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Hitchhiking in October

As the summer winds down, kids go back to school and the leaves begin to change color, it’s time to close the lighthouse for the winter. Like many people who have summer homes, closing the lighthouse entails draining the pipes, bringing in the outdoor furniture, and basically battening down the hatches. Specifically for the lighthouse, it also means bringing in the generator and closing the lower-level cast iron shutters – a difficult chore given the rust and deterioration of the nearly 100-year old hinges.

To maximize my time at the lighthouse, I plan the lighthouse’s closing each year on Columbus Day weekend (early/mid-October). While that gives me an extra day to get everything done, it’s a roll of the dice as to the weather. One year, I ventured to the lighthouse to close and was greeted by toasty warm weather and a beautiful range of yellow, orange, and red leaves on the trees. My first two days there were busy with end-of-the-season tasks including cleaning, sorting, and lamenting that another lighthouse season was coming to an end.

With most of my projects complete, I woke up on the last day – the day I was scheduled to leave – to a ferocious wind coming from the west. Westerly winds bring large waves to the beach and crash relentlessly against the break wall spraying torrents of water and making the walk extremely dangerous. Even if I chose to get soaking wet while I made the walk down the break wall, the wind was so strong that I feared being pushed over and perhaps ending up in the lake. As I finished my work, I continued to monitor the winds and waves and there was no let up as the day wore on. Seriously afraid for my safety and that of my trusty Golden Retriever, Lucy, I contemplated ways that I could safely evacuate. Staying another day was not an option as I needed to get back to work.

Despite the distinct change of seasons from summer to fall, those fishing for Lake Erie perch, walleye and other fish continued to brave the cold weather for a nibble. As I looked out the window, I noticed a small fishing boat to the east of the lighthouse that bobbed back and forth for a good part of the day. I kept my eye on it as the hours wore on. Once, as the boat cruised close by the lighthouse, I ran outside, peered through the fence and yelled, “Hey, by any chance are you going back to shore soon?” One of the two men aboard replied, “Yes, not too long from now.” Full of hope and trepidation about asking complete strangers for such a favor I continued, “Since the wind is so strong and the break wall looks treacherous, would you mind if I catch a ride back with you?” The same man replied without hesitation, “Sure, no problem. We’ll let you know when we’re heading in.” Relieved that I didn’t have to take my life into my hands down the nasty break wall, I practically skipped back into the lighthouse.

I finished my tasks in short order so as not to make my fishing boat taxi wait. When I heard a shout from the lake, I grabbed my backpack, a large bag of trash, and Lucy’s leash. I closed and locked the giant cast iron front door behind me and sprinted down the east staircase to the boat. I think my taxi drivers were a bit surprised to see me with a large backpack, a big bag of trash, and a Golden Retriever, but Lucy and I hopped on the boat quickly before they could change their minds.

We pulled away from the lighthouse as the wind howled, the waves lapped, and the break wall continued to get pounded. After some quick introductions, one of the men said, “Where would you like to go?” “Just take me to the Coast Guard Station dock,” I replied. The Coast Guard Station is a short 10-minute boat ride from the lighthouse. The station is equipped with a large dock from where boats are launched. In just a few minutes, we pulled up to the Coast Guard Station dock. I thanked the men profusely for the ride and jumped out just as a uniformed officer started walking toward us. Curious as to why I was disembarking there (with a large bag of trash, stuffed backpack, and a dog), the officer asked, “Can I help you?” I began rattling off something about being the lighthouse lady and the break wall being too dangerous to walk when I turned to see the fishing boat and the two men hit the gas and peel away from the dock down the river. They were definitely in a hurry to leave before the Coast Guard started asking more questions.

I prattled on to the Coast Guard officer about how my car was parked in Mentor Headlands State Park and I really just needed to be let out the gate to get to my car. The Coast Guard officer said nothing more, but escorted me and Lucy to the gate, released the latch, and watched us walk away. I am forever grateful to those kind fisherman who let me hitchhike to safety on that blustery October day.

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