Crow and I had to cancel our plans for a self-contained bike tour on the Maine coast this year due to The Flood and all the ensuing issues with the house that it caused, thus relinquishing us of our normal surplus of cash. We weren’t about to let The Flood ruin our whole summer, however; we decided to take a few small weekend trips now that we have some breathing room for fun. Of course, the Roscoe Ramble bike ride was already in our plans since that is kind of a special ride for us because it’s where our romantic relationship started in 2011. But we wanted to plan a few other get-aways. So we decided to each plan a trip. Crow came up with a mountain biking trip near Ann Arbor that we’re going to go on in a few weeks. I chose Pelee Island.
I’d been to Pelee Island once before–seven years ago–and I’d been meaning to go back every since. One of several islands located on Lake Erie, Pelee is located in Canadian waters. Unlike the US islands of South Bass (Put-in-Bay) and Kelley’s Island, Pelee is pretty primitive. There are two campgrounds, four restaurants, a winery, a bakery, the “co-op” (a very minimal grocery store), a post office (located in the co-op), two marinas, a few gift shops an airport, and plethora of B&Bs. Only a few roads are paved, the rest are dirt and gravel. Because the island does not have the population of the other islands, nor does it have a thriving nightlife, it is very laid back and quiet. The perfect place to get away and forget about the world.
For people who enjoy the outdoors, there is plenty to do on Pelee. Originally when I planned the trip, I figured Crow and I would have a lot of down time in which we’d just lounge on the beach, swimming and relaxing. I brought my Kindle and a journal for jotting down stuff for my novel, figuring that I would have a lot of time to read and write. I remembered that there were only really a few things specifically to see on Pelee and I guess I thought we’d do see and do everything on one day. Still, I booked a four day weekend because I figured that two full days at Pelee would give us a chance to experience everything.
Total miles biked: 20.69
We took the first ferry running to Pelee out of the Sandusky. The 3:30pm departure time gave us a leisurely start to the day (we did all our fretting the night before with last-minute packing!). We arrived in Sandusky at around 1:00 which allowed us time to have lunch at a nearby Irish pub called Daly’s. We then loaded our bikes and walked across the street to the dock to get our ticket and board the ferry.
The ferry takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to cross the 26 miles of lake to get to Pelee. Along the way, passengers are treated to a lakeside view of Cedar Point (an amusement park in Sandusky) and the US islands.
The view of Pelee Island’s West Dock from the ferry was exactly as I remembered it. Not much had changed on the island, apparently, in the last six years since I’d last visited, except for a new Customs building that I was pretty sure had not been there before (I later confirmed in looking at my old photos from the first trip that I was right.)
I made reservations for East Park Campground. The first time I went to Pelee, I stayed at the campground at the Anchor & Wheel Restaurant. I was not really impressed with this site as it was not very private and, being part of the busier area of the island (I’m not sure if this is considered “downtown” on Pelee), it tended to be a bit more noisy. The “campground” was basically a field outside of the restaurant. The only advantage to this location is that you can bring and consume alcohol on the premises, which you cannot do at East Park Campground–Pelee’s other campground. Not really a big deal as there are plenty of places to consume alcohol on the island; I certainly wasn’t going to miss not being able to drink at my actual campsite.
The only other downside to the East Park Campground is that the water has not been cleared for drinking. It’s fine as long as you boil it, though, so between that and buying very reasonably priced jugs of water from the camp store, we were fine all weekend. Turns out there are no public places on the island that have potable water you can get for free. I didn’t remember this detail from my last trip out. According to the Pelee island website, the water at the “majority” of the local establishments is cleared for drinking. However, we found that almost all the restaurant (except for Scudder Bar & Grill) serve you (and charge you for) bottled water when you request water. I’m not sure if this is because of the water situation or if Canada is more similar to the countries in Europe who won’t serve you tap water no matter how nicely you ask.
East Campground is located approximately four miles from the West Dock, obviously on the other side of the island. With our loaded bikes, it took us about fifteen minutes to arrive. Right away, I liked this campground so much better. There were several private sites surrounded by trees. After checking in, we chose site 12 and it became our happy home for three nights.
We did discover, however, that we were being monitored by a strange alien creature….
