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Couple begins walk around Lake Superior

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With grandchildren tagging along at their feet and Lake Superior roaring over their shoulders, Mike Link and Kate Crowley embarked on the walk of their lives Thursday morning in Duluth.

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Lake Superior will be a presence over their left shoulders for the next 4½ months on a trek the two call "Full Circle Superior." The Willow River couple -- he's 64, she's 60 -- plan to walk more than 1,800 miles along the shoreline of the lake to call attention to the importance of fresh water.

"What this is all about is a respect for the planet," Link said to a gathering of about 40 relatives and supporters Thursday morning. "And the walk is an adventure for us."

Link recently retired as the founding director of the Audubon Center of the North Woods at Sandstone. Crowley is an author and writer who has worked at the Audubon Center since 1992.

Many in the group of well-wishers, including all of their grandchildren, walked with Link and Crowley along the Lakewalk and Minnnesota Point Thursday morning. They started near Canal Park Lodge. The day was raw and cloudy, with a hard wind and light rain blowing across Lake Superior and a temperature in the 40s.

In a short ceremony before the walk started, "Old Turtle" author and singer Doug Wood of Sartell, Minn., and his son, Bryan Wood of Sandstone, sang a couple of songs. As their grandsons threw rocks into the lake and dodged incoming waves, Link and Crowley both read poems and made a tobacco offering to Lake Superior.

The couple planned to walk about 15 miles along the South Shore Thursday and sleep in a cabin at Camp Amnicon. They're walking the lake in a counter-clockwise direction. A friend and neighbor, Dick Glattly of Willow River, planned to transport them across the waters of Superior Entry Thursday morning so they could continue their hike along Wisconsin Point.

At Pukaskwa National Park in Ontario, where road access to the lake is difficult, they will be joined by others and will paddle the lakeshore in a voyageur canoe.

They will do research on the walk, recording in notes and photos what they see at regular intervals along their route.

The couple will share their research data with the University of Minnesota Duluth and other universities. When finished, they'll write a book about their experience that Lake Superior Port Cities Inc., publishers of Lake Superior Magazine, will publish.

Amanda Hakala of Cromwell will drive a recreational vehicle that will serve as support for the couple. She has watched them prepare for this undertaking for several months.

"They have boundless energy," Hakala said. "It's amazing all the things they've done -- even in one day. And they have a love of nature that they share with everyone."

The idea for the trip grew while Link and Crowley were hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail three years ago. They talked about Link walking out of the Audubon Center on his last day -- and continuing to walk, eventually around Lake Superior.

Crowley and Link will not be the first to walk around Lake Superior. A lone hiker did it in 1985 and wrote a story for Lake Superior Magazine, said Konnie LeMay, the magazine's editor. At least a couple of Ojibway groups, one in relay format, have circled the lake on foot.

Still, their walk is inspiring to many of their followers, especially because of Link and Crowley's station in life.

"To me, it's about keeping on living after you retire," said Beth Blank of Lutsen, longtime friends of Link and Crowley. "It's about taking some risks and looking back someday and saying, 'I'm really glad we did this.'"

Lots of people have told Link and Crowley that in making this trek, they are carrying along the dreams of those who can't make such a trip themselves. That's OK with the couple, Crowley said.

"It's a good thing people's dreams aren't heavy," she said. "They won't weigh our packs down."

The public can follow Link and Crowley's progress on their website, www.fullcirclesuperior.org, where signals from a transponder they carry will post their updated position.

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