to the demand.

“Every day, somewhere between mile five and mile eight, I kind of hit a wall with my feet and the rest of the time they hurt,” said Drummond. “That happened every single day and every night I recovered so I set off just fine in the morning.”

When Drummond found herself facing this wall with few distractions, she got creative.

“I give myself a little lecture about ignoring my feet and looking around,” said Drummond. “I think at one point I tried to remember the entire Pride & Prejudice movie, which I’ve watched many times and loved.”

These tricks worked, and they had to.

“You’ve got to get to your next place. There’s no recourse,” said Drummond with a conviction that suggests this rule extends beyond walking. “Sometimes I stop and rest and sometimes that helps and sometimes that seems to make it worse. But I just keep going.”

But this was the closest she got to a “Things I Learned While Walking” speech, being unable to digest the magnitude of her experiences in so short a time.

“I’m interested to see how much of it sticks in my head,” said Drummond. “A lot of what I spent time thinking about didn’t end up getting written down because you just can’t stop and take notes constantly. Even just taking the photographs slows me way down, although I don’t regret it. Hopefully I’ll just be able to keep these memories and bring it to life.”

Photo by Len Villano.

Photo by Len Villano.

The Clearing welcomed her on Tuesday, Oct. 27, and for the first time since September, Drummond will wake up and have nowhere to go. It is bittersweet, but she is looking forward to returning home with a colorful new chapter in her life.

“I’ve got all kinds of projects cooked up for dealing with the letdown at the end when I get home and go back to work,” she laughed. “In fact, I got a new project last night. A potential new client called me and I had to laugh when I said, ‘You know, I am really, really away from the office.’”

But the walk and other adventures stick in the back of her mind; the John Muir Trail, walking to her mother’s house in Cleveland or a remote route through Scotland she heard about from new friends she met at a bed and breakfast. But there is something special about this walk, a route she saw from behind a car windshield for years.

“There’s so much to see in the world,” said Drummond. “But this was a route that I was really familiar with and that has really been a large part of the experience, to re-examine the familiar and the ordinary.”

Drummond’s walk supported The Clearing’s Forge/Metals Studio Fund with a total of $4,280 by Oct. 26 when she finished. Click here to contribute to the fund.

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