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Ian Outside: A Drummond Island summer recap … as winter gets here

Ian Outside: A Drummond Island summer recap … as winter gets here
December 15, 2022 Ian Solomon

Editor’s Note: Look for coverage of Great Lakes recreation and adventure in this new monthly feature. The author, Ian Solomon, founded Amplify Outside, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing access and representation by Black people in the outdoors, starting in the Great Lakes region. Find more about him HERE.

Life slows, that’s what I’ve come to love most about the changing seasons especially in the Great Lakes.

After heading off to Arizona for college in 2015 followed by a stint in Southern California, 2022 marks my first adult indulgence in all four seasons in my home state. Some things have changed. I don’t remember many mid 50s Thanksgivings after all, but the recognition of an oncoming winter has stayed the same: time spent inside bracing for the bitter cold while reminiscing on the warmth that’s left us. And this year, filtering through a summer of adventures, one excursion makes itself the clear winner: Drummond Island.

At 134 square miles, Drummond Island boasts itself as Lake Huron’s 3rd largest island and the 7th largest lake island on the globe. In other words, there is plenty of space to get lost – and why wouldn’t you? It’s the kind of place you beg to get lost in, only if it means you’ll get to stay for a little while longer.

If you’re searching for solitude, pristine wilderness and a churro that will change your life – look no further.

For another account from Drummond Island, read “The Two-Beer Bear and Other Lake Huron Canine Adventures.

Let’s focus first on Drummond’s mostly pristine wilderness: it’s dense and unchanged — music to the ears of anyone like me. While the population sits just over 1,000, the island in warm months gets an influx of visitors who are often seeking the same thing: an unbeatable off-roading experience.

I traveled there with seven of my close friends, rolling Rhyanna’s Jeep Wrangler and Will’s Toyota Four-Runner onto the Drummond Island ferry, the only way to access the island, to begin our adventure. At the end of a 10-minute crossing on the clear waters of Lake Huron, we found ourselves in a new world where Google maps held no weight. Because cell signals can be sparse.

We had to find paper, foldable, lose-able maps. “Vintage,” right? 

Drummond Island ferry. (Photo Credit: Sandra Svoboda)

What makes Drummond Island so special for off-roading is the immense trail networks designed for it. Each trail is marked on the map in a color indicating the vehicle needed to pass, from a 2-wheel drive Sedan to a four-wheeler — there’s a road for you. With two trucks, filled tanks and matching walkie talkies, my group started on the trail made for 4×4 vehicles… or so we thought.

It started smoothly, as any naive adventure begins, rolling slowly through the rocky paths and savoring every last bit of the fresh air that our Detroit lungs so greatly needed.

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The island is absolutely beautiful with vast fields of wildflowers backdropped by authoritative pines protected by rugged rock. We found ourselves stopping frequently on our driving route just to prevent finishing too early. It wasn’t until about a mile or two in that our slow speed became a necessity rather than a choice of leisure.

The bumps got bigger, the puddles may have well been Lake Superior, and it seemed even the squirrels were confused by our presence. It was at this point we realized the path we had set out on was actually for off-roading vehicles or “ORV” for short.

Oops.

With no way to turn around and some beginners’ confidence, we pushed forward.

In spite of the ruggedness, The Wrangler was killing it. Seriously, it felt like a Stelantis commercial was being lived out in front of our very eyes. The Four Runner I resided in had the juice, but not quite the agility. That was made clear after an inch forward, a loud thud and a sudden stop.

“That…wasn’t my brakes,” is not what you want to hear from your driver after stopping on a dime, but it’s what we got from Will.

Let me be clear: Will is a hero. We would’ve been in a ditch a mile earlier if it was left up to anyone else, but on a path made for four-wheelers the four-runner was asking for a challenge. We assessed the damage and by the grace of the gods of Drummond, there was none.

If the boulder Will’s undercarriage rested on had moved even an inch in any direction this article would have a very different ending. But lucky for us, I get to tell you we shimmied our way back onto all four wheels and finished the ORV trail with nothing but smiles, a few scratches and empty stomachs.

Finally, I can tell you about the churro. I know what you’re thinking, a life-changing churro in the middle of Lake Huron? I had the same skepticism, which is why I insisted we stop at one of the very few restaurants on the island: Esther’s Authentic Mexican Cuisine.

As I mentioned before, I lived in Arizona for a bit and spent a good amount of time sampling the cuisine of the Southwest and Southern California. I was eager to put Esther’s to the test.

The entrees didn’t disappoint and while the ambience was a bit whacky at best, we were all just happy to be on paved ground. It wasn’t until we all ordered one churro each that the sweet delight of Drummond Island was sealed.

Perfectly sugared with crispy edges and a soft middle I knew instantly that this island would see me again, if not for the unbeatable adventure, definitely for this incredible churro. I ordered 2 more for the road then we set off for the ferry, crossed Lake Huron and settled back into our mainland lifestyle.

As winter looms, I’ll be busy counting down the days until I meet that delicious island again.


Catch more news at Great Lakes Now: 

Get Out There: New trails and parks make nature more accessible for neurodiverse people

Nibi Chronicles: The “Water is Life” festival goes beyond the music


Featured image: Drummond Island. (Photo Credit: Sandra Svoboda) 

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