Exploring Bulls Island

Most people who travel to South Carolina for vacation choose a popular resort in Myrtle Beach, Garden City Beach or even Pawley’s Island.  After all, there’s plenty of sunshine, countless activities such as miniature golf, amusement parks and shopping, not to mention restaurants that showcase Southern dining at its very best best.

But nestled off the Atlantic coast, just 20-miles North of Charleston, is a secret destination to most who visit South Carolina.  Bulls Island is an unusual and fascinating place, full of beauty and mystery.

DSC_0793As part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, Bulls Island boasts of 5,000 acres of uninhabited land just waiting to be explored.  In order to reach this “other world,” you need to take a ferry ride from the mainland at Garris Landing.  It is literally the only way onto the island and the only way off of the island.

Coastal Expedition, a small, family-owned business created in 1992, provides an  educational ecotour as the ferry slowly leads you away from civilization.  It’s common to see a team of dolphins swimming along side the ferry and the naturalist onboard explains the ecosystem, carefully pointing out details that I’d miss on my own.

The closer you get to Bulls Island, the greater the anticipation.


Once you exit the ferry, you are completely on your own.  At first, the possibilities seem endless and the thought of venturing around is thrilling.  However, as the hours drift by and the hot South Carolina sun is beating down on you, it can feel a bit unsettling and lonely.

On my most recent trip to this magical place, my family and I spent the afternoon walking along the seven mile stretch known as Boneyard Beach.  It’s called Boneyard Beach because the oak and cedar trees that once stood tall on the island are slowly being stripped away as the high tides cause the coastline to shift.   The remains of the white-bleached trees actually look like large dinosaur bones.


Erosion, or the gradual destruction of something, is not something that often translates into beauty.  But at Boneyard Beach, it’s quite the opposite.  The beauty, however, is complicated.

For photographers like myself, this is a dream location.  Literally every angle provides a jaw-dropping landscape that leaves me curious to know more about the mysteries that exist beyond the coastline.


Venturing away from the beach, we decided to explore the dense forrest, which feels more like a jungle as you push through thick brush and battle the mosquitos with each step into nowhere.  Once we were able to find a crude path, we followed it, not knowing quite where it led and hoping that we’d find our way back in time for the ferry pick-up.

Many people visit the island to relax on the beach for the day or to birdwatch or to collect gorgeous shells.  And we did those things.  But we also came to find alligators.  Sometimes along the path, we would see markings on the ground, revealing the long shape of a dragging tail.

As we would approach a sawgrass marsh, we ended all conversation.  The complete silence allowed us to give our full attention to the particular sound we were listening for:  the sound of an alligator sliding into the water.  With our binoculars in hand, we’d take turns tying to locate the creature.  The excitement when we had spotted his eyes sticking barely out of the water was uncontainable.


When most of your vacation revolves around man-made attractions, escaping to an uninhabited island is a welcomed getaway.  There isn’t a Starbucks on the corner by the eroding tree and you’ll leave with too many bug bites to count, but the “other worldliness” is unforgettable.  The views are stunning.  And for a few hours, you feel like an explorer.



An inspiring warrior

dubsLife wasn’t exactly easy when she was in her 20s.  At a time when most students are enjoying college life, working, and hanging out with friends, she was struggling with a prolonged sickness that left her completely exhausted.

This continued for two years, until she was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease.  As her body attempted to fight off the symptoms of Lyme, she developed the autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto thyroiditis.

For Karen Dubs, a fitness coach and author of Find Your Flexible Warrior, those several years were marked with pain, suffering and a genuine fear for her future.  Even simple tasks were a challenge.

“I had a hard time washing my hair,” Dubs said.  “I was just so tired and I thought I would always feel sick.”

Her physical exhaustion led her to make what she now knows were unhealthy dietary choices.  In an effort to feel energized, she ate sugary foods and she drank a lot of coffee.  While these things gave her quick bursts of energy, over time the opposite happened: she was even more physically depleted.

Although it certainly would have been understanding for her to wallow in self-pity, Dubs decided to face her challenges head on and she began learning how to take better care of herself.

“Having Lyme disease is what really moved me forward,” Dubs said.

She was first introduced to fitness by her mother when she was just 17 years old.  Her mom managed a fitness club and at times, Dubs would be asked to substitute by teaching a class much like the Jane Fonda aerobic workouts.  While studying mass communication at Towson University, she would also teach fitness classes on campus.

When she graduated from Towson University in 1991, she immediately began working in public relations and marketing.  Along the way, something changed.  There was a fork in the road, as she describes, and she changed her direction, shifting her career.

Today, she is a health coach and yoga teacher for her own business, Flexible Warrior.  In addition to teaching fitness classes, Dubs is a wellness advocate, specializing in helping athletes.

Her expertise has led her to train the Ravens team members, marathoners, and even Olympic athlete Suzanne Stettinius.  Stettinius first began working with Dubs after she was thrown off of a horse while training, which resulted in a shoulder injury.  After surgery, she battled both physical stress and mental stress.

“I focused on what she could do and not on what she couldn’t do,” Dubs said.

One evening when they were doing stretching exercises, Stettinius told Dubs, “When I go to the Olympics, I’m going to take you with me.”

And that’s exactly what she did.

In 2012, Dubs accompanied Stettinius to London for the Olympic Games.

