The Five Voices of Lake Superior

Gregg Treinish and his team at Adventure Scientists bring us stories from around the world about adventuring with purpose. Our Shores: Ultrarun for the Love of the Lake was a self-supported ultrarunning expedition undertaken by Allissa Stutte, Evan Flom, and Andy Butter. The trio took 86 days to run a total of 1,352 miles around Lake Superior, the world’s largest body of freshwater, collecting water samples for Adventure Scientists and the stories of people they met along the way.
By Allissa Stutte, Andy Butter, and Evan Flom
Microplastics Adventure Scientists
The Our Shores crew (left to right: Allissa Stutte, Andy Butter, and Evan Flom) stands on Hovland Dock in northern Minnesota. In front of them rest their Burley stroller, named Rig, that they pushed all of their supplies in for the three-month expedition. Photo credit: Evan Flom
As we undertook our expedition of circumnavigating Lake Superior on foot we not only aimed to collect water samples for Adventure Scientists’ Global Microplastics Initiative, we also sat down and collected the stories of people who dared to carve out a living on Lake Superior. The word “dared” speaks to how challenging it can be to make a living in some of these places, especially through the winter. We spoke with authors, farmers, brothers, mothers, doctors, activists, and skateboarders, who all share a common love for this Great Lake.  Below are five quotes that showcase the nuanced and intimate relationship people have with this environment.

“Wilderness is civilization – meaning wilderness needs a constant act of restraint for it to exist because if you don’t protect it, it gets developed.”

collecting microplastic water samples
Allissa tells Andy what info to record for a water sample taken in Duluth, Minnesota. Photo credit: Evan Flom
So says Dr. Rob Gorski, owner of Rabbit Island, which hosts an international artist residency program on a small island in Lake Superior. Together with his brother, Rob has been buying property to “unsubdivide” the land and put conservation easements on large tracts within Michigan. Because of these efforts, Rob believed that, “When you guys test for microplastics, there won’t be a single piece of plastic in the lake that came from this island.” And he was right. 

“This whole area is based on the industrial revolution.”

Chuck Hutterli of Ontario explains to Our Shores what happened near his home – namely a train derailment that left his beach full of plastic production pellets. Photo credit: Evan Flom
Nicole Dupuis, cultural interpreter at Pukaskwa National Park, soberly declared about the northern shore of Lake Superior. We had recently passed town after town that once housed a thriving paper mill or gold mine or timber industry and saw what Nicole meant firsthand. Those industries had fallen by the wayside and along with them went the town’s population. If we want to keep living on the world’s most beautiful freshwater lake, we have to look past the economic boom and bust cycle of the industrial revolution.

It turns out we live in the center of the universe because we live on Lake Superior with the world’s water supply at our feet.”

This sentiment voiced by Joy Schelbe, a food sovereignty advocate in Wisconsin, is shared by many that live near Lake Superior. And it’s not too far from the truth: Lake Superior is home to 10 percent of the world’s available surface freshwater. All the more reason to protect it from microplastic pollution.

“In school they teach you the three R’s:
Reuse, Recycle, Reduce, but I say we need
to start with Refuse.”

Allissa fixes one of five flats that happened over the course of the expedition. Of course, whenever there was a flat, there was also plenty of rain. Photo credit: Evan Flom
With one simple word Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin Superior, changed a tired idiom and reconstructed it for our current climate reality. Sure we should be responsible consumers and make sure to process our waste in the right way. But shouldn’t we also take a step back and ask “Do we want any of this junk in the first place?” 

A brief moment of respite from running as the crew prepares to set up camp on a hidden cove on Lake Superior dubbed “Magic City.” Photo credit: Evan Flom

“Look for that thing that moves you so much that you can’t turn away.”

This is the advice of Ellen Airgood, author of South of Superior and resident of Grand Marais, Michigan. This bit of knowledge is a rallying cry for artists looking for motivation to create, as well as for environmentalists. There are many problems in the world – look deeply at the ones that resonate with you most and get to work!
Find out more about our Global Microplastics Project and other Adventure Scientists projects by visiting our website, the Landmark Notes blog and by following us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Changing Planet

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Meet the Author
Gregg Treinish founded Adventure Scientists in 2011 with a strong passion for both scientific discovery and exploration. National Geographic named Gregg Adventurer of the Year in 2008 when he and a friend completed a 7,800-mile trek along the spine of the Andes Mountain Range. He was included on the Christian Science Monitor's 30 under 30 list in 2012, and the following year became a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work with Adventure Scientists. In 2013, he was named a Backpacker Magazine "hero", in 2015, a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur and one of Men's Journal's "50 Most Adventurous Men." In 2017, he was named an Ashoka Fellow and in 2018 one of the Grist 50 "Fixers." Gregg holds a biology degree from Montana State University and a sociology degree from CU-Boulder. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2004. Read more updates from Gregg and others on the Adventure Scientists team at Follow Adventure Scientists on Instagram @adventurescientists, on Facebook @adventurescientists, and on Twitter @AdvScientists.