Around Lake Erie by Scooter
(This 701st column was first published in the September 5, 2004 issue of The Buffalo Sunday News.)
The geography of Lake Erie is straightforward: length 241 miles, maximum breadth 57 miles, surface area 9900 square miles, shoreline (including islands) 871 miles. Those bare facts, however, convey very little about the life of this inland sea.
To gain a better feel for Lake Erie I rode my motor scooter around it along shoreline roads as close to the lake as possible. Parts of my 900-mile trip followed signs designating the Seaway Trail, Lake Erie Circle Tour, Talbot Trail and even Great Lakes Circle Tour, but I often departed from these highways to ride still closer to the lake. My trip took five 14-hour days.
The first question I was asked when I returned was: Why not go by car? Bicycle riders know the answer to that question. The experience "out in the open" is entirely different. You feel a part of the environment. And now that I am beyond peddling uphill, my scooter solves that problem and saves time as well.
I cannot convey in one column this wonderful experience. For details I recommend the book that served as a major trip planning resource: Scott Carpenter's Lake Erie Journal: Guide to the Official Lake Erie Circle Tour. Instead, I offer here only a few vignettes.
I experienced a major problem on the fourth day of my trip. Running low on gas, the region began to seem like a kind of Death Valley and I wasn't at all sure I could make it to fill my tank. I turned north toward a larger highway and the city of St. Thomas, just making it to the city and a gas station with the gauge well down in the red. But when I was filling the tank I noticed that a box that I had mounted on the back of the scooter was gone. In it were my binoculars, camera, portable radio and other lesser belongings. I had not even heard it fall.
You can just imagine how frantic I felt.
I had stopped and retrieved something from the box about ten miles out of town so I turned and retraced my route, trying to look for it in the ditch. It was now pitch dark but the scooter headlight helped some. All the way out: no box. When I turned back I rode well off the road edge at the lip of the parallel ditch, even sliding down into it at one place. Unfortunately the same results: no box.
Last chance: I would check the police. The St. Thomas Main Street was full of teenagers, many of them yelling greetings to me whenever I passed. But they didn't give very good directions. Finally I followed one of those "P" signs to a city metropolitan building. Arriving just as a police car pulled in the parking lot, I parked my scooter and went over to ask the policeman for help. My unexpected approach from the rear scared him for a minute, but he recovered and directed me to the entrance of the building.
When I entered a room designated police and walked up to the counter, I was greeted by a young woman in uniform, Police Cadet Lisa Johnson with "You must be Gerry".
Relief flooded through me.
A local citizen, John DeCaluwe, had found the box and turned it in. Ms. Johnson had learned my name from something in the box and had called both The Buffalo News and my home. Fortunately Doris hadn't answered or she would have been frightened to death. Cadet Johnson then gave me the box and promised to call The News back to tell them that I had been found.
Off I went to find a place to sleep. I was camping out.
Despite the truth of the statement, I'll no longer refer to Lake Erie as one of the smaller Great Lakes. And I will continue to hold our Canadian neighbors in highest regard.-- Gerry Rising
For an account by Daniel Migues of his far more strenuous but in many ways more satisfying bike ride around Lake Erie, see his account.