My One Camping Trip

My dad was in the Boy Scouts and the U.S. Army, so by the time I came along he’d done enough camping for one lifetime. To this day, the closest dad comes to “roughing it” is staying at a Courtyard by Marriott. And so, aside from a couple of grade school summers when my folks let me “camp” in a tent in the backyard, I managed to reach adulthood without camping before.

By the late 1980s, most Georgians who knew about Cumberland Island learned about it from local shows like PM Magazine or local TV sign-offs. Atlanta’s public TV station, WGTV, in particular had a sign-off which featured scenic scenes from around the state set to Ray Charles’ version of “Georgia on My Mind”. The once grand old homes, the wild horses and the beautiful, unspoiled beaches of Cumberland Island featured prominently in the sign-off, and so one day, in late 1990, I got the idea to go to there.

Of course, this was a lot more difficult then than it would be today. I had to send a letter to the National Park Service, who is in charge of the island. In return they sent me a form to fill out, which I returned. Several weeks later, I received passes which would allow me and two friends to spend no more than 72 hours on the island on Memorial Day weekend 1991 (it’s a nature preserve, so access is strictly limited). I went to the Georgia State University library to find a phone book for St. Mary’s, the town closest to Cumberland. I saw a hotel I liked and made reservations. Almost everything was done except the waiting.

As the date approached, I spent around $400 on a tent, ground cloth, sleeping bag, a nice flashlight\lamp combo, a camping stove, fuel, plates and flatware, an armful of dehydrated camping dinners, water purification tablets, a 5 gallon collapsible water jug, eco-friendly toilet paper, cans of insect repellent, a sweet Swiss Army knife, and a giant backpack to put all that crap in. Oh, and I got a shiny new pair of Doc Martens, too. I considered them “necessary camping supplies”, you see. And, to round out the ensemble, I had an of-age friend get me a bottle of tequila, since I was only 20 at the time.

When the day actually came, it was funny to see how each person’s actions reflected their personality. I woke up early and had everything organized… and not just my clothes and camping gear, but the mix tapes, the maps and the itinerary. I had everything planned to the minute and was raring to go! So I went to pick up my friend James. James only needed five minutes by the time I got there, and since his family were big campers, he had everything he needed (or so he thought).

So the two of us hopped in my Jetta and hit I-85 south to go to Georgia Tech to pick up Jamie, the third member of the crew. We parked near his dorm and went up to his room… and waited and waited and waited. He finally showed up about 25 minutes after we were supposed to be there. He looked surprised to see us. “What are you guys doing here?”, he asked. “Um, Camping? Cumberland Island?”, I replied. His eyes opened really wide, and he hurriedly unlocked the door to his dorm. He grabbed one of those South American woven bags which were so cool at the time (like this), and he started shoving random pairs of shorts, underwear and socks and t-shirts into it. He then said “food.. food…” and grabbed a five-pound bag of rice and several cans of beans (but no can opener, or pot, or bowl, or forks or spoons, or seasonings) and shoved them in the bag, too. He started towards the door, but stopped and went back for his toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant (nice catch!). He quickly wrote a note which said “Gone camping – back Monday” and tacked it to the door. He then said that he was ready to go. To his credit, all of this had taken no more than 3 minutes.

However, I pointed out that he was supposed to bring the collapsible camping shovel. “Dammit,” he said. He grabbed his phone and dialed the dorm room of the guy who actually had the shovel. No answer. He called the guy’s next door neighbors. No answer there, either. He called several other people, but either got no answer or the people had no idea where the guy was. Jamie asked us to drive him to the dorms on the other side of campus to see if the guy was at his dorm. And so we did. James and I waited and smoked cigarettes in the car while Jamie went inside. And we waited.. and waited.. and waited. Eventually, Jamie came out with a full-size shovel. Apparently his friend was nowhere to be found, but he’d noticed that the groundskeeper’s closet was open, so he’d just stolen the damn shovel. Nice.

With the “Shovel Incident” behind us, we finally settled in for the almost six-hour drive to St. Marys, which is just north of Jacksonville and is the closest outpost of “civilization” to Cumberland. The trip was uneventful, and the only thing I really remember about it is that my mix tape included “Blackwater” off the just-released album by Rain Tree Crow and “Here to Go” by Cabaret Voltaire.

