Just to recapitulate, the 10-mile beach on Hilton Head Island's Atlantic Ocean coast is punctuated by steel markers every 1/10th of a mile. Starting at the "toe" end of Hilton Head Island (a metaphorical reference to the astronomic appearance of the Island as a foot, where the toes are at the south end and the ankle and heel are at the north end), the first marker is Marker 1. Around Tower Beach (just north of South Beach where we reside) there is Marker 12 (approximately). This of course denominates 1.2 miles from the most southern tip of the Island. At Marker 39 is Beach Club (still within Sea Pines Plantation); then Coligny Park at Marker 59; Sonesta Beach at Marker 72; and finally Marker 97 at Burke's Beach at the upper (north) end of the beach where a break of large rocks effectively terminates the beach before having to transcend the inland waterway to continue further north.
When bicycling we have traditionally ended the northern trajectory of our journey at Marker 97, first because when the tide is coming in it is impossible to go past the breaker of rocks; and second because we're normally exhausted by the time we get there. Remember we still have to get back home (which means returning to Marker 9 approximately) which in turn means we've already pedalled about ten miles to get to Marker 97. I must concede we always consult a couple of indices before we commence our daily bicycle ride; viz., the Tide Chart and the wind direction. For reasons I have never bothered to examine or consider, the direction of the wind on the beach alternates between north and south. One might suppose that the direction of the wind would be predominantly one direction or the other; but it is highly variable and almost evenly divided between the two directions. If I were to advance any possible theory it would be only that the beach is obviously along the Atlantic Ocean which in the area of Hilton Head Island runs parallel to the mainland; namely, north-south. And it is further reasonable to imagine that sometimes there are warm winds from the south; while at other times there are cold winds from the north. In fact it lends some strength to this observation to note that we generally have the same weather here as our southern or northern neighbours have, depending upon the direction of the wind. Considering we're at sea level and that there aren't any extraordinary mountain ranges in the area, it makes sense there are no geographic features to mandate the direction of the winds. Anyway what matters about the direction of the wind for purposes of this narrative is that we usually plan our long trip to Marker 97 if we cab cycle north against the wind so that we have the privilege of flying back home with the wind at our back. Depending upon the vigour of the wind, our cycle against it or with it translates into more or less time (quite apart from any consideration of the expenditure of energy required or not). Obviously the business of having wind at one's back is a reward which is best appreciated after having worked hard on the first half of the run.
When we first landed on the Island last November our enthusiasm was such that we regularly cycled from South Beach to Burke's Beach. Sometimes we profited by the favour of a wind at our back from the south (which meant we sailed northward in no time at all) but we took the easy way home by getting off the beach and returning home on William Hilton Parkway (which runs parallel to the beach for a significant distance and is sheltered from the wind by enormous sea pines). As time unfolded (and as we began to acknowledge the price which these 3 - 4 hour bicycle tours was exacting on our limbs and knees), our daily outings were reduced eventually to 2-hour tours (basically up to Coligny Park and back home). This still meant we were cycling at least ten miles each day (which admittedly isn't much by some people's standards) but it succeeded to satisfy our yearning and to expiate any guilt we might otherwise harbour if we were to become entirely sedentary.
Today is Tuesday, April 5, 2016. Canada Post has notified us by email that they will no longer be forwarding our mail from Canada to us here. We are scheduled to return to Canada on April 18th, leaving here on Saturday, April 16th. As you might imagine we are very aware of the amortization of our winter sojourn on Hilton Head Island and, apart from strictly watching what food provisions we now buy, we are dedicating ourselves to doing whatever we can to relish the remaining days here. It certainly is no difficulty to enjoy the time that remains. The weather has been spectacular, perfectly clear skies, warm temperatures, the azaleas are in bloom and the trees are beginning to fill with fresh greenery. We have also decided to take one last weekend trip to Jekyll Island, GA where we have stayed twice already.
