Circumnavigating Lake Erie
In July of 2007, we set out from Buffalo, NY to travel around Lake Erie by bicycle. In order to chop Detroit out of the loop and in the interests of time, we skipped the whole far western end of the lake by taking a ferry from Leamington, Ontario to Sandusky Ohio. With great appreciation I traveled with a gentleman from Vermont and it turned out to be a very good fit. This was only my second unsupported ride and far longer than the previous one (which I did alone). Jim has done other unsupported rides, including one around Lake Ontario.
July 21st, 2007
We started out in Buffalo, NY by traveling down Vermont St. to the Peace Bridge. The toll plazas have been rearranged and rebuilt within the last year, so I could not find the exit and I could not find my passport. Finally a guy told us about the gate the custom official could have let us pass through, but we took the sidewalk to get around the buildings instead.
In Fort Erie, we traveled the street near the Niagara River instead of path- the path is too close to a stone wall, and I have collided with the wall once in the past. The bike path ends, more or less, in a new housing development and you are shooed onto a dirt path, unimproved and odd, though a wooded section of trail.
After that the bike path is paved until long after Ridgeway, all the way to the Welland canal. Last year or two years ago, there was a section which was unpaved/unimproved and extremely rough.
We mistook highway 3 for provincial route 3. Highway 3 is very dangerous- a 5 inch shoulder, with traffic traveling at 80 clicks per hour. After 2-3 miles we diverted toward the lake on a road, then bridal path – two sequential sections running perpendicular to the paved roads and parallel to the lake, then back on a road towards the lake. The bike and bridal paths are probably remnants of a rail line.
At Port Colburn airport (more like an airstrip) in Barnaby (? So Jim thinks) we saw many skydivers- not with mushroom shaped chutes, but wing shaped- coming down.
Initially we saw only divers landing, mostly down.
The first group had divers drifted, then dumped most of the air in their chutes maybe 300 feet above the ground, which caused them to drop precipitously and pull up just before the ground (this must provide quite an adrenaline rush), while others drifted lazily, enjoying the descent. Some were in tandem, possibly a first timer and a veteran paired. It looked very difficult to land in that fashion.
When most of those were down, the plane took off with another load. The first diver was out so much sooner than the rest- this diver bore the brunt of many jokes about why he got out so early- paid half fare, fell out…
We watched the plane rise; it seemed like forever, but Jim thought maybe it was about 10 minutes. We really could no longer see the plane, but then saw small black specs coming down- clustered together like seeds in a kiwi- freefalling for a long time and very fast. Like fireworks, they opened their chutes.
Jim and I were talking about how expensive a hobby it must be- special clothes, the chutes and the plane ride. Jim said the cost of hot air balloons was one of the few hobbies he could cite which were more expensive, for you not only need the balloon and the equipment, but you also need a chase team.
We moved onto the lakeshore, route number 3, where the traffic was far less and the speed limit was down to 60 clicks. There was plenty of shade and the road was moderately level. Jim noted that someone had mentioned that the road gets hilly primarily near the places named “Port” something, and this did seem to ring true.
At Port Colburn we had stopped for Gatorade, but no real food, because I was carrying some dinnerish food. Later on we stopped again for Gatorade and ice cream, which became a reoccurring theme- an agenda mostly pushed forth by Jim, of course. It was nice to sit down on something other than a bicycle seat. People along our route shouted out “helpful” comments, like “big hill up there” (true) and “the bridge is out” (not exactly true). We noticed that there were large rocks piled up on the edge of the lake, which is probably a strategy to quell large waves which rip onto shore in storms.
Got into Rock Point Provicial park at about 1:00. We felt a little like we were cheating, stopping so soon, but it was a beautiful first day. The temperature reached about 75 degrees Fahrenheit and there was barely any wind. My speedometer indicated we traveled about 15.5 miles an hour.
Rock Point is nothing like I remember it from my excursion with my husband more than twenty years ago, but it is difficult to discern whether that is due to my memory or a landscape change. There are fossils out on the point and large fish rotting on the shore, maybe from the storm, which pushed through just days before. We checked out the camp store, but ate the macaroni and cheese, cashews and carrots I had brought from home. We used Jim’s stove to cook and it was interesting to see how his equipment compared to mine. He has an MSR stove and I have my parents very old Optimus. We showered in the odd shower stalls- each was its own room, as was each toilet. The whole setup was very clean, but strange.