We rolled in to town around 6:30 that Friday night. We went to the Riverview Hotel and got our room:

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The view from our room

The hotel was built in 1916, and I’m sure many would say it had “Southern charm”. All I remember of the room was the peeling, moldy wallpaper in the bathroom, and a single cockroach the size of… the size of… well, it was much larger than it should have been, I’ll tell you that much. We ate dinner somewhere that night, but I have no memory of it. We went back to the room after dinner, and I was all excited about getting in to the tequila. But oddly, neither James nor Jamie (and yes, this trip was Jim, Jamie and James) wanted to join me. Jamie I’d kind of expected, as he wasn’t much of a drinker. He was the kind of guy who arrives at a party at 9 PM, fills a red cup from the keg, and leaves the party at 3 AM with half that same beer still left in the cup. James, on the other hand, was a bit of a surprise. I mean, he took a few “courtesy sips” so I wouldn’t feel alone, but his heart wasn’t in it. “Well, screw you guys,” I said, and drank almost half the bottle anyway. I was feelin’ fine that evening, and eventually drifted off into a fitful slumber.

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James brooding. Note the tequila bottle.

I wasn’t hungover when I woke up around 6:30, just three hours after I’d gone to bed, but I sure wished I’d had a few extra hours of sleep! The three of us showered, dressed, packed our bags and took them to the car before sitting down to breakfast at the hotel restaurant. I ordered the country ham with eggs, grits and toast. When my food came, I put some salt on the grits and eggs and absent-mindedly shook some on my ham.

“Damn, Jim!”, Jamie said.

“What?”, I asked.

“You’re putting SALT on your country ham? Isn’t it already salty enough for you?”

“I’m fine Mom, really.”

“That’s so not healthy for you, you know!”

I turned to him, gave him a stern look, and said two words: “Oil change.”

*     *     *

Several months earlier, Jamie and I were in his car. He was driving through Buckhead when we had a conversation that went something like this:

Jamie: “Man, my car’s been running like shit lately.”
Me: “When’s the last time you changed the oil, dude?”
Jamie: “What?”
Me: “You know… the oil. When’s the last time you changed the oil?”
Jamie: “I don’t know what you mean…”
Me: “You go to Jiffy Lube and they take the old oil out and put fresh oil in?
Jamie: “I don’t think I’ve ever done that.”
Me: “Are you shitting me? Seriously?”
Jamie: “No. Seriously, I haven’t.”
Me: “Well… how long have you had the car?”
Jamie: “Three and… almost three and a half years?”
Me: “Jesus! And how many miles have you put on it?”
Jamie: “Uhhh… around 95,000?”
Me: “And you’ve NEVER changed the oil?”
Jamie: “Uhhhhh… no?”
Me: “And they let you into Georgia Tech?”
Jamie: “Hey, I’m chemical engineering, not mechanical engineering!”
Me: “Yeah, and because I started out at DeKalb College, somehow I’m the dumb one.”

*     *     *

After breakfast, we drove the 100 yards or so to the ferry dock. There’s no bridge to the island, so the ferry is the only option, and the ferry parking lot let you park there for a couple of days (free!) when staying on the island. So we gathered up all our gear and headed out to the boat.

It was a beautiful spring morning on the Georgia coast. There were just a few puffy clouds in the bright blue sky. The sea was calm, save for a small chop-chop-chop you’d expect from the ocean. The air smelled of salt and fish. It all seemed perfect.

And then we arrived at the island.

Jamie was carrying the stolen shovel, and he’d only taken around three steps on dry land before a park ranger came running over.

“What are you planning on doing with… that?”, he asked contemptuously, pointing at the shovel. It didn’t help that he looked just like Enos from The Dukes of Hazzard.

“Uhhhh. Building a fire? Latrine duty?”, Jamie replied.

“Young man, this is a FEDERALLY PROTECTED NATIONAL SEASHORE! Fires are absolutely prohibited, as is [air quote tone without actual air quotes] digging [/air quote tone without actual air quotes] a latrine! I’m going to have to take that from you! You can get it back on your way out!”

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Just change the color of the uniform…

And that was the last time I ever saw Georgia Tech’s stolen shovel. I wanted to say “sorry dude, this is my first time camping”, but didn’t. I knew about fires being prohibited, but not about not being able to cover up your poop. I mean… who doesn’t want poop covered? Are these park rangers some kind scatological or coprophagous weirdos who get off on human poop? Or are they so dedicated to the myth of “preserving nature” that they’d prefer piles of human poop everywhere over one nice latrine?

