Shortly before the onset of COVID-19 and the ensuing shutdowns across the country, I had booked a trip to the East Coast. The trip was a birthday gift for my mother, who had a few points of interest on her bucket list, including Random Passage and Cape Spear.
We’d never been to Random Passage, and our one brief jaunt to Cape Spear had been in the dead of winter to see the Ice Caps trounce the Marlies a few years prior.
While most of the country had shut down, we had started our own newspaper and publishing company in the middle of a global pandemic and experienced success, but not without sacrifices. We tend to work most weekends, a lot of evenings,and other than a day or two at Christmas haven’t had much of a break. The May 23rd Victoria Day weekend seemed like an ideal time to knock off a few items on Mom’s bucket list and take a well deserved mini-vacation.
It started out well enough. The weather decided to co-operate and the warmth and sun made the long drive across the island a pleasant one. The gas prices were brutal, but we had been budgeting for a while and took the hit because the alternative was to cancel, and that was not happening twice.
The cabins where we stayed had seen better days, but they were clean and centrally located. The scenery was stunning, especially the icebergs and the puffins, and there were some private tourism operators on the go to take advantage. They were top notch.
But if anyone dropped the ball it was – to absolutely nobody’s surprise – the province. The Victoria Day weekend has always marked the unofficial start of summer. I’ve lived in Québec, Alberta and Nova Scotia, visited every single other province many times, and there has always been some kind of unwritten rule that weekend is when the campers roll out, the hotels get booked, and the traffic skyrockets. Even with the uninhibited skyrocketing of gas prices, this remained the case.
Everywhere we went we saw signs saying that the province had removed fees for provincial parks and attractions. What a great pity then that every single one of them was closed.
At Cape Spear the parking lot was full and the attraction was not only shuttered, it was roped off. Eager visitors – including those with American vehicle plates – ignored the dangers of the ongoing construction and roamed the hillside for photos, posing next to the lighthouse and peeping into the sealed WWII historical site. There were no public bathrooms, and nobody to keep them off the cliffs aside from the ignored posted signage.
It’s truly amazing there weren’t a rash of motor vehicle accidents or even fatalities. There is little to no rural law enforcement anymore, and people not only know this, they are taking advantage of it.
Before even leaving for the trip we were cautioned by news networks and official media that the RCMP would be cruising around to check motorists for intoxicated driving. I saw one vehicle in downtown St. John’s. I saw plenty of motorists speeding, some more than 30 or 40 kph over the posted limited, on the back roads we toured.
Given the incredibly poor state of some of these roads, the lack of collisions could be considered something of a miracle. We were taking our time and enjoying the view, but for residents who drive these roads to and from work and amenities every single day, the cost of wear and tear on their vehicles must be staggereing.
On the Trans Canada Highway itself these same motorists rarely exceeded the speed limit by that much. I saw a single vehicle get pulled over in Gander for rolling through a stop in front of a marked RCMP vehicle.
On Facebook groups where I am a member, the cries for vehicle rentals remain high. Yet they are hard to find. One Ontario couple cut their trip short because they couldn’t find a car to rent.
Up in Elliston where we drove to watch the puffins, a corner store owner was delighted to greet us. Tourism is down this weekend already and she is worried. The gas prices are wreaking havoc both personally and professionally. A recent trip to St. John’s to deal with a health care issue cost her a full week’s salary thanks to gas prices, lodging and food. She had to close thes tore while she was gone because she couldn’t find anyone to mind the shop in her absence.
“Nobody wants to work anymore,” she said.
Perhaps the premier will fly in another plane full of Ukranians to help.
We tried to stop for lunch in Quidi Vidi, but they didn’t even open until 2 p.m. so we ended up leaving the peninsula and returning to Clarenville. It’s not like we were Charles and Camilla and wanted the red carpet rolled out. We just wanted lunch that wasn’t a major fast food chain. Instead I ate so many french fries last weekend that I hope to never eat another one for the rest of my life. Where’s a seafood shack when you need one?
Out in the sticks where we roamed around, there was no cell service whatsoever and we got lost because I don’t have a GPS, just Google maps. At one point we circled a mountain so remote that if a clan of mutants carrying a banjo and shotgun had materialized it would have failed to surprise. Usually we like getting lost, but not so much on poor roads with no way to call if a Deliverance-style movie scene unfolds.
Total for gas on my trip over the May 24th week-end for a Ford Escape SE with ecoboost? Just a bit north of $1,000. Then there’s the food and the lodging. Unless you count a single stuffed puffin and some fishing line for my brother, I didn’t shop at all. I couldn’t afford it.
It’s Come Home Year in Newfoundland and Labrador. Welcome home to high prices, poor roads, and attractions that may be open if they have enough staff to operate.
Personally I plan on staying home for the foreseeable future. It’s cheaper and much less frustrating. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to work to pay off that gas bill.