The Day Before Cumberland and Beyond


Most of the members signed up for the Cumberland Island tour but four brave souls decided to camp the night before the outing.... Jan G. had to be coaxed a bit, but she was swayed by the promise of incredible night shots of the ruins.

The reality was Don Dymer, who had never camped in his life, brought a camp stove and a grill along with his new sleeping air mattress and a wagon full of other "stuff".  We walked 1/2 mile pulling 3 wagons and 4 bikes to the campsite (yes, the rest of us took too much stuff also). If you have been on an outing with Jan G.,  you are familiar with her wagon of photo equipment. Add food, tent, sleeping bags, etc., to that load and you get the real picture.

The schedule on arrival day was to set up camp then ride our bikes a couple of miles to the ruins and plot the night photography shots. We were going to light the ruins with flashlights and have winning photos for years.  We were going to make all you non-campers suffer at contest time with those stunning images !

We actually looked like we knew what we were doing as we set up camp. Don offered hot tea (yes, he brought a tea kettle) and since it felt like 90 in the shade, we politely declined.

So camp was set and we started down the dirt road to the ruins. What we didn't realize was that the sandy road had recently been plowed and sand added but it hadn't been packed down by traffic (since no cars except tour vans are allowed) and it was like attempting to ride in a sand dune. If you could keep your bike within a recent tire track, you had a chance of getting at least 4 feet before the bike went over and 4 feet felt like a really good run. It was grueling and impossible (although Brian and Don eventually made it to the ruins and returned exhausted) and needless to say, the night photography of the ruins came right off the list of "to do's".

We had a great chef because Don brought and prepared a burger dinner and the breakfast he also planned for the next day was incredible.

The funniest thing? Had to be Don and his blow-up mattress. He used a hand pump that made a "whooshing" sound as air was forced into the bed. He bragged and bragged about how comfy he was going to be and no one else had brought a mattress. I had told Jan G. that we didn't need anything under our sleeping bags, "It will be soft enough sleeping on sand!" I said.

What we discovered is sand can feel just like concrete after 3 minutes so we were awake around 2ish a.m. when we heard the "whooshing" sound and we knew Don's air bed was flat! That sound happened a few more times during the night which gave us the giggles every time we heard it.

Biker on the ground ?  Perfect photo op !!
Biker on the ground ? Perfect photo op !!
Camper at Daybreak
Camper at Daybreak

We did get a get a few night shots of the oaks and the pier and the next morning we walked to the beach where Brian got a great shell photo he entered in the last contest.

The history available from the tour was interesting. It did allow you to see areas of the island you could never visit otherwise (you certainly don't want to ride a bike). The most interesting thing on the tour was meeting "Miss Carol", who stopped to chat with our driver and lashed on the back of her 4-wheeler was a dead coyote. That animal was in pieces before nightfall, I'm sure. If you don't know about Miss Carol, check out "Untamed: The Wildest Women in America and The Fight for Cumberland Island".

Cumberland Island Photo Album

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6 thoughts on “The Day Before Cumberland and Beyond”

  1. This comment is a bit late but……
    the Cumberland Island was a great opportunity to learn about the history of life on the island. We got in a tour van with a tour guide who apparently thought we were more interested in a tour than in photography. Nevertheless there were many photo opportunities. We just needed more time to explore the the different sites on the tour. I would be interested in going back sometime with a different arrangement on transportation.

  2. I rode with some of the JCC members in the van to the northern end of Cumberland Island. The history of the island, as told by our guide and driver, was fascinating. Stories of wealth, scandal, slavery, greed, and murder brought to mind “there is nothing new under the sun”.

    Slowly, bumping along sixteen miles on a narrow, washboard road lined with dense palmettos and gnarled live oaks, we saw small groups of feral horses on the move; a young couple, hot and tired from battling the sand with bicycles, and an occasional change in the landscape where the river invades the land.

    We passed through a cleared area with a cluster of old structures, one having been a hospital for the slaves on the island. Some of these slaves later became landowners themselves . A long, open field stretched away from the main house, where a few horses were grazing. This was the landing strip for the Rockefellers private plane seen parked in the shade under a stand of huge trees.

    Our furthest destination was a forsaken area with the remains of a few long abandoned wooden houses, uninhabited now; except for one still occupied by the “Wild Woman of Cumberland Island”. Now in her seventies, she has lived alone on the island for forty years and is said to live entirely off the land. It is also said that she murdered her lover there forty years ago.

    In the midst of this small settlement, stands a wooden church, so well known to the outside world that no description is necessary. It is simple and bare, entirely appropriate for its past and its present.

    Next stop was an all-too-quick tour of Plum Orchard, a tantalizing glimpse into the past.
    We, the eager photographers that we are, tried to capture the essence of this unique place candidly, with barely enough space or time to focus our cameras, as we were herded through this incredible mansion.

    This was followed by a thirty minute lunch break on the lawn. With such a short time available, we had to ask ourselves the hard question; to eat or to shoot? We found ourselves eating with several armadillos who were also eating while peacefully oblivious to our presence.

    More stories, a cemetery or two, a high bluff here and there; a lot of ground and a lot of history to cover in just one day, as well as a tight schedule to keep. Next stop, Dungeness, and the last ferry of the day.

    Passing back by the Rockefellers, the plane circled overhead, as we waited and watched a perfect landing.