The funny thing about all this is that a female park ranger came walking up behind “Enos” as he was reading us the Riot Act. She was young, and kinda cute, even if she was a bit too… “masculine” for my taste, and probably played for the “other team”, She had a big smile on her face, as if she was on our side in all this. As soon as “Enos” stomped off to bust some other kids for having too much fun, she walked up to us, laughed, and asked where we were camping.

“Hickory Hill!”, I said, cheerfully, hoping to make a better second impression.

She smiled, pointed in the direction of the trail, and wished us luck.

Now, you’d think three healthy young men in their early 20s wouldn’t have a problem with hiking five and a half miles, especially over mostly flat land (that’s 8.85 km for those of you not in the US or UK). And, to be honest, it really wasn’t all that bad. But it was 95°F (35°C) with 98% humidity at sea level, and bugs (and, oddly, armadillos) were everywhere. And my pack was heavy. So it didn’t take us long to go from happily singing “Hi-Ho! Hi-Ho! It’s off to camp we go!” as we marched to “How much fucking longer to this fucking campsite?” Oh, and James made us stop several times along the way. His boots were already irritating him, and he wanted to look for some moleskin pads he’d brought. But he couldn’t find them.

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Wild horses on the hike in

We eventually arrived at Hickory Hill and found a nice place to set up shop. Contrary to every comedy film ever made about camping, setting up the tent was actually a simple, straightforward process. I hate to disappoint you readers, but at no point did we resemble Curly, Larry and Moe. I rolled my sleeping bag out in the tent, found the water purification tablets and the jug, and hung my backpack from a tree, just like all the other cool campers. James said he need to find the moleskin in his bag, so Jamie and I volunteered to get the water.

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Home Sweet Home

And that was a bitch. There were two downsides to Hickory Hill: one was that it was in the wetlands, so there were a lot of bugs. The other was that the nearest water supply was around three miles away, round trip.

And it’s even worse when your friend comes this close to stepping on a coral snake on the way there. Jamie and I were walking to the tap, and the snake suddenly slithered into Jamie’s path. Had his stride been an inch behind, his foot would have come down directly on the snake, which Wikipedia says “possess one of the most potent venoms of any North American snake”. At that moment, I remembered that James was in charge of bringing the first aid kit. I knew we were doomed. What’s worse was that when we finally got to the tap, the water was disgusting. I knew from the map that the water was “sulfur rich”, but damn… it was awful! The smell made we wonder if the water tap was drilled so deeply that it was pulling from the Sulfur Pools of Hell. The water looked fine, but smelled like it had been steeped in a vat with a million rotten eggs and broccoli farts. I put the purification tablets into the jug, closed it up, and hoped for the best.

Have you ever carried five gallons of water for a mile and a half? In the Georgia heat? It ain’t easy, my friend. Jamie and I switched off carrying the water for several hundred yards at a time, and we made it back to the campsite. And, when we arrived, James gave us a giant list of stuff he’d forgotten, including the snake bite kit. Awesome. By this point, it was 4:30 or 5:00, too late in the afternoon to really go anywhere (more accurately, it was too late to get back to the campsite before dark). So I decided to start making dinner.

James and Jamie laughed at me when I pulled several of the camping meals out of my bag. “Ooooo, look at Mr Camping Professional guy with his cammmmp foooooood!”, they said, taunting me as if we were back in the school playground and they were fifth graders and I was a lowly second grader. “Yeah well…” I said. “I have the stove and the fuel and the pot, so if you guys want to eat anything, you’d better be nice to me!”

I decided on Yankee Pot Roast and went to work on setting up the stove. James pulled out a whole bunch of Lunch Bucket microwave meals and decided on one, while Jamie got out the bag of rice and a can of beans, only to discover that he’d forgotten a can opener. He suddenly became really nice to me when he realized that my Swiss Army knife had the only opener in camp. All the meals were eventually cooked. Well, sort of. The camp stove was a bit wimpy, and while it was powerful enough to cook my dehydrated dinners and James’ chili mac, it just didn’t have the oomph to fully cook Jamie’s rice. So Jamie, who’d made fun of my meals not 30 minutes before, enjoyed a meal of half-cooked rice and beans. Karma is a bitch sometimes.

