Watertown NY – Southeast MA
Mon June 29, 2020
Woken at 04:15 from a very comfortable sleep by my “rally ringtone”, I was kick-stand up around 05:20, after spending some time searching for the ice machine to fill my hydration thermos. After topping off air in my rear tire, I enjoyed the run north on I-81, with pretty views of fog rolling over farm fields as the rising sun tried to burn through.
I had to pay the bridge toll in cash when my North Carolina Quick Pass (EZ Pass) transponder failed to register. When this has happened before (usually in NY state) the attendant manually scans it or punches in the numbers. This woman must have been having a bad morning and refused to do either one, insisting on cash or credit payment. Get with the program, New York!
Once across the St Lawrence River to Wellesley Island, I headed to the southwest tip in Thousand Island Park for a stunning sunrise view of Rock Island Lighthouse, from a bend in the road.
Back on the mainland, I left the interstate behind to pick up NY route 12. In a couple miles, I turned into the sleeping village of Alexandria Bay.
After a bit of exploration to find an accessible view, I found my way into the lot for Bonnie Castle Marina and clumped out over the sleeping docks and through an outdoor dining area to get a hard-won view of Sunken Rock Lighthouse, not to mention the majestic Boldt Castle directly offshore.
You could tell the restaurant hadn’t been open for dining since the pandemic began, as their were several large spiderwebs from ceiling to table. I swear I saw a squirrel scampering around INSIDE the place but it may have been a reflection.
Continuing on route 12 for several miles with occasional glimpses of the river, I pulled onto a side road past Chippewa Bay where I’d Google-scouted a possible view of my next target. Sure enough, through a small break in the treeline I was able to see the lonely looking Crossover Island Lighthouse midway across the St Lawrence. The island was so named for its position between the US and Canadian channels in the river, marking where ships of old would cross over between the two.
A mile down route 12, there is a roomy and scenic overlook to the river, where I pulled in for a quick look-see and photos.
Route 12 soon merged onto NY 37 in Morristown, straight as an arrow for several more miles until I detoured into the city of Ogdensburg. I crossed the Oswegatchie River and wound through quiet local streets to find the empty lot of a waterfront park and rec center at the river mouth. A short stroll across the grass brought me to an antique cannon to hang my flag and capture a shot of the towering Ogdensburg Harbor Lighthouse, now private property on the opposite point.
Walking across the property to a gazebo on the docks, I found a decent view across the big river to the Canadian Prescott Lighthouse and Prescott Heritage Harbour Lighthouse, within spitting distance of one another at a small marina. When I originally planned my lighthouses route along the St. Lawrence, I had intended to cross into Canada to view these and some others more closely, but the border closure has changed all of that.
After a brief search for my missing camera lens cover, I continued through Ogdensburg to a modern well-kept boat ramp next to a big rail yard. From this angle I was able to get a decent view of Windmill Point Lighthouse, also across the river in Ontario. Originally a privately built windmill dating to 1830, it was repurposed as a lighthouse in 1873. That point of land is also famous for a failed invasion attempt of then Upper Canada from the US by Canadian ex-pats and American sympathizers, known as “Hunters” (follow the lighthouse link for more of the story).
Finished with lighthouse collecting along the St. Lawrence, I followed NY 37 for many more miles – a pretty ride with rural scenery, a few more small village, and occasional river views. Passing through the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne reservation was of some geographic interest to me, as this Native American territory is split across two countries, including one state and two provinces. It also includes an exclave, or portion of a sovereign nation separated from its main part by alien entities. There was a rally bonus in the Canadian tip of the peninsula during the Butt Lite IX rally that drew my attention to this factoid, even though I didn’t attempt the bonus.
I picked up US 11 near Malone for a couple miles before turning southeast through the Adirondack Park on new-to-me NY 374. This turned out to be a fairly scenic road, passing by the beautiful Chateaugay and Chazy Lakes, with some nice curves. However, while the pavement appears fairly new, there were very frequent and painful frost heaves along most of the length of this road, so I would not really recommend it on two-wheels at this time.
