It was a hot summer day in 1962.
A group of teenage friends from the now abandoned school in Dearborn were hanging out, talking about their big plans for the weekend. In those days, the social Mecca of Dearborn in the summer was undoubtedly Camp Dearborn. It was the place to spend the summer for Dearbornites both young and old. It was the social gathering spot for teens and in-betweens to awkwardly and excitedly mingle with the opposite sex at the still legendary Canteen dance.
Joe McCracken had been hearing from his friends all day about his busted up old car.
“That beat up thing will never make it to camp! You’d be better off walking!” his friends derided.
Defiantly, and unhesitatingly Joe replied, “Then I WILL walk to camp!"
Of course this exclamation was met with laughs and more teasing, but Joe stuck to his guns and reiterated his intention to make the nearly 40-mile walk. Maybe through naivety, friendship, or just a sense of adventure, his friends all decided they were on board with the idea too.
So with determination (and, some would say, recklessness), they marched out into the twilight for 12 hours, finally–both literally and figuratively–crashing upon the shores of Camp Dearborn’s “big beach.”
My dad was one of those brave young souls on that maiden voyage, and they would make that very same walk again a couple years later.
Every year since, there seemed to be a few adventurers who had heard the stories, and wanted to take on the challenge themselves. It became the Mt. Everest for every young, would-be Dearborn explorer.
I first heard the story of the walk when I was about six years old, and for the next 20 years, I heard it easily several dozen more times. Of all my dads’ wild and outrageous tales of adolescence, this was probably my favorite, because unlike stories about places and people that didn’t exist anymore, or things you could never get away with nowadays, this one seemed “real” and attainable.
I had been to Camp Dearborn many times; I knew it well and had made the drive with my family often. The walk seemed like something I could do, it just became a matter of when.
Like with most goals, as time goes by and lives get busier, they get deferred. Finally, 20 years after hearing the story for the first time, and countless half-assed attempts at getting other friends to do it, I decided now was the time to realize this goal no matter what.
The only other two people who seemed to share the adventurous spirit–or didn’t just think I was crazy–were my brother Dylan, who had heard the story almost as many times as I had, and my friend Nick, whose uncle was a part of that initial voyage.
We decided on a Saturday in late June for the date and planned to walk all day to get there just before dusk. Our parents and uncles had made the walk in 10 hours the second time, so we foolishly thought we could best that mark because of our superior physical fitness. What we didn’t factor in was that freeways had made much of the original route un-walkable, and so a longer, more winding route starting down Hines Drive became necessary.
We packed up our respective backpacks with the few requisite supplies we thought we’d need; a change of shirt, a few Gatorade and Water bottles, some granola bars, sunscreen, and a last-minute plastic rain poncho purchase on behalf of my dad.
We set off from our home on Dearborn’s west side and began our journey.
The forecast had called for isolated showers that day, so we knew there might be a small issue of rain, but as soon as we started, the increasingly grey skies ahead gave us little doubt that we were going to be battling the elements soon enough.
The first patch of rain we hit going down Hines wasn’t so bad, and we all said a silent thank you to my dad for insisting we bring our ponchos. However, after the initial rain, the clouds began form again and a quick check of the weather via my iPhone revealed that we were smack dab in the middle of a severe thunderstorm warning. At this point we were in Livonia and there was certainly no turning back. We took the deluge head on and were pummeled with torrential rain for what seemed like forever. Cars driving along the stretch of road honked their horns; we took it as a sign of support, although looking back it could have just been a subtle acknowledgment from the motorists about our insanity.
Finally, and mercifully, the rain subsided and we made our way off Hines for a well-deserved pit stop and lunch in downtown Northville. By this time, our joints and feet were becoming noticeably sore so we stopped at the local CVS to pick up some fresh socks (our current pairs being completely soaked through) and a much needed stick of Icy-Hot.
Feeling somewhat rejuvenated, we made our way through the neighborhoods of Northville and Novi, finally hitting our major connecting road, Grand River, which would lead us to the town of Milford, where the camp was.
This Grand River stretch proved to be the turning point from “Hey, isn’t this awesome what we’re doing?” to “Jesus Christ, my legs feel like they’re broken and on fire!”
For six-and-a-half miles we slogged down Grand River, stopping only for a couple minutes to slather on another helping of Icy-Hot. At no point was there ever a question of calling for a ride and ending the ordeal, but there began to be subtle doubts as to whether our legs could physically handle the increasing soreness and stiffness. As we finally came upon Milford Road, we all breathed a sigh of relief, feeling that we were finally on the home stretch.
It would be a premature celebration however, because as anyone who has made the drive to Camp knows, that stretch of Milford road seems to take forever–and that's when you’re going 50 miles an hour. The reality was, it was six miles of hell.
Well over our estimated time of arrival and with the sunlight fading, we literally limped down that final stretch of road, encountering every species of mutilated road kill and even a live snake.
There were maybe five sentences said to each other over the last hour-and-a-half of the walk. We were simply too exhausted to muster up the strength for conversation, or continue the joking around laughing we had done the previous 10 hours. Our eyes glazed over, there was only one goal in mind: Get to the gate.
Finally, we came upon the stream of cars heading into camp, their lights illuminating the now dark path. We had made it.
As I finally hugged the wooden welcome sign and collapsed to the ground, I felt a sense of completion and accomplishment like I never had before. We had carved out our part of Dearborn history, became a part of local folklore for our generation, and lived a story that we could now pass on to friends and family for years to come.
I can’t say if I would ever make “the walk” again, but like those who had gone before us, I will never forget this first one as long as I live.
Devon O'Reilly is the co-founder of Reborn Magazine. This article from Reborn's Summer 2012 issue was republished with permission. To learn more about Reborn, visit www.rebornmag.com.