After dinner, we sat up and talked for a while, enjoying the millions of stars above us. But then James asked about the tequila. My two friends, who had been apathetic to the liquor the day before, were suddenly interested. We killed the rest of the bottle – even Jamie had a few slugs – and we eventually drifted off to sleep. But it wasn’t a sound sleep. Experts say that alcohol actually inhibits deep sleep, and when it comes to sleeping on the ground in unfamiliar terrain, they’re right. At one point during the night, I became aware of a subtle scratching sound. I felt around in the dark for my glasses, and then the flashlight. The scratching sound continued. I carefully opened the tent as quietly as I could, then shined the light around the campsite to see… a family of raccoons trying to get in our backpacks, which we’d hung from the tree for that very reason.

Folks, I can’t even begin to tell you HOW FREAKING GIGANTIC momma raccoon was. I’m familiar with raccoons. We get them on our back deck here in Belmont from time to time. And those guys were tiny compared to the beast I saw that night. This raccoon was bigger than a lot of dogs. In fact, had it not been for the claws and “bandit mask”, I would have thought it was a dog at first, given how big it was. And, in true raccoon fashion, she just sat there and stared at us with the utmost contempt for several minutes, my rustling having caused James and Jamie to wake up. We whispered amongst ourselves for several minutes, trying to figure out what to do. Eventually it was decided that since I was holding the flashlight, I should go outside and scare the critters away. I did, and they scampered off into the night.

We woke up pretty early the next morning. Jamie had fruit for breakfast. James ate a cold Lunch Bucket. I, on the other hand, enjoyed a delicious “Scrambled Eggs with Ham, Red & Green Peppers” entrée, which the other two guys looked at longingly. We then “got ready”, which meant taking a dump a few hundred yards way on an old log, with giant blue bottle flies attacking the poop as soon as it left your butt, then washing your hands and face and then brushing your teeth with the Water from Hell™. An adventure? Yes! Enjoyable? Hell no!

*     *     *

Cumberland was officially discovered in 1733 by James Oglethorpe, the founder of the Georgia colony. Its name was suggested by a young Yamacraw Indian named Toonahowi, after William Augustus, the 13-year old Duke of Cumberland. Toonahowi’s uncle, Chief Tomochichi, had visited England with Oglethorpe, and apparently Toonahowi was amused that a 13 year-old could become a duke.

Oglethorpe built two forts on the island, Fort William in the south and Fort St. Andrews in the north. He also built a hunting lodge called Dungeness, and for around a decade a small village named Berrimacke existed near Fort St. Andrews. And then, in July 1742, the Battle of Bloody Marsh broke out as a consequence of The War of Jenkins’ Ear (check out this History Blog article for more cool stuff about the war). The battle was fought between the British and the Spanish, who had been threatening to invade South Carolina for a long time, which is why Oglethorpe had the forts built in the first place. The British won, and kept all the land they’d seized from the Spanish in the battle, which is why Georgia has that little “notch” in its southeastern corner. With the Spanish defeated, there was little need for the forts, and so both were abandoned, along with Berrimacke.

In 1783, Nathaniel Greene, one of the greatest heroes of the Revolutionary War, bought land on Cumberland to harvest oak trees for ship building. In fact, oak trees from Cumberland were used in the construction of the U.S.S. Constitution, perhaps the most famous warship in American history. Greene died nearby on the mainland three years later from sunstroke, and his widow, Catherine, subsequently married a man named Phineas Miller ten years later. The couple built a large home on the island, called Dungeness in honor of Oglethorpe’s lodge. The Millers were the first to try agricultural pursuits on the island, planting world-renowned Sea Island Cotton.

In 1818, another Revolutionary War hero came to Cumberland: Gen. “Lighthorse” Harry Lee, a friend of the Greenes and father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. His health was failing, so much so that the ship taking him home from the West Indies stopped at Cumberland instead of going all the way Virginia. He died there a month later on March 25, 1818. Robert bought a marble tombstone for his father’s grave and visited it on the island several times. “Lighthorse” Harry was interred there until 1913, when his body was returned to Virginia.

The end of the Civil War meant the end of slavery, and the end of profitability for the plantations. People left the island almost en masse, and much of the island remained vacant until the 1884, when Andrew Carnegie’s brother Thomas built a “winter retreat” on the island on the site of Greene’s Dungeness. And it’s probably not a big surprise to learn that the Carnegies named their home Dungeness, too:

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The “winter retreat” in the early 1950s.

