Friday, August 08, 2014

Camping at Cumberland Island National Seashore

Let me tell you about an enchanted island. It's an island where the perfect white sand beach goes on for miles. An island where bath-temperature water laps at your legs as you frolic in the waves. An island where palm fronds mix with artfully placed trees covered in Spanish Moss. An island where you encounter wild horses, comically shaped crabs and curious ruins.  And perhaps most importantly, an island with potable water and flush toilets.

Surely, Shira and I visited some distant and exotic location.

Not exactly. Unless you consider Georgia (the US State, not the Country) to be distant and exotic.

Yes, the island I describe above exists, and it's a mere 45 minute ferry boat ride from St. Mary's, Georgia (which in turn is a 45 minute car ride from Jacksonville, Florida).

This last weekend we continued the outdoor education of our friend's 5 year old. Last year we did backpacking, this year we did the campground at Cumberland Island National Seashore.  While I love doing backcountry camping with kids, the lure of Cumberland Island was too much for me to pass up. And while they offer backcountry camping on the island, you need to hike something like 7+ miles before you can even consider pitching your tent.

We usually rough it on the trail, so to have a campsite with running water a hundred yards away was like staying at the Ritz.  My photos of the palm fronds and trees draped with Spanish Moss just don't do the scene justice.  This place was as beautiful a natural landscape as I'd ever seen.

Our little one proved he was one heck of a good sport.  For a boy who can have a minor panic attack when he sees an ant crawling on his shoe, he demonstrated quite a bit of resilience. Consider the horseshoe crab remains left on the beach: they were just too tempting to explore, and so he'd pick them up without a second thought. His greatest skill though, was his sleeping ability. Saturday night we had one of the most violent thunder and lightning storms I'd ever been part of. For a good hour and a half the lightning lit up our tent, though the thunder was far off. When the storm finally made it over us, we heard a number of ear piercing cracks of thunder as the strikes were closer, and finally the storm passed and gave us another hour of grumbling thunder and flashes of lightning. Seriously, it was one heck of a light show.  The boy didn't stir once. He slept on, next to, under, and without his inflatable mattress, and when he finally woke up, had no memory of the events from the night before.  That my friends is a skill I need to master.

Because we were staying at a campground, weight was no longer a major issue, like it is in the backcountry. We made canned baked beans, and Tasty Bite Indian Food by simply heating them up over the fire. Both tasted great, and were a nice variation from the dehydrated food we usually eat(though Shira did make some delicious Mac and Cheese on Saturday night). I also tried cooking bannock on the trail with pretty solid success. I doubt Bannock-dogs (bannock wrapped around a hot dog) are going to replace bagel dogs anytime soon, but for a camping treat, it really hit the spot.

The beach time was absolutely fantastic on the island. I hauled this inflatable boat to the island, and it turned out it was quite fun to play with in the waves. It actually held up pretty well, especially considering it wasn't just our little one playing on it. We also did some kite flying, which turned out to be super easy given the wind at the beach. All around, great times.

One final camping story and I'll let you go (hopefully, so you can book your tickets to Jacksonville, so you can take this trip). The plan was to do our cooking over a fire (with Esbit tablets for backup). The rules are pretty standard: you can collect and use any downed firewood and you can buy bigger chunks of wood from the Ferry. As I was walking to the campsite I realized that there really wasn't any downed wood per se. There were, however, plenty of dead palm fronds. Would they work as fuel? I held my lighter under one of the fronds and it lit, but it didn't really continue to burn. Hmmm. On a whim, I noticed some fuzz growing at the base of a palm frond. I ripped off some of it and took my lighter to that. Holy crap, it went up like gasoline. This stuff was good. I mean, better than birch bark good. I lit another piece and threw a palm frond on it. After a few moments, that burst into flames, too. After further experimentation I learned that the stem that holds the palm frond is thicker than the leaves, so it burns longer (think 'pencil size' pieces of wood). All this is to say if you happen to be stranded on a desert island with nothing but dried out palm fronds, you my friend, are in luck. You'll have fire!

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