My friend had just bought the newest Canon EOS Rebel camera on the market in hopes to vamp up a new interest in professional photography. She asked me to go to Cumberland Island with her so I could show her all the cool spots to take photos. Since I’ve already been to the island twice before, I’d say I was the perfect guide for her. We got up early and made it to the dock in time for the ferry ride. From the moment my friend and I stepped off the forty-five-minute ferry onto the uncivilized, wild shores of Cumberland Island, the clock was on, and paradise was only a two-hour hike away.
After stepping off of the ferry, we immediately started on the River Trail, which leads all the way down the shore. The trail is narrow with large spider webs stretched from one ancient tree to the next. Different species of vines took over the show. They draped and wrapped around anything that grew out of the ground. If it weren’t for the cloudless sky and the sun beaming through the trees, the thickness of the vines would have made the trail look like nighttime. We didn’t run into any snakes, but it is warned to keep an eye out. Our eyes danced around in our heads until they started spinning on their own. Through the trees, we caught glimpses of the river we recently sailed on, but it always looked different from the trail. The waves appeared calmer, and we didn’t have the view of the destructive coastal erosion creating an eyesore. Near the end of the trail, we finally reached an overlook, and my friend was able to finally put her new camera to use.
Museum Pit Stop
The museum of the island’s artifacts and treasures was stored in an old resident’s home. Artifacts locked in glass cases lined the walls with factual posters next to them detailing the life on the island. Near one of the exit doors was a rather odd step that everyone tripped over. I tried to warn my friend beforehand, but it was too late. I tripped over that same step the first time I visited. In a sense, it was a right of passage for her. She was officially a native on the island. After a few photographs of the old trinkets, we filled our water bottles and moved on.
The Ranger Road
This is by far the loneliness, most uninteresting part of the hike. The road was nicely cut and paved with sand. It was the road all the Ranger and work trucks used to get around the island with ease. The road was about a half mile long with nothing but trees as a company. My friends and I used this time to talk about anything we could come up with like work gossip, home drama, or dreams we had the previous night.
The Ranger Road led us straight through the stone gates of the Dungeness Ruins. A massive mansion owned by the Carnegie family. Most of the mansion had been swept away, but the stronger parts of the home stood tall. My friend couldn’t get enough photos of the red and grey brick home. No one is actually allowed to explore the ruins in depth, but it is safe to say we got more than our fill from the outside. We studied the old courtyard and the vine-covered walls along the outside of the mansion. We stood in the grand back yard that overlooked the river. The grounds were decorated with wild horses. They went about their day as they walked in packs grazing and traveling. There was a large old stone fountain dead in the center of the yard. It wasn’t hard to believe that Carnegie’s really lived the good life on this island. In fact, my friend said, “It must have been nice to have the entire island to yourself.” Our minds raced with excitement and wonder. As we carried on our hike, we got to see the stables where they once kept the horses, their vegetable garden and the slave quarters.
My friend considers herself a little dark and Goth-like, so it made sense why she considered Carnegie’s graveyard “peaceful.” I found it creepy thank to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The more we stood over the ancient graves, and their half washed away tombstones, the more I felt like a hand would burst up through the dirt. A white stone fence with an old black iron fence for the entrance surrounded the small grave. An adjacent grave connected the two. The second smaller grave had four small tombstones; we assumed they were the graves of children or a dog.
The boardwalk was always my favorite part of the hike. The scenery of tall grass with streams linked to the river snaking through. In the distance, you could see the pearl white sails of sailboats floating by. Heron would tiptoe through the shallow water for something to snack on. Hawks circle above waiting for anything interesting to happen. My friend and I took a five-minute break to rest our feet before the hardest part of the trail would come. We took in the vast swampy area with gratefulness. Though climate change is affecting our world as a whole, it was nice to see nature thriving for another day.
The dunes were so awful on my first trip; I never made it to the beach. They were the only way to the beach unless you were camping and had your own access. The dunes were like a desert. The sand was piping hot from the sun beating down on it since sunrise. They weren’t like normal dunes we’d get at the beach. No, you would need actual hiking sticks to get over them. I had on hiking boots with deep tread, which helped to climb the awful hills, but my friend had on basic tennis shoes. I could see her struggle, but she was determined to make it to the end, so she pushed on. It was a relief once we finally got over them.
Pick Your Hike
After the dunes came a choice between two trails to take to get to paradise. One of the trails had more dunes sand and a hike through a trail lined with hollow bushes and cacti on either side, or a boardwalk that cut through more thick vegetation. After the hike over the dunes, the answer was clear. My friend and I took the boardwalk. There wasn’t much to see on the boardwalk beside a great amount of more vines, trees, and bees.
After the boardwalk, there was one final climb over more sand dunes. The ground was flat this time, so we didn’t mind the difficult stroll. We looked out in the distance, and it seems sand, cacti, and prickly trees went on for miles. The sky had very little clouds in it, so we had no shade to help us. My friend’s back began to turn red as a lobster. We trekked on for a few minutes more until the wind blew filling our noses with the smell of salt and ocean. One push over a small dune and there it was, Paradise.
We finally made it, two hours later. Paradise. The Atlantic Ocean never looked more majestic. Seagulls hovered overhead squawking and communicating about the newcomers on the beach loaded with “dinner.” My friend and I tossed aside our hiking gear, hopped out of our shoes and ran straight for the water. The water was colder than Alaska, but when your feet are aching and burning from the hike, you could care less. We laughed at our desperation for relief. We looked both ways down the lonely beach. Only a handful of people and not the usual crowdedness we usually get at the beach back at home. It was Heaven, our Heaven. We ate lunch and made up life stories for everyone who walked passed us. As more people began to flood the beach, we decided to head back. We made it to Paradise at long last, and now it was time to return home with our aching feet, our photos, and our memories.