“Next available ferry is next week, July 31st”
“Um. Are you serious? How about the overnight ferry?”
“August 2nd. There’s always room for foot passengers though.”
There goes our dreams of driving Vannessa all the way to St. John’s.
We really didn’t do much pre-planning for this trip. But the one thing we did do, was look into the ferry to Newfoundland. I had checked the website repeatedly, and saw that advance reservations were not required, although were recommended. And every time I checked availability, it showed there was lots of space. Since we weren’t following a schedule and had no idea when we would be ready for the ferry, we decided to wait until we were a few days away before booking. However, thanks to a heartwarming campaign called “Come Home 2022” put on by the province of Newfoundland, unprecedented numbers of travellers were going back to their beloved island after two years of pandemic restrictions kept the Newfoundland diaspora away.
Great news for Newfoundlanders returning home.
Bad news for us and Vannessa.
The amount of problem solving (and cost) of navigating a massive province with three children, no vehicle and not great public transit felt overwhelming. At one point in Nova Scotia, we even gave up, accepting that we wouldn’t make it all the way east. But after a good sleep, some fresh resolve, and a lucky phone call to Enterprise as soon as they opened, we managed to snag what was likely the only rental vehicle left on the island. Unfortunately, it was in Deer Lake, a few hours from the ferry terminal, and only available for four days and there was still a whole lot of logistics to sort out to make it happen.
We booked the SUV and decided to go for it.
We picked up some duffel bags at Walmart, packed the bare minimum essentials, found a parking spot for our dear Vannessa (promised her we would be back) and set out on foot.
We felt a bit like the intrepid explorers of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition to Antarctica, being forced to leave behind their beloved ship and venture into the unknown with survival their only goal. Except instead of lifeboats across the polar ice, we had a comfy ferry, followed by an SUV with AC and satellite radio. Regardless, our brave little explorers did a great job of rolling with the changes, even digging deep when travel felt pretty uncomfortable.
The ferry drops you in Port-aux-Basque, a sleepy harbour town with not a lot going on. However, the hearty souls that live there are some of the friendliest you’ll ever meet. The lady at the front desk of our hotel offered us her vehicle for the week!
Instead, Kirk opted to take the arduous bus ride to Deer Lake while the kids and I loitered around the town, killing time like a couple of vagabonds. We wandered the streets, made friends with the staff at Tim Horton’s, found a purse that belonged to a woman that lived in Alberta and helped her reunite with it, shopped at Riff’s and had a contest at the grocery store to see who could find the weirdest local food.
Levi won when he came back with a giant jar of pickled wieners that had us laughing so hard I was worried we would drop it and get kicked out of the store. We ended up buying Purity’s Square Milk Lunch which are quite possibly the most blah food product you could imagine.
After an hour of playing at the only playground in town, Tegan said “Today was awesome, I forgot how amazing it is to just do nothing for a day.” I agree. I don’t remember the last time I just did nothing for the sake of killing time and how refreshing it was to know that there was nothing else I could (or should) be doing.
I also don’t remember when I last laughed so hard with my kids. Coincidence? Nope.
Kirk, on the other hand, did not have such a great day, covering all that ground just to come back to retrieve us with our new ride. But finally, we were off on the final stretch east.
Except first we went north.
I was on a mission to find caribou.
Throughout all my travels, and despite all my valiant efforts, I had never seen a caribou before. When I was 13, my family went to Aklavik, NWT to visit family, and we spent an entire day on snowmobiles and dog sleds (with the huskies riding in the dog sleds with us instead of pulling us!) looking for an elusive migratory herd that we never found. Then in Iceland we found domestic reindeer, which was pretty cool, but not the same. Then I missed out again when running Tonquin valley with zero caribou sightings. We had it on good authority that Port-aux-Choix was the place to go since they rarely left the peninsula. And sure enough, it was just as easy as that. They were waiting for me by the lighthouse, just chilling with their babies.
Bucket list item checked.
Back through Gros Morne National Park where we took in a few hikes to see some gorgeous views and explore one of the few places in the world where you can see the Earth’s Mantle, the layer of rock below the crust, that was pushed up and exposed during continental drift. The rock is toxic to plant life so the hills look naked and kinda orange thanks to oxidation of the iron in the rocks.
Like Trump on a beach vacation. You’re welcome.
We could’ve spent a lot more time there, but the northern peninsula is huge, and the clock was ticking so we kept heading east, taking the scenic route through cute fishing villages where the cod industry once thrived before the cod moratorium changed Newfoundland life forever.
Kirk and I often commented that Newfoundland reminded us of Iceland, and we were pretty excited to stop at rock in Elliston that was covered in Puffins, just like we had seen in Iceland. Same adorable birds, an ocean apart, this time with our kids to witness them too.
Finally, we arrived in St. John’s on a gorgeous summer evening. We walked through downtown, strolled Water Street and Jellybean row with the quirky colourful houses and found some pretty amazing ice cream thanks to a recommendation from my Newfoundland friend Jill. We definitely weren’t done with the city, but the sun was down and we had an early morning date with the sunrise.
(Have you ever tried getting a 15-year-old nightowl up for sunrise?)
Bleary eyed kids, cursing missed turns and racing east on winding roads before we made it to Cape Spear just as the sun peaked over the horizon at the most easterly point in North America. Could this moment get any more beautiful?
Just to make sure it was perfect, some whales decided to play close by while we watched. OK, now its perfect. Let’s just enjoy this moment. Its all roads west from here.
Travelling is funny like that, sometimes you work so hard to reach some arbitrary destination, stop, look around, and move on. The goal is to experience it simply because you haven’t before. Don’t get me wrong, making it to Cape Spear was incredible. But although that was our ‘goal’, it really wasn’t the purpose of the trip. The purpose of this trip was all the moments along the way to make this absolutely unforgettable. Whales, lighthouses and a sunrise was the bonus.
Kinda like the medal at the end of an ultra. The true value is in the journey that led you to the finish line, the medal just commemorates it all.
Speaking of running.
I was thankful to sneak in a quick run up Signal Hill to let these restless legs fly before another long journey back to our overnight ferry scheduled on the other side of the island.
A seven hour drive, with lots of construction delays and stops for food at busy, understaffed fast food joints, then a four hour bus ride to the ferry, then a seven hour ferry ride, ten minute walk and we were back at Vannessa, happy with our whirlwind tour of gorgeous Newfoundland that left us wanting more.
Hey Labrador, you must have some treasures waiting to be discovered? Seriously though, what is up there? (They have mountains!)
For now, we were just excited we made it all the way across this vast country of ours. What a strange feeling to be closer to Europe then to home, yet still in the same country.
So far from home. I guess this journey isn’t over yet.