TRAVERSE CITY — Michele Oberholtzer is a practical, level-headed mechanical engineer who, until this summer, tracked toward a promising future with a high-powered New York City consulting company.
But the Chelsea native, 28, decided to chuck it all and returned to Michigan to follow her heart, a decision that led her on an adventure of self-discovery.
Oberholtzer has the notion that reflecting on life doesn’t necessarily mean looking back on where you’ve been. It also can mean deciding where you’re going. She also realized she needed a hiatus from the noise and pressures that seemed to accompany her life, and in early July, took off on a soul-searching, solo backpacking trek across a 700-mile stretch of northern Michigan from the Leelanau Peninsula to the Keweenaw Peninsula.
She chose Suttons Bay as her starting point, a throwback to a family vacation, and followed the TART Trail to Traverse City where she spent several days deciding if she realistically could make the trip.
“A critical point was how unprepared I was for this,” she said.
Oberholtzer carried about 45 pounds of basic gear, plus provisions she bought along the way, and survived on peanut butter, tuna and trail mix when not near a town.
“I picked up the North Country Trail just east of Traverse City near the Sand Lakes Quiet Area, and I would camp in state parks or just plop down by the side of the trail.”
She got a hotel room on two occasions when the weather didn’t cooperate. Oberholtzer celebrated her birthday along the route and decided to commemorate it in a special way.
“I realized I was 28 miles out of Petoskey, and I started walking, dedicating one mile for every year of my life and reflecting on what I was doing at each age,” she said. “It gave me a perspective on my life up to now, and I plan to do something similar every year.”