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February 22, 2013

Man hopes 160-mile journey will inspire folks to faith

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. —  

Think your little walk to the mailbox was cold the last few days?

Try trekking six hours down an unbroken path in blistering winds.

“Tuesday was a real hard day to walk,” said Curtis Chambers. “The wind blew me off my feet four times.”

Chambers, a member of the Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, is walking in the footsteps of Bishop Frederic Baraga in the upper and northern lower peninsulas Michigan.

Concerned that people have drifted away from Catholicism, the Cheboygan man hopes his 160-mile spiritual journey will inspire folks to have faith.

He also feels a strong connection with Baraga.

“Perhaps it has to do with the fact that in June of 1831, my tribe—under his direction—constructed the second Catholic church in Michigan,” he said.

Chamber’s 10-day walk ended Friday in Manistee, Mich. Some days were worse than others, with snow ranging from a few inches to mid-thigh in several spots. Chambers, 59, shields his tanned face with Vaseline and a mask for the bitterest winds.

Baraga walked with a lot less, said Chambers.

“Just one or two guides would help him out,” he said. “One of his diary excerpts says, ‘Oh thank God, they brought two wool blankets this time.’”

Baraga, a candidate for sainthood, is a northwoods legend. He left a life of privilege in Slovenia in 1830 to minister to Native Americans, miners and fur traders. Known as the “snowshoe priest,” he’d trek as far as 60 miles to his far-flung churches, covering an estimated 700 miles in winter.

Chambers polished off 115 miles in the Upper Peninsula, Feb. 4 to 8, mostly on snowshoes.

Early on in his U.P. walk, he came upon fresh wolf tracks on a railroad track.

“He must have been pretty darn close,” he said. “I’m pretty sure he saw me.”

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