It turns out we have matching REI tents (I find this incredibly funny). Could not call my husband- the phone would not connect to the Canadian network. Very tired I went to bed at around 8:30.
July 22nd, 2007
7:00 start, no breakfast. The first place my partner wanted to stop was a McDonalds, but I decided to assert myself and told him that I would go to a grocery store, while he ate at McDonalds and that I would join him. It would have been quite acceptable to me, but he insisted he would go with me to the store instead.
This was the beginning of my realization that he would be a very flexible and compatible cycling partner, and he became much less serious as we progressed on our tour. We were brought together by a classified ad on the Crazyguyonabike site. Last spring he had advertised for a partner for a trip around Lake Ontario, which I was unable to schedule. At that time I had suggested that if he was interested in something in the 2007 summer, I would be interested in that. This summer, I managed to book the Cycling the Erie Canal and this Lake Erie trip with only 5 days in between.
We breakfasted on yogurt, fruit and blueberry muffins.
We both got a little sunburned today, traveling on a slightly busier road near the shoreline. We could see a large city to the south, which Jim suggested might be Cleveland (not Toledo, as I was guessing), which is probably a good guess. There was a power plant and some sort of a factory on the shoreline, which we went around. The factory was well concealed behind large berms and tree groves and was not unpleasant or ugly to circumvent. There were giant smokestacks and conveyer belts, but I still could not tell what they were making.
In Port Byron we got homemade ice cream. Port Byron is a summer touristy type town, with a beautiful beach. A pickup truck driver warned us that there was a man in an orange shirt who had stolen a van and was armed with a hammer. Supposedly he was being pursued by a motorcycle gang. Sounded like a twisted soap opera.
At around 2:15 we got to the campground, Turkey Point. It was maybe slightly slower than yesterday, but there must have been a tailwind, because at times we were going 20mph. There were a couple of hiking trails, including one to an old fish hatchery. At one place we noticed a lot of shuffling noises, but this turned out to be a water cistern, spring or something, which I wanted to, but was unwilling to check out; there were dire warnings about poison ivy.
We showered and then ate dinner. We subsisted on pita bread, carrots and fresh blueberries from my panniers. Turned in again at around 8:30. We went about 62 miles today.
July 23rd, 2007
Got up early again (there is a trend here). There was a group of cyclists near the rest rooms who asked us about our trip and gear. They had their bikes on their car and were heading for the Niagara Region to do some day cycling. We cycled to Port Royal and ate a pleasant breakfast. There we met one of the few touring cyclists to be found on our trek around the lake. He was going from Washington to Maine, but is from Wyoming.
It was hot and seemed long, but the most interesting things were the approximately 50 windmills. The province or wind power company is building an interpretive center, but it is not opened yet. There were also some graveyards, which the historical or preservation center must be trying to preserve by setting them in concrete and brick to keep them from breaking further.
A hotel in St. Thomas was at the end of our day. The adventure cycling maps, which Jim had so wonderfully procured for us, did not mention any campgrounds in this area, because they were so far off the beaten path. In fact they were really no further from the bike route than the hotel, but it was not that important. The clerk at the front desk was very funny, not familiar with the local restaurants. She appeared to be young, and also felt that the fifteen minute walk to one of the restaurants of which she knew would be too far. The walk turned out to be very pleasant and dinner was likewise. It was nice to get moving, without being on the bike. We spent the evening looking at the maps and strategising Cleveland and the possibility of visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We tried to watch a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis movie; it was not for me. We trekked 55 or 60 miles today and are tired, but not muscle sore.
July 24th, 2007
Left at around 7:00 and Jim complained I snored- I told him he should just throw a pillow at me. We headed towards Fingal, 10 miles southwest of St. Thomas. A man there asked us our position on big dogs which chase bicyclists, then told us that there were two sides to the dog situation. I told him my side used a lock to defend, while he didn’t seem clear on the concept of public roads. Obviously he has a dog which chases bikes. Jim wisely kept his mouth shut.
Lots of people with orange shirts today, including a two man crew using a wood chipper aimed into the back of a high back pickup truck. They had left the windows open and had to clean out a bit upon their return to the cab, but it seemed that they regularly do this with the windows open- funny.