The Carnegie family ended up buying almost 90% of the island, and Lucy Carnegie had estates built for her children, including Greyfield (now a privately-owned inn, the only on the island), Plum Orchard (which was donated to the National Park Service in 1972) and Stafford Plantation (which is currently falling to pieces). Swimming pools, a golf course, and 40 buildings housing 200 servants were also built. However, the last time the family used the home was in 1929, for a wedding. The stock market crash later that year and the Great Depression forced the Carnegies to cut costs, and as far as I know they never went back to the island again. Dungeness was set on fire in 1959 by an illegal poacher who was angry because he’d been shot in the leg by a Dungeness caretaker a few weeks before.

In 1968, Tom, Henry, and Andrew Carnegie sold the majority of their remaining land on Cumberland to developer Charles Fraser, who had built the Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, thus turning that island into the resort community it is today. Fraser promised to conserve as much of the island as possible, and even brought in David Brower, the then-executive director of the Sierra Club, for help. Although Brower pushed for a 90/10 split – building on 10% of the land and leaving 90% undisturbed – Fraser’s plans forced “activists, politicians, members of the Carnegie and Candler families, and a number of organizations, including the Georgia Conservancy and ultimately the Sierra Club” into action. Fraser caved under the pressure, and on October 23, 1971 President Richard Nixon signed a bill creating the Cumberland Island National Seashore.

*     *     *

The reason I went on the multi-paragraph detour into Cumberland’s history was to emphasize that while the island is nearly uninhabited, there are a ton of houses and other old buildings still around. There are a few private homes still on the island, grandfathered in, as well as the aforementioned Greyfield Inn and tons of ruins. So James, Jamie and I decided to go exploring that day. Here are a bunch of pictures of that. Sadly, I don’t recall much about these locations, so captions, if any, will be few.

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James being a manly man

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I had way too much hair.

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James and Jamie take a break

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Suggestive?

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Not sure about this house

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I believe this was a Carnegie house

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A creepy abandoned indoor pool

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The books on the piano looked new

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Born 1790. Died 1877.

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Foliage overhead

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Jamie stops for a banana break

We then headed back towards the campsite, as the trail to the beach started near there. The three of us headed happily down the trail… until we reached a swamp. That’s when I ran into a problem.

I’d just bought the new Doc Martens I was wearing, and I was damned if I was gonna ruin them by walking through the swamp! But God knows what was actually in the swamp. Cumberland is one of the least developed areas on the East Coast, and although the water was only five or six inches deep (13 to 15 cm), it seemed thick, and was a completely opaque brown. I could possibly step on snails, snakes, crabs, cnidarians, flatworms, roundworms… any number of disgusting creatures! Hell, it was even possible that I could inadvertently “discover” some as-yet-unknown species of parasite! I imagined myself locked in an isolation room at the Centers for Disease Control, forced to give blood samples while men in biohazard suits shoved plates of cafeteria food through a slot in the door. But dammit.. I’d just shelled out $130 for cool new boots! What to do?

I hiked through the swamp barefoot, of course. And when we finally reached the other side, we saw the beach… which was amazing! We could see the famous wild horses on the beach off in the distance. There were sand dollars and other cool shells scattered all over the beach. And the cool breeze was soooo nice!

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On the way to the beach

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On the way to the beach

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Just arrived at the beach

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The Dunes

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The beach!

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The beach, in hipster B&W

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Jamie ponders life

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On the way back

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On the way back

We made it back to the campsite around 4:30 or 5:00 again, having dodged what seemed like dozens of Nine-Banded Armadillos on the way to and fro (I, for one, had no idea that Georgia even had armadillos, and here were dozens of the things).

I got started on dinner again, and this time James and Jamie looked at me with hungry eyes. Yes, the same people who made fun of me the day before for buying dehydrated food now looked at my Beef Stroganoff with noodles and Chicken a la King like a pair of hungry wolves. I’d brought plenty of food, and since I’m a nice guy we all chipped in for dinner: I made two Beef Stroganoff dinners, James shared a Lunch Bucket or two, and Jamie provided fruit for dessert.

But before dinner could be served there was… “The Incident”. I was sitting on the ground by the stove, futzing with the fuel supply and trying to get everything started when James, who was behind me, asked me to check him for ticks. I turned around to say that I would… and was “rewarded” with the sight of James bent over right in front of me. He’d pulled his ass cheeks apart, so the tip of my nose was like, literally inches away from his asshole.

“DUDE! WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?”

