Garden of Eden, almost

Trip Start Feb 11, 2010
Trip End Mar 01, 2010

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Where I stayed
Sea Camp Campsite

Flag of United States  , Georgia
Sunday, February 28, 2010

February 22 – 25,  2010; Monday through Thursday,  Cumberland Island,  Georgia

Actually,  our Cumberland Island adventure started the previous night,  last Sunday,  when Aimee and I,  rather tired after Marathon Sunday,  scrutinized the weather forecast for Cumberland Island for the coming 4 days. Monday,  thunder showers,  Tuesday,  sunny,  Wednesday 70 % chance of rain,  Thursday,  30 % chance of rain. The Monday forecast had us most concerned and, being too exhausted to bring ourselves to organize our stuff for 3 nights of camping in iffy conditions,  we discussed alternatives to going to Cumberland.  In the end,  and with body and brain fried, we tentatively decided on Cumberland and went to sleep with the idea of seeing how we’d feel in the morning.  By morning time,  invigorated by our usual partial-night’s sleep,  we decided to go for it, and madly started packing.  We had at least a 1 1/2 hour drive to catch our 10:30 a.m. foot-passenger ferry - and the clock was ticking. We drove off with no time to spare – assuming no mishaps or wrong turns on the way – and no time for breakfast. Just cliff bars and motel coffee.

But first,  we stopped to stock up on groceries at the local Publix.  Then once on I-95 North,  I set the cruise control at 9 miles over the speed limit and pointed the car towards Cumberland Island, located just across the Florida-Georgia  state line.  As we closed in on our destination we drove in and out of driving rain. I started picturing setting up camp in a downpour.  Visions of us being soaked - and our gear soaked -  at the start of  3 days on a primitive  island with  no outgoing ferry until Thursday was not a pretty sight.  But we were now mentally committed  (not to mention committable)  and kept the peddle to the metal.

We pulled into our parking place with 15 minutes until departure.  The park ranger barked at us that the boat will depart at 10:30 a.m. whether we were on it or not. We threw all our gear on the pavement,  divided everything  into a pile of stuff-staying and stuff-going,  stuffed the stuff-staying back into the car,  and hauled the stuff-going onto the ferry.

By this time the sky was spitting rain.  When we arrived to Cumberland we transported our gear in trolley-wagons  to the campground on the other side of the island,  about 15 minutes walk along a forest trail.  En route we met our first Cumberland native – a cute-as-a-button armadillo  nosing around for bugs in the fallen leaves. Once we arrived at our campsite the sky opened up.   We frantically pitched our tent,  then tossed all our gear inside – thankfully without anything getting too wet.

There we sat,  with our duffels and packs squeezed in with us, contemplating how we were going to manage.  At least we were starting off dry. It was now noon,  and we still hadn’t eaten,  so we broke open our food.  While the boys bounced off the walls,  we listened to the rain smack into the tent,  and eyed the ceiling to watch for signs that the rain was started to seep through.  Aimee commented on how we were overdue for a new – and watertight  tent.  An encouraging thought.

When we emerged from our tent – dry - the sky was quickly turning blue,  and we surveyed our surroundings for the first time. … We had arrived in a primordial Garden of Eden  (with more than a touch of Jurassic Park) – under a canopy of gnarled oak trees with Spanish moss hanging down,  sometimes as much as 10 feet.  We headed east towards the Atlantic and stepped out of the forest onto a boardwalk that took us through the dunes onto a pristine beach that extend the 13-mile length of the island. Just us,  about a dozen other campers,  and flocks of sea birds. The boys took off running. In Ezra’s case into the surf where,  as usual he became soaked from head to toe before we thought to tell him to strip down to his boxer shorts. We spent the rest of the afternoon gathering shells and searching for shark’s teeth. Lots of shells, but alas, no teeth.

The next day,  Tuesday,  was the nicest day on Cumberland since December 1st according to the park rangers. Sunny,  hot – pushing 70 – and perfect for exploring.  We hiked through the forest to the southern end of the island,  encountering legions  of armadillos and wild horses. We spent time on a beach the rangers told us had lots of shark teeth. Still no luck. We then explored the ruins of the Carnegie mansions that had been abandoned decades back when the family grew too large,  their wealth divided amongst too many heirs,  and could no longer maintain them. In their prime a hundred plus years ago they had 200 servants to keep things running.

While  sitting on the grass by the central mansion – Dungeness – Ezra hit pay dirt.  His first fossilized shark tooth! Found on the unpaved road that ran through the estate grounds. Turns out that all the roads on Cumberland are made of packed sand, peppered with tiny black fossilized shark teeth. We had been looking for white teeth,  whereas all the fossils were black. Now that we knew what we were looking for,  and where to look for it,  the boys each unearthed about 10 fossilized teeth during our stay. Forget the beaches,  all the shark teeth action was on the sand roads and sand piles left along the roadside for filling potholes.

Wednesday was gray,  but the rain held off until mid-afternoon,  which was the perfect time for the boys to complete their junior ranger books and be sworn in as official junior rangers. Then it was back to our campsite where I decided that,  despite the drizzle,  it was a good night for a fire. Earlier in the day I had filled the vestibule of our tent with firewood to keep it dry. Although I got the fire going – with one flick of the bic I might add - we nevertheless retired for the night around 8:00 p.m. rather than stand outside in the rain. By the middle of the night the rain had stopped,  but remarkably the fire had kept burning.  So from around 3:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. Aimee and I hung out by the fire drinking tea. Then returned to bed. When we got up Thursday morning the fire was still burning,  and kept us warm while we ate breakfast and broke camp. It was good we had the fire , as the temperature had plummeted to a frigid 27 F and we needed to keep warming our freezing hands.

As we headed back to the ferry dock all agreed that we had so made the right call on Cumberland.  And we shall return.

Once ashore we did the obvious thing after 3 days in the wilderness.  Headed for the Outlet Mall of course. Where Ezra got a pair of classic black Converse low-top running shoes,  and Adin got an orange Nike running hat. And,  in the Levi Store,  Aimee and I bought 6 pairs of jeans, 1 shirt,  and 1 belt all for $115. Now that’s shopping!  Then it was back in the car for the night drive to Orlando and Disney World.

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