After that, it’s all downhill. Without us even realizing it, the trail’s coursed downward, spilling us out at the north shore beach, which seems almost a mirage, a tranquil oasis hugged between two monstrous cliffs that knife out of the water on either side. To our right is the cliff from whence we came. To our left is North Point, and on top of it, the North Light, a lighthouse privately owned and closed to the public.
To continue our loop down the west side of the island, we have to cross North Light Creek. The bridge over it is crumbling, and a sign cautions us not to, but the creek is small and the bridge low, so we head over without incident. In minutes we’re huffing it up toward the western edge, where stunning cliffs of Precambrian Jacobsville – deep red and white quartz sandstone used in the construction of several buildings throughout the Midwest during the late 1800’s – await. Eager to see them, I pedal faster. Then to my left, I see a skinny trail almost eclipsed by drooping branches. Jon stops to pull out the map. This sliver opening leads to the island’s interior trails – a quicker route back to our camp. I look at my watch. Already 6 p.m. And we still have to gather wood for tonight’s campfire. My enthusiasm for Precambrian Jacobsville fizzles in favor of flames. We take the shortcut.
Our gamble pays us back tenfold in beauty. The trail curves through a tranquil woods, home to the island’s deer, rabbit, grouse and black bear. Where the path veers straight south, parallel with Echo Lake Creek, I keep an eye out for some of the thousands of Scotch pine planted by William Mather, president of the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co. The company logged the island during the early 1900’s and Mather lived somewhere near the creek and brought several non-native species to the island: roses, lilacs, phlox, peonies, apple, plum, cherry trees and more. With the dense foliage around me I truly can’t see the forest for the trees, so I bring my eyes back to the trail and head toward the island’s secret centerpiece, Echo Lake.