He straightened up, then twisted his torso so that he could look at me.

“Ticks are serious. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever aren’t funny. At all.”

“Well… OK. But could you have given me some warning there, man? And I don’t think I need to be two inches away from your asshole to check for ticks!”

He kindly took a step or two away from me. He then bent over again. I looked at his hairy ass, and he moved his sack back and forth with his hands before Dr Jim proclaimed him tick-free. I looked over at Jamie, who simultaneously looked shocked, confused and amused. He looked at me, shook his head, and walked over to our somewhat hidden “latrine area” to check himself out. And yes, I did the same myself after dinner.

All of us tick-free and full, we sat around talking again as the late afternoon turned to evening. But then, not too long after it got full-on dark, it started to rain. We grabbed all of gear and tossed it into the tent, then hopped in there ourselves. We continued the conversation for another couple of hours, but it just wasn’t a lot of fun with all our stuff jammed in there too. We agreed to go to sleep and try again the next morning.

You might think that the sound of rain hitting the roof of a tent would be relaxing, that it might help you sleep. And it probably would have, except that it was still around 85°F (30°C) and the air was so humid you could cut it with a knife. And there was little ventilation in the tent, because it was, you know, raining and we couldn’t open a vent. So it just seemed to get hotter and hotter with every one of our breaths as the night went on. What’s more, the ground underneath us became soaked. Again, you might think this is a good thing, that the mud might somehow conform to your body shape like a Tempurpedic mattress. No. It just means that you slide around all night, made worse by the fact that it’s so hot that you’re constantly flipping around and turning the sleeping bag inside out, trying anything to get a little cool comfort. It was the night from Hell, and I could swear that I only got around five minutes of solid sleep the whole night. Where was the tequila when you needed it?

According to my original plan, on our final day we would pack up the campsite, hike to the marshy beach on the other side of the island, and hang out there for a while before heading back to the Welcome Center to catch the 4:30 ferry back to the mainland. But I was secretly overjoyed when Jamie came to me that morning and said that he and James had been talking, and they wanted to know if there was a ferry at 11:30 that morning.

“Hell yes there is!”

Tens of millions of people have been camping throughout human history, and very few of them have broken down a campsite faster than we did that morning. Sure, we’d had a lot of fun. But the Siren song of air conditioning, indoor plumbing and fast food was far too great to resist. We broke down the tent, refilled James’ canteen then dumped the Sulfur Water from Hell™, and jammed as much stuff as we could into our backpacks as quickly as we could. Since we didn’t have time to cook breakfast, I made sure that whatever snacks I had left – some trail mix and some beef jerky – were easily accessible.

We hit the trail, moving at triple time. No, seriously: we were almost running. It was our own little Bataan Death March. To this day, I still think it was kind of cool how we kept encouraging ourselves to continue. Although I’d made fun of James over the past couple of days for his ill-fitting boots and forgotten moleskin, I knew the guy was hurting. We all wanted to stop and rest at one point or another, but we kept pushing, pushing for the air-conditioned car, pushing for the clean indoor restrooms on the mainland, pushing for a large order of McDonald’s fries and an icy cold Coke that didn’t taste like sulfur, and pushing for the eventual hot shower that awaited us all. Faster and faster we moved. Sweat poured down our faces. The pain in our legs grew and grew as we went on. Where we’d paused to look at some beautiful scene on the way in, nature and all her armadillos scattered from us as we marched towards the ferry and home.

Finally, when it just seemed like we couldn’t take any more… there was the dock! Oh joy! Home sweet home! But wait a minute… where was the boat? Where were all the other people heading home? It was 10:45, a bit early for the 11:30 ferry, but shouldn’t someone have been there? Our three pairs of eyes darted in every direction, looking for an answer. And that answer came from the cute park ranger we’d met two days before. There was no 11:30 ferry, she said. There was a 10:30 ferry, which had left a few minutes late. We’d just missed it. We’d have to wait for the 4:30 ferry!

James let out a groan, a terrifying sound from somewhere very deep inside both his body and psyche. He was exhausted. He dropped his pack on a nearby bench, then used it as a pillow as he collapsed on top of it. He was asleep in seconds. Jamie and I, wide awake with adrenaline from the Death March, got out some snacks and tried to figure out how to kill several hours. We stuffed our packs underneath James on the bench and decided to check out the ruins of the Carnegies’ Dungeness, which weren’t that far away.