    Returning on the narrow, bumpy road we stopped for another vehicle which had to pull off the road for us to pass. Slung limply across the back of the open,all-terrain vehicle, was a dead coyote, quite large, silver gray. At the wheel, was an older woman with a big smile and a warm exchange followed with our driver.

    Although we did not have as many photo opportunities as expected or desired, I was fine with the trade-off; which was a new experience and a greater appreciation of an extraordinary place and time.

  3. Pingback: Cumberland Island JCC Hot Spot

  4. C I is close enough that I made a day trip out of it. I brought my bike, went up the road to Plum Orchard, back down the beach to the Dungeness ruins and back to the ferry. The road was very soft, making for a hard ride, but the beach sand was much easier to go on.

    By riding, I was able to go slow and find images in places that a motor vehicle would just pass by. Plum Orchard was great, though the guided tour makes it difficult to really study a room and get the optimal shots.

    It’s unfortunate that an overnight stay is necessary to get the golden hour shots, but there is a lot to see here during the day, and there are a couple of restaurants back in St. Mary’s that feed you very well after a long day hunting a winning image.

    There are so many great places to photograph around our region that I wouldn’t put this on our outings list every year, but I would go there again in a couple years.

  5. What canI possibly add to Jan’ and Don’s menoirs from our “Sleep Over” on Cumberland Island as much as it was a real big PITA we had the best time. It was so HOT with those bicycles in the deep sand and of course I carry way too much camera gear that we couldn’t leave in the tent with “no locks” so I carried it with me hanging from all over my body…While trying to get my momentum started for pedaling my rented bike with 50 lbs of gear I got tangled in my Rapid Strap and fell over, cut my leg, sand caked on my lens blood running down my leg I hear in the distance from Don “wait, wait don’t get up I have to get this picture”. As Jan mentioned the plan was to just go “check-out” where we wanted to go shoot after dark for light painting, but after how hard it was trying to get anywhere with a bike and also pretty far to walk we never went back after dark. Blame the conditions on the damage from hurricane Mathew last year and the fact that it had been very dry with no rain. So with no light painting plans we sat around the campsite and drank vodka (Don, Jan and I) and ate burgers cooked by Don…Actually Jan and I had decided it was too much work and stuff to bring food so we were going to live on protein bars and PB&J sandwiches. But that Don (who had never camped before as Jan mentioned) brought everything but the kitchen sink . Don’t know how he carried it all.

    The funniest and best part of the day/night was Don’s air mattress; he teased us that he was going to have the best night’s sleep on his comfy mattress. I must admit I was a little envious wishing I had a mattress as none of us are spring chickens. First off his arms in/out -in/out pumping up the mattress was funny enough, when he left for his tent he added his last comment on how sad that we didn’t have the luxuries he did….And then! About an hour later we hear that pumping again in-out, in-out, Jan and I had the best time at his expense! We laughed and laughed, (remember the ground was so hard we weren’t sleeping), this went on over and over again as either he had a leak in his brand new mattress or it wasn’t closed correctly, either way at 2am we were still giggling and probably waking up the whole campgrounds!

    Breakfast cooked by Don was just as good as our dinner the night before. We had to hustle getting to the ranger station in time for our tour of the island with again 3 wagons. 4 bikes, deep sand and hot campers. The tour (although not what was planned for Photographers) was excellent! Learning the history of the island and the people who lived or still live there was just what I was wanting.

    I may not have captured any winning images on this outing but it was by far the best outing ever!! I made new best friends for life on that Island but NEVER will I go and stay overnight there again. I do highly recommend taking the ferry from St. Mary’s to Cumberland Island for day trips and also taking the van tour.

  6. I am now a psychological mess, having endured the most traumatic experience of my life (well short of seeing Father Christmas
    drinking the beer and mince pie we used to leave him Christmas Eve) only to find it being publicized to the whole world (JCC is the
    whole world?)

    It is fair to say that with great trepidation I rather impetuously decided to join the trio of Campotographers for a JCC sanctioned trip to the wilderness of Cumberland Island.
    It was a similar bunch to the Tree Musketeers, Athos the fighter and drinker, Porthos the pirate and lover, and Aramis the priest and poet. I’ll leave you to decide who is who
    but they were joined by D’Artagnan!!!

    Anyway, back to the story. It is rare to get such a well documented report of an occurrence but I have to say that most of the nonsense written by the three is unfortunately true.
    If you know anyone who has never camped before and who says they are going to try it first time at my tender age, please counsel them. If they insist have them buy an air
    mattress and “whooshing” pump. This is not intended as a means to obtain a good nights sleep. No, no, it is to provide entertainment for fellow campers when the darn thing
    suddenly pops its cork in the middle if the night – its a terrible sinking feeling. However, the reflation using the “swooshing” pump was accompanied by copious amounts of
    “laughing in a silly, often high-pitched way,especially with short, repeated gasps and titters,as from juvenile or ill-concealed amusement or
    nervous embarrassment.” – giggling for short! Such great encouragement from your friends is essential to surviving the night.

    Actually I extracted myself from the thing and finished the night sleeping fitfully in a chair outside, only to be woken by my intrepid co Campotographers with “So there’s breakfast?”

    The rest is well documented.

    Cant wait for the next one – when I will superglue the plug!!!


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