We camped at Rondeau Provincial Park, and decided not to go further; it would have been another 35 miles to the next campground, and we felt that our 55 or so miles had been enough. The worker at the camp registration booth asked for a phone number for the site registration, and I provided mine. She stated my husband’s name and I said “close enough”, but she insisted on the names of the people actually on the site. After I had given her our names, I requested she not tell my husband, at which point Jim and I had a good laugh (husband knows). There was a nice hiking trail out into the bay, but it was very buggy. At the overlook, Jim pointed out a baby bunny at the foot of the wooden platform and a muskrat swimming in the water.
For dinner, we tried putting Jim’s rice/sauce mixture into the pitas, which was a mess. Still tasty enough, but I switched to pb&j. We needed to get rid of the pitas.
July 25th, 2007
Left at about 7:00 to run away from potential rain. It rained most of the morning and caused me some concern about being struck. Jim has bright yellow pannier raincovers which are moderately visible, and a red blinky light, but this is an area which we could definitely improve. Unfortunately, there was little we were willing to do to remedy the situation at the time, such as pulling over and waiting it out.
We breaked at a store/restaurant to get off our bikes, out of the rain and get Gatorade. The lady who served as clerk, cook and waitress was a wealth of interesting information about the local crops. She spoke of the corn and its derivations, care and farming methods. She told us that most of the corn grown in that area of Canada is used for seed and that there were special techniques required to grow and harvest seed corn. She also told us about some of the other local crops: tobacco and beans. We were especially surprised that they grew tobacco in Canada, for we associate that crop with the southern portion of the US. They are also growing a lot of soybeans.
It finally stopped raining and we took off our rain gear, but my shoes were soaked. Jim’s feet were far drier, a fact which I later attributed to his fenders. I dry my sneakers by putting dry socks in them and letting them absorb the water, then repeating this. Usually by the second pair of dry socks, the sneakers are relatively dry. Both Jim and I use toe clips, instead of clipless shoes. I doubt I will ever make the shift, for I see no value in them; the shoes wear out and are expensive and they are too specialized. I bring no other shoes with me, Jim brings flip flops.
We were able to do laundry at Sturgeon Woods camp ground, and the price was pretty good for a site: $32. There is almost no exchange difference for Canadian/US money at this time. Provincial Park sites have run around $28 (though the price leaps to about $40 if you reserve). The campground is edged by a large shallow pond, which teemed with wildlife. We saw at least 15 herons, and there were some sort of white large cranish looking birds.
At the store near the CG entrance, they had ice cream, so we got floats and milkshakes while the laundry finished up. We didn’t bother with dinner, but ate the cashews and apricots. We traveled about 55 miles today and are very close to the ferry at Leamington.
July 26th, 2007
We got up at 5:30 and got going. I was having difficulty sleeping anyways. The wind had kicked up quite a bit, and I was concerned it was about to pour. Feeling it would be good to be dry and on the ferry, and anxious about the confusing ferry schedule, it was nice that Jim was okay with leaving so early. It was a short easy ride to the ferry dock. The waterfront in Leamington is lined with plaques citing the history of shipwrecks in the Pelee Island passageway, so we spent the hour or so before the building opened reading those and abusing each other. Beyond listing the wrecks and how many, if any, lives were lost, the plaques also indicated the evolution of shipping on the great lakes.
On the ferry, they let us stand our bikes inside the hold on the car deck, and Jim locked our bikes together, mostly to ensure they would remain upright. The first ferry had a cafeteria and a lounge type area where you could watch a video about Pelee Island. I declined on breakfast, wishing to eat the stuff which was still in my panniers, but Jim missed out because he figured he would eat on the second leg between Pelee and Sandusky. Unfortunately the second ferry was much smaller and had only a snack booth. The very first ferry of the day has a one hour disconnect from the ferry used on the second leg, and we took this ferry so we might have some time to explore Pelee Island.
We only had about an hour on the island, but did a very short visit to their winery and took a quick jaunt to Fish Point, the most southern point on the island. The displays in the winery were interesting, with discussions about corks and insect problems suffered by the grape vines. We did not have time to get off our bikes and walk the 1.5km to the very end, which was a little disappointing, but it gives us a reason to return some day.
