As Jacob Penning ex’15 stood on the shore of Lake Michigan in Grand Haven a few years ago, he was awestruck.
“I stood there and looked left and looked right and thought about walking forever,” he said.
And then he wondered if it was possible: hiking the whole coast of Lake Michigan, that is.
In July 2018, Penning decided not only to try it but to document his adventure via video, with the help of Micah Rynders, a 2018 Calvin graduate in film production and writing and a longtime friend.
“I think the first thing I said when Jacob told me he was going to try this was, ‘OK, I’m going to film it,’” said Rynders. “The idea was so captivating, I felt like we had to have it on film. I just thought, ‘Whoa, this could be a documentary, a story that hasn’t been told.’”
The result: 35 hours of footage of Penning’s four week, 480-mile adventure from the Indiana border to the northernmost tip of the Great Lake at the Mackinac Bridge.
“There is no trail, so hiking on the beach the entire way was the goal,” said Penning, who claims to be the first person to complete and document this hike. “I can’t explain waking up on the coast with the water roaring and seeing 10 straight miles ahead of me through the mist. It is such unparalleled beauty, and I was captivated by it every day.”
Penning faced significant challenges along the way. “At each channel, I wondered how I was going to get across, and every single time a boat would show up. I would yell to them and tell them what I was doing, and they would bring me across,” he said.
In fact, Penning frequently experienced the generosity of people. “I was so led by the Lord through this,” he said. “Something would happen, and I knew I was going to be blessed. People extended their resources to me the whole way through.”
Penning and Rynders are working to compile the footage—which includes personal documentation and drone coverage—into a documentary film with a working title of The Middle Coast in time for this fall’s Catalina Film Festival in California.
“What’s inspiring about it is this was just two kids with an idea doing something they loved and wanted to do,” said Rynders. “And every time I see the footage, I can’t believe we did that.”
“I want someone to see this video and believe the thing they dreamed about doing is possible,” added Penning. “This all started with a dream: I bet I can just keep going and going. This is about going after that dream and persevering through the entire journey.”
To learn more and see clips from the upcoming film, visit the Facebook page The Middle Coast.