Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Air Down Damnit!

It was a beautiful day on the beach yesterday with a nice breeze and gin clear water albeit a distinct lack of fish. Conditions like that with no fish usually means that a pretty big shark is cruising the beach looking for dinner. I hope he had more luck than I did.

I spent most of the day at Ramp 43 which for those not familiar with the Seashore, is located about a plover closure away from the Lighthouse near Buxton. Because of its proximity to the village, 43 is a very popular ramp all year long. It hasn't been crowded though as many folks aren't making the trip down because of all of the massive beach closures.

One thing that alot of visitors to the Seashore don't realize is that the sand and beach conditions we see here are somewhat predictable; barring a significant storm event. In fact, in some cases it's so predictable that those who have studied the dynamics of these beaches can accurately predict the loss of sea turtle nests by location alone. If only NPS would listen we wouldn't be losing almost 40% of the nests here on an annual basis.

Another aspect of the predictability of the beaches relates to driving conditions as that too changes by season as well as location within the Seashore. This time of year the sand on the high beaches becomes very soft. We call it sugar sand and it's the bane of many an inexperienced beach traveller. Not only can it be tough to drive in, even walking through it, especially toting gear can be a major struggle. If somebody is going to get stuck on these beaches, that's normally where you'll see it happen. Ramp 43 can be "get stuck central" though there are beaches even more notorious further north.

Beach driving is not hard at all. Not, that is, if you follow some simple rules. These aren't rules you'll find published in an NPS manual but are born of decades of experience shared from one visitor to another. I've been following these simple rules for 30 odd years and can say that not once have I ever been stuck.

The first rule is AIR DOWN! This seems to be the rule that alot of people want to ignore and that ignorance is by far the cause of most of the "stuckage". Not only do folks routinely get stuck when they disobey this rule but several times a year vehicles end up nearly totaled as a result of a cooked transmission and transfer case. NPS recommends airing down to 20 psi per tire which will work but if you want an easy ride over the sand with as little strain as possible on your transmission, drop them down to 17 pounds. Don't worry, there are air pumps all over the Island and all but a couple of them are free. Those of that live here keep our tires down until it's time to make the dreaded trip off Island.

Of course you can ignore this rule and provide us with hours of entertainment as you attempt to dig out your frame deep truck while the fishing is slow.

Don't drive near the water, in the water, or on freshly wet sand. As often as not, the sand turns into more of a soupy mix when it gets inundated and often wont even support your own body weight let alone that of a truck.

Secure the stuff in the bed of your truck else it may very well bounce out. This applies to people riding in the back as well. The rule is that all passengers must be seated on the bed of the truck while it's moving.

Obey the speed limit which at this point is 15mph.

Please carry a trash bag and use it. If you smoke, remember, our beach is not your ash tray so dispose of your butts accordingly.

What got me started on this was an incident that occurred yesterday afternoon as a family of adults went to leave the beach. After packing their chairs, coolers, umbrellas and four people into the bed of their light duty truck they began to head for the ramp. It was obvious from the git-go that they hadn't aired down and all that weight in the back was putting enormous strain on the motor and drive train. As they drove by I told them that they needed to air down and was rewarded by two middle fingers, one from the driver and one from his buddy in the bed of the truck. Knowing what was to follow, I grabbed my beer and walked to the hood of my truck to watch the show. Sure enough, within a hundred yards they were almost frame deep. Of course the first thing the driver did was to try back up and gun the motor to bust out of the hole. Never, ever, gun the motor or like this guy, you'll end up even deeper than before. Of course at this point I am laughing hard enough to draw the attention of another fellow up the beach who just saw these guys flip me off. So he started laughing as well and the show was on.

I suppose the driver found himself in a bad spot. He'd just flipped off the guy that told him to air down and now he's stuck. Now he's under pressure to prove that since he's driving a 4x4 he doesn't need to air down. Really? The next attempt was everybody out of the back and push which resulted in utter failure and a couple folks covered from head to toe with sand that had been thrown by the spinning tires.  That didn't work so they emptied the bed of the truck. That didn't work either so they began to dig the tires out. Guess what?

Finally, after almost 40 minutes of incessant struggle, they gave up and aired down at which point the truck hopped right out of the hole and made it off the ramp which was undoubtedly a great relief to the driver. Not so much for his crew as they had to tote all of that gear off under their own power which required two trips.

All of that could have been avoided if they had followed rule number one. AIR DOWN DAMNIT!
But thanks for the laugh there feller. I bet the folks at the transmission shop will be glad to see you too!

Tight Lines,



  1. Mo-rans!!!


  2. A few weeks ago I came across a guy stuck trying to get off the beach back to the pole road. I asked if he was aired down, then realized his pickup was only 2 wheel drive! I had my tow strap and drug him back to the pole road where he came from! You gotta wonder sometimes.