It’s a pebble-covered shoreline, with sand that would exfoliate the soles of my feet, but the surface is soft enough to make the attempt to ride my bike more of a challenge than I’m up for. But I want a picture of my bike on the shore of Presque Isle at sunset, so I drag it through the sand, with its hybrid tires leaving deep tracks along the beach. I worry a little about the sand that might be kicking up into the chain and gears, but I’m not worried enough to leave the bike behind. I’m due for a spring tune-up anyway.
As I’d approached entrance to this Erie, PA state park I began to realize that it is still “off season” in mid-April. Passing a water park that was dried up for the winter, rollercoasters that seemed as though they hadn’t moved in months, and burger stands with their shutters pulled down, I had to acknowledge that this far north it’s not (yet) the bustling tourist town it will become. Presque Isle is a stone’s throw from the Canadian border, after all, and lumped together with my Upstate New York territory.
With the locals, it was still a busy state park. There were families on bikes for an early evening ride, and quiet groups of men casting fishing poles with juicy bait dangling from the end. There were couples spreading out blankets to watch the sun go down, and friends powerwalking and swapping stories after work. In spite of this, as the long stretches of beach hugged the lake, you could almost feel alone out there.
With 11 miles of beaches, dense wooded areas and lagoons, there is diverse wildlife, plant species, and geology to explore. The peninsula has been shaped by wind, water and time – an estimated 11,000 years. “As westerly waves wash upon the beaches in a diagonal direction, sand and pebbles carried with them are left on the shore as the waves recede. Upon each wave’s rush, they are deposited a little farther east, adding to Presque Isle’s eastward growth.” (Presque Isle website)
Cutting across the peninsula, on a shared-use forest trail, I’m surprised to see the path up ahead clogged with visitors, pressed up against an area marked off with bright yellow caution tape. A recent book club selection flashes before my mind – “Everybody Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away”. I approach slowly, cautiously, silently. I have no idea what’s going on, and I’m not sure whether or not to feel concern, with the number of cameras pointing towards the closed off, wooded area.
Two Owlets, which I learn are about one month old, are drawing a crowd – an elderly couple searching for the owl parents through a pair of binoculars, another cyclist with a large basket on the front of his commuter bike, who unloads his own camera, and several photographers with large, heavy lenses supported by sturdy tripods. I almost miss the most stealthy of the photographers, leaning up against a tree, with his telephoto lens, and he himself, disguised behind forest green camouflage, head to toe. Luckily the outdoor adventure stores sell these clothing, so he didn’t have to gather his own branches.
One of the birding enthusiasts shares a video he’d captured. The twins owlets, wide awake at 6 pm, and high above the group in a hollowed out tree, are striking. I wish I had my newest DSLR with me, which has high quality video capabilities, but it’s back at the start of the trail.
If you wander beyond the main road, you’ll find a quiet spot with boat houses, accessible by kayak or rowboat. Horseshoe Pond is on the peninsula’s interior, a distance from the main beaches, but is worth exploring. I imagine the unique and interesting personalities of the people who choose to live, vacation and hide away in the small, floating houses. There’s rumor of a well known hermit living somewhere in the area, but he seems not to be doing that good of a job of getting away, if most folks in the area know he’s there.
Having lived all my life near The Great Lakes, in Chicago, Milwaukee and Columbus, I’m drawn to follow signs that point the way to a lighthouse. There are two lighthouses here – The Presque Isle Lighthouse is a large structure that is used as a residence by park staff. The North Pier Lighthouse sits at the far Northeastern end of the peninsula, near the channel of Presque Isle Bay. The black and white structure perches at the end of North Pier, which is accessible by foot. . . or by bike. You’ll pass the U.S. Coast Guard Station on your way there, and find fishermen quietly watching their lines, on the pier as well as the pond.
The bike rental within the park wasn’t yet open for the season, so I was glad I’d brought my Trek along. The lack of tourists left plenty of room on the road that circles the park. Cyclists in full kits, riding their road bikes in tight packs, and drafting off of one another, used the 13 mile loop as training ground.
Travel has been a special challenge for me this month, as I’ve committed to riding a bike all 30 days of April. A bike is donated to a child in need, by #30DaysOfBiking for every 30 people who pledge to complete this task. I’m rather committed to keeping my word, so the bike was tossed into the back of my SUV. (Watch for an upcoming blog post about these 30 Days on a Bike.)
I’m happy to have had easy access to this peninsula – only 4 miles outside of downtown Erie. I doubt the park will float away in my lifetime, but it’s not out of the question that this beautiful stretch of land will once again obtain official island status down the road. “Although the French name Presque Isle means “almost an island,” the area has actually been a real island several times. Storm waves have broken through the neck to isolate the main section of the spit at least four times since 1819.” (Presque Isle website)
Full tourist season will strike Presque Isle before long, for boating, cycling, scuba diving, hunting and kite flying. My visit was a bit early, but this encouraged me to really look around, and enjoy a quiet sunset that I just couldn’t seem to walk away from, even though my stomach was growling and there were work emails to respond to. I decided they could wait a bit, and focused on the sand, my bike and the beautiful sunset.
Join me on my next adventure,
Presque Isle: http://www.presqueisle.org/
History, Geology and Lighthouses: http://www.presqueisle.org/about/park-history/
Gene Ware’s Presque Isle Blog: http://www.presqueisle.org/blogs/presqueisle/
Do you remember going to Presque Isle Wisconsin several summers? Your love of lighthouses is passed on from your dad. He is fascinated by them.
You chose an amazing experience. You picture the sensory adventure so beautifully. I’m sure you will revisit this experience often in a variety of seasons.
Hi, Kat. Love your blog! I’m writing a visitor itinerary for a nonprofit organization in Pennsylvania. It’s directed to cyclists. May I use one of your photos here with photo credit to Kathleen Dowd?
I’m sorry…I see that your last name is O’Dowd. Just wanted to let you know I would use that (or your web link) with permission.
That’s wonderful! Feel free to use my info, as long as you give credit and share my link.
Yes, please do!! 😊