It is I have discovered inevitable that one becomes attuned to the cycle of the tides when living next to the Ocean. And similarly alive to the direction of the winds. These two elements naturally figure prominently in the daily weather reports but their absorption is, as with any other banality in life, only relevant when it bears upon one’s personal conduct. In our case the engaging feature is bicycling, specifically bicycling on the beach. True to our hopeful intention we have bicycled on the beach virtually every day since we arrived on Hilton Head Island last November. It has for me become a ritual rinsing of the soul to be within the sight and sound of the waves upon the shore. The relevance of the tides is not only the extent of the beach upon which to ride our bicycles but also the character of the sand upon which to ride. Until the water is sufficiently drained from the beach by the gravitational pull of the receding tide the sand is impassable. We have learned that at Lands End, where the Ocean merges into an inlet or sound at the south end of the Island, the sand is frequently still soggy and impassable by bicycle likely because the strength of the receding tide is diminished by curve of the beach as it rounds the point.
The high and low tides generally vary by about six hours. This is not necessarily the case everywhere on earth. In some instances there are only two tides each day; sometimes the tides only vary annually. The times of the tides on the Island normally change by progression of one hour or less from day to day. The strength of the tides clearly also varies from day to day as appears from the changing width of the beach at different low tides. Sometimes the beach is immensely wide and there are few if any pools of sea water remaining between sand bars.
The winds also shift from one direction to another on a regular basis though certainly not as predictably as the tides. Generally the directions of the winds are either north or south and variations thereof. This corresponds conveniently with the lay of the beach on the Island which is generally north-south. It can reasonably be assumed that north winds are cooler than the south winds. The velocity of the winds varies with temperature and generally appears to correspond to weather systems which are moving in or out of the area.
To capitalize upon information regarding the tides and the wind we have marked several points along the beach for access. The rule is that one enters the beach at the point which is furthest from one’s starting point in order to travel with the wind. Thus if the wind is from the south we target Lands End (Marker 4) or Tower Beach (Marker 13) which are both located in South Beach. This will permit us to “sail” with the wind at our backs to the north end of the Island, usually Singleton Beach (Marker 97) or Sonesta Beach (Marker 72). The Markers appear every tenth of a mile along the beach. At the north end of the beach the off-beach access is along William Hilton Parkway, a bike path which connects for example to Sonesta Beach or Singleton Beach along roads by the same names. The other median points of entry to the beach are Coligny Park (Marker 52) and Beach Club (Marker 39). Many, but not all, of the access routes from the mainland across the dunes to the beach are along very well constructed and maintained boardwalks, often with railings.
Occasionally – as was the case yesterday – the velocity of the wind is low enough to invite travel upon the beach in either direction without undue hardship. Let there be no mistake, if the velocity of the wind is upwards of 10 mph it is heavy going when bicycling against it for prolonged periods especially because most bicycles are low-tech rentals with one gear only. From time to time one sees (and envies) superlative bicycles with huge balloon tyres and multiple gears but those are infrequent and one has to wonder how clever it is to have such an expensive bicycle on the beach when the fine sand which abrades the face of the beach is destined to ruin the gears in short order.
The advantage of bicycling southward with the wind is to have the sun in one’s face. And the site of the blazing sun in the western sky is invariably mesmerizing particularly as it transforms the Ocean into a glimmering spectacle.