Traveling in the summer to various conferences, mine and my wife’s, it provides me a great opportunity to ride my bike in different areas and various group rides with new people . . . then there is Hilton Head, South Carolina. A beautiful island with multiple bike paths and hotels and houses and businesses buried in lush tropical vegetation. Sounds great, right?
Well, Hilton Head is cycling friendly to beachcomber-type bicycles with large baskets ridden by tourists and locals headed to the grocery store or the beach. I have absolutely nothing against people with different tastes in cycling; in fact I think it is quite nice. And as I pedaled around the island on my first day, getting a lay of the land, it was nice to have a change of pace and get a low-zone spin for a change of pace. Of course, I brought the wrong bike with me for that. This was not the bike for cruising, nor was it the kind of riding that I wanted to accomplish. I had been thinking of long stretches of coastal paths or roads near the ocean with zero elevation anywhere. I brought a certain bike, so that I could open it up . . . especially with a strong tailwind from the strong ocean breezes. Here is where it became tricky.
Attempting to make the ride in my head a reality, I switched from bike path to road and desperately avoided getting crushed by various construction trucks and tourists who were all in some kind of race around the island. Within the first few miles I had already been yelled at three times, even though I was hugging the fog line and using the correct hand signals for stopping and lane changing. Using my GPS, I turned on what appeared to be a side road that stretched out among overshadowing trees and very little traffic. It was like my bike could see it too. We opened it up. Oh yes! Now this is what I had envisioned! Pan flat, big ring, watt building . . . wait what? A gate with the name of SEA PINES stood in my way. Guarded by people with SEA PINES shirts to make it look official, the gate cut the road. There was no way around.
“You live in Sea Pines or visiting someone in Sea Pines, sir?”
“No, I am just riding through. I’m not stopping. Just riding through and making my way around the island,” I said with a smile. “Today is our first day here.”
He shook his head. “Sorry that is not possible. This is private property.”
I was confused. “But the road, that I am sure was paid by state and federal taxes goes through your private property, is off limits? That is like half of the island.”
“Sorry, sir. You’ll have to turn around.”
Trying to keep things civil, I mused, “There are two big tourist attractions on ‘your side of the island.’ Harbor Point and Stoney Plantation are inside of the Sea Pines area. How does that work?”
“Pull up on the visitors entrance side and pay the eight dollar gate fee.” At this point he was finished with conversation and looking everywhere but at me.
“What if I pay the gate fee now?”
“Bicycles are not allowed on the roads in Sea Pines, only the bike path.” I looked over toward the area he had referenced with a chin flip. The path was PACKED with tourist and children on every variation of bike a person can imagine.
Later, doing a quick search on my laptop for group rides in the area, I found one. I joined the group the new morning. They were a great group of men who were all locals and gave me a rundown of their typical ride. It sounded complicated. Mostly the ride consisted of parking lots, bike paths, dead end roads, and housing developments. I felt bad for the group. There were so many private property signs and gates on the island. Yes, I guess you could go across the bridge and off of the island, but that would include riding in the insane island traffic. Trapped.
I am so grateful for the area I am privileged to ride every day. I am blessed to live near Fort Benning and allowed to ride freely on post and explore miles and miles of secluded roads. I am not the kind of rider who believes that the world should cater to me when I am on my bike. I will obey traffic laws and stay out of traffic as best I can. I know there are riders out there who give cycling a bad name and make a lot of people angry, but I feel that they are rare. Most of them suck as riders for the most part. So I guess for now, when I think of the word island, I will not think of riding along the coastline in the flow of traffic. If you are headed to Hilton Head, just remember to bring the correct bike.