I don't remember at which point during our trip that we started making jabs at Officer Fear Ranger's lecture. On day one we commented, "Man, that was a bumming talk he gave us." By day two, after we felt a little more comfortable in the wood having survived a major storm relatively unscathed and not getting our food stolen by the treacherous and intelligent raccoons the night before, we felt some control over ourselves within Mother Nature's world.
After a long day on the beach swimming, boogie boarding and flying kites we returned to Sea Camp to cook up some supper. Nothing tastes better after a long day on the beach then an ice cold beer, which we had plenty because we had trekked to the ferry that afternoon to buy some ice.
Well, of course, one beer led to two which led to three. I had also brought some vodka, pineapple juice and cranberry juice for a refreshing alternative to beer. After a few beverages, the smack talk started, "Hey! You better watch out for those horses. They'll eat your scalp off!" or, "Yup, I guess we're smarter than those Cumberland Island raccoons. Y'know they are the SMARTEST raccoons that ranger has ever seen?" We went on and on letting out the pent up frustration and underlying fear.
As we sat around the campfire and the boys played with their light sabers in a reenactment of some Star Wars scene, BB and I decided to take a walk to the beach. And, of course, I had to pee. Now normally I would just go in the bushes, but for some logical reason (at the time but forgotten now), I decided that I needed to walk up to the bathhouse. By this point, the moon had risen, but it was pitch black under the oak hammock.
I grabbed some flashlights (some compact but very nice handheld LED's) and put on my cap which has an LED attachment (not a true headlamp) that has always worked great for me in the woods. SB suggested that we take his BIG flashlight explaining, "It's dark out there. We (he and Chad) had to use it last night when we went out the the beach."
I was all like, "No. We're fine. It's not a long walk to the bathhouse. Besides, there's a very clear trail."
He insisted, "It's dark." I was thinking, "Oh, what a city boy." but to appease SB, BB and I took the light and I left him with one of my flashlights. (Chad had his headlamp.)
As soon as we walked out of our campsite and away from the fire, the woods darkened immensely. I wasn't scared, but I felt slightly unsettled. I switched on my hat light, and it wasn't quite a bright as I remembered even though I had used it only three months prior on a camping trip to the Smoky Mountains. It gave off a dim yellowish light at best and not the hot white that LEDs usually give. I remarked, "Oh, I guess the batteries are getting low." I switched on my small hand held flashlight that cast just enough light to see the path, but not much more. A dark wall engulfed the space just where the flashlight's guidance stopped. BB and I could see the mere outlines of each other.
BB wanted to put on the big flashlight and somehow I convinced her not to, that the bathroom was close and that we could sense our way along the trail with the smaller light. We chatted along the way talking about the Ranger and how he said the Island wasn't Disney World that it was a WILDERNESS and that we had traveled to plenty of WILDERNESS areas where we had to hike in carrying our food and gear on our backs for miles and miles and had camped in the wood for longer periods of time and dug our holes to poop in...yeah, wilderness? I ain't never been to no WILDERNESS that had running water, showers and flush toilets or that we didn't have to filter our own water...this ain't Disney? You sure? It seems that armadillos and shit happens right on cue like you AT Disney World...like a fairy tale...mmm hmm...on and on rather cockily.
We prodded along for what seemed too long when I suddenly stopped. BB bumped into me and said worriedly, "What? What is it?" The outline of her head glancing to and fro. The whites of her eyes showing through the black like yin and yang.
The darkness messed with my eyes. I had concentrated on the trail, lined with the saw palmettos with the night laying around us like a thick blanket, so intensely that I felt confused. I stopped and shook my head out and said, "I think that I wandered into a campsite. I don't think we are on the trail."
We looked around. Panic ensued. Not a scream out loud, we need help panic, but a punch in my gut that said, "Fuck. This IS the WOODS. The Ranger warned us...I didn't believe him...now we're lost just walking to the bathroom and the guys are going to laugh at us."
We decided to turn around and follow our tracks, but even that seemed foreign. If we indeed had wandered into a vacant campsite, which way would we turn when we exited the campsite? Had I accidentally wandered onto the main trail that led to the docks or towards the beach? Suddenly, I felt lost.
We turned and walked back towards the direction that seemed we had originated. Two girls now, not women, shaking; one in her flip flops the other barefooted. Suddenly, stepping on a rattlesnake took on a whole new meaning an seemed very real. I thought, "Dear God, please don't let us get med-vacked out of here tonight. That would just give that old Ranger someone else to make fun of, and I don't want it to be us."
Suddenly a huge bright light filled the forest like the sun had risen as BB switched on the flashlight that SB demanded for us to bring along. I said, "Wow. That thing is bright. SB was right, but don't tell him I said that."
We moseyed on the trail at a creep looking at every little thing trying to get our bearings when we came across campsite marker "C". We found a landmark, but we still weren't quite sure which direction was our campsite nor the bathroom or if we were exiting the campsite. (Really, it was so dark, that my little flashlight did not illuminate the campsite markers.) We took a right which we thought, if we were correct, would lead us INTO the vacant campsite.
Now mind you reader, we are college graduated. One of us is an accomplished attorney who runs a successful law practice and the other is an MS of education who is not an award winning writer yet, but will be, one day. We aren't dummies, but I did feel humbled.
We cautiously walked into what we expected to be a campsite and BB's light shone on the fire ring. An exclamation went out with a huge sigh. We knew where we were. We weren't lost. We turned and went out of the campsite. At this point, we weren't familiar enough with the campground to know which side of the trail that "C" was on. We weren't sure by going right if we would go the bathhouse or back to the campsite...which no way in hell could we do and admit our mistake!?!
We made a turn knowing that either direction would move us closer to familiar ground. We came across the next campsite marker #15. At that point, we knew that we were headed back to camp and only about twenty yards from our own tents. Having our bearings, we, yet again, did an about-face. BB shone the light at each campsite marker. We passed "C", then we got to "B". She stopped, pointer her light and said, "You see that? I see some lights up ahead." What seemed very far away, were some yellow lights illuminating what appeared to be an old worn tool shed.
Inch by inch we walked picking up the pace and feeling a little more confident. We saw the marker "A" and BB said, "Yes this it." We took about 15 paces and the trail completely opened up and there sat the bathhouse (what looked like an old tool shed from the distance through the wood). Seeing the difference in the main trail compared to the path to the campsites, we asked, "How on Earth? What happened?"
We admitted defeat; that Mother Nature had won and that maybe Cumberland Island wasn't Disney World and that it was a wilderness area seeing as we couldn't even make our way to the bathroom at night without getting lost.
I peed, and when I came out, BB stood there pointing at an electric outlet in the woman's bathroom. Fear subsided I said, "Yeah. Wilderness?" and we laughed. Walking back to camp, we decided not to tell the boys of our misadventure, which was really very exciting. There's nothing like getting the heartbeat up and feeling a tinge of fear and panic to heighten a situation.
Like riding a roller coaster at Disney World.
Thanks for reading!