By Rachel Pastiva
Will Swartz has been a teacher, librarian, school administrator, coach, trainer, and salesman, and now adds writer to this list with the publication of his first book, A Walk Across Michigan: Hiking the Michigan Shore-to-Shore Riding and Hiking Trail. The book follows Will from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan as he explores the history of Michigan, the hiking trail, and his options for the next chapter of his life. He is the father of five children, grandfather to four grandchildren and lives with his wife in Canton, where he is hard at work creating additional resources for hikers interested in the STS Trail.
Rachel Pastiva: How did you first learn about the Michigan Shore‐to‐Shore Trail (STS) and what intrigued you about it that made you want to conquer it?
Will Swartz: I learned about the Shore‐to‐Shore Trail from searching online for information about trails in Michigan. There wasn’t much about it online so I turned to county map books and recreation maps. Like lots of people, I love the idea of doing a longer hike like the Appalachian Trail, but I never really had 5‐6 months of my life to do it. This seemed like a reasonable way to try something longer with a well‐marked trail, close to home, beautiful scenery, etc.
RP: You took on the adventure of hiking the STS during a potentially pivotal point in your life — when you were contemplating retirement. In the introduction you say “embarking on a journey into the great outdoors seemed to me to hold the promise of great insight and learning.” What was your inspiration for taking on this hike as a means to help make such an important decision?
Will Swartz: The idea of hiking from one side of Michigan to the other sort of grew from an article I read somewhere that talked about the most productive decade for men being their 60s. I wanted to do something that would mark the start of that decade for me in an epic way — something I would look back on and say, “Wow, I did it!” Sixty just happened to also be the first year that I could retire from my career as an educator with a pension. I’d also grown restless in a new job assignment that didn’t seem to fit my career goals. I’d given myself two years to take on the new challenge. I’d learned and grown a lot from it and done some good work with students. There were great people to work with, but it was not a good use of my skills, talents, or passion.
RP: How do you think walking in the woods helped clarify what your next step in life would be?
Will Swartz: When you are hiking on a trail like the STS in the wilderness, that’s all you are doing. It’s quiet, peaceful and you have time to just detach from the normal daily routine. I was hiking by myself most of the time so I was alone with my thoughts and with long periods of time to contemplate all the factors that were tugging at me.
RP: Your family plays a big role in your hike; hiking parts of the trail with you, or camping during the hike. How do you think your experience would’ve been different if you had taken on the trip solo?
Will Swartz: It would have been more difficult for sure, especially without my wife Kate. Having someone else to share the load of the everyday chores (shelter, water, food, fire, etc.) makes it more enjoyable. Sharing the experiences of the hike gave me an opportunity to build a stronger relationship and bond with my wife and kids. I spent 5 days hiking by myself and, although I enjoyed the chance to be alone for a while, I think it’s a lot more fun to go with other people.
RP: What do you hope people will take away from reading your book?
Will Swartz: A sense that they did virtually hike the STS from one side of Michigan to the other. Some info/knowledge about some of Michigan’s little known/forgotten history. That they had a fun time, enjoyed a diversion, were entertained, informed/educated. Made them think deeper about what’s important for them to accomplish/do/be. I also hope they are inspired to take on something epic in their life.
RP: In addition to the book, you have created an interactive website and are planning to create trail maps for hikers. Can you speak more on these and other future Where’s Will books you are planning in the series?
Will Swartz: A second book, Section by Section Guide, is about 70 percent finished — for people who are planning to actually hike the trail. A set of trail maps, designed by hikers for hikers, are almost finished. They are a set of 18 4x8-inch strips with a map section of a 1 to 2-day hike on one side and a trail description on the other. They are waterproof with a sleeve and lanyard to put them in that you can carry around your neck for easy access. Kate and I are planning to hike the north/south STS Trail route from Cadillac to Mackinac this summer — there will be a book about that. Also, I just accepted a position teaching in Qingdao, China, for a year and plan to hike some trails and maybe even part of the Great Wall! A Walk Across China seems possible?!
RP: Can you recommend any closer hikes to readers who may be inspired to get out in nature but don’t have the time to embark on the STS?
Will Swartz: Sure. The Waterloo‐Pinckney hiking trail is not far from the Ann Arbor area. It is a part of the Potawatomi Trail System that has miles of trails and some campgrounds. Hiking Michigan by Roger Storm and Delorme’s atlas and gazetteer of Michigan are also great resources.
A Walk Across Michigan: Hiking the Michigan Shore-to-Shore Riding and Hiking Trail is available at Crazy Wisdom Bookstore for $14.95. For more information on Will Swartz and the STS, visit awalkacrossmichigan.com. On Tuesday, May 24, there will be a book signing with Will at Crazy Wisdom.