Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In the Land of Wonderful Dreams

The title of this post, besides being a totally badass and unbelievably beautiful Winsor McCay comic, is pretty much how I've thought about my time in Aiken. With good horses, good weather, and an almost incomprehensible amount of beauty all around, how could it not be considered a kind of dream?

Then, this past weekend I drove down to Cumberland Island, Georgia, and I suddenly realized that Aiken, while unbelievably wonderful, is still very much a real place. Cumberland Island, on the other hand, seemed to exist mostly in the world of fantasy.


The island is just off the coast of St Marys, the southernmost town on Georgia's Atlantic seaboard. It's an 18-mile long national park, complete with no cars, few people, no buildings except for a handful of ranger huts and an abandoned Carnegie mansion, and plethora of wildlife ranging from lizards to wild horses. Armed with my camping gear, I loaded up onto the ferry (the only way to get on or off the island besides a chartered boat) for an overnight stay.

(My campsite)

(The road to the beach)

And goodness, it was awesome. I was immediately overwhelmed by the beauty of the inland forest, which was a solid tangle of overlapping live oaks, all draped with big garlands of spanish moss. One of my favorite streets in Aiken is South Boundary, which is lined with live oaks that arch over the road and make this beautiful green tunnel, but I'd never seen an entire forest of then before. It was unreal how beautiful it was.

(Live oak tunnel)

(Magic tree)

(Ghost road)

I was lucky enough to score a pretty plum camping site in the one "civilized" campground on the island, complete with raccoon boxes and running water! I like rough camping as well (though I was pretty out of practice at even the basics, not having been camping at all besides sleeping over at horse shows since 2008!), but admit that it was pretty nice to amble over to spigot, fill a big canteen with pre-treated water, then come back and sit in my pre-cleared site enjoying the canopy of live oak branches overhead.

(The view from my tent)

(Wild horses!)

(sooo cute)

On the first afternoon I walked up about 3 miles north up the island so that I could hopefully enjoy the beach on a less crowded part of the island. Clearly, I got my wish:


I was more exhausted than I'd wanted to admit, and ended up taking an hour and a half nap in the sun on the sand, just me and two wild horses without another human being in sight. It's a good life.

(Beach companion)

When I woke up, I found that a few more wild horses had wandered onto the beach while I'd been napping, including a mare with a newborn foal! The mare looked prettttyyy skinny, but I think it was because she'd just foaled. For the most part, the horses looked very healthy for having nothing but saltgrass to live off.

(Oof, having babies is hard work!)

Afterwards I packed up and wandered about 5 miles south to the southern tip of the island, where there were ruins of an 18th century mansion. I really wanted to get up to Plum Orchard, the Carnegie mansion that was actually the reason my friend told me about Cumberland Island in the first place, but it was a good 8 miles north of my campsite - not a distance I could easily cover, enjoy, and come back from in one afternoon on foot! I'd really like to come back and stay longer, which would give me enough time to get up there.

(Pony grazing on the Dungeness lawn)

(The Dungeness ruins emerge from the forest)

The ruins were beautiful, emerging out of the moss-covered forest the way they did, but I was getting pretty tired (despite my extended nap) and the sun was sinking quickly, so I didn't get to enjoy it for very long before I felt the pressure to be getting back to camp.

(Rare human sighting)

(this is a good place)

I got back just in time to head out to the beach and watch the tail end of a beautiful sunset, and then headed back to my camp and enjoyed a nice pb & j dinner, made only slightly less pleasant by the team of possums that came into my came into my campsite in search of my food! Fortunately I had a nice secure box to lock my stuff away in, so it wasn't a big deal, but it definitely felt a little weird sitting there eating my sandwich in the semi-darkness, knowing that three or four possums were lurking around just a few feet away.

(The glow from a neighbor's campfire)

The next morning I got up early to watch an amazing sunrise. It was astonishingly beautiful, and I felt super lucky to get to be there to see it.

(Another rare human sighting)

(In search of the promised land)

Then, before I knew it, it was time to go! I packed back up, got back on the ferry, and chugged slowly back to the real world.

(Goodbye Cumberland! It was great!)

Things are going well in Aiken - the weather is excellent again, after a week of rain, and the horses are going well. Kiki jumped yesterday (!!) and Ringo will get an ultrasound recheck on Friday. Fingers crossed!


heater a. said...

So glad you enjoyed Cumberland!
There's an old story about one of those mansions that we tell all the time around here. The owners were having a huge party one evening when the house caught fire. A servant informed the owner of the situation, and he ordered all the food, drinks, and seating to be moved out onto the lawn. He then casually announced to his guests that the party would be continuing outside. They all watched as the house burned down. As it was engulfed in flames, they toasted their former home and to all the good times they had there.

Welcome to my world. :)
I'm in Savannah. I came here for school, and fell in love with this area. There are so many beautiful, quiet places to wander (and ride) under these ancient oaks. It really is a magical place.

Hey! My trainer is in Aiken too. She works at Full Gallop Farm.

jenj said...


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