It also began to get cooler towards the low 60s with misty drizzle as I gained some elevation away from the river valley and into the mountains. This was welcome relief after yesterday’s uncomfortable humidity. I even stopped to put on a long sleeve shirt under my jacket.
Coming down into the Champlain region at Plattsburgh, I picked up I-87 to the south of the city and out to US 9 along the lake to get a photo of Bluff Point Lighthouse out on Valcour Island. This was the site of the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War, when a small colonial fleet under command of Benedict Arnold performed an ambush attack on a British fleet from behind the island. Charlotte and I had canoed out to the island years ago and hiked its perimeter, where there are lots of waterfront campsites you can boat to.
The next two lighthouses on my agenda were all but hopeless cases to visit or photograph, based on the research I’d done. Both are on privately owned land and obstructed from view except by water. But since they were more or less along my path of travel, I was determined to try. I retraced my path north around downtown Plattsburgh and out onto the Cumberland Head peninsula. I was thwarted in my two attempts to approach the lighthouse property from different directions, both with “Private driveway” signs. Not yet being in “ah fuck it” mode, I chalked this one up as a failure and headed north to Point Au Roche.
Trolling slowly down the residential road with large meticulously maintained semi-mansions and many trees blocking the lake, I located the property on which the stone lighthouse sat by the shoreline, with a severely obscured view through the full summer foliage around the house. Getting off my bike and attaching flag to my Hammy-stick, I attempted to contort myself and camera in a way to get flag and the vague lighthouse shape into the frame. I was shooting across the neighbor’s front lawn for my angle, when I spotted the man walking over towards me trying to understand what I was up to. I called out that I was just trying to get a photo of the lighthouse and he waved me over with a friendly gesture.
I removed my helmet and ear plugs to talk with the gentleman, who explained that his neighbor was currently out of town. He was helping maintain the lawn and would be happy to lead me over to get a photo. I could scarcely believe my luck! My friendly guide seemed to know a little bit about the lighthouse and others in the area, commenting that his neighbor had purchased it from the state for a single dollar. I followed him behind the house through well-trimmed shrubs and flower gardens to get an unexpected close-up shot of the Point au Roche Lighthouse.
We chatted as I took my photos and he was interested in my travels for the Lighthouse Tour. He asked if I’d seen the one on Cumberland Head, and I explained my fruitless travails before I’d arrived here. He urged me to push past the privacy signs, stating that there was definitely a clear view of the lighthouse there once you got to a certain point on one of the roads.
Heeding this welcome news, taking my leave with thanks for his courtesy, I retraced my path several miles back to Cumberland Head. This time I followed the southern road in first, following his instruction. I arrived at the end where a contractor was working on some house renovations to the last house. He didn’t mind me walking through the yard and woods to the other road, but suggested I got back around from the north. I ended up in someone’s driveway with a sub-average view of the lantern room over a hedge – clearly not the clean photo op my good Samaritan had described.
I decided to try once again from the northern ferry road. This time, I continued past the “Private Driveway” sign – indeed there were still multiple residential properties along the road here. I arrived at a stone gateway with more privacy signs and there stood the granite Cumberland Head Lighthouse in fairly plain view across the lawn, looking similar but in better shape than its northerly brother. I really hadn’t expected to be able to document either of them and, thanks to the kindness of a stranger, got good photos of both of these handsome structures.
After this unexpected (though fruitful) backtracking, I was relieved to zip north on I-87 to Rouse’s Point. Based on my research, I’d decided to attempt a cross-lake photo of my next lighthouse, having little faith of being able access it directly on the Vermont side. The lighthouse was visible across the water as soon as I hit the shore, but I wanted to get as close as I could. I made my way to Stony Point, just south of town, where there is a very long public breakwater running out into the lake. A few locals were out there fishing on this quiet Monday, and I decided to hike out there a ways to get as close as I could.
