Year of travel and giving ends in MN
For 33 years, Michigan native Nancy Zyburt made her home in the village of Chelsea, near Ann Arbor.
She raised three daughters as a single mother, and for 15 of those years, owned and operated a classical ballet studio, “Dance Arts of Chelsea” — which she managed for two years before purchasing it, “so I knew what I was getting into,” she said.
Through the years, Zyburt would give what she could to her daughters’ various school fundraisers, as well as those for local food shelves, children’s programs and women’s shelters, always wishing she could do more.
“I was shopping for groceries one day, and the local Boy Scouts were handing out lists of things our local food pantry needed,” she said. “I was able to get about four things on it, and I remember thinking what fun it would be to be in the position to just get a shopping cart and buy two of everything on that list.”
As a single mom of three, however, Zyburt wasn’t in the position to do that — to give back as much as she wanted, where and when she wanted. But the urge to do so remained.
“It’s been a little seed in the back of my mind for a long time,” Zyburt said.
So when she decided to sell her dance studio, shortly before her 56th birthday, Zyburt came up with an idea to use the proceeds from that sale to make that dream happen.
She decided to use her 56th birthday on Aug. 31, 2012 as the symbolic launch point of her “Expedition 56,” a cross country road trip that would take her to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories.
Along the way, she would spend a week in each country or territory, and give $56 each day to the local charity of her choice — be it a food pantry, soup kitchen, women’s shelter, or other cause that she felt was worthy of a little helping hand.
With her faithful chocolate lab Tula by her side for most of the trip (excepting only those places that she could not reach by car) Zyburt also hiked eight miles each day, seven days a week — for a total of 56 miles per week — exploring the sights of each state or territory that she visited.
Almost 14 months, 49 states and all five territories later, Zyburt’s journey brought her to Detroit Lakes. She spent this past Wednesday walking by the lake, seeing the sights, and giving her $56 daily donations to not just one, but two local organizations.
“I had already made a donation in Detroit Lakes that morning, to the Roses for Rotary, which supports local youth literacy programs,” Zyburt said, noting that she had seen the sign for the event while she was out walking Zula.
She had packed up the car and was heading out of town on her way to Park Rapids, when she realized that she had accidentally gotten onto Highway 10 instead of Highway 34. So she turned around — and saw the sign for the Boys & Girls Club Thrift Store.
Realizing that she hadn’t given a donation to a Boys & Girls club in several months, since she had stopped in Nevada, Zyburt Googled the DL club on her phone, and saw that it was a pretty active one — so she decided to stop in there on her way out of town, and left them with another $56.
“She said, ‘I know it’s not very much,’” said Boys & Girls Club director Pat Petermann, “but I said the dollar amount doesn’t matter, it comes from your heart.
“What a cool lady she is!” he exclaimed.
On her way out of Fosston on Friday, Zyburt said, “It was just one of those coincidental, meant-to-be sort of stops.”
She also said that Minnesota was the last on her list of states to visit, and her 14-month journey was almost at an end.
“I am thoroughly enjoying northern Minnesota, and all the lakes you have here,” she added. “This has been an amazing journey, with all the chances I’ve had to meet people and give back, literally, all over the country.”
Though the trek has exhausted most of her financial resources, and she’ll have to find a job to support herself now, Zyburt said that once she gets back home to Chelsea, “I’ll feel like the richest person in the world, for all of the experiences I’ve had. I’ve met a lot of really good, big-hearted people along the way. It’s exceeded my expectations. I’m sad that it’s coming to an end. I’m looking forward to going home, but it’s all gone by so fast, it’s hard to believe it’s winding down.”
To chronicle her journey, Zyburt has been keeping an almost-daily blog; you can view her photos and memories from the past 14 months online at expedition56.com.
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.