A “Lake Erie Like a Local” story by Aaron Smith. A version of this blog post originally appeared at https://skinnysmith.wordpress.com/. Follow Aaron on Twitter @SkinnySmitty.
Growing up in Fremont, Ohio – 20 minutes from Lake Erie – my summers were consumed by the shores and islands: stalking the west basin reefs for walleye, perch and smallmouth bass on my grandpa's Starcraft; and later, when my family got its own boat, tooling around our dock at Harbor Park Marina, and spending weeks at a time exploring the nooks and crannies of South Bass and Kelleys Islands (having a teacher for a dad definitely had its summer benefits). Some of my favorite snapshots in time include wasting quarters at the old downtown Put-in-Bay video arcade and getting lost on my bike cruising the back roads that criss-cross Kelleys Island.
Unfortunately, as I entered my high school years, weekends on the north coast gradually made way for faraway baseball tournaments. Weekday fishing trips were supplanted by part-time jobs. By the time I left for Kent State University in the fall of 1994, my childhood love affair with Lake Erie was nothing more than a series of dim memories – memories that retreated further into my subconscious as I delved further into full-time adulthood.
Then, in the cash-strapped summer of 2007, my wife and I decided to save a few bucks and enjoy a pseudo-staycation based at my parents' house in Fremont. With no real agenda, we hopped into the ol' Honda Accord, rolled down the windows, and headed north on State Route 53, deciding on the fly to visit Marblehead Lighthouse. After wandering the grounds and taking a few clichéd photos, we made our way past the lighthouse down to the shoreline, where we gazed mindlessly across the lake, listening to the rhythm of the waves lapping against the rocks. We may have stood there for five minutes, maybe an hour.
And, in those brief absent-minded moments, I fell in love with Lake Erie all over again.
We dedicated the rest of our week to traversing from one lakeside locale to the next: lunch and dinner in downtown Port Clinton; a cookout at Crane Creek State Park; a visit to Put-in-Bay, complete with Frosty's pizza and Heineman's wine; and purpose-free day-tripping from Oak Harbor to Huron.
It was, and remains, one of my most memorable vacations - because it fully renewed my passion for the lake.
In the decade since (though I now live in Summit County, Ohio) the lake has once again become an integral part of my family's life: long weekends relaxing and biking on Put-in-Bay (with a home base at the Ahoy Inn); annual family trips to Kelleys Island Venture Resort; winter getaways at Sawmill Creek Resort; and evening excursions to the beaches and landings near my in-laws in Westlake. Our most recent vacation was a multi-family trip to the South Beach Resort in Marblehead where I introduced my then-five-year-old daughter to catfish and kayaking.
The allure of the lake is actually quite simple. Regardless of the ultimate endpoint, Lake Erie's shores and islands offer an escape that is absolute and pure. For us, it begins when we cross the Edison Bridge over Sandusky Bay. At that moment, all the stresses and stagnation of the “real world” melt away…completely. That first glimpse across the water presents a whole new perspective on living. On the lake, you never need an itinerary. You're free to just…be.
It's impossible to spend a day watching the boats, staring at the waves and listening to the calls of the seagulls, and not come away feeling refreshed and invigorated, even if only for a little while. Even now, as I write this, while looking out my window at the budding trees and chirping birds, I can't help but feel a renewed sense of relaxed anticipation. Not because I have any special affinity for spring rains and pollen…but because I know another season of #LakeErieLove is right around the corner.
I can practically hear Miller Ferry's horn beckoning me.