With a population of fewer than twenty thousand, St. Marys is a sleepy southern town known as the embarkation point for Cumberland Island. The drive down from Savannah is short—only one and half hours. Cute lodgings abound. We rented a cozy, two-bedroom cottage stocked with all the essentials. It had a lovely porch, even a pair of bikes.
As we did in Savannah, upon arrival we slid comfortably into our own rhythms, orienting ourselves in ways that resonated with each of us. I cycled around town; Carrie found a secluded spot to do yoga by the water. Later, I wandered main street and lurked in the cemetery, listening to birds and studying cracked tombstones until nightfall, when I splashed home through the tide as it crept stealthily up the side streets.
I first glimpsed Cumberland Island in a magazine piece about JFK Jr. And Carolyn Bessette's wedding. The photos of the island captivated me. They revealed an alluring, mysterious landscape—a wild tangle of trees slung between narrow expanses of windswept, golden sand; the natural habitat of wild horses, reptiles, winged and shelled creatures of all kinds. I knew that it was a place I needed to see for myself one day.
My introduction to the island began at Cumberland Island National Seashore Visitor’s Center in St. Mary's where a ranger gave a short orientation before leading our small group to the Cumberland Queen, the ferry that would float us 45 minutes downriver to the island. Onboard, I chatted with Tom, a structural engineer from Charleston who often visited the area. He reminded me of the importance of having two things when spending a day on the island: water and insect repellant. Luckily, the tiny concession stand on the boat sold both.
We landed at Sea Camp Dock and I rented a bike that looked like a 1950's beach cruiser and handled like an 8-year-old's BMX. Upon this fine machine (my legs pumping wildly and arms stretched like Gumby), I rode up and down the palm-fringed dirt road that bisected the heart of the island. I set out first for Grayfield Beach where, I attempted to portage a rust-colored pool of water to reach the ocean and was promptly swathed in a cloud of biting flies. Oops. Tattooed with welts, I retreated to the tree line and doused myself with the bug spray Tom had so wisely advised me to buy but that I had somehow neglected to apply. Maybe I should go south, I thought. To the Dungeness ruins—the abandoned shell of the once-opulent Carnegie estate.