Cumberland Island National Seashore

Active & Adventurous - The Aging Adventurer

Thieves In The Night 

An Experience At Cumberland Island National Seashore                       

Pelicans_at_CumberlandI yawn, stretch, and slowly open my eyes as I wake up in my small backpacking tent at Stafford Beach Campground in Cumberland Island National Seashore. Two days ago I boarded the ferry in St. Mary's, Georgia and 45 minutes later arrived at this amazing island. 

Cumberland, a 16-mile-long by 1-mile-wide island, is part saltwater marsh, part maritime forest and part beach. Camp sites are located close to the ocean and near the marshes; at some sites you can even lie in your tent and watch the sunset. Ruins of huge and affluent mansions occupied by generations of Carnegie families dot the island. A tiny church built by slaves still stands in the far north of the island. Wild turkeys streak through the woods, feral horses roam freely beside the ocean––mingling  with Ibis, laughing gulls, herons and oyster catchers.  

Live oaks bend and twist above narrow trails lined with Saw Palmettos. Large groups of royal terns and brown pelicans frolic in the surf alon miles of empty ocean beach. Terns preen, stretching their wings skyward as they prance along the shore; and pelicans take two little jumps for lift-off before soaring into the wind.

I open my tent flap and look out. The sun is ablaze  and it is only 8am––it's going to be a sensational day! I see that my fellow campers, Joe and his 10-year-old-son Will, are busily packing up. We have become acquainted as we are the only backpackers camping at Stafford Beach; each evening we share stories of our day's adventures. 

As I climb out of my tent to greet this amazing day, I notice a lot of whitish rubble lying atop the leaves under the tree where I hung my food last night. Hanging food is the universal evening entertainment for backpackers. Instead of watching TV we have the fun of throwing a weighted rope over a high tree limb, tying our food bag to it––hoisting the bag up to within two or three feet of the branch––then tying it off to a distant  tree.

As I gaze more closely at the debris on the ground I realize it is directly under where I hung my food last night. I look up and see that the rope where I hung my food bag is hanging limp and empty.

"Oh no. It can't be. In all my years of backpacking I have never-ever had an animal succeed in stealing my food. I bet that raccoon has eaten every last morsel." Several thoughts race through my mind:

"There are no stores on the island. I can't replace my food."

"I have five more meals to prepare before taking the ferry out tomorrow."

"Maybe I will have to leave early, and miss my exciting last day."                                                                                              

"Is anything left at all? Oops, there's my package of tuna in heavy aluminum foil. Guess they couldn't smell the contents, or break through the aluminum. "Oh boy, they left my salt and pepper, and the plastic bottles containing cooking oil and lemon juice seem intact. Yea gads, they even ate my pills!" 

Gone are my cheese, noodles, hummus, bagels, oatmeal, jam, butter, dried milk, potato, hot chocolate, tea bags, eggs, and apricots.

"I  was really looking forward to the two eggs  that Joe gave me; I planned to fry them and eat them with my bagel. What bagel?"

Joe and Will come over to help me hunt for any leftover food.

"Oh my goodness, my expensive backpacking stove and cooking dishes are also missing. I hung them with my food as they have food smells."

"The animal might have dragged your cooking dishes into the palmettos," he suggests.

I search there in vain. Saw palmetto stems are covered with sharp thorns; soon my ankles are scratched and bleeding. Joe wanders to the other side of the path leading to our campsite.

"Hey, I've found your cooking dishes; they dragged them deep into the bushes." 

"What a relief," I reply, "but what do I have to cook?  Not much. The  tuna and a packet of oatmeal that somehow got left in my tent."

"Take stock and see what you need" Joe offered . "I can probably fill you in with our leftover food."

He proceeds to give me rice to go with my tuna, rosemary crackers, hot dog rolls,  a few pieces of pita bread, and two large lumps of cheese–– adding to this his own dried tomatoes, bananas, onion, garlic and apples!

"Boy, I am going to dine well––better than if I am eating my own food!"

Live_Oaks_at_Cumberland National SeashoreI thank Joe profusely for giving me all his leftover food, and write down his home address; I intend to send him a copy of my Appalachian Trail Stories book. 

Now I can spend my last day as planned––hiking to Sea Camp--the only campground with treated drinking water, showers and bathrooms––then visiting Dungeness Mansion, viewing birds in the marsh, and ending the day with a four-mile stroll back to Sea Camp along the beach, and a long romp in the ocean waves.

Joe is my "Trail Angel." This is a term hikers use for  the unexpected kindness of  people who help us out at times of hardship. Once during a severe drought in New York State we came upon a "water tree." Hanging from it were gallon jugs filled with water. A Trail Angel, aware of the drought, had left the water for the thru-hikers.

 I marvel that a day that began with a catastrophe has been totally turned around with the help of a Trail Angel. 


Sunset_at_Cumberland National Seashore


Appalachian_Trail_Adventures, by Emily KimballEmily Kimball, the Aging Adventurer, makes her dreams happen. After retiring from a career in Parks and Recreation she rode her loaded touring bike 4,700 miles across America, and hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  Now approaching 80, she continues an active life of biking, hiking, backpacking, tennis and water sports––though at a slower pace.

Emily is also a writer and speaker. Her recent book, Appalachian Trail Stories and Other Adventures: Living Your Dreams at 60 and Beyond, describes many of her exploits. It can be ordered from her web site In her professional speaking business, Make It Happen! Emily relates life lessons learned from her adventures in powerful presentations on Risk Taking, Creative Aging and Making Dreams Happen. She can be reached at or 804-358-4959.


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