Border Crossings

June 19th, 2017

Today our compass finally pointed west. But not without a hiccup. We were getting ready to leave the campground/dog park when our leveling jacks would not retract up. The panel that controls the jacks was not illuminated as normal, indicating no power. We tried restarting the RV. Nothing. We tried getting under the RV to look at them. Nothing. We read through what little information we had in the operation manuals. Nothing.

We even tried calling the manufacture. It’s Sunday, so naturally the jack manufacturer & Winnebago are closed, so that was a no-go for troubleshooting. No answer. Have I mentioned before we are n-o-t handy, fix-it people. After about an hour of sweating and stressing, I crawled under the dashboard, I don’t remember how many times prior this morning, I feel like I’ve been on my head for the past 2 hours! I managed to unplug the control panel, plug it back in, and voilá we were back in business! The panel illuminated  and was working again, the jacks were up! What a relief!

So off we went. But not before a final look at Lake Ontario. Such brilliant colors today.

We crossed the bridge into Canada enjoying awesome views out the RV windows of Niagara Falls.

The Canadian border agent instructed us to get out of the RV and then he drilled with me questions. Most notably why we have Texas plates on the RV and Colorado plates on the Civic. Questioning also including what I do for work, who was I traveling with, any food on board, carrying any guns, etc. Happy to say, we were a boring case for him.

We processed through customs inside while the agent walked through our home on wheels, inspecting our refrigerator and storage areas. We then drove across Canada, the part of Canada between Niagara, New York and Port Heron, Michigan. Apparently there are a lot of vineyards in that stretch of Canada. It was beautiful. Watching exits as we drove along the Interstate we got excited about the gas prices, super low prices compared to the US. We pulled off to fill up and mid-way through pumping the gas it struck me- 1. It’s priced based on liters not gallons! 2- this was a costly mistake even with the exchange rate! Rookie mistake!  The price per gallon was terrible and goes down as our most expensive fill-up of the trip! But hey, it makes for a great laugh and story now!

Crossing back in the U.S. at Port Heron was eventful, this day is not going down as one of our greatest, the jacks, the costly gas mistake and now this! As we crossed the Blue Heron Bridge over the St. Clair River linking Point Edward, Ontario, Canada to Port Huron, Michigan, United State, there were electronic signs over the lanes. Some displayed “Trucks”, others “Autos”. One lane displayed “RVs/Trailers”. Naturally we traveled in that lane.

When we finished crossing the bridge drawing closer to the US border, the lanes opened from 3 lanes to about 24 (no joke!) there no longer was an “RV/Trailer” option on the electronic signs. There only were two: “Trucks” (to the left about 12 lanes) and “Autos” (to the right another 12 lanes). We slowed to a near stop, creating a log-jam of traffic behind us, desperately searching for our lane. Mild panic attack, after the post-traumatic stress of getting stuck in the tiny ACE Hardware parking lot on South Padre Island in Texas months ago, I knew I had to get this right. This rig is not easy to maneuver, a u-turn or last minute lane change were not options! Looking over all the signs again, hearts racing, we didn’t see a lane marked “RV/Trailer” as there had been on the bridge just a short while ago. Not knowing the clearance of the auto lanes I had to make a quick decision and move forward, and so choose to go left, a lane signed “Trucks”.  I mean this rig is a beast at 33 ft long, 8ft + wide and 12+ ft tall, there was no way in my mind we were going to fit through the “Auto” lanes without needing bodywork and a new paint job. After waiting for the truck ahead of us I pulled the RV forward. I rolled down the window and the man sitting in the booth, looks at me with a stoic face and asks me dryly, “What are you doing?”

Naively, I say, “Coming back into the U.S.”

He says, “No, what are you doing? This lane is for trucks.”

I tell him, “I know, I saw the sign, but I saw no RV/Trailer lane. It was available all the way across the bridge, but when we got across, it was trucks or auto and we are not an auto, so…” I trail off and leave it at that.

