We took a wrong turn.
5 PM found us standing at the edge of a gravel railway track, discussing whether we should turn back to the highway or head onto the trail to find somewhere to camp. The shadows were getting longer and the air cooler, so we decided to head west on the railway line.
As we suited up to go, a dirt biker with a tinted visor skidded towards us, glanced our direction, then continued on the road towards the direction from which we’d come. I thought for a minute. “That person looked like the size of a kid,” I said. “A kid dirt biking.” I said it more out of surprise than interest, and forgot about it as we set off down the trail.
After a few minutes I saw a rock cliff to the north lit up by the setting sun. Without hesitation I turned onto the dirt path towards it, which quickly entered an old quarry. In the distance I could see three figures on the side of the outcropping.
We got closer and eventually called out a greeting, leaving behind the bicycles and jogging up the hill to meet them. A.J., 14, sitting on a dirtbike eating candy. Abigail, 16, learning against a dirtbike with her hand on her helmet. Colin, 16, standing with his hands in his pockets.
“You guys dirt bike?” I asked. A.J. laughed and gestured at the quarry below us. I turned to look. Among the rock and pools of water were dozens of well-worn trails and jumps. My eyes widened. “Who built all this?”
“We did,” he replied with a mixture of insouciance and pride. “About thirty of us. We built it all.”
They were as interested in us as we were in them, and we talked about bicycling across Canada (“Dat’s ahbsolutely cooked, man”) and they talked about dirt biking after school (“Sometimes wit’out the school if we’re fucked-like”). Eventually more teenagers came down from farther up the cliff, A.J. and Colin jumped to tell the others about us, and before we knew it we were down in the quarry shooting photos.
This was a real place of juxtaposition. The bikers had a teenage-sanctioned devil-may-care bravado carried by cussing and Newfoundland slang, but it was clear in the work that had gone into building both the dirt bike track and a more-than-standing-height ‘bough shack’ in the woods that they really did care about this place and the time they spent in it.
“The last shack burnt ta bits, thank Jesus it was winter time. Yeah we built this in a couple days.” Shrug. Whatever. Except what they built really was extraordinary. They had places to sit, places to take in the view, places to leave their ATVs.
It was young and old at the same time. The twelve year old didn’t smoke because he ran races, but most of the others did. They talked about run-ins with the cops, about drugs and sex and small-town freedoms. “Like skeet, you know, someone who wears track pants and drinks and messes around, they aren’t doing much in life. I guess like us, we’re skeets.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Well it’s a laugh for us.” More laughter and a drag on the cigarette. “But who knows about the adults and them.”
When we talk to people about Newfoundland, they usually have an image of icebergs and coastline peninsulas in their minds. Not for no reason. But just a few kilometres inland from Conception Bay South, there’s an abandoned quarry that isn’t abandoned; there’s a group of youth ripping engines and smoking and watching the sun go down. And it stands to reason that’s not the only one. Newfoundland’s kids are jumping fire and spinning tires and that’s worth knowing.