Date: Oct. 11
October mileage: 203
Temperature upon departure: 44
I seem to always pick the absolute wettest times (otherwise known as my weekend mornings) to go out for Pugsley rides. These rides are a barrage of wet from all points in space. The simple fact that it's raining doesn't even register after I've spent a couple of miles on a saturated trail, being bombarded by wet clumps of mud (those 4" tires can kick up some impressively large clumps of mud.) Thoroughly mud-soaked, I then hit the slippery wet rocks of the wet beach and mash my wet pedals up to creek crossing after creek crossing, pedaling up to my ankles, wading up to my knees, sloshing my way through the rising tide. Sometimes I think I should just buy one of those balloon-wheel pedal boats and get it over with.
A pedal boat would have come in handy during today's ride. I'm wise enough now to actually check the tide charts before I go out, but not wise enough to wake up early enough to ride with the 7:30 a.m. low tide. Out the door at 11 a.m., I knew I would probably end up skirting the high tide, scheduled for 1:50. So I decided to go to South Douglas - it's a large beach, I reasoned. Surly it won't be completely inundated, even at high tide.
I'm beginning to learn just how serious these Juneau tides are. They can make the difference between a smooth traverse across a 200-yard-wide gravel beach, or a tight bushwhack through a tangle of alders inches from the water. Today I watched waves gobble up my trail with stunning speed, pushing me closer to the precipitous rock gardens and thick forests that were quickly becoming my only exit route.
But the precariousness of traveling away from civilization as the tide came up didn't become clear until I came to a cliff perched over the channel. The beach below it had become so narrow that my knee brushed against the cold, wet wall as I piloted Pugsley along the lip of the surf. I cycled another half mile down the beach before I finally began to tune into the sarcastic voice of reason ... "You do realize you're going to strand yourself on the wrong side of the island, right? You do remember that the next low tide happens well after dark, don't you?"
By the time I returned to that spot, the thin gravel bar had completely filled in with water. I hoisted Pugsley on my shoulder and stepped into the ocean. I could feel the force of the tide tugging at my ankles as I placed my careful steps, 36-pounds of obese bike cutting into my shoulder blade. The deepest point was up to my shins ... it all happened so amazingly fast ... and I wondered just how high the water was going to rise.
I had to push my bike most of the way back, through a high-line tangle of driftwood and brush and boulders that wasn't rideable even in my wildest Pugsley aspirations. Back to the safety of the trail, I pedaled to Douglas proper and popped out on Sandy Beach. No one was out walking in the driving rain, so I proceeded to ride weaving laps along the half-mile-long strip of sand, back and forth, swerving, tumbling, splashing though the surf and drawing big fat tracks in the sand. I felt like a little kid in a go-cart; at one point I even burst out laughing. I was going absolutely nowhere, and having the best time I'd had all day.
Before I started building up this bike, other Pugsley owners promised me that just riding it would put a smile on my face. Of course I didn't believe them. A bike is a bike, I reasoned. It's not the equipment that makes the ride; it's the places you go with it, the things you see with it. But I'm beginning to change my mind about that. Sometimes it's most fun to just play in the sand.