As the days of August ticked by, 32 seemed like a pretty insignificant number, so I was half-expecting a pretty insignificant 32nd birthday. My creative husband who knows me all-too-well had something entirely different in mind.
Three days before my birthday, I was handed a packing list and told to be ready to leave at 10 am the next morning. Leave for where?
I had no clue….it was a surprise adventure and I was more than okay with that. There really aren’t enough fun surprises in life, so I wasn’t going to ruin this one by asking too many questions.
We took turns driving and five hours later, we arrived at this.
A ferry boat in the middle of nowhere. Okay…
I knew we were along the Atlantic coast in southeastern Georgia, and I remembered that there were some islands off the coast. I’d heard of these surprisingly situated islands, but had never been to any of them. That was all about to change.
With my trusty chimp sidekick, Ginger “Dunkey” Bromeliad by my side, I boarded the ferry and settled in for a short ride to Sapelo Island. Sapelo is one of the most remote and uninhabited islands along the Georgia coast, and actually it’s a national estuarine research reserve owned by the Department of Natural Resources.
Sapelo’s history dates back 4,500 years, when Native Americans settled here, but it’s best known for Civil War and slavery times. When the Union army started attacking the Georgia coastline, slave owners bailed, leaving many of their slaves behind to fend for themselves.
Some slaves who left the island came back later in search of family members and ended up settling here. Almost all residents of Sapelo Island today are their descendants.
We stayed at a VRBO property called “Sapelo Island-Leave the World Behind,” and our host, Lucy, picked us up at the ferry. The drive from the ferry was a small taste of what was to come, with dirt road, potholes, forests, and an utter lack of civilization. The only real town here is Hog Hammock, which has an estimated population of about 40-50 people.
There are no hotels on the island, and no restaurants either. We rented an attic apartment above Lucy and Mike’s home, which was actually spacious enough to sleep six if you really squeezed in.
It was a totally comfortable place to stay, surprisingly with functional WiFi and TV. There was even a little outdoor patio with a table and chairs upstairs that we could use.
To get around the island, our hosts loaned us “The Beast,” a clunky, nasty SUV that could somehow still manage to maneuver the Sapelo wilderness.
After settling in and getting acquainted with the island on a map, our first order of business was….THE BEACH! After all, what’s an island trip without the beach?
There are two beaches on Sapelo Island….the north beach and the south beach. But technically, they’re both on the south part of the island since the whole northern part is DNR territory and off-limits to cars.
Never before in all my days have I witnessed a more secluded and surreal beach. This shot was taken on Sapelo’s south (main) beach, Nanny Goat Beach, right before a ridiculous storm hit. And for the record, there were only three other people on the entire beach before the skies turned all dark and crazy.
Every morning I spent on the island started with yoga…
…and then a beach walk to discover strange creatures that called this place home.
Plenty of time was spent in a rare state of relaxation on the beach…reading, writing, playing Frisbee, sketching, and drinking wine. Sapelo is the best place I’ve found that really takes me away from it all.
But there are some local “tourist attractions” that we checked out during our time here too. One of them is the Reynolds Mansion, which actually offers tours if you show up at the right day and time. We did not, but we did check out the grounds and eat a can of beans on the sidewalk.
It’s named after big tobacco heir Richard Reynolds who purchased the property in the 1930s and started letting the University of Georgia use the facilities for marine research. In its heyday, the 1920s, the mansion was used to entertain rich and fancy guests in the automotive industry.
Lucy and Mike also let us use some rusty old pink beach cruisers that they had in the garage to explore the island on two wheels.
We pedaled to the nearby African Baptist Church, which has a service once a month.
Although cars aren’t allowed on the north part of the island, bikes are. So we set off to see what the more remote areas of the island were like. Sapelo Island is about 10 miles long and 4 miles wide, which makes it larger than Bermuda!
All seemed to be going so well on this little self-guided bike tour….until we hit the massive puddles.
The night before, very shortly after that picture of me on the beach with the crazy sky was taken, a torrential downpour hit and made a big mess of Sapelo’s dirt roads.
After walking our bikes around entirely too many flooded sections of road, we had to give up on the northbound route and head south instead. Fortunately, there was plenty to see down there too.
Sapelo’s lighthouse was built in 1820 by Winslow Lewis and repaired extensively after the Civil War and also an 1898 hurricane.
But a trip to the island wouldn’t be complete without spending time at BOTH beaches, so after a much-needed shower, we headed to the north beach, Cabretta Island, to scope out the scene.
Just when I thought Nanny Goat Beach was remote, I discovered Cabretta Island and my mind was blown. The “roads” to get here were questionable at best, and we passed through was an abandoned campground on the way. Camping here would have been amazing, but apparently it only takes reservations for large groups for staffing purposes, not parties of two.
Ahhh…another secluded beach afternoon before a storm. A gal could really get used to this.
But alas, I had two more islands to briefly check out before heading home and accepting the fact that I’m a 32-year-old human being. The next stop was St. Simons island, which is far more inhabited and touristy. Don’t get me wrong…it’s still really nice though, and I’d move there in an instant.
I kicked off my actual birthday day by stand-up paddleboarding in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of St. Simon’s Island.
We met up with a local guy to accompany us since it was only our second time SUP-ing and the last time was two years ago. Compared to the last time in Lake Michigan (Chicago), this time was a breeze! I didn’t fall…not even once…and I even pulled off a couple easy yoga moves on the board.
After an essential ice cream stop post-SUP, we only had a little bit of time to spend on Jekyll Island. This is a built-up island with lots of new hotels, restaurants, and shops….and also a sea turtle center. My favorite part about this particular place though was the driftwood beach.
This beach is located on the north end of the island and is pretty much a tree graveyard. It’s a bit sad actually, because the north end of the island is slowly eroding away and leaving the trees like this. But for now, it’s a surreal, haunting, and beautiful place that’s unlike any other beach I’ve ever seen.
It was really hard leaving the islands and coming home, as you might expect. A true getaway, far away from technology, obligations, and responsibilities, was really what I needed and spending a four-day weekend here really cleared out a lot of mental clutter.
For the longest time, I haven’t had a huge “draw” to a particular place where I could see myself plopping down for a while. Now all I can think about is living in a chill beach town…where my days start with yoga in the sand and end with sketching in the sunset.
I guess turning 32 wasn’t really so insignificant after all.