January 7, 2023.
6:45 a.m. Sargent Dining Commons, Evanston, IL
The morning gloom of early January illuminated Sargent Dining Hall, set to open in 15 minutes. It was McCormick first-years Edwin Mizen and James La Fayette’s first stop to fuel up for their attempt to make the 32 mile walk to Wisconsin.
Northwestern students always seem to be up to something. For many, it is schoolwork, applications for various endeavors or extracurriculars. But for Mizen and La Fayette, their weekend activity consisted of doing something for their personal satisfaction: something that few can say they’ve done or even considered doing, and something that won’t appear on their resumes. While Mizen ended his journey at the Wisconsin border and La Fayette turned back in Waukegan, the first-years took their stress-relieving walks to the next level, dedicating a full weekend day to the goal for the sake of saying they could.
Mizen and La Fayette had already gone on multiple treks since they met at the McCormick Excel Scholars Program over the summer. Their adventures have included walking to the Howard CTA station, to Winnetka at 2 a.m., to the Bahá'í House of Worship and three miles from Chicago’s Trump Tower to Chinatown.
“I can talk to another person for hours on end. Look at nature and crap,” Mizen said. “That's why we did the night walks originally. I guess it's just stress relief.”
At the end of Fall quarter, Mizen came up with the idea to walk to Kenosha, Wisconsin. He and La Fayette began to plan the route, making sure they stayed near train stations in case they needed to get back.
“We just kind of had the idea like, ‘Oh, you know, it'd be really funny if we walked to Wisconsin,’” Mizen said. “Then we looked at the logistics of it and were like, ‘okay, this is actually kind of doable. So what if we did it?’”
Bryan Villalpando, a McCormick first-year and friend of Mizen and La Fayette, was with Mizen when the latter first thought of walking to Wisconsin. Villalpaldo said that if Mizen says he’ll do something, he means it.
Mizen and La Fayette planned the route during Winter Recess and decided to make the trek the Saturday before the second week of Winter Quarter, before midterms began. Their plan was to walk straight to Kenosha, Wisconsin then take the train back to campus. They estimated the walk to take about 11 hours.
“We were like, ‘we know we're going to be extremely busy, so we might as well knock it out now because it's probably now or never,’” Mizen said.
The night before the walk, Mizen and La Fayette reviewed the route and bought snacks to prepare. Mizen brought water, Cheez-Its, beef jerky, Gatorade and four dining hall apples. La Fayette brought four reusable water bottles, Kind bars and trail mix. In addition to Mizen’s AirPods and portable charger, they brought La Fayette’s laptop, hand sanitizer, bandaids, and both of their phones; this is all they brought.
And at 7:15 a.m. on January 7, the two first-years set north on Sheridan on their way to Wisconsin.
10 a.m. Starbucks, Highland Park, IL
Mizen and La Fayette’s only official stop on their walk was at Starbucks. They got coffee and La Fayette checked his emails on his laptop. Fueled by an Americano and a pink drink respectively, Mizen and La Fayette continued the walk.
“At first I felt kind of bleak about it. I was like, ‘this seems superhuman,’ and I wasn’t sure it was possible,” La Fayette said.
But when they reached Winnetka within an hour and watched their estimated arrival time decrease, he adopted a more hopeful outlook on the journey.
As suburban streets and strip malls transformed into lakes and grassy fields, the two chatted. Mizen and La Fayette talked about their classes, transitioning to college and politics. With a full day's journey ahead of them, they had plenty of time to bond.
“It's like a giant sleepover, but you're doing something physical,” Mizen said.
With a weather high of 31 degrees Fahrenheit, Mizen said the walk was chilly and he had to put his gloved hands in his pockets a few times. They both wore jeans and sneakers, but Mizen wore a hoodie and light zip-up jacket, while La Fayette wore a long-sleeved shirt, a zip-up hoodie and a down vest. La Fayette said he considered wearing a heavier jacket, but he was glad he didn’t because he thought he would have been too hot.
Mizen and La Fayette updated a pre-existing group chat of their friends before and throughout the journey which, according to Mizen, added an element of social pressure to make it to Wisconsin.
McCormick first-year Umar Kamara followed the updates in this group chat.
“[Mizen] is crazy. So I knew he’d probably do it,” Kamara said. “I was secretly rooting for them.”
3:30 p.m.. Waukegan, Illinois
As Mizen and La Fayette proceeded, they entered and left towns in the span of 10 to 20 minutes. La Fayette said the small towns blew his mind, since they were so different from the large Florida cities where he grew up.
