As much as I esteem Herman Melville for his detailed and realistic descriptions of whale hunting and of extracting whale oil in Moby-Dick, “the greatest book of the sea ever written”, I trust I can be forgiven for limiting today’s account of bicycling on the beach to my personal experience without the benefit of specialized explanations.
For example, because we reside in South Beach at the lowest extremity of Hilton Head Island, our most favourable and convenient entry point onto the beach from the mainland is Tower Beach (located less than a mile from our condominium). There are endless other and more proximate points of entry to the beach but subject to qualification.
If we were to enter the beach at or south of the condominium we run the risk of encountering exceptionally soft sand even when the tide is at its lowest. The ostensible reason for this – and here I admit my observation is speculative only, not scientific – is that as the tides rise and fall the effect of the motion at the southern end of the Island (where the Atlantic Ocean swirls into Calibogue Sound between Hilton Head Island and Daufuskie Island) is to sweep fine sand onto the beach at the butt of the Island. Confounded and disrupted by the admixture of land masses the gravitational allure of the moon is diminished to such an extent that sea water is not sufficiently withdrawn from the sand on the shore to permit bicycle passage. Occasionally I have witnessed exceptions to this general rule but for the most part bicycle travel around the toe of Hilton Head Island is unreliable and as a result best avoided. Hence the knee-jerk entry at Tower Beach.
Even at Tower Beach the shoreline is sometimes annoyingly compliant. But normally I have been able – with the application of extra effort and by clinging to the immediate shoreline – to propel myself beyond the narrow, softer part of the lower beach to the broader, firmer section of the beach adjacent the Atlantic Ocean. Yet the travel in the improved areas is not guaranteed superlative. It may prove necessary to advance by as much as a mile before being able to relent the additional pedalling effort. To this added strain of cycling I seek to billow my bellows by sucking capacious quantities of sea air into my lungs, constrained and abused by years of cigarette smoking and having endured fetid institutional air.
What distinguishes today’s adventure on the beach is that from Tower Beach northward to Coligny Park (about six miles) the beach was uniformly flat, wide and dry. The flatness of the beach on today’s outing is likely mostly attributable to having been there when the tide was almost at its lowest. Yet in recent months – while the beach was being partly re-constituted following the effects of Hurricane Matthew – there were frequently uneven regions where the sand had been deliberately pushed or projected back onto the beachhead. Gradually the paramount effect of the repeated tides has excoriated the beach and returned it to its monotonous veneer.
Considering the intensity of the afternoon sun, the north wind was a welcome hindrance. It is quite remarkable how a wind of as little as 6 km/hr erodes the strength of one’s progress. Perhaps as a metaphor for the “no gain without pain” theory, if there is a wind, I prefer to encounter it on my “way out” knowing that I’ll have the advantage of sailing home on my “way back”. On the way back the beach is an expansive uninterrupted runway from which one imagines becoming airborne and piloting effortlessly into the yellow orb at 45 degrees above the horizon.
The number of visitors to the beach has suddenly increased, particularly younger people who are enjoying their “March Break” from studies. Where once we could have travelled six miles on the beach without encountering more than several people, now there are clusters of beach chairs, umbrellas and gaggles of families engaged in building sand castles, throwing footballs and frisbees or playing Bocce.
The human traffic is diverting. Invariably there are oddities to observe and ponder. The beach provides an unrestrained vernacular for personal expression as well as a platform for it.