It was a fun, if demanding little stroll! The breakwater was constructed mostly of large flat granite blocks, sandwiched together sideways, with large gaps ready to break your leg with a misstep. You could not enjoy the view and walk at the same time. One local man whom I passed, fishing off on his own, was calling to his nearby friends for assistance as he had just cut his foot open on the sharp rock edges. I offered help from my first aid kit back on the bike, but he waved the offer away with thanks, stating his friends would take care of him.
When I was perhaps 50 yards from the end, I decided it was close enough and took a couple distant shots of the Windmill Point Lighthouse poking up through the vegetation. Yes that makes two lighthouses of the same name today! One being in Canada and one the US, there apparently is no international rule for unique naming.
Hiking back carefully to the bike, I rode through Rouse’s Point and picked up US 2 to cross the lake into Vermont. Soon after, I turned on Windmill Point Road, just to see if I could capture a closer shot of the lighthouse. I glided smoothly all the way down to the end of the lane, past some privacy signs. While I could just barely make out the shape of the lighthouse up a driveway through some foliage, I was getting the evil eye by a nearby resident out tending her garden. So I executed a clumsy multi-point turn on the gravel, and headed back out, hoping the breakwater photo will suffice.
I enjoyed the cruise down Shore Road and across the small causeway to Isle la Motte. From the very end of a small residential cul-de-sac, I gained a decent view of the squat pinkish Isle la Motte Lighthouse.
Picking up US 2 once again, I stopped in at Hero’s Welcome on North Hero island for one of their great sandwiches. The place was hopping for a Monday lunch (I would have thought), but everyone was respectful and maintained distancing with masks on. I opted for “The Laker” sandwich, which had turkey, roast beef and a little of everything on it, plus a homemade ginger snap cookie. The picnic tables across the street were spaced out comfortably and I had a nice lunch looking out at the lake.
After following US 2 through the islands to I-89 on the mainland, I proceeded through Burlington and down the lake, crossing at Crown Point to New York once again. The five lighthouses I bagged from this strech are “do-overs”, as they were among the first lighthouses I visited for the Lighthouse Tour back in April of 2017 (covered in this blog post). They had now “expired” as it has been over three years since I saw them, so I had to re-visit them all within my shifted timeframe.
Weather had been threatening most of the day, but had kept to a light spittle of rain which picked up somewhat once east of Lake Champlain. As always US 7 was frustratingly slow going south out of Burlington.
There was one lighthouse along this stretch that I hadn’t attempted in 2017. Leaving US 7 through the village of Charlotte, I enjoyed some unexpectedly nice curves out along Thomas Point Road, with hopes to view Split Rock Lighthouse across the lake. Unfortunately, there is heavy foliage and private property of a summer camp community, blocking all water views. So no lighthouse, but I enjoyed the curves back out to the main roads to continue to my crossing at Crown Point.
The Crown Point campground gates were locked, so I had to park the bike and walk in about a quarter mile to get the photo. Finally, after the short run up to Westport for Barber’s Point Lighthouse, I could now head for home!
Sticking to the interstates now, I flew down I-87 on cruise control to pick up I-90 once again. Skies became more and more threatening, finally opening up as I ascended into the Berkshires over the MA state line. We’re talking torrential downpours – yellows and orange/red on the Storm Radar app. I was snug and watertight in my Gore-tex once zipped up, though my inner layers were still damp (and felt a bit chilly) from earlier water ablutions in the heat . The downpours continued off and on until I was past Worcester, when clearer skies prevailed.
I pulled into my garage just past 21:00, only late twilight for this time of year, plum knackered out, but satisfied with a successful little journey. A couple more day rides should help me wrap up the Lighthouse Tour within the next few weeks. It is interesting to learn the backgrounds of these historic structures of marine commerce and industry, and to compare/contrast the freshwater and ocean sites. I’d particularly enjoyed the ride through Buffalo’s waterfront, plus gaining seeing new landscapes along the Great Lakes seaway, filling in details for a few more “fogged out” sectors of my mental world map.
Total Mileage: ~1459
Riding Hours: ~32
Lighthouses Documented: 37