Well, kiddies, we’re not even halfway to Alaska yet and I’m a zombie. Partly because it is simply a long, long way from Madison to Fairbanks. And partly because playing tourist in northern Canada outside of the holiday season is much more dicey than in the lower Colonies.
We did the diagonal from the KOA across Minnesota, and then crossed the border on I-29 above St. Cloud, ND. Before saying Hi to Canada’s version of Homeland Security, we stayed in the Icelandic State Park the night before, very nice and pretty park on a small lake with full RV amenities. Nothing particularly special by Wisconsin standards, but then that’s a pretty high bar to meet. Very pleasant trip
And then we went to Canada.
And everything changed.
Wow, seriously, the Canadians have become Quite Concerned about people entering their country. It used to be that you’d barely slow down at the border, just pull up to the gates, answer a couple of questions, and off you go. This is what happened to us yesterday:
- We pulled up to the gate. The not-unfriendly lady at the booth asked for my passport. Asked why I was going to Canada. Didn’t seem at all satisfied with “Going to Alaska” as an answer. Asked for the license plate number of the RV (which she could see on her monitor). Asked who I know in Canada. Asked my job title.
- A couple of important notes at this point: Since Icelandic State Park is very close to the border, we got an early start and were at the border before 9 AM. In the rural part of North Dakota. (I am surprised to say that there is a part of North Dakota that is even more rural than the rest. This is the place.) Yeah, there wasn’t much of a line. In fact, the entire line consisted of the Winnii plus one semi in the other lane.
- The not-unfriendly lady then asked if I had any guns in the RV. Any pistols, rifles, revolvers? Was I sure? Because, you know, guns are illegal in Canada. They could hold onto any guns that I had until I returned, free of charge, no problem. So, any guns in the RV? How many guns at home and what types? OK, last chance: Any guns in the RV? Sure? OK then.
- Then the somewhat-more-unfriendly lady finally asked me to pull over to the shaded area to the left, park the RV, and go inside the building to talk to the immigration people.
- Immigration was a nice building (a sort of collage between the Prairie School style and a concrete bunker) with several officers bustling around in it. I have no idea what they were all up to, since there weren’t many vehicles to deal with (see #2). All of the officers were wearing full BDUs and flak jackets. All were armed.
- All of them looked at me as if I was some sort of scruffy mutt-herder. Well, they had a point.
- The armed flak-jacketed officer that I would have to describe as some form of Extreme Receptionist went through the same routine as with the somewhat-more-unfriendly lady. Except that he was a lot scarier, as he was huge and bald and pissed-off looking, and seemed to be sizing me up as an excuse to practice whatever training he recently had picked up at Gitmo Nord. Eventually, he grunted, gave me a yellow piece of paper, and told me to go wait in the chairs under the big map.
- A few minutes later, another officer (also armed and flak-jacketed) asked me to come back to the counter (to the spot right next to the Extreme Receptionist’s, in fact, which made the whole affair seem even sillier). He was a very nice guy who reminded me a lot of Max, except for the whole gung-ho motif and his blonde crew-cut. Oh, and his distracting habit of caressing his gun holster every few moments. He wanted to know more about Alaska. Why did I want to go there? Did I know someone there? Who did I know in Canada? How long would I be in Alaska? How long in Canada? When was I expected back after my trip? How much money did I have with me? How much available on my credit card? (Oh yeah, I was scared by now. Did they think I was broke and hoping to mooch health care off of them? Or a drug mule or buyer? Or some sort of money launderer?) How much in my checking account? Savings? Any other sources of funding? So, why was I visiting Canada? Alaska, right. Why was I going there? How long would it take me to get to Alaska? How long would I stay there? How long would I be in Canada on the return trip? Hmm. OK. Please wait under the map.
- About 15 minutes later (a very long time when you’ve got no clue what’s going on and are wondering if you’re about to be detained), he returns, calls me back to the counter, and gives me back my passport and the yellow paper, now with something written on it. Back to the map again.
- A few more minutes and Mr. E. R. calls me back to the counter again. Takes the yellow paper and my passport. Reads the yellow paper very carefully. (I suppose I might have cleverly forged something on it while I was waiting. You never can be too careful about that sort of thing.) Stamps my passport. I’m free to go. Except that they’ll need to examine my vehicle.
- I go back outside. Two more officers (wearing that identical outfit–they must have all shopped at the same store). The older one asks me to unlock the RV. I tell them that I have a dog inside. They both tense up. Older Guy directs me to open one door, bring the dog out through it, then stand to the side. They both keep their hands on their guns while I do this.
- Score one for the Mayo pup! She is super-obedient and doesn’t try to run over to say hi to the officers. Plus, they’re obviously taken by her police-dog mien and happy-but-controlled response. Tensions dissipate. I ask if I can put a leash on her and now they’re fine with that. We talk about Mayo a bit, then back to business, but now it’s easy and almost friendly. Thanks, puppy!!! (And again I wonder about her life before we adopted her from the Dane County animal shelter. She was extremely well-behaved from day one, and knew leash handling better than we did.)
- They then proceeded to open every nook and cranny both inside and outside the RV, asking me multiple times to unlock panels that I had forgotten about. Much like customs agents rifling though checked bags, they were fast and thorough. And you couldn’t tell that they had touched a thing when they were done. I was a little worried since they searched the RV much more carefully than I had ever done, and it occurred to me that the previous owners had left something “interesting” behind that I hadn’t discovered. (But they were a sweet older farm couple so I wasn’t really worried. Much.)
- Done! Finally! Under 45 minutes all told, but it felt much longer. Maybe it wouldn’t have seemed so bad if I had known what to expect. But all I had heard beforehand was that “they need a passport nowadays”.
- Surprising side note: I had also heard that they needed a record of a dog’s shots. They never asked for it, and Mr. E. R. refused it when I offered it after he stamped my passport.
- Surprising side note #2: I later met a couple of nice couples from Indianapolis who were also RV’ing to Alaska. They went through the exact same experience, and it clearly shook them even more than me. Not surprising that they’d get the same drill, except that these weren’t scruffy-looking people at all, but good salt-of-the-Earth types, classic old-school Midwesterners, clean-cut, nicely dressed, friendly. Hoosiers storm Manitoba border, details at 11.
After getting off on that foot, well, the rest of the trip seemed to pick up the vibe. But more on that later.