Ideally we would never begin a trip with a 6-hour car trip, a late night, an early morning, or a funny-smelling hotel.
But, then right at the border between Georgia and Florida there’s Cumberland Island. Cumberland – the barrier island where you need to reserve a space in months in advance, that pristine place that scoffs at my notions of how far away a weekend backpacking trip can realistically take us and still be worth it.
And it’s always worth it, immediately. That’s what I kept telling myself last Thursday when we left Atlanta around dinnertime … and then stopped pretty immediately for what became a long dinner.
We had lovely, up-for-anything company: Odette’s a hiker, fried oreo master, and had been backpacking once or twice before this trip. Annie’s a self-taught naturalist, and took her first backbacking trip with us in the autumn. Rachel and Nick hiked up mountains in Colorado with us last summer, and are our favorite board game duo.
Though they didn’t know it, I had an alterior motive for inviting them along: none except for Annie plan on staying in Georgia for the long haul. As a native, I feel an obligation to show off the state’s best sides, so that no matter what they experience in Atlanta’s traffic or smog, they’ll still have fond memories.
At least, if we could stay awake. We ended up pulling into our hotel around 3 a.m. Friday morning, and then met the 11:45 a.m. ferry in St. Marys that would take us over to Cumberland. Here’s a picture of our group:
And then – despite our sleepiness and a strangely windy ferry ride where we jostled with a horde of boy scouts for elbow room – we landed. With one look at the island (and one climb on a favorite tree) we were once again sold.
Despite the welcome quiet, we kept busy for the next three days — walking along the beach and trail and road, roasting marshmellows over a camp stove, watching birds and alligators and horses and armadillos, touring the Carnegie mansion called Plum Orchard, eating, and, of course hangingupside down.
Of course, it turned out we weren’t the only ones hanging by our toes. The last night Jonah woke up to the distinct sound of a raccoon trying to get into our food – even though it was suspended from a tree with a rope. Before I could say “huh?” he was out of the tent, watching a raccoon try to grab at our food bag with his front claws while it hung from the tree with his rear legs. Jonah quietly scared it away, and we re-hung the bear bag out of raccoon-reach. Then, back to bed.
In all, we hiked more than 23 miles in three days (11 on the last day alone!) and it didn’t rain once. It was another late night back home, but I think we all agreed: the trip was so very, very worth it.