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Compare to the earlier picture

For some reason, Jamie and I were the only ones there. And although there were signs all over the place informing us that the ruins belonged to the United States government and trespassing was forbidden, we just had to check it out:

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Dungeness from behind

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Crumbling

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Once grand, now falling apart

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Once a terrace

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Once an underground swimming pool

This wooden building was directly next door to Dungeness. I have no idea when it was built or who owned it. It looked really old, but it couldn’t be Oglethorpe’s Dungeness, as that burned down. It could possibly be the Miller’s Dungeness… or it could have been built by the Carnegies. Given the almost tropical climate, things degrade so fast that it’s hard to tell how old anything really is. I looked for signs of old construction – like handmade nails or wavy glass windows – but couldn’t find anything definitive:

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We walked back towards the Welcome Center:

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Jamie, energy to spare. plays Tarzan

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Wild horses near the Welcome Center

Eventually, 4:30 rolled around. The ferry showed up, and we were the first on board. And since we hadn’t had a real meal all day – just some snacks after the march – James and I hit the ferry’s snack bar. Sadly, they didn’t have any hot food, so no burgers or hot dogs. But they did have packaged pastries, and although I normally don’t care for honey buns, I bought one along with an ice-cold Dr Pepper. We carried them back outside like trophies, and Jamie, the health food fanatic, only smiled at us as James and I killed our snacks. You would have thought we’d been lost in the Atlantic on a life raft for thirty days the way we ate those snacks. But dammit – civilization tasted sooooo goooood! Let me tell you: I’ve had Dublin Dr Pepper. I’ve had West Jefferson Dr Pepper. And they’re all good. But no Dr Pepper I’ve ever had tasted as good as the one that day. Anyone who says they don’t like Dr Pepper should drink sulfur water for two days and get back to me.

We eventually got back to the mainland, and loaded our stuff up in the car. I’d like to say that the ride home was uneventful, but it wasn’t. In fact, at one point I was absolutely terrified.

Remember the rain from the night before? That was apparently part of a tropical storm which had hit Florida a day or two before and the remnants of which were making their way up the east coast. We were about an hour outside St. Marys when it suddenly started raining harder than anything I’d ever seen. And the rain brought a thick fog or mist with it. Combine that with the rain, and I couldn’t see more than ten feet ahead of me in the car. Jamie was in the front seat and James was in the back, and both were just yukking it up, swapping jokes and funny stories with each other until I finally (and unfairly) exploded on them:

“WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU TWO? YOU’RE JUST SITTING THERE, LAUGHING YOUR ASSES OFF… HAVE YOU NOT LOOKED OUT THE WINDSHIELD? I CAN’T SEE TEN FEET IN FRONT OF MY FUCKING FACE! WOULD YOU BOTH SHUT THE HELL UP AND LET ME DRIVE??”

They were shocked and offended, and rightly so. But I was able to take some of the sting away a few moments later. We passed under an overpass, and no one – not me, or Jamie or James – actually saw the bridge until we were about ten feet from it.

“See what I mean?” I asked.

They understood, and no one complained when I slowed down from 35 mph to 25 mph. I was terrified. I couldn’t see a damn thing, and was almost certain that I was going to slam head first into an 18-wheeler or something. But at the same time, I was worried that some jackass doing 70 would ram us from behind. Of course, I had the blinkers on, but I couldn’t see other cars with their blinkers on until I was almost on top of them. I could only picture someone ramming us from behind, and all three of us dying in flames on an interstate in south Georgia.

We eventually found an overpass that wasn’t crowded. We actually went under several, but they were filled with cars, some even pulling up on the steep concrete slope. We sat in the car for damn near an hour before the rain finally let up a bit, and more importantly the fog\mist dissipated. We made the drive back to Atlanta without a problem, letting Jamie off at Georgia Tech. We then headed north on 85, back to Duluth. On the way, I looked at all the sprawl in a new, beautiful light. Yes, nature is great and all that. But all the Taco Bells and Waffle Houses and QuikTrips gave me a nice warm feeling inside. As we passed Jimmy Carter Boulevard, with all its flea markets and furniture stores, I turned to James and said I was so glad to be home.

And let me tell you brother… I really was!

One thought on “My One Camping Trip

  1. Rich

    I have never been a big ” camper ” and its a tale like this that explains why……Not a outdoor sleeper or Pooper…and ya couldnt bury it…WTF!!!!!

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