He doesn’t respond. He gets on his phone. After what seemed liked a few minutes, though probably just about 20 seconds, he says, “Wait here until we get someone to process you – you idiot. I mean can’t you read numbskull (or something like that – not the idiot part or numbskull – but I could tell what he was thinking)

When he said ‘someone to process you’, what he meant was 6 armed border agents suspiciously swarming our rig, approaching us slowly and purposefully; with their hands near their holsters, like at any moment we might be a flight risk. The area where they wanted us to pull in was too small for the RV plus the tow car, so they had to transfer us over to a large over-flow parking lot. We were breaking every protocol imaginable.

One of the agents gives me these simple instructions, “what you are going to do is pull forward straight ahead there just past that building (he points to a vague area of buildings), head just the right of it and you’ll see a gate to your left, pull through into there and then circle back around and park along side those barriers there (now he points to another side of some buildings). Agent Smith will come meet you there. Now look over there (he points to an area of parked boarder patrol cars), see those cars – look like cop cars? (he waits for me to confirm – I nod) If you go right onto the road to the right and not left into the parking lot, those guys are going to turn their lights and sirens on and chase you down, with their large guns and blast you away to smithereens with their rocket propelled grenades. So make sure you go left after the building (pointing again to an area of buildings some 500 feet ahead.)”

“Got it.” I say confidently.

Once we parked and Agent Smith visited us and put us through a similar battery of questions as the Canadian agent earlier today, he showed us where to enter the customs building for processing.

Staring of that way with an armed escort following behind (to ensure we were not a flight risk, I guess) All along the way, politely in stern whisper voices threatening our children’s lives to behave once inside and to answer questions from people when they asked. Don’t stare at your toes or act out! Got it!? You want to get back home? Then do as we say!

Once inside we noticed that our drive through the border checkpoint in our RV had not gone unnoticed by the customs agents stationed inside. They were all on high alert, staring at us the moment we stepped inside. Even the agent interviewing a couple, stoped his series of questions to look at us. Again we are asked questions like, “What are you doing?”, “Where did you come from?”, “What is the nature of your trip?”, “Why didn’t you go through the RV lane (idiot)?”

I said there was not one – it was Trucks or Autos. No RV lane.

We eventually made it through, but after lots of head scratching from agents, phone calls where we caught one side of the conversation hearing things like – “Yes”, “Correct. Truck lane”, “No, sir.”, “Yes, sir.”, “oh, okay. How do I get that photo?”, “Which system?” and then answering the routine questions when you try to get back into your home country.

We learned the photos of license plates crossing the auto side are not shared with the commercial truck side and visa versa. Go figure, government contracts. We were now being processed on the auto side of things – since we are not a truck and of course the side we were on couldn’t share the photos of our RV and Civic to process us through. What?!

Even better was the conversation we overhead next to us while we were anxiously awaiting our fate. Two Canadian’s were trying to enter the U.S. and seriously the only questions we heard where ones along these lines, “Do you have any food in the car?”, “What kind of sandwich?”, “What type of meat?”, “How many slices of meat?”, “Approximately how thick are the meat slices?” I know I have been a bit facetious here, but those where honestly the questions the Canadians were having to answer. Their responses, “Yes, we have some sandwiches”, “Sub sandwich”, “Pastrami”, “Uh, um. Two I think?”, “Thickness? uh… less than a millimeter I suppose.”

Eventually we checked out okay and were processed through and given our passport back, as we headed out the door, I overheard from the Canadians, “Yes we just bought the sandwiches today from a deli.”

We had had enough, emotionally spent. We were relieved that just a few exits west was a Cracker Barrel on the map. We stopped and stayed for the night, thankful to be back in the United States. Enjoyed a family game night in the parking lot while a thunderstorm passed overhead. Tomorrow is a new day. Thankful to have this one behind us.

This post is part of our Live Like No One Else series, a retelling, through journal entries kept along the way, of all the sights and memories we made during our 2017 #getlivingadventure. We were so busy living the adventure we missed sharing many of the experiences with you. Just happy to have you along as we relive many of the great memories that we hope one day our kids will have to read and remember!


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