Unexpected Great Rides Series #1 – Biking On The Beach

Unexpected Great Rides Series #1 – Biking On The Beach

Photo by Ashley de Lotz

I’m always looking for new adventures on my bike. Sometimes these may include a new trail, massive climb, or a race that pushes me past my boundaries. Sometimes it involves something more mundane but novel in all the best ways. These adventures often become incredible experiences that I value both for their serendipity and ability to refresh my riding in ways I never expected. My unexpected great ride series is a catalog highlighting these rides, and the first one I want to share was a recent biking on the beach trek on my hardtail.

A little info about riding mountain biking on the beach

Beach riding is its own animal. First, it requires a certain kind of tire on a specific type of bike. I do most of my riding on a 27.5 x 2.8” hardtail, which isn’t a true fat tire bike, but it is squishy enough that I can get out on the coast without feeling like I’m plowing through the sand or about to go over my handlebars every time I turn. It does an ok job, which is all I need. The other thing you have to have for a beach ride is harder-packed sand, so your riding window is restricted to about 4-hour segments when the tide is low. It’s best to go right at low tide. That way, you have wide-open expanses of beach terrain to explore.

My biking on the beach adventure

This past time at the beach, I decided to go to the end of the island where I was staying to see what I could see. I had no agenda besides riding out and riding back. The weather was cold, foggy, and windy, and the truth was that I really couldn’t see anything except the 100 yards immediately in front of me and the sand to my left and right. The beach was pretty empty and even a bit eerie.

As I rode between their rods and the water, a few remote fishermen made me hyper-aware of possible clotheslining. But for about 50 glorious minutes as I ventured out to the point, I felt entirely at one with the wind, my body, and the space around me. I wasn’t on the trail, but I experienced a flow of sorts, weaving in and out of walkers, ducking under piers, and crunching shell fragments.

When I finally got to the end of the island, I noticed the water calmed dramatically, the houses thinned-and little by little, the island across the channel revealed itself through the fog. Boats bobbed in the Intracoastal, and the wind shifted enough to give me a break from its relentless push. It was a rare moment of celebration on the bike, and the best part is that it was so unexpected! I wasn’t going after a Strava record or trying to clear a technical feature. I was just riding, and I was rewarded generously.

After turning back to head home, I got to experience the tailwind of a lifetime as I turned into the wind stream. Instead of doing 10-11 mph as I was on the way out, I was easily doing 18-19 mph (on a mountain bike!) with next to no effort. On the way out, a family I had passed saw me hauling by and laughed and pointed, utterly aware of my change in wind fortune, sharing my joy.

The whole ride took about 90 minutes and was a great escape from the normal cycle of trail riding. Mountain bikes are fantastic for many reasons, but perhaps one of the most awesome is they afford the ability to cover so many different types of terrain so efficiently. The mountain bike is the real swiss army knife of travel (at least by land). The beach ride will now be a regular in my Rolodex of rides.

What is your most recent unexpected great ride? Post below!

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Matthew Chisholm

Matt Chisholm is a data analyst and freelance writer who studies the environmental history of the Southern Smoky Mountain region of North Carolina. He was a contributor to Lost in Transition: Removing, Resettling, and Renewing Appalachia and the 2016 edition of the Journal of East Tennessee History, for which he won the 2017 McClung Award. When not writing, Matt enjoys road and mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and drinking beer around Concord, NC where he lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys.

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