Experiencing Nature’s Beauty on a Two-Tire Tour

By Matt Clarke

“So what wildlife do you guys have here?” Ruth asks as we speed by a small stand of Hackberry trees. We’re pedaling down the center of the island, away from the often distracting crash of waves and the occasional vehicle. Here in the center of Pelee, there is nothing but the buzz of a cicada and a slight breeze to carry the sound. Our tires are humming beneath us as our group of five cruises down a slight downward grade toward an old farmhouse. The beauty of touring on a bike is that you’re not looking at the world through a passenger window; it’s impossible to be a passive observer of the world flying by. The view isn’t obstructed by seats, bars, and an upholstered roof. People tend to notice the little details on a bike, such as the sound of the territorial chatter of an eastern fox squirrel up in a tree in the distance. These rodents, while not particularly special for our Americans or Western Canadians, are a little harder to find in this part of Canada. A non-native species, fox squirrels have taken claim to Pelee Island and are much larger than the Grey Squirrels native to the mainland, just a few kilometers north.

Chinquapin oaks, shagbark hickories, basswoods and cottonwoods compete for sunlight on Pelee, and are a common sight on roadsides. These trees, while also found in southern Canada, do not extend very far north, and it’s only when you’re passing by on foot or bike that you might notice these majestic trees. As I gaze at the woods in appreciation, a shout behind me brings my mind back to the tour. A recently engaged couple have almost run over a snake, which is now frantically sliding away into the roadside grass. It is unmarked and matte black. This is a common garter snake, but is called a “melanistic” garter because of the unusual lack of stripes. About a third of garters here are born without stripes, and while this has no apparent benefit/detriment to the snake, the recessive mutation drifts within the isolated Pelee population and persists.

Touring the island on bike allows people to explore at their own pace. I find that when I ease up on the hard pedaling, and let a few people travel ahead, they start to look with their own eyes instead of waiting for me to tell them what to see. Some will notice the way the water level on one side of the road is higher than the field of soy beans on the other. Others might notice one of the many hidden limestone quarries, long forgotten and now overgrown with vines and trees. It’s these small things that I enjoy allowing people to discover for themselves, and for this reason I love bike tours.

By the time I figured out how I would respond to Ruth’s question, I had already pointed out a handful of Pelee’s natural wonders. It didn’t take her very long to realize the unique beauty of the island. Not only is this it incredibly far south for Canada, but it also has a unique isolated ecosystem. There is a lot more to the nature of the island than what you can observe through the window of a vehicle.  If you ever get a chance to travel to Pelee, don’t forget: traveling by car allows you to look at everything, but riding around the island by bike lets you truly see it.

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