By the time we got all set up and unpacked, it was about 7pm. Excited to start exploring, we decided to head off back down the main road to find food and libations. I originally thought we’d hit the winery, but it turns out close every day at 8. Even Fridays. So we ended up going to the Anchor & Wheel Restaurant. I learned that Lake Erie walleye is called “pickerel” in Canada. Whatever you happened to call it, it was delicious and fresh at Anchor & Wheel. Especially washed down with a wine spritzer.
Unfortunately, it started to drizzle as we headed back to camp despite the predicted 0% chance of rain for the day. Go figure. This set the precedent for the remainder of the weekend.
Total miles biked: 28.67
Establishments Patronized: Pelee Island Winery, Scudder Bar & Grill
We woke Saturday morning to sun and warm temperatures. I could almost forget that a 40% chance of rain had been predicted for the day. Before we could begin any exploring, we needed to ride to the co-op to pick up some more oatmeal (we hadn’t had time to shop before leaving and we were short of breakfast food). The co-op is closed on Sundays and only open until 2 on Saturday so we had to make it our first stop. But we decided to try a new route north up East Road, and then crossing one of the intersecting westward roads so that we could see new scenery.
Pelee’s farms are located in the middle of the island while all the summer beachside cottages dot the outside. It’s like two different worlds–the scenery along the outer roads beachlike and tropical, harkening to images of the Florida coast sans palm trees, while the scenery on the inner part of the island looks like any old road in Northwestern Ohio.
The co-op is located on the northwest side of the island next to the marina where private boats dock at the island. The co-op also serves as the island post office. In addition to the co-op, we discovered the bakery, the Scudder Bar & Grill, and a small ice cream/hot dog shack. We stopped for ice cream (shame on me), and then took the roads we’d just used back to the east side of the island where we had decided to ride to the trailhead for the lighthouse.
The road leading to the trailhead goes along the side of Lake Henry–one of Pelee’s only remaining marshes. As I learned later, the island was once actually three islands separated by marshes. In the 1880’s, the island was drained by the colonists to make more of the land useable for farming since the weather at Pelee is moderate and, as it turns out, perfect for growing crops, especially grapes due a longer growing season.
The hike to the old lighthouse starts in the woods and then ends, as all trails on Pelee seem to, on a beach. I’m always amazed by the beauty of a Lake Erie beach, especially this far away from the mainland. The water is clear and the waves lap softly on the more-pebbles-than-sand shore. We stuck our feet in the water. At first, it seemed a tad chilly, but after a little bit, it seemed perfect and refreshing. We walked together in the water along the shore. Right away, the lighthouse began to peak through the trees ahead.
Unfortunately, you can’t go into the lighthouse, which is kind of a bummer. But I suppose hasn’t been kept up and is probably unsafe. We took some pictures and tried to keep moving because when you stand still, the beach flies land on your flesh… and then they BITE you. It stings. We also kept running into clouds of mayflies.
While circling the lighthouse to admire it, we noticed another trail heading off into the woods. There is apparently another loop trail we could take, probably offering additional views of Lake Henry. We decided we would come back to it at a later time. We never did get a chance to do it on this trip, but we will definitely have to walk this trail the next time we’re on Pelee.
We headed next to the Pelee Island Winery, but slowly because no one is in a hurry on Pelee. We stopped took Henderson, the north-south running road in the middle of the island, a dirt road between fields of soy beans. We stopped at the Pelee Island Art Works to look at the handcrafted souvenirs (I bought a pair of beach glass earrings!).
When we arrived at the winery, a tour was just starting. I couldn’t decide whether or not I wanted to jump on it, so indecision led us to just get our three (or so) samples at the tasting area. Crow and I tried between each other (and our three samples each) about six wines (give or take a few since the bartender was feeling generous). I didn’t remember the winery’s list being so extensive–there were over 20 wines on the list! We decided to get a bottle of Cabernet Franc. We bought a bread and cheese plant and snacked at one of the picnic tables in the wine garden listening to the live music. It was pretty relaxing… but the sky was starting to get a little dark.
By the time we finished our bottle, new winery tour was beginning, so we decided to go on it after all. Which turned out to be kind of convenient because the skies let loose and a rather loud thunderstorm began to rage. During an abbreviated section of the tour outside right before the rain began, we learned that they plant rose bushes serve as the proverbial canary at the end of every row of grapes. Apparently, roses will exhibit signs of a disease several days before the grapes will so it gives the gardeners a chance to take action to save the grapes before the disease takes them as well.
