Cry Bear: Travels along the Skerwink Trail, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
There are a couple of piles of scat on the Skerwink Trail that are so large they make me wonder if I have any business being this far away from a dickishly-managed Starbucks.
I wasn’t planning on hiking today. I left my rented Jetta in a designated lot beside one other vehicle and just wandered off, overstuffed camera bag in hand, no snack, no water, my iPhone gasping for power. (Let me be clear from the start: this isn’t an advice column). At best, I managed to look the outdoorsy part, thanks to layers of clothing sporting MEC and Patagonia outfitter logos, heavy black Blundstones, and disheveled hair that could pass as a week’s worth of camping experience.
“I assume it’s safe to hike it alone?” I’d asked the woman stationed at the Visitor’s Centre in the nearby town. (I assumed nothing).
“Oh yes, but you won’t be alone, it’s very popular…” she enthused in the way you’d expect from someone who lives in Trinity; a place so charming, postcards undersell its appeal.
Trees creaked under the furious insistence of wind as I walked. Wooden boards laid to make stretches of path easier to travel were soft with fresh rain and old rot and occasionally reverberated unnaturally, which caused a sensation not unlike the weight of a third foot fall behind me. Twice, I looked over my shoulder with suspicion. I’d be more at ease sprinting for a streetcar in stroller-choked sidewalks than attempting, say, to outrun the polar bear, who, according to the local news radio, was just that minute capping off his ice flow cruise with a walking tour somewhere near Bonavista. (Not nearly far enough from where I now stood.) Still, I continued up a series of steps, went past a sign that read, provocatively, “Unstable Cliffs”, and looked for signs of life.
Perhaps it was the rain earlier in the day or the late afternoon haze, but for nearly two hours as I wandered and stopped, scrambled over muddy patches and lifted my camera, there was not another soul. Instead, between conifers with dangling goatees of lichen, the ragged, wind-shaped coastline revealed startling sea-stacks and lonely chips of smooth white icebergs that clustered at the beach. All under a wet, heady scent of pine and mud and salted ocean air that would surely keep Febreze executives up at night, wondering how to bottle it.
The Sherwink Trail is named after a bird you’re unlikely to see; it lives offshore and returns to breeding nests only at night. That doesn’t give anyone here pause. “Set up expectations and then don’t satisfy them... coolest thing you can do. Donovan Woods does it all the time.” Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea had remarked to a songwriting workshop gathered in St John’s just a few days before my stumble through the forest. Foiled anticipation, bars of a song with uneven lengths, changes to the repetition, these are some of the musical nuances Doyle was discussing with musicians who’d arrived from as far as Australia to study the craft. Similarly, very little about my time on the coast was going as planned (see diary entries: “Seven Hours Waiting for the Fogo Ferry”, “Five More redacted Hours Trying to Leave Fogo” and “Thrilling Game of Find-Your-Rental-Car” for reference.) but, when it wasn’t meeting my expectations, Newfoundland was simultaneously frustrating and exceeding them. A sucker for a surprise, all bears excluded, I’m already booked to return.
• Book rental cars in advance, they can be in short supply in the high season.
• Trinity Mercantile and nearby Two Whales Coffee Shop and are both excellent spots to fuel up before hiking.
• Après-trees, try Port Rexton Brewery.
• Bring a sense of direction.
— Words and images by Colleen Nicholson. Colleen is an book and magazine art director turned wanderer. (Few things are as motivating as sitting in the cubical opposite the empty chair of a travel writer.)