But today I felt compelled to make a final bike ride along the full length of the beach on Hilton Head Island; and that meant heading towards Marker 97.
As is often the case - even though I was heading north towards Marker 97 against the wind - the cycle there was not inordinately difficult. In fact because the sun was so warm the headwind was cooling. However when I reached Marker 97 (after having made my customary pit stop at Coligny Park) it was evident that the effort of getting there was not lost upon me. Cycling is like that I find; you aren't fully aware of the rigour of it until you stop. But once I stopped - and struggled to pry myself off the saddle and to raise my enervated legs over the bar - I knew in an instant that I was close to worn out. That of course is the very reason we hadn't perpetuated the 20-mile round-trip cycle routine. It was more than exacting.
Being at Marker 97 is a temporary destination. It is not a destination which offers much in the way of alternatives other than to cycle back home. Normally I might have succumbed to lying on the beach in the afternoon sunshine, partly to catch the rays, partly to rest. But twice in the past week I had reposed on the beach and I was still smarting from the bites inflicted by sand fleas (or whatever the particular insect menace was). The most annoying corollary of the bites is that they itch. While I had applied Gold Bond earlier to relieve the itch, I didn't want to undertake anything further which might amplify the irritation. Accordingly I contented myself to sit for mere minutes on one of the large barrier rocks. As you might expect the rocks were not terribly comfortable. So within minutes I was back on my bike and heading south at a fairly rapid clip with a strong wind at my back.
I can't recall exactly when I last made the trek to Marker 97 but I am guessing it was over two months ago. I had forgotten how different the beach is above Coligny Park. It has a very different feeling to it than we experience below Coligny Park (which coincidentally is about the half-way point on the beach). I have always generally preferred the southern end of the beach, perhaps because the bulk of it is within Sea Pines (my favourite plantation). Palmetto Dunes Plantation borders much of the north end of the beach. It is I understand the oldest plantation on the Island and it is certainly charming. However I suspect there are more condominiums at the north end of the beach which naturally means more people and more traffic on the beach. Even though Burke's Beach has some very expensive single-family homes (complete with elevators), those homes are within walking distance to an apartment complex called Hilton Head Resort which clearly contributes to the flow of people to the same area overlooked by these distinctly pricier homes. This is not an issue which is entirely material to us since we know we're about to escape the madding crowds. But if one were to cast one's mind to the character of the beach in the summer, population contamination is inescapable. There are also two or three major hotels along the north end of the beach and they of course contribute to the numbers on the beach.
The character of the population on the beach, whether at the north or south end, is largely the same. There is of course a profusion of beach umbrellas and portable cabanas. Perhaps there are more students than families at Coligny Park. Groups of young girls lie in a row on their towels. Young boys form their own separate congregation and amusingly apply suntan oil to one another. Mothers and fathers stand captivated at the shore with their infant children watching them construct holes in the sand, holes which immediately fill with water and are instantly erased. Oddly today I spied two people at different places on the beach lying face down into a pool of remnant sea water which had gathered in a recession left by the receding tide. The first chap was completely immobile and I even questioned whether it was prudent of me to have cycled past him without having investigated whether he were dead. The second fellow twitched his feet and moved his hands during his particular enactment of this peculiar ceremony so I was accordingly much relieved. There were endless sports being played, kite flying, tossing a football back and forth, various types of "beach tennis" played with big and small racquets and discs, and innumerable people with clawed plastic extensions launching tennis balls down the beach or into the Ocean for the benefit of their dogs (mostly Labradors and Retrievers of every colour, yellow, black or brown).
My bike ride homeward was graced by that searing sunshine I craved. When I finally landed within our condominium property and locked up the bike for the day, I was already imaging what I was going to eat for dinner. My appetite had been stimulated by the 4-hour outing. I won't relapse into a menu description other than to say that I had some delicious toasted Ciabatta bread with butter. Bread isn't on my diet but I felt it was well-deserved, a fitting conclusion to my farewell visit to Marker 97.