The second ferry was much smaller, and was not really equipped for bikes. There were only about 12 vehicles on the ferry. We stood on the top deck and watched the boats and islands go by.
Nearing Sandusky I thought you could see Cleveland, but Jim thought it was Cedar Point amusement park, and he was correct. What had looked like skyscrapers from afar were actually the 6 or so rollercoasters. The temperature began to drop as we approached Sandusky, and it rained a tiny bit, but the slightly heavier rain held off until we docked. We stayed warm by hanging out on the upper deck near the AC heat exchanger.
At the end of the journey (we had predicted this), we needed to move our bikes, because they had let us chain them upright to the vehicle gateway. You had to walk off the boat, then walk back on the boat via the vehicle gateway, then walk the bike through customs. I thought we might have trouble because they ask how long you have been in Canada, and I figured Jim and I would give different answers (yea, I am clueless).
It was raining lightly when we set off through Sandusky and there was a man trying to hold up an umbrella while riding his bike, though he would not get very wet had he closed the umbrella.
Rural roads were the norm moving away from Sandusky, but after a while the shoulder became narrower and the traffic increased as we approached Cleveland. A bike path appeared when things were beginning to look questionable. In Ohio, there is a fine for drivers who venture into the bike lane, and it must be enforced with moderate frequency, for people did not enter the lane. Even when the traffic was stopped due to someone making a left turn, cars would wait in line rather than move into the bike lane.
We decided to stay in a hotel in order to finish the day closer to Cleveland. We had to travel on busier roads in order to find a hotel, and while we were asking around, a woman offered to let us stay at her house. I was astonished that someone would be that trusting and kind, but we declined, even after she repeated her offer several times. In hindsight, it might have been fun to offer to buy her dinner if she picked us up and dropped us off from the hotel. We went about 60 miles today.
July 27th, 2007
We ate the continental breakfast at the hotel and did not especially hurry due to heavy rain. By the time we were ready to go, the rain had ceased and things were beginning to dry. Weather reports predicted that there would be two bouts of rain, so I wanted to jump out and try to get to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame between them. The second bout never materialized and the rest of the day turned out dry, albeit a little warm.
The bike lane continued and the traffic into Cleveland was not nearly as heavy as one would expect.
I took a spill on the bike path just short of Cleveland, when I struck an object, which had entered the path. I was a little bruised and scraped up, but fortunately there was a bathhouse situated very close by and I was able to take a full shower and get patched up.
We reached the Hall of Fame just as it opened, and spent a little time trying to convince the cops and security that it was important to secure the bikes- to no avail. The bikes were locked against a fence outside. There were not even bike racks.
I had been to the Hall of Fame once before, but this was Jim’s first visit. I love reading about the emergence of rock and its foundations. It was cold to me inside and I had difficulties staying warm. I also stiffened up quite a bit from my bumps, but felt much better after riding a while afterwards. We left the Hall of Fame at about 2:00.
Jim went into a grocery store in Euclid, while I stayed outside to watch the bikes, and later we got ice cream and spoke to an occasional motorcycle rider about the tour. The bike lane has continued throughout Ohio, which is quite a pleasure. A woman gave us a dire warning about the weather, saying it was supposed to thunder and lightening and that hail was predicted. Since the sky was beginning to seem dark, we took her seriously and hurried towards Perry Town Park, in which we planned to camp. I was on autopilot (very common I am afraid) and we missed our turn, but a couple came to our aid, giving us excellent directions. It was funny, because the husband did not seem to know any of the street names and his wife drew us a perfect map. When we stopped for a moment to talk a man offered to let us stay at his summer cottage, but it was 15 miles down the road. It was getting late and we did not reach the park until about 7:30.
Perry Park was beyond our expectations. Very cheap, clean and staffed by a sociable man, the tent sites were under a nice canopy of trees and meant for tents. The caretaker showed us a guest book and we looked for other cyclists. There was an entry for a couple cycling around the lake on the 22nd of July and several for transcontinental rides.
We ate dinner and prepared for bed; it was 10:30 when we actually made it to our sleeping bags. We traveled about 55 miles today, and it never rained, thundered or hailed on us.