Anyway, we drank way too much wine between our samples, the bottle, and the additional samples (6) on the wine tour. We were with a fun group of Canadians, though, who gently chided us about being American and also persuaded our tour guide to more generously fill our tasting glasses. Haha.
By the time the tour was over, the rain had stopped. We were able to bike over to dinner (despite apparent states of inebriation). Unfortunately, Crow got a flat tire and, in our haste to get to dinner, neither of us inspected the tire well for the culprit…. So later, on the way home from dinner, at 10 o’clock at night, in the middle of the complete darkness of the middle of the island along some farm road, he got a second flat. We both had bright LED lights and after about forty-five minutes of fiddling, while thunder rumbled in the background (no lightening and no rain, though), Crow found a small shard of glass in his tire. He removed it, replaced the tube a second time, and we made it back to the campground unscathed.
Total miles biked: 16.22
Establishments Patronized: Westview Tavern, Pelee Island Coneheads
Once again, we woke to sun, but now the temperature was quite steamy–hot and humid. After taking showers, we both were sweaty again just preparing breakfast. The weather forecast predicted 60% chance of rain for the day so after a quick stop at the bike shop in front of the West Dock, we headed straight towards my absolute favorite thing about Pelee: Fish Point Nature Preserve.
Fish Point is a long sandbar that extends out from the southwest part of the island. People like to walk to its furthest point because it used to be the southernmost point in Canada. Recently Canada bought Middle Island–a deserted island a little more south and close to US-Canada border–from the US. Apparently, this island has changed hands many times. Since you can only get to Middle Island by private boat, most people consider walking along Fish Point close enough to claim having stood on Canada’s southernmost point.
For me, though, Fish Point is just the coolest feature ever. It was the one thing I remembered very clearly from my last visit to Pelee and I just couldn’t wait to walk it again. The water is so clear and I loved just walking along it to the end of the peninsula.
On my way out there, I was examining the various rocks that are rounded and smooth from the water’s relentless tumbling and weathering. The original rock tumbler–the sea. My eyes fell upon something white among the rocks and I picked it up. Beach glass! I’d never really heard about beach glass until I’d visited the Art Works shop and admired some of the items made from it. And now I had unwittingly found a piece myself. It was so cool that I began to actively look for more. I found a green piece next. I showed Crow and he too began to look for some beach glass. He eventually found the biggest piece I collected.
I also picked up a few of the intact small shells… I immediately began to think about the jewelry I might make from these treasures. Even after we’d walked out to the point and took pictures, we slowly made our way back towards the shore looking for beach glass. Unfortunately, our moment of tranquil appreciation of Fish Point’s beauty was interrupted by some approaching rumbles of thunder. By the time we made it back to the trail in the woods, the sky to the west was growing dark, hastening my steps.
When we got back to our bikes, it was still sunny. I slipped a rain cover over my back pannier and we headed back to town. It was extremely weird because to the north, it was partly sunny and did not look like it would rain; looking back to the south, it was dark.
We decided to go check out the Pelee Island Heritage Museum which is located in the old townhall. The museum is only one room, but displays and artifacts fill ever available space not used for walking paths. It would take hours to read it all, but I did enjoy reading about Lake Erie shipwrecks, the draining of Pelee’s marshes, and the founding of the township. And, uh-oh, I started getting that feeling that I get when I read about the Erie Canal–that thirst for more information as I try to imagine what it must have been like or even what life is like now on the island. When I find myself fascinated by places, and I start digging into research, it almost always manifests itself into an idea for a story… So far, I’ve got ideas for novels that take place in Ancient Rome, along the Erie Canal, and now this… I will file it away for future use!
For the evening, we planned to attend an outdoor concert that I read about when we were planning the trip. After a lunch, we rode over tot he quarry where they were having the event. The quarry is located across the street from the winery–a small non-descript driveway leads down to this natural amplitheatre. I loved the location right away. Tucked below the ground level of the surrounding area, it felt like a tiny little hide away.
It seems we were probably the only tourists at the event, which made me feel a little out-of-place, but everyone was welcoming and nice. It was kind of neat to listen to the pleasantries and chatter exchanged between the locals. I felt a little out-of-place, but stuck to my seat and observed. I thought about how cool it would be to live on this island, at least in the summer.
