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On July 9 at 6 a.m., Curt Evans started out from Arrington Lakeshore Lagoon with a backpack, a new pair of boots from L.L. Bean and a large green hat fit for a jungle. It was 59 degrees and misty. He had decided on an unconventional, 15-mile journey, hiking around the periphery of Evanston. Seven and a half hours later he was back where he had begun the day, having circumscribed the town.
Mr. Evans was adamant that the experience be, for the most part, unplugged – no music or texting allowed. He carried only a cell phone, but not long after he departed the battery died. So, as it turned out, he did not even have that.
Mr. Evans said that people usually look to go far away for a place to investigate but that there is something to be said for occasionally taking a long, slow look at where they already are.
“It isn’t really the same doing it in a car or on a bike,” Mr. Evans said. “Your pace enables you to notice things you otherwise wouldn’t. You get a feel for the distances. It frees you up to really look.”
Mr. Evans has lived in Evanston for 20 years, and having been raised in the country, is attuned to nature. Over the years, he has spotted coyotes, deer and foxes roaming the City. He didn’t see any unusual mammals on the walk, but he did encounter 14 species of birds, including red-winged blackbirds, purple finches, mourning doves and herons.
Skirting the edges of Skokie, Wilmette and Chicago, Mr. Evans noted the vast differences in neighborhoods along the route, from “jaw dropping” mansions in the northeast corridor to the cemetery and train yards to the south. He strolled beside the nature preserves on the western border and, of course, the end of land itself, the picturesque lakefront traversed by winding Sheridan Road.
Mr. Evans noted a corroding, two-foot post in a garden that signified one boundary line. At the northern rim of the district, there was Ryan Field, a section of the Canal Shores Golf Course, and the Baha’i Temple.
Mr. Evans found on his walk that most people were either too busy rushing to work or shepherding children to talk, although he had a few passing encounters.
Children from a day camp love fishing in the pond at Lovelace Park, situated in the northwest corner of the city. Mr. Evans briefly spoke to a woman on Howard near the lake who worked for a homeless shelter. She pointed across toward the nearby Chicago neighborhood and said it was “bad news, some real havoc down there.”
On Northwestern’s campus, Mr. Evans strode by an informal gathering of football players, a debate team, and a group from the center for talent development that sponsors STEM classes (science, technology, engineering and math) who were launching model rockets.
Near Old Orchard and Gross Point roads, Mr. Evans came across a “fairy ring,” a circle of mushrooms eight feet in diameter. He said that there were natural reasons this would occur but preferred the mythological explanation of its being a site where fairies sometimes gathered to dance. More landmarks around the perimeter included a nearly hidden junkyard, the terminus of the rapid transit line on Linden and a statue of Gandhi, complete with walking stick.
“This might be a good means of fundraising,” Mr. Evans said, though he just wanted to keep his itinerant escapade simple this time. It seems an ideal way of understanding Evanston’s unique geography, a local adventure, one not requiring Google for the ultimate street view.