Fri. May 26, 2017:
St. Mary’s, GA
The early 7:15am wakeup was not problem, I had gone to bed at 10pm and slept like a rock. My wakeup was made all the better with Biscoff cookies and Dunkin Donuts iced coffee. Apparently we were up at the rabbit hour, I could not believe how many rabbits we saw by the side of the road munching on grass. We were listening to Stuff You Should Know in the car and for once I did not fall asleep while we were driving. Even though we had purchased our ferry tickets online we still had to wait in line to pick them up. What was the point?!
When we arrived we saw that there was a street festival being set up but it did not interfere with the parking. It was a 45 minute ferry ride to Cumberland Island. We sat on the lower deck out of the sun because we would essentially be spending the whole day outdoors (our return ferry did not leave until 4:45pm). We somehow wound up in seats right next to the snack bar. We hadn’t really eaten a proper breakfast so it only seemed fitting to buy some Doritos cool ranch, Skittles and to keep things healthy: peanut butter crackers. We also split a bottle of water to get a head start on staying hydrated. We glared to kids who grabbed drinks from the cooler and did not close it. Only one of the docks on the island was operational which made figuring out where to go for pickup in the afternoon a lot easier.
Cumberland Island was wilder than the other islands we had been to because it was largely untouched. There was only one hotel and bikes were only allowed on certain trails. Other than the hotel shuttle and a tour car there were no other cars on the island. We arrived at around 10am and we had basically the whole day to explore the island. I had varying levels of hope throughout the day of seeing wildlife. We had a list of what we hoped to see and a list of what we hoped not to see. That second list was pretty short: rattlesnake.
We started out with the beach. The ranger had warned us that getting to it you had to cross hot sand dunes plus the beach has no shade. He called the dunes the Sahara desert of the island. It made sense to start there and get it out of the way. There was no one else on the beach, the ranger and his group had gone in the opposite direction of us. We figured we would eventually run into them.
Walking through the dunes Brent claimed to have seen a small crab scuttling across the sand and then into a hidey-hole. All I saw were squiggly marks in the sand. Walking along the beach was nice and relaxing, it was quiet and peaceful because there was no one else there. Just like the tide, my hopes of seeing a crab were low. I was keeping a vigilant look out. Soon enough we saw a ghost crab walking sideways, he was halfway into a hole. He poked out, then hid, then poked out and a second crab also may have poked the tip of his (or her) claw out. We had no idea who else was also in the hole because the second creature never emerged, we just saw something moving. Further down the beach we saw another ghost crab but this one seemed to be dying. He did not scuttle away as we approached and he was only moving one leg.
We passed a giant osprey sitting on a log, carefully watching us as we walked by. It was creepy knowing that it was watching us that whole time even though we kept our distance. Eventually our nice beach walk was ruined by the sight of factories off in the distance. It may have been Florida. We may have also passed into Florida on our ferry ride over. It was crazy just how close to Florida we were. Alas it did not count as new state for either of us so it was not that exciting.
It soon started to feel like we had been on the beach for a long time. We still had not passed the group going in the reverse direction. We had not seen anyone. We had been out there so long we had to put on sunscreen. As we walked we kept an eye out for the markers leading us off the beach and continuing the trail. Just as Brent started to wonder if we had passed it and mentioned that we really have to keep an eye out- I interrupted him with a there it is! The markers were almost impossible to discern, they were white with thin black stripes but it easily faded into the white of the sand dunes. Walking through the sand dune passage I could see what the ranger had meant by Sahara desert. It was bad. It was made worse by the bright sun reflecting off the white sand. I wanted out. We had a brief break on a boardwalk but then it was right back into the sand.
As soon as we were out of the dunes and on a trail in a grassy meadow we saw a brown feral horse. We got super excited! A wild feral horse! We did not think we would see any. He was much slimmer than his domesticated counterparts, I could see his ribs. He also did not care at all about us, he just went back to munching on grass. A few minutes later we saw another feral horse, this time a white one. A family passing us in the opposite direction did not seem to care at all. We were bewildered. Had they been to the island before? Was this just a beach day for them?
On the way to the bathrooms we heard a ruckus near some of the ruins. We turn to look at the commotion and we saw a deer taking off. A kid had gone over to look at the ruins and inadvertently scared a young deer- which scared the kid. By the bathrooms there were some picnic benches inside the building. It felt good to sit down in the shade. We refilled our water bottle and ate granola bars and cookies.
Near the edge of the ruins of the Carnegie mansion were the ruins of the servants’ quarters. There we found a trail to the salt marsh. We had glimpsed the salt marsh from the cemetery but now we got a closer view. This time we saw some wildlife: a wild racoon (much cuter than its city counterpart). He was much lighter in colour and it was adorable to watch him hunt in the tall marsh grasses. We also saw some small fiddler crabs scurrying about in the mud. There was an egret nearby as well.
