‘Come walk with me!’ — Over ‘The Bridge’ and through the woods with Michigan’s own Clayton Klein, ‘The Walking Man’

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“If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.” In formal Latin:  Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice

I love the motto of the State of Michigan. I love it because it’s an invitation, to enjoy and explore the beautiful trails, woods and waters of the amazing Mitten. Yes, right there in the top middle of the map of the United States, sits the beautiful Great Lakes State. It’s the state with two beautiful peninsulas – Upper and Lower.

There’s another beautiful thing or two about Michigan. It has the Mighty Mackinac Bridge that connects the two peninsulas. It also has Clayton Klein the Walking Man, 92 years young, who loves to walk over the five-mile span every Labor Day for the annual Mackinac Bridge Walk; and he especially loves it when his friends walk with him.

Come Walk with Me...Mackinac Bridge Walk 2011
First contingent of Labor Day Bridge Walkers 2007 50h Anniversary of the Mackinac Bridge (built 1957). See Clayton (with backpack) and all the walkers heading south from St. Ignace to Mackinaw City. Buses are coming from there carrying more walkers! Thousands of them. A beautiful day walking!

Consider this an invitation: If you’re in that neck of the woods on Labor Day morning, you are welcome to join Clayton Klein on his annual Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk. Want to walk with the Walking Man? Be at the St. Ignace side of the bridge at 9 a.m.

Klein grew up In the Palm of the Mitten, as Michiganders refer to the mid-section of our mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula. A native of Fowlerville, Klein is widely known for his walks across the state through the palm of The Mitten — and especially for his 420-mile treks from Paradise on the shores of Lake Superior, south through the wooded byways of the Upper Peninsula, across the beautiful Mackinac Bridge, on downstate to Hell, Michigan in his hometown area, and on to the bottom of The Mitten to Ohio.

Governor Jennifer Granholm in Sept. 2009 presented this photo collage to Clayton Klein in honor of his years of being an advocate and inspiration for walking and for his contributions to Hospice of Michigan

He walked the length of Michigan on behalf of Hospice each September, from 2004-2009. The 2009 Labor Day walk found him greeting Governor Jennifer Granholm as he crossed the Mackinac Bridge. Granholm recognized Klein, on behalf of the State of Michigan — for his inspiration, his advocacy of walking for health, and for his contributions to benefit the Hospice programs of Michigan.

While that was the last of his long walks, Klein still walks every day and works in some weekend excursions with his daughter, Debbie, enjoying the beauty of Michigan’s many parks and trails.  Klein looks forward to resuming his long downstate walks possibly next year.  So, Walking Man fans stay tuned. You may keep up with him on Facebook; and there’s a Clayton Klein The Walking Man fan page (of course).

There’s so much to tell about this nonagenarian. There are his walks; his adventures canoeing in the Canadian wilderness (plus stories he’s written about those adventures);  his many years as a farmer, business owner and book publisher; his service to his community and his church, his amazing most recent book about baseball (A Well-kept Secret: From the Glory Years of the Detroit Tigers — about his late wife Marjorie’s friendship with the legendary Tiger Hall-of-Famer Hank Greenberg); and his own ongoing friendships with folks he’s met along those Michigan byways.

Fowlerville 4th grade teacher Sue Charron's class enjoyed meeting Clayton after the 2009 walk, which they'd followed each day on their Michigan map.

I’ve been fortunate to be one of those inspired by this true-life adventurer.  Recently, I happened upon a newsmagazine clipping my mom had given me.  Gone now, she was a contemporary of Clayton Klein, having come of age in the years leading up to World War II.  She loved to clip out articles for me that she knew I’d enjoy.

This one was USA Weekend’s 1997 newsmagazine. The bright yellow headline grabbed my attention: The spirit of exploration is alive in each of us. Those were the words of Ken Burns, whose classic documentary of the epic journey of Lewis and Clark was enjoyed across TV land.  Burns penned this story. I particularly love this quote about making the documentary. Despite the travails of filming, Burns wrote: “But somehow the spirit of the expedition pulled us along and gave us images of great beauty and experiences and emotions we will never forget.”

As they captured the story of Lewis and Clark, Burns related, “It became increasingly clear that the real ‘star’ of our documentary was not two very interesting explorers and their brave crew, but the magnificent land itself and the many promises it held.”

Americans were beginning to discover the journey of Lewis and Clark. Amazingly, Burns noted, “Ordinary Americans are hitting the trail. They’re spending a week floating down the Missouri near the spectacular White Cliffs in Montana….They’re braving the rutted back roads of the majestic Bitterroot Mountains in Idaho….”

“They’re looking at the beauty of a country many thought was gone,” wrote Burns.   He suggested that “there is a sense that our vast, exquisite geography might lead to some sense of self-definition and sustaining national purpose.”

His words, I think, capture the essence of Clayton Klein. Not only is that spirit of wilderness exploration and adventure alive somewhere deep within each of us, Klein loves to bring it out of us when we can’t find it ourselves.   I have to say that a highlight of my life has been to walk with Clayton Klein over the past five years

Caught on camera by Larry Jackson of Brighton: Clayton Klein and Karen Jackson happily walking their way to Manchester, MI September 2009 Paradise to Hell and Beyond to Ohio walk for Michigan Hospice programs. Karen is a director of clinical services at St. Joseph Mercy Homecare and Hospice in Ann Arbor.

His countless walking fans would agree. It’s fun to be around a nonagenarian — did you figure that out, yet?  It’s the decade before centenarian — who thinks way outside the box. You realize that life can be fun and adventurous at any age, if you can stay healthy, active and vibrant. That’s the well-kept secret, to me–living vibrantly, creatively, and healthfully as long as you live.

The Walking Man, does he rock?! Best wishes from a fan of Clayton Klein painted on a rock, left along the route where he would find it on one of his five annual walks from Paradise to Hell and Beyond to Ohio for Hospice.

With Clayton Klein, the walking began after a severe back injury sidelined him some 40 years ago. Daily walking brought him back to health.  He’s been an advocate for this simple, but powerful exercise ever since. Daily walking is a front-line defense for sustaining health and wellness; and Klein is the first to emphasize its health benefits.  One of the greatest, for Klein, is being outdoors whenever possible, and enjoying the beauty of the natural world around us.

So put your walking shoes on. Think epic journey. It’s your life; and it’s your road. The way of the explorer is the way we walk through life.

“The spirit of exploration is alive in each of us,” says Burns.  “Keep on walking,” says Klein. As you walk Michigan, soak in the pleasantness of the beautiful peninsulas. Look about you; and keep on walking.

Oh, and…  this year or next… meet you at  The Bridge!



State of Michigan website

Mackinac Bridge website





About Susan Parcheta 101 Articles
Susan G Parcheta dreamed of being an inspirational writer, even as heading off after college to a teaching job. While teaching was not her passion, words were -- writing many years for Livingston newspapers, especially in the areas of education, health and wellness. The dream continues: to inspire creative, healthy living and to explore new concepts of body, mind, spirit. Her signature theme “All Things Beautiful” invites you to embrace the beauty and imagine the possibilities that life has to offer. She lives in Gregory with her husband, Jerry, and their fluffy, pointy-eared -- and always lovable -- cat, Spock.