My wife and I spent the past few days on Cumberland Island, one of our favorite places to go for some quality wilderness time. For those not familiar with the island, Cumberland is mostly a national park, with the only access via two ferry trips a day or private boats. Thanks to the limited travel options, the island is usually a calm and peaceful place, with open stretches of pristine beach and no one in sight in either direction.

imgp3086We drove down to the park office after leaving Savannah at 6 AM, not knowing whether or not we would actually be able to stay on the island. All campgrounds had been booked up for months beforehand, but I figured that the cold weather would scare off enough sissies to the point where we could get a spot wherever we chose. Luckily, I was right and there were several no-shows.

The ferry ride over was nice and frigid, with a constant freezing wind blowing in our faces before we wussed out and headed inside. Upon arrival on the island, we chose a spot as far away from the Boy Scout groups as possible, not knowing that we had picked a spot where not one, but two groups ofimgp31001 drunken rednecks would come to roost in nearby spots. Oh well, can’t win them all. At least the sites are ten times the size of what you see in most national parks, with thick palmetto plants and live oaks separating each site. We are used to places like the Smokies, where you can fit one tent on the gravel pads, two if you are crafty with backpacking tents. The Cumberland sites could easily handle four car camping tents with plenty of privacy space in between each one, two picnic tables, a food container, a fire ring, and a few other nice touches. The rangers and volunteers on the island really do a great job of keeping the place a nice area to stay.

After we set up camp and gathered some firewood, we headed up a trail and then out to the beach for some shell collecting and general wandering. At one of the backcountry sites, we met up with a young couple we had met on imgp31561the ferry ride over and decided to head up with them to Plum Orchard, one of the mansions that the Carnegie family had built on the island. The mansion was still intact and in great condition, with a main fireplace that you could literally sit in thanks to the pew seats on each site. The house featured countless bedrooms, a racquetball court, and indoor pool, and all kinds of other extravagances that the silly rich could afford over 100 years ago.

I knew that heading up that far (around 16 miles round trip) might be a bad choice, but with plenty of flashlights and headlamps between us (a given, if you have read anything I have written), I was confident that we could make it back just fine, even if we had to do some traipsing in the dark. We had plenty of food, extra clothing, emergency gear, etc. What I was not counting on was my bum knee acting up and then my feet starting to feel like they were going to explode. They hurt more than they have ever hurt in my entire life, seriously feeling like they were going to pop from the pressure. Maybe it was my shoes, the sand, the fact that I am not in very good shape anymore, or maybe the forest spirits punishing my hubris. Whatever it was, we were very grateful when we finally made our campground entrance around 7:45.

Our Backpacker’s Pantry meal was about as good as anything I have ever eaten, and it was a relatively early bedtime after that. The screaming rednecks bothered me for about 30 seconds before I went out like a light. My new TNF Blue Kazoo 15F down bag kept me nice and toasty in the weather that dropped down into the 20s. My wife was cold in her synthetic bag, but after adding some more layers, she warmed up.

Thanks to the Ibuprofen the night before, the good bit of rest, or just dumb luck, I felt pretty good the next day other than some sore Achilles tendons. We swore never to be without better transportation after the experience theimgp3091 day before, so we rented some bikes to make us more mobile over the next couple of days. I had stared at the ground the entire first day thanks to a ranger’s comment that the roads were the place to find shark teeth, but had no luck. We met the couple from the previous day at the bike rental area, and the young woman showed us a massive megalodon tooth that she had found sitting in the middle of the road. I was instantly fascinated with the whole shark tooth thing (and still am), so we spent a couple of hours that day dedicated to searching for them. We found a few small ones the first day in dredging piles, but nothing like what the woman had found. I had dreams of finding enough shark teeth to be able to terrorize rural areas and becoming a folk legend like Bigfoot or El Chupacabra, but they were dashed by our crappy luck. OK, we had crappy search skills and methods, but blaming our meager findings on luck makes us look better. We also wandered around the Dungeness ruins, but those weren’t nearly as exciting as digging through sand (seriously, I really like digging through sand).

We also spent a good bit of time scrounging up more firewood, since the night before was quite cold, and the small pieces of wood that we had were not enough to get a roaring fire going. The Boy Scouts in the area apparently didn’t pay attention to the rangers’ “down, dead, and detached” speech about firewood, since they and their Scout leaders were chopping down friggin’ live trees, even though dead and dried wood was all over if you went a little way away from the sites. We were able to gather quite a bit of sizable logs, but all our efforts were for naught, since it started raining early in the night and we did not feel like constantly stoking the fire to keep it going.

The third day was spent wandering around the island, looking for more shark teeth and shells. Armed with better search techniques from a helpful ranger, we found around 50 total teeth in the piles and on the roards, including a couple of pieces of megalodon teeth. I already have plans for a portable sifter system for our next trip to the island! The ferry back left right in time, as a nasty front moved in with high winds, rain, and colder weather.

Here are some pics I was too lazy to properly incorporate into the post:

Turkeys chilling in a nearby site on the third day

Sunset off the docks the second day

Turkeys chilling in a nearby site on the third day

Turkeys chilling in a nearby site on the third day

One of the million armadillos on the island

One of the million armadillos on the island

Critter tracks

Critter tracks

Horsey next to the ICW

Horsey next to the ICW

Sand!

Sand!

One of many dead jellyfish on the beach.  I sense a conspiracy!

One of many dead jellyfish on the beach. I sense a conspiracy!

Sunset on the way home

Sunset on the way home

A big metal thing on the beach.  It is surely a mine.

A big metal thing on the beach. It is surely a mine.

Bird tracks on the sand

Bird tracks on the sand

Tree next to the marshes

Tree next to the marshes

Marshes next to Dungeness

Marshes next to Dungeness

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