A Short Story: Cumberland Island Adventure

It was a hot day and John and I decided to go on a bike ride to the other side of the island. The island is flat and mostly deserted . . . so, no cars or hills to worry about. The well traveled dirt/shell/grass road was shaded by tall live oaks that were draped in drooping clumps of grayish green moss. The scrub of the forest floor to the left and right of the road was mostly hidden by low growing fan palms. Not quite tropical but far from the New England woods I’m familiar with. I did see an armadillo and I did see a corn snake cross the road. Also wild horses and wild turkeys. It was a nice easy ride on bikes at mid day but — John and I were slightly on edge. This was unfamiliar territory and help in the way of a passerby or cell service was spotty to non existent.

We pulled into a marked State Park area. Day trippers to Cumberland Island were boarding the ferry back to St Marys GA. The boat hand and park service guides were conserned we were not ready to get on the boat. “We are staying. We are staying at the Greyfield Inn” ahhh they relaxed. We chatted with the park service guide who did indeed feel lucky to have the job on the island for the month of July. Living on the island is a dream if you are a nature lover. She was. She told us about a boardwalk trail over the marsh that was hard to find. She saw a stork the night before. But then things got weird. The tone of her voice? A distant look in her eye? It was a piece of dialog right out of a 1940s film noir. “Not many people go there. It’s not marked for some reason. Go down to the old cemetery. Way in the back, find the trail, way back to the left.”

Finding the cemetery was not easy. The map for the island was very good but the island is quite large so the tiny square used for the location of the cemetery was hard to figure out. We parked our bikes and walked over the 1900ish foundations, of what, we didn’t know. Down another trail and there it was. Big formal tombs of well off dead. Wrought iron surrounded the old carved stone boxes. I thought she said right and John remembered left. Nothing was marked and lots of areas looked like the beginnings of a trail. We did go left and the trail was narrow, but good. Something big flew over low. Striped feathers? Osprey? Barred owl? Couldn’t see. The trail went on long enough for us to curse and doubt the park ranger. She seemed creepy in our memory— was this a plot to get rid of the fancy Greyfield Inn customers? Some kind of misplaced revenge on New Yorkers?

The new pressure treated wood of the walkway came into sight and all was forgiven. What a view! The walkway went way out over the marsh. We were no longer under the protection of the live oaks. We saw a manatee! It was lumbering around in the water looking like a smooth rock surfacing every now and then. There were two stations for binoculars, one was handicapped accessible. No quarters needed! 

The heat was extreme. Do we head back the way we came or do we keep going and hope we come out to a road? John said, “If one set of binoculars was accessible — how will they get wheel chairs down unless there is a road? They didn’t come down by way of the cemetery on that hilly narrow trail.” So smart. Yes, let’s go forward. The long hot walkway took us to sand dunes. No way was clear. We thought we’d walk for a bit — it must be close! Nope. As the sun beat down we sipped the remaining water. Do we keep going? Go back? It was suddenly — too hot. We started to worry about any decision we might make. Everything now seemed too hot and too far to walk. Under a small barely effective shady bush we talked about what to do and how we regretted getting into this mess. We were too worried to be mad at each other. We joked about dying there. Headlines: “NY Couple found dead in Dunes of Georgia” story at 6. 

Thankfully I had cell service on my dying phone (15%) I dropped a pin and switched to satellite view. I could see the road. Great! But it was not close. We moved towards it slowly. We stopped under small shrubs and trees that ever so slightly helped us gather the strength to make the next hot leg of the journey to the road . . . blissfully covered by live oaks. 

At the road we could see where we had stashed our bikes. Yes! Just a 3 mile bike ride and we would be home at the Inn. True relief would be given in stages. The bike ride was grueling and I stopped a few times and felt faint. Water splashed on the face and then riding fast against the air, helped. The dinner bell didn’t ring until exactly 7:30pm. So we sat on the grand porch and drank our cocktails and played Scopa (I won) and talked about the time we were lost in the dunes of Cumberland.