Therein lies the crux of the traveler’s dilemma–too many roads, too many nooks and crannies. Too many tangents and digressions and detours to explore, either on a road trip or in a lifetime.
So, which to choose? Which dirt road disappearing under a tree-covered canopy or winding into a red-dirt mountain is worth the effort? Because any deviation from the current path involves risk—of wasted time and energy at least, of getting lost or stuck or injured at worst. How often have you stopped to explore an interesting side road only to end up at a literal or figurative dead end?
A couple of dead ends under your belt, and it’s easy to blast on by the next inviting detour. Put on blinders and keep on truckin’. It’s easier, doesn’t require a decision, risk a disappointment, or involve any unpleasantness. Just stick to the program–the well-traveled thoroughfares of life.
After my share of experiments with inviting side roads and dead ends, I now tend to bypass the byways in favor of a well-trodden path. Which doesn’t mean I’m no longer tempted by an alluring detour. To be human is to be tempted–and also sometimes to be stupid.
So, after leaving colorful St. John’s, Julia and I began our drive across Newfoundland where we planned to meet friends on its western coast. With a few days to spare, we decided to round the Bonavista Peninsula—the same spit of land that had snagged John Cabot in 1497—or so the story goes.
Our first night at the base of Bonavista was less notable than Cabot’s—a pulloff with two-tracks running in all directions and the de rigueur piles of trash.
I’d heard that a puffin colony was…somewhere. I’d also heard that the Skerwink Trail was worth seeing. But I wasn’t sure where either was, exactly.
Thus well-informed, we began our ascent of the peninsula the next day.
That is how, on our first day of meandering up the eastern side of the Bonavista Peninsula, we ended up on several unplanned byways. And for some reason, they were all delightful. It was just one of those lucky breaks that sometimes happens on the road and in life.
The first occurred after an hour or so of driving when, for no reason in particular, I turned off on the little road to Trinity. Had I heard something about the place? Was this a blind act of faith? I don’t remember, but as the road grew more narrow and twisty, my anxiety increased and my speed slowed to a crawl.
Finally, we crept along the side of a hill overlooking the town.
Or…was it a movie set?
Trinity isn’t so different from other villages strung along the coast. It’s been there for a long time–three hundred years or so. It’s had its ups and downs, although a protected harbor gave it a natural advantage during the glory days of fishing cod.
But not so long ago, Trinity learned that a bright face on those historic buildings becomes a mighty powerful lure for tourists, which are now more lucrative (and perhaps more numerous) than cod. So the town spruced itself up; rehabbed the large and lovely old homes and halls that are scattered willy-nilly along tiny winding streets.
And the tourists came. They really did.
The place was entrancing. I felt like a kid who fell into Oz. I was so amazed, I think, because I had stumbled into the place without expectation. It was like a make-believe world, these beautiful, well-kept buildings along the blue bay. It was like stepping back in time, and yet it wasn’t populated with people dressed in pretend costumes. Real people mowed their lawns and drove their cars along the winding roads.
I met Carol, for example, as she was running a hose to her flower garden across the road.
Carol had lived in Trinity seasonally for several years, but she was “from away.” From Washington D.C., to be exact, where her husband had worked for the State Department. This intensified my sense of disorientation. Where was I?
“As soon as we drove off the ferry at Argentia, I got chills,” she said. “I knew I wanted to live in Newfoundland.”
Since I had gotten off that same ferry not so very long ago, I understood exactly how she felt.
The couple bought one of the historic homes in Trinity right on the water. Part of the house is a studio and gallery for her paintings.
Life’s been good in Trinity, despite the long drive and uncertain ferry crossing every spring and fall. “People here are friendly and welcoming to us from-aways,” she said.
But as more people are drawn to this perfect gem beside the bay, the character of village life is changing. “There’s more a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ ” said Carol.
I wandered among the crooked streets until the pressure of moving on got too strong. Julia was done looking at pretty buildings. You can only stay so long in a parallel universe, no matter how alluring.
We set off to find the Skerwink Trail, which I’d heard was just across the bay. Still, locating the road and then the trailhead took a bit of rummaging. But the trail was worth every bit of rummage.
A skerwink is the Newfie term for a shearwater—a rarely seen aquatic bird. But the trail is an exceedingly well-maintained 3.5-mile (5.8 km) loop along the high cliffs overlooking Trinity Bay. Travel & Leisure once ranked it among the “25 Great Walks in North America and Europe,” and it deserved the designation.
That night we camped in a real junkyard strewn with car cadavers and broken glass It also had the best blueberry patch we’d found thus far. The next day, our final, random turn would be one of the most difficult and also one of the best.
For more photos of Trinity and the Skerwink Trail, visit my wanderingnotlost.org Facebook page here.