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One Idea, A Thousand Islands

August 16, 2016

A few days before we left home to start this trip, I had a moment of inspiration. I was on Facebook and an ad came up in my feed from the I Love NY ad campaign for New York State tourism. It was a striking photo of a lighthouse. But it wasn’t just any lighthouse: its stark white color is what made it stand out, but what really got me curious was the fact that the lighthouse appeared to be sitting directly in the water, with only a thin walkway connecting it to the land.



I looked it up. It’s called the Rock Island Lighthouse, and it’s only accessible by boat because that thin walkway connects it to tiny Rock Island. The island is one of the famous Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River, which separates a stretch of upstate New York from Canada immediately east of Lake Ontario. I looked at the map with my road trip brain, and I realized that, although the lighthouse wasn’t exactly on our way, it wasn’t terribly far out of our path from Toronto and Ottawa. And visitors can climb to the top. I showed Sam the picture and asked him if he wanted to go. Of course he did. So I made some room in our schedule for the detour and the three-hour boat tour that would take us there and back.

Rock Island Lighthouse instantly became one of the destinations on this trip that I was most excited for. If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, you know how much Sam and I love lighthouses (a lot), and how many we’ve visited (a lot)–some just to look at, but most of them to climb inside. All were beautiful, majestic and magical in that way that lighthouses often are, but they were all on land. This one was going to be even cooler.

And after a couple of slightly confusing days driving through a foreign country, I was a little extra excited to be coming back home to New York, even for just a few hours.

I slept terribly all night last night because I kept having nightmares that we overslept and missed the boat. But when we finally woke up this morning, reality was worse: it was pouring. I figured the boat would still go out in light rain, but it was coming down hard. Really hard. I checked the forecast for the rest of the day, thinking that maybe if it cleared up later on we could still take the afternoon tour, even if it meant we’d have to skip Ottawa completely. The forecast said it would start raining even harder at around 11 and continue like that all day. The tour was scheduled for 10:15 till 1 p.m. We were screwed.

Just to be sure, I called the tour company. They said they only cancel when there’s lightning or when the water gets rough, and that the boat has open sides but is covered with a roof, so we should just wear a jacket and come on down. The views certainly weren’t going to be as monumental as I had hoped, but seeing the lighthouse in the rain is better than not seeing it at all.

Packing up the car in a downpour was an adventure, as was getting through customs. (A word of advice: never forget the contents of the cooler right behind your seat when the Customs agent asks you if you have any meat or vegetables with you.) But soon we were on the boat, ready to see our lighthouse.

After all that, the weather turned out to be pretty bearable, as the rain lightened before we embarked and only got really bad again as we were heading back to shore. We had a fantastic time. On the way to the lighthouse we got to see a shipwreck that sits a few feet below the surface, and we got a narrated tour of a large section of the river, with fascinating back stories about all the houses and tiny islands we passed along the way.

We saw beautiful houses of all shapes and sizes.




We saw hundreds of cormorants in all states of activity.



We saw a stately blue heron plotting its next move.



We saw two osprey nests on top of electrical poles.



We even saw the restaurant where thousand island dressing was invented.


It’s the short one in the middle.


And eventually, we saw our lighthouse.




We climbed to the top, of course. And we also decided to redo the I Love NY photo,  with one small change: us.



The rest of the day was pretty lousy. We met the angriest and most unreasonable barber in history (more on him in a separate post), we spent an hour and a half driving in a downpour, and when we got to Ottawa we were unable to do anything at all for the rest of the day because it never stopped raining, and everything we want to do here is outside.

But we got our lighthouse. All things considered, this one of the best days of the whole trip.

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