Cumberland Island National Seashore – 2/18/18 – 10.2 Miles
A second night of Jim’s deflating sleeping pad was made worse by tired bodies and itchy bug bites. The last straw came when I tried to get out of the tent to pee and fell sideways, bending both my left knee and a tent pole beyond their limits. We spent the rest of the night bivvy style, with the tent walls 3 inches from our faces. [Note: sent the poles to Big Agnes, they repaired them, sent them back, charged me $3.)
Bugs wake up early, too.
We all agreed that while Cumberland Island is awesome, we’d had enough adversity for this outing. Instead of staying our third night at Stafford Beach Camp, we decided to hike back to the ranger station and try to get on the 4:30 p.m. ferry back to St. Mary’s. Would there be room on the ferry? We would beg for mercy. If they couldn’t take us, we’d stealth camp somewhere at Sea Camp Beach (we’d seen empty campsites, maybe some folks didn’t show up) and catch our scheduled ferry for Monday morning.
What we missed by cutting a day short: exploring the north end of the island, the Settlement area created by former African-American slaves, the First African Baptist Church that they established, and perhaps getting a look at Carol Ruckdeschel’s house. [Note: When I return to Cumberland Island, I’ll book one of the all-day Land and Legacy tours to visit the north end.]
So…we’ve learned that flat miles are not necessarily fast and the ferry dock is 10 miles away. We didn’t have to run but our chances of getting on the ferry were best if we were early, so we walked along the main road. As always, there’s lots to see if you just look (no alligators, though).
We walked by another Carnegie estate, Stafford Mansion, built in 1901 by Lucy Carnegie for her son William, on a plantation owned in the 19th century by Robert Stafford. Old Man Stafford’s estate grew cotton through the labor of nearly 150 slaves. (The buildings he established are long gone.) The Carnegie mansion is still privately owned by a family descendant, but you can rent it on VRBO for $400 per night, outdoor shower and toilet included…
Directly across the road is a wide open, flat-as-a-pancake field that the Carnegies made into a golf course and is now an airstrip. You know, so you can easily get to the mansion with the outdoor shower and toilet.
On the main road a short distance south of the mansion, we stopped for a break at the Stafford Cemetery – again, not for long because the no-see-ums were swarming with a vengeance. Seashells are embedded in the cemetery walls. Robert Stafford is buried here along with his mother and sister. He never married, but he did father eight children with two of his slaves. Read more about the cemetery here.
Cathy and Mike turned left on the road to Stafford Beach, to check out the campsite we were skipping and to walk along the shore looking for seashells. Jim and I continued to grind out the miles to the ranger station.
We reached the ranger station at 1:30 p.m. and I had to rub my eyes to see clearly: is that a ferry?? Why, yes, IT IS! Turns out that, in addition to the morning and late afternoon ferries, there was a mid-day ferry because of the holiday weekend (President’s Day) and…it leaves for St. Mary’s at 2:30!!! AND…we can get on it!! My apologies for yelling, but this was good news on the level of winning a lottery.
There’s the ferry!
Jim and I settled into rocking chairs on the visitor center porch. The light breeze helped keep the bugs at bay. I noticed a little brown dot moving on Jim’s leg: uh-oh, a deer tick. He started inspecting and found three more. (I found two on myself after we got back to Charlotte.) Deer ticks are carriers of lyme disease, which can lead to lifelong illness if not treated quickly. Aaaarrrggghhh…..
Will Cathy and Mike make it back in time for the ferry? Yes, and with pockets full of seashells.
So goodbye to Cumberland Island, an experience that in hindsight I learned a lot from and would still recommend with precautions. The human history is fascinating, but the real story is the ecological importance of barrier islands and how easily the balance is upset by humans. Even a guided tour in a vehicle has an impact that is contested because of wilderness designations, but I believe it is a good way to see and learn about this unique place.
“Every adventure is worthwhile.” ~Amelia Earheart