“Being in London was the most breathtaking thing I’ve ever experienced, next to the birth of my niece,” Dubs said.

She spent almost ten days in London, enjoying the Games and helping Stettinius to stretch before and after her competition.  According to Dubs, working with an Olympic athlete has been one of her coolest experiences to date.

It’s hard to imagine Dubs as a physically sick, exhausted, weak woman.  She stands with perfect posture, her long braided hair extending down her back.  Her body is toned and she exudes a humble confidence.  But even more than that, she displays a gratefulness and joy not only for her life, but for her life’s work.

“My job is to inspire others to be their best and how can I do that if I’m not at my best?” Dubs said.  “If you don’t take care of yourself, you have nothing to give to anyone else.”

A New York City gem

A rainy day in New York turned into a bright afternoon as a friend and I discovered a gem of a spot.

There’s something magical about New York.  Whenever I spend a day in this bustling city, I feel at home; like it’s where I belong.  I appreciate getting lost in the endless sea of people.  I love the diversity that surrounds me.  But mostly, I enjoy the unexpected adventures that always await me at the simple turn of a corner.  My friend and I planned a trip a few months back and as our bus barreled down 27th Street, it began raining. Our plans of walking through Central Park came to a screeching halt.  We shifted to our “if it rains plan” and decided to visit the Museum of Modern Art.  As we climbed off the bus, we pulled our hoods up, shielding ourselves from the downpour.  Turning the corner of 58th Street, we saw a small coffee shop called Fika and ducked inside before hitting the MoMA.  Amid the stark white aesthetics, we were greeted with the warmth of fresh baked goods and hot brew.  After drying off and grabbing a small table for two, we scanned the glass display case.  Instantly, our eyes met with the row of perfectly shaped Chokladbolls.  Without even knowing what was on the inside of this Swedish delicacy, we each ordered one.  With anticipation, we took our first bite, gently breaking through the snow-covered chocolate ball.  The dark cake inside was moist and rich, the perfect sidekick to our coffee.  Complimenting the smooth roast perfectly, we alternated between tiny bites of the chokladball and sips of our medium roast.  Though small and appearing delicate, it didn’t crumble between bites.  It kept its form.  It was small but mighty, in structure and taste.  Suddenly, we forgot that it was even raining as we got lost in our unexpected experience in a Swedish coffee shop.  Strolling through Central Park would have been lovely, no doubt.  But it was the rain that forced us to switch our plans, landing us in a fantastic New York City gem.  And have you ever sat with a friend, admiring the city on a rainy afternoon?  It’s beautiful!  #Fika #nyccoffee #nyc #chokladboll #Swedisheats #perfectcoffee #ilovenycity #nyceats #nycrainyday #MoMA #nycescape

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The path of curiosity

Not many of us would describe our childhood environment as “rambling and lawless.”  In fact, for the majority of us, our parents were more than likely protective.  We had boundaries and rules.  While curiosity for the world was encouraged, as children we lived within our own insulated bubble, with little or no cultural diversity.

For Lynsey Addario, this was not the case.  Not even close.

addarioNow a renowned photojournalist and author, Addario’s childhood of rambling and lawlessness was one of the building blocks that prepared her for her life’s work.

Her parents were both hairdressers and inviting their clients, employees and friends to their home was a regular occurrence.  As a result, Addario was introduced to people of all backgrounds.

Interacting with transvestites, homosexuals and those battling mental illness was a part of her daily life as a child.  She described her home as a “haven for people who weren’t accepted elsewhere.”  Little did she know that her parent’s example of accepting people of all cultural backgrounds into their home would play such a vital role in her life.  In her own words, she grew up “witnessing the sorrow of outcasts”.

This sorrow would follow her throughout her career.

As a young photojournalist working for the Associated Press in New York City, Addario had a unique opportunity to combine her childhood experiences with a real-life assignment.  In an effort to show the community that transgender-prostitutes were not society’s throwaways, she embedded herself within that subculture in hopes of listening, photographing and telling their stories.

As she developed her skills and became a more seasoned photojournalist, more doors opened for her.  Despite the risks, she took these opportunities and embraced them as part of her calling life.  Telling stories through photographs was her chance to provide an alternative, a new perspective.

When covering the genocide in Darfur, Addario was exposed to deep, heartbreaking stories.  The sorrow, indeed, was following her.  For the first time, she was seeing clearly the correlation between persistent coverage on an issue and the response from the international community.

She treated those who were suffering as human beings, recognizing their resilience.  She honored them by telling their stories.  And she showed the beauty amid war by taking photographs that would prevent the reader from looking away in response to something horrible.  In this way, her photographic work inspired the reader to ask the deeper questions.

Addario’s experiences and example are inspiring to me, as a woman, mother and journalism student.  How much do I expose my 10-year old son and 9-year-old daughter to?  Where is the balance?  What are practical ways that I can help them to meet and welcome others who are different from them?

When I consider her patience and compassion in building relationships with others, I am inspired to slow down and value the time it requires for a journalist to tell a person’s story.

Several years ago I saw a moving Ted Talk featuring novelist Chimamanda Adichie.  She spoke about the danger of narrowing another person’s life down to a single story.  Her insight reinforces the same thing that Addario believes:  Everyone’s story is different and worthy to be told.