July 28th, 2007
We got up at 5:45. I thought I woke Jim up, but he insisted he was already awake (yea, right). He says he can sleep through anything, but I can wake him up by yawning in my tent. I thought I would be really stiff, but that was not the case. Oddly enough, my knee began to bother me and I really slowed down to spare it. This may have adversely affected Jim, because he had to cycle at my speed or constantly wait for me. He adamantly insisted he was just looking at the map (very sweet guy).
We ate breakfast at a diner, then cycled for a very long stretch. At a small grocery, we stopped for Gatorade and upon exiting the store were faced with many cyclists participating in the Across Ohio Bicycle (XOB). This is a tour similar to the Erie Canal tour: supported. They were fun to talk to and were almost at the end of their line. We parted from their course almost immediately, but met some others at a drive in restaurant. They had finished and were working their way back to their car. Ate very good root beer floats. On our way out of the restaurant, we came across a tandem couple from Iowa. They pedaled next to us for a while and we leap frogged each other for a while, but we passed them for the last time when they stopped at a farm stand. There were some challenging hills today.
We stopped in a town just short of Erie, PA at a hotel. I think Jim was quite tired and this was an unplanned hotel, but no biggie. After showering, the couple on the fully loaded tandem (Charlie and Sue) appeared and took a room. The first restaurant we tried served nothing but chicken, so we moved on (I am a vegetarian, but would have eaten coleslaw and potatoes) to a different restaurant as a group. We traveled about 64 miles.
July 29th, 2007
Up and out at 6:45 to beautiful weather. We seemed to be riding slowly; there may have been a headwind. We stopped in Erie, PA for breakfast, but I mistakenly ordered an omelet with meat sauce, so Jim made me eat his home fries and some of his toast.
We drank soda about 10:30- ick, but I had forgotten to fill my water bottles.
Riding into NY we aimed for Lake Erie State park. We adjusted our route for one small detour around a missing bridge, and climbed several hills. A clerk in a small grocery told us not to try to avoid it, and she was right. She also warned us of a detour near Silver Creek, which no longer detoured. There were some rolling hills today.
Lake Erie State park was about at the 50 mile mark. We stopped and amused the staff at the registration booth, picking on each other and generally acting like fools. When they heard we had no dinner, they gave us an apple; too funny. We set up the tents and lolled around to avoid the trip to the store we felt we needed to make to get something for dinner, about 2-3 miles away. A little forethought would have helped us. We just got macaroni and cheese and drinks and returned to the park for showers and dinner. All in all a pleasant day. Knowing the area I now know how far Buffalo is, and it seems insurmountable that we will go all the rest of the way tomorrow. I used to drive this in my car and it seemed to take forever, though it will be no longer a day than most others. We went about 52 miles.
July 30th, 2007
We left the park bright and early. We ate breakfast in Dunkirk, but I was not really interested in eating. Jim didn’t seem to have that problem. We stopped in Silver Creek also, but the grocery store had no cold smallish Gatorade, so we moved on to Irving and a mini-mart there for our Gatorade stop. Passing through the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation, we took a slight wrong turn, but it was tranquil and cool and led us to where we needed to be anyways. The Seaway trail driving route is very serene and keeps you off the main busy roads. I have not traveled it before on that section. Rolling hills were a small challenge, but not a big deal. The Frank Lloyd Wright house, Greycliff, is situated along this road, but we decided to pass. Nice views of the city and the small windmill farm in Lackawanna were frequent. As we emerged back out onto route 5, there was a mini-mart and this is where I realized I had lost my wallet. Jim bought my Gatorade and resigned to dealing with it at home, we continued on to Buffalo.
The route 5 passage to Big Tree road was confusing, and I have only ever traveled it by car. We ended up pulling a dangerous maneuver, cycling up Milestrip road. Though it has a wide shoulder, it is billed as an expressway, but our distance on it was short. We worked our way up to the part of Buffalo I know, but I travel it on the weekend when there is far less traffic. At one point, a woman who I thought was waiting for us turned right in front of us. The trucker who saw it commented on it when we all reached a red light. One sign indicated it was 92 degrees, but it was not that warm. At Tifft Farm nature preserve we rested and drank, then headed for chaos at S. Elmwood to avoid LaSalle park. Jim asked several times if we were getting close to my home, to which I kept replying “4 more miles…” Home at last!