The silver sands of Washington around Long Beach (no, not California) emulate those timeless emotions of ocean side sunsets, and sew in a mean streak of chilly breeze and reality. Sand gets everywhere and in everything. Of course, unless you live there, odds are you’re looking for romantic sunsets and self insight, so it comes pretty easily. The chilly breeze and reality are the kickers. Determined to discover the emotional filler of relaxing under a bronze sky on the Pacific coast promised by travel agency billboards, beer commercials, and camera equipment advertisements, I made tracks for several kilometres from the beach access road to find an appropriate camping spot.
Sand is difficult to ride in, especially with relatively thin, though aggressive, tires and a fully-loaded, 700+ pound motorcycle. This was news to me, never having ridden in deep sand, and I was forced to learn quickly. Allowing either tire to sink too far into the sand immediately destabilizes the entire ride. Too wet, as in too deep in the surf, and the sand hasn’t settled enough to support any weight; too dry, as in too far up the beach, and the sand has no cohesion. Speed has a factor, too: there’s a velocity sweet spot for sands of various cohesions. Too fast and the next instability incident — they’re inevitable — will more likely end with the wrong side up; too slow and you’ll sink, a factor made more pressing when in non-ideal sands. Basically, follow the edge of the surf and gun it, but not at speeds you can’t handle. I dumped it more than once. More than thrice.
After having explored miles of beaches, riding in the inches of water at the edge of the Pacific surf, I settled on a part of the beach remote enough to filter out the general public. The odd person would walk by. A few 4-wheelers with oversized tires ripped by. Seagulls flitted over the caramelizing surf. The tent and sleeping gear, as well as a time lapse photography setup, were quickly setup as the sun took a dip in the ocean.
Sleep was supposed to come easily, with the gentle lull of the distant surf and body-molding sand mattress, but I was restless. A bit of discomfort is required to keep my mind sufficiently distracted so it doesn’t spin up, thinking. Nature’s street lamp, the moon, was nearly full. It has no off switch, no way to escape. Luckily the chilly breeze picked up just after midnight, slipping through the open doors of my tent, pulling thoughts towards warmth and sleep.
My definition for morning dew was recalibrated upon awakening, the underside of the tent fly soaked in millimeters of droplets. Fog blanketed the beach, disallowing sight past 50 m. I could barely make out my lonely KLR, floating in the distance in a cloud. The camera and setup was soaked, but, as the seals can handle most ambient environments, uncompromised. A dead battery ensured that a full contingent of time lapse photos had indeed been taken, though the sky was mostly clouded throughout the night, blocking stars.
The moon, the unrelenting nightlight, was no longer visible, having turned to the far side of the globe, so the Earth’s waters were now being pulled the other way. I was curious as to how far the tide had come up during the night — how accurate was my guess? Needing to move the machine to more stable sands before reloading it anyway, I trudged down the beach in my flip flops and underwear to investigate.
I could barely, mostly hear, the surf breaking over 50 m away as I inspected the chilled, sopping wet KLR. After a few more cranks than usual, it putted to life and I gingerly guided it down to the wet sand about 5 meters from the surf. Cold, wet sand gritted between my toes and in my underwear and behind my ears, a scene which normally guarantees misery, but the Pacific grants abnormal calm to those who would have it. I felt focused, at peace, and ready to take on the day.
Leaving the motorcycle to watch the waves, I returned to the campsite after my metaphorical cup of coffee. Packing up is always an unwelcome chore, more so when everything is soaked and developing a strong affinity for sand. Even so, I usually do it slowly and methodically, knowing that everything will have to be unpacked eventually, and I’ll wish I had taken my time if something is moldy or sandy. This morning was no exception, and I spent around half an hour fussing with my gear before returning to the pack mule with the first load. As I had had only a metaphorical cup, not an actual cup, of coffee, I was still groggy, not really paying attention to my surroundings. Something was wrong, and it took me a few moments to acknowledge this as fact and look around.
A small wave rushed by my feet, going a few meters beyond my parking spot and getting my socks wet. That woke me up. The following wave was not so small. I turned away to avoid being knocked over myself as the formerly described calming Pacific smashed into everything I owned. The bike could not turn away: though it was leaning heavily on its kickstand towards the Pacific, the ocean pushed it over like a domino, taking the small bags piled on top with it. All of my gear is packed in waterproof bags, not that I expected my luggage to go surfing, but for peace of mind during water crossings and heavy rainfall, so I wasn’t too worried about everything getting wet. Immediately feeling foolish and enjoying this new adventure, I laughed as I grabbed my luggage and sprinted for higher ground. The tide hadn’t come in during the night, it was coming in now! So much for my moon logic. After dumping everything up the beach near my campsite, I trotted back to the crime scene. Something was laying in the sand, half buried, but clearly unnatural and unsettlingly familiar. It was my Macbook, and it had clearly surfed its last wave. I could feel and hear sand caking the insides of the computer. After popping out the battery — wouldn’t want to also let a Li-Ion cell short and burst from the sea water, as well — I dropped the computer onto my pile of rescued luggage and tried not to think about it as I returned to rescue my fallen comrade, the KLR.
This bike was made for abuse, and today’s share did little to discourage its spirit: it fired up immediately and spat a rooster tail of sand and surf 10 m long as we ground our way out of the foot-deep rising tide onto dry land. The tide was coming in fast, the maximum of which would clearly take up the entire beach. Being several kilometers from the nearest access point and now riding much higher on the beach, where the sand was more dry and less stable, I had to cut the crap and give’r in order to have a chance of escape. This was by far the most technically challenging riding I had done so far, having to follow the quickly shifting surf at full throttle, trying to stay on the thin belt of sand that was wet enough to retain its structure long enough for me to rip over it, not so wet or dry as to turn into quicksand and allow the tires to sink in past the point of no return. Wind whipped sand into the air, stinging my eyes, and condensing fog made protective glasses or face shield a hazard, forcing me to suck it up and squint for the optimal path. The beach appeared to not have an end as the unrelenting tide ate away my road to freedom. The last few hundred meters were through completely dry and deep sand dunes, a route I would have avoided at all costs the day before, but today I never hesitated. Full throttle and gritted teeth skipped my elegantly overweight machine across the treacherous terrain, flying onto the access road and skidding to a stop as the tide licked the edge of the beach.
My gear was a mess, the computer was ruined, and I felt great! Having learned more during my 20 minute escape ride than during my entire trip thus far, I was on top of the world. Getting out of a tight situation using naught but raw power, skill, and determination is one of the best highs available. The highway was my automatic car wash, letting 130 km/h wind strip away the majority of the surface sand. After a thorough spray cleaning at a nearby town I was off, leaving the silver beaches behind. It was gorgeous and I was humbled in way that I enjoyed, though, nearly three months and over 10’000 km later, I’m still finding sand in my stuff.