When we got to the ruins of the main house we realized why the people we saw earlier were not excited about the feral horses. There were 5-6 of them hanging around the ruins, oblivious to all the people gawking at them. We watched as people got a little too close to them. At the ice house museum we learned more about the house but also the history of the island and the archaeological finds. On the way to the ice house museum we heard a loud thudding. Someone (or something, maybe) had spooked the horses and they were galloping away. I was glad we were so far away from them. Near the ice house museum there were 3 more horses just hanging around in the field. As it turns out feral horses are quite common. We walked over to see the broken down dock, it was definitely not functional.
We walked along the River Trail back to the dock for another rest break. Along the trail Brent almost stepped on a tiny crab. I was very confused. What was a crab doing on a wooded trail?! It was a nice trail with lots of trees shading us from the sun. Along the way we passed a couple going in the opposite direction who asked us if there was anything cool back that way. They got really excited when we mentioned the feral horses. We stopped for a brief moment because there was stuff falling from a tree. We looked up only to see a red-headed woodpecker going at the tree. He was picking off bark and Spanish moss and dropping it. He also pecked at the tree a bit.
We sat on the porch of the ranger station in rocking chairs. It felt good to sit down, my legs were starting to hurt. It was a much needed break: there were bathrooms and potable water and I had a chance to reapply sunscreen. The most important part was the cool shade. There was a guy fishing off the dock and he caught a stingray in his net. It was suspenseful watching him try to release while having no idea what he was doing.
For our afternoon hike we decided to head north as far as we could. We had about an hour and 15 minutes. We were going to try and make it to Willow Lake which looked like a reasonable plan based on the map. We were hoping to see some alligators in the lake. Along the way we noticed a turn off to the beach. Not heeding my warning about the heat and the sun, Brent suggested we go have a look. It was instant regret as we stepped back out on the white hot sand. We quickly retreated to the shade of the canopy of the maritime forest. We switched from walking on the roadway to walking on the pedestrian trail. We kept hearing rustling in the leaves but it was just lizards. Brent heard some rustling coming from underneath a tree and then he noticed an armadillo rutting around in the foliage. He was so cute digging around and looking for bugs. This was probably the most excited we got about wildlife on the trip. The armadillo did not care about us at all- he just went on digging. This was confirmed with a second armadillo sighting. It looked up, confirmed we were not food and kept digging, even getting quite close to us. Brent even posed for a few pictures with it, the armadillo was not phased. We saw the second armadillo as we approached another beach entrance. In looking at the map we realized that we still had a long way to go before we would reach the lake and not enough time at all. We were not even halfway there.
We walked back along the roadway because we wanted a glimpse of the super fancy hotel. Alas, in keeping with it being super fancy, it was hidden from the road and far down a private driveway. When a tour van drove by we moved to the side of the road. The driver waved, so Brent waved back and so he thought we needed help. It was mildly confusing. We saw one more armadillo but it was further away and we did not get a good look at it.
By the time we got back to the meeting point I was exhausted. I was covered in sand and sunscreen and sweat. I was tired of the sun. I was sick of the smoke-flavoured bad water. We sat a picnic bench because all of the rocking chairs were taken. We still had 45 minutes before boarding. I had a short nap. I awoke to find ants all over the tabletop, eating the cookie crumbs from my earlier snack. It was fun to watch the disordered chaos as they tried to coordinate carrying crumbs and breaking it up into smaller pieces. One ant tried to carry a giant piece and he was succeeding until his friends came in and piled up on it all tugging in different directions, leaving all the other crumbs unattended. We watched an ant carrying a crumb down the side of the bench after a long struggle only to drop the crumb.
I was so tired on the ferry ride back. I had a cold Coke and some peanut butter crackers and I fell asleep listening to podcasts. I was too hot, tired and in need of a shower to think about getting food from the street festival. I just wanted to get to the hotel room. The street festival looked pretty lame anyways, there was no one there and we felt sorry for the vendors. It was all very awkward. The hotel was less than stellar. The tub faucet was missing and in place there were pliers on a small knob. It did not matter- it felt so damn good to shower.
For dinner we had an epic plan. There were a bunch of fast food chains all near each other. The plan was to grab items from a few to create a mega-fast-food dinner. Brent had a Chick-Fil-A spicy sandwich and we split an 8 piece nuggets box. While Brent was at Chick-Fil-A I went to the gas station and grabbed some iced coffees and strawberry M&Ms. I fed Brent the sandwich as we sat a red light. Up next we went to McDonald’s where I got a pico de gallo burger. Brent at the last second got a smoky BBQ bacon burger. His bun was better because it was artisanal but I won by a long shot with the guacamole. Finally we went to Arby’s for curly fries. In all the places nothing met my drink standards: I wanted a frozen lemonade or something close to it. In a moment of bad judgement I ordered a Ghiradelli chocolate milkshake at Arby’s. Can’t go wrong with Ghiradelli right? Plus I had never had a milkshake since childhood. Now I know why: they’re just too thick and heavy. It’s not a good food. We were so hungry that the meal never fully came together, we ate it in parts. By the time we got to the hotel we were just eating fries and nuggets.
Our hotel room was right above the bar below. We had to turn the AC on to drown out the noise as we tried to finish the episode of Olive Kitteridge we had started the night before. The bed was crappy and the only good thing about the hotel was the dog that greeted us when we checked in.