|Bright green marble from today's trip|
Then-- by late September or early October-- the weather breaks. And for the first time in probably four months, the beach is pounded by some serious waves... serious enough that the entire topography of the beach changes, and sand, pebbles and glass that have been buried two feet deep are brought to the surface.
Alas, October also means that low tide occurs at 5:00 in the morning, when it's pitch black outside. So... what's a beach comber to do?
The alarm rings at 5:00am. I make coffee, and get myself ready to go. Outside, the sky is heavy with low clouds, but the rain of last night seems to have abated. Still, I'm not counting on a dry day.
At 5:50am, I'm out the door. Five minutes later, I'm at the parking lot by the beach. It is still completely dark.
Beach combing is almost a "competitive sport" around these parts. As I walk across the parking lot, I see a car that has just pulled up and a couple of people with flashlights are getting ready for their day. There's another car already parked, and I wonder if it was left overnight-- but a quick touch of the hood, which is warm, tells me it was driven recently. Whomever it belongs to is already out there, ahead of me. At 5:50 in the morning...
|A good day at the beach!|
... I make it in about 50 minutes, and thank my background as a former competitive distance runner and sometime race walker for being able to move fast. A few times I almost lose my footing, skidding on seaweed on wet rocks; not seeing a log; bumping into a boulder in the darkness. About two-thirds of the way out, I pass the fellow with the "other car" in the parking lot... one of the "usual suspects" on this stretch of beach.
The tide is already on its way in. It will only be a dark gray pre-dawn by the time I reach my favorite stretch of beach... and I will have to turn around within just a couple of hours and almost run the four miles back in order to not get caught by the rising tide. There is no "land access" from the beach I go to; no place where you can "park the car above" and hike to... only a vertical wall of banks, some 200-400 feet high... so keeping an eye on tides and time is essential for safety's sake. Sure, there are places where you can wait out a high tide (and I have done that) but sitting for six hours on a cold wet rock is not my idea of how to spend a Thursday evening.
In low light, clear is the first color you can see. Other colors require full daylight before they gradually become visible. By about 7:45, it is finally daylight and I can begin searching in earnest. It looks like it will be a good day! Not only does the beach have a nice cover of pea-sized gravel mixed with small rocks, it is very clear that the recent storms have turned over the "stale" leftovers of summer... I can tell because the scattering of small mostly chipped pieces of glass I've been looking at for the past couple of months have been replaced with more smooth-- and larger-- pieces of sea glass. And that makes this mad-dash-out-and-home a worthwhile endeavor.
|A large and thick nugget of red-- find of the day!|
In the end, I get in just over two hours of fairly intense beach combing before the tide reaches a point where I--reluctantly-- have to leave. Not a moment too soon... I make it back to the parking lot with dry feet... just. There have been a number of major slides in the past year, and in some places I have to climb over fallen trees and large piles of ancient clay.
I once wore a GPS device, while going beach combing. On a day like today-- counting the hikes in and out, as well as all the criss-crossing that goes with beach combing-- I probably covered about 13-14 miles (21-22km) in total. Tired legs are the order of the remainder of the afternoon. On the whole, it's not the distance that's exhausting, but the extensive traversing piles of gravel (a bit like walking in deep snow) or soccer ball sized rocks covered with fresh wet seaweed (incredibly slippery) that takes it out of my legs.
From here until mid-December, the tides here will only get "shorter." In another month or so, there will barely be a couple of hours of semi-low tide during daylight hours.