Before the show began, a local woman read some poetry she’d written. I gathered from her poetry that she was an American who grew up in Michigan, lived some time in Columbus, Ohio, where she’d been a high school English teacher and now she was living on the island (at least part time) with her husband and a beloved dog. With all the For Sale signs up around the island, her story was not helping me to cease from daydreaming about buying a house on the island. (Crow and I did check out the prices of some of the places at board posted outside the local real estate office. Just for fun. Some of the places were more affordable than you would think…)
The jazz ensemble started up shortly after and I was immediately impressed. There was one man who played a saxophone–one of my favorite instruments–and some Japanese version of a soprano saxophone that he was careful to state was not actually a saxophone… I’m not good with remembering the names of thing like this…. He said it was a challenging instrument to play which is what lead him to learn to play it.
The music was great. But all the while, I could see dark clouds circling the quarry with some. I kept hoping it would pass over. The storm hit at the last part of the last song. The saxophonist powered through the rest of the song to complete it so that we were not left wanting. I was kind of left wanting, though, because an encore might have been nice.
People started ducking under umbrellas and packing their stuff away. The rain started to pound harder. Crow and I ran to the overhang of the “dollhouse”–as the locals called it–the one and only structure, used for storage, at the quarry.
The aftermath of the storm was unsettling as it turned Lake Erie into a raging sea. We rode back to the West Dock before going back to the campground to view the craziness. A brisk, forceful wind was now coming from the north. We stopped to take some pictures and video. It was a little off-putting, to say the least, and I wondered vaguely if this were anything like how a hurricane might feel (to much lesser degree, of course).
Here is just a few of the many awesome pictures I got:
The static sound of angry waters was the background soundtrack for the remainder of our stay. It was kind of eerie (no pun intended).
As we rode back to the campground, we noticed downed tree limbs in yards and on the side of the road. The storm had been short but vigorous. Apparently, several households had also lost power, we learned later. Not a problem for two campers, however.
When we returned to camp, we decided to use the firewood we’d purchased on Friday but had never gotten around to using. We’d stashed it underneath the picnic table for protection, but of course, it still got wet. Crow spent awhile trying to start the fire using paper but he couldn’t get it to catch to the damp firewood.
One of our neighbors had a raging fire going so Crow walked over and asked to warm a few pieces of our wood in theirs. With some additional coaxing once we returned our own fire pit, Crow was able to get a nice warm fire going.
The clouds had moved off and, for the first time since our arrival, I could see the stars. I quickly identified the arm of the Milky Way, which I have not seen in way too long of a time. I’d forgot how beautiful it was. I wish I could still easily identify the location of other celestial objects. I wanted to show Crow the Andromeda Galaxy, which is very visible in a dark sky, but I couldn’t recall where to look. Oh how easily a person forgets things!
We both walked away from the fire to get a better view of the sky, when, to our surprise, we both saw a meteor! And then another! Within a few minutes of each other. So cool. Another thing I miss about dark skies — the frequency of meteors, not necessarily associated to a particular shower (but this might have been a Perseid). We continued to watch and saw a few more.
After working so hard to get a fire going, we went to bed before the fire died down. We wanted to make sure we would get camp broken down with enough time to hit the bakery for breakfast before the 1pm ferry (and we are both not morning people).
Total miles biked: 11.05
Even though we’d been there for three nights, we hadn’t had a chance to do everything we would have liked. Next time, for example, we would like to rent kayakes 9whichs is an option on the island). We never got a chance to lay out on the beach either. But I suppose the great thing about a vacation is that you don’t “have” to do anything. Crow and I travel well together because we, for the most part, play it by ear.
So we packed up our gear and moved out to enjoy the rest of our morning and early noon on the island. It was a bit chilly–the storm had cooled things down–and the waves still rolled and crashed on the shore. We had breakfast at the only place in town we had not yet patronized–the bakery–and we dawdled there for awhile, sitting inside (I warmed myself with a coffee).
We then headed towards the dock, stopping to take some final photographs.
No trip is complete without stopping at the local liquor store for souvenirs before you leave! Because that’s how we roll. Literally.
It was sad to leave. But we decided we’d make a once a year trip of going to Pelee Island. It’s a great escape from it all. I was even forced to put my cell phone in airplane mode to avoid paying the absorbent roaming charges for data. So I even went off the grid for four days. It was kind of nice. I’d almost forgotten that it doesn’t feel that weird to be disconnected from the world. No wi-fi to speak of on the island either. It may my last place to escape from technology!