Though it only snowed for a short time, La Fayette was glad for the sidewalks along the route.
“It was physically excruciating at moments,” La Fayette said.
Around the border between Cook County and Lake County, La Fayette slipped on black ice, but he didn’t realize he had a cut on his knee cap until about five miles later when he bandaged it up. A blister on his big toe and a bleeding sore on his thigh also became an issue for him as the walk progressed. La Fayette said it took over two weeks and a week and a half, respectively, for the blister and sore to heal.
This walk was more of a physical test for La Fayette than Mizen, who claimed to have run two half marathons each week during the summer of 2022.
“I don't know what [La Fayette’s] physical fitness level was before [the walk], but he started walking slower. He started slowing down, so we would take breaks more,” Mizen said.
Around 3 p.m. La Fayette decided not to continue to Wisconsin, and took a train from Waukegan back to campus.
“I was thinking, ‘maybe doing it all in one go was not the smartest idea,’” La Fayette said. “But I was still really impressed and proud that we were actually able to make it that far.”
For La Fayette, the most astounding part of the trip was the 30 minute train ride back to campus.
“It put into perspective how long the walk is,” La Fayette said. “It took 30 minutes to get back, which blew my mind. We took half a day to walk all the way to Waukegan. And then to come back within an hour, it's a weird experience,” La Fayette said.
With his legs falling asleep, all La Fayette wanted to do when he got back to his dorm was go to bed. After making it up the four flights of stairs to his dorm room and changing from his jeans to shorts, he did just that.
He later woke up at 11 p.m and tried to get out of bed, but his legs and feet were numb, so he watched comedy skits on YouTube until drifting back into sleep. He said his blister and leg sore made walking uncomfortable for a while after the trek to Wisconsin, but still, he would attempt the journey again.
8:15 p.m. BP gas station, Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin
After La Fayette took the train back to campus, Mizen popped in his AirPods and listened to music and podcasts to journey the remaining 10 miles alone.
Though the initial plan was to make it to Kenosha, Mizen turned back at a BP gas station after crossing the Illinois-Wisconsin border.
“I was really tired. Because it was like 11 hours and my legs were hurting,” Mizen said.
His stay in Wisconsin didn’t last long. He took a moment to pause, then walked a mile back to the Winthrop Harbor train station in Illinois to ride to Northwestern.
“I poured a little bit of the Gatorade out for James and filmed it and was like, ‘RIP James, he didn't make it.’ That was kind of sad,” Mizen said. “I mean, it was really just a gas station. There was a physical ‘Welcome to Illinois’ sign on the other side, but there wasn't a welcoming Wisconsin sign.”
The 32 mile walk, lasting 10 hours and 58 minutes, taught Mizen more than just that he could walk over 30 miles continuously.
“I learned to be a more patient person. If people are gonna do stuff with you, you have to meet them where they are,” Mizen said. “I probably could have made it to Kenosha if I just did it myself, but it wouldn't have been nearly as fun.”
9 p.m. Schapiro Hall, Evanston, IL
Mizen celebrated completing his walk with two ice cream cones from Lisa’s. He then went to the basement in Schapiro Hall to hang out with friends.
“He just casually walked in,” Kamara, who was at Schapiro when Mizen got back from the walk, said. “It was funny because it was about eight or nine of us sitting there like, ‘You're crazy.’”
Even though Mizen lives in East Fairchild, he went the extra mile to Schapiro Hall after completing his journey to Wisconsin.
“Edwin seemed surprisingly well,” says Villalpando. “James, on the other hand, we did not see for a while. We were thinking of doing a wellness check.”
Mizen told Kamara that he didn’t need any food after the walk. For the future, he said he would pack even less food if he did it again – Mizen only ended up eating four apples and some Cheez-Its the entire journey.
“I just kind of told everyone, ‘Hey, I did the whole walk to Wisconsin,’ and you know, they kind of lost their shit,” Mizen said.
Without hesitation, Mizen says he would do the walk again, but the next adventure on his docket is walking to Indiana.
While a walk from Northwestern’s Allison Dining Commons to a BP gas station just over the Wisconsin border may not be a resume highlight, Mizen said it was a fruitful experience that taught him the value of helping others.
He said people don’t ask about what he gained from the trip, but upon reflection, he did in fact come out with more than a unique fun fact.
“You know, helping other people is, like, good, I guess. It's really cheesy, but that’s a concrete example of it,” Mizen said.