Move forward, stop, breathe. Move forward, stop, breathe. Move forward, huge exhale, stop. Breathe, remember!
The feeling's the same; groggy and hungry from waiting in line, nervous, excited. I've been in this position too many times and yet, the feelings never change. "What if I don't get in?" "What if, somehow, something got put in the car that's dangerous, illegal?" "What if.." Shut up brain! I've always been successful getting in to places I shouldn't be. Music festivals I didn't pay for (they're way too expensive), bars when I was underage (just to hang out, right?), but another country! I've never done that. How could I talk my way through this one; where the stakes are so high and every border employee has a gun and a badge. No, no lying, hiding under blankets, or fake IDs will get me through this gate. Just smile and tell the truth. That's all it takes, right? That and a passport. Check. I mean, it's just Canada, right?
OK. My turn. A friendly seeming woman is my gate-keeper. I try to start with nervous small talk, she cuts me off with a series of questions: "Do you have any guns, mace, drugs, alcohol, etc..." Nope, no, no, uh.. no.. Oops. Probably shouldn't have lied about the wine, beer, and whisky in the back. But there was no time to back-track. She was already asking another series of questions: "How many dogs are with you, do you have their rabies tags, where are you going, for how long, ...you're planning on staying until the weather gets bad?... I see. Pull forward to bay 4 for an inspection." Shit. All I could see was interrogation following the patrol finding the booze tucked neatly away in the back. Now I know they don't care about a bottle of wine but then, then I thought it was the end of this proposed Canadian adventure. Months of planning, saving money, creating tick-lists for the Canadian Rockies and beyond. My climbing partner Patrick, two dogs, and me. Perfect. Except for this. Being turned away from the border. And it would be all my fault.
My brain's racing as I make awkward small talk with this border authority in front of me. "Do you know what we're looking for?" He asks, smiling, oddly excited. "Guns, mace?" I squeak out, followed by laughter. Why am I laughing? I need to quit talking but I can't. This is too much and for some reason my go-to coping mechanism is laughter and stupid jokes. The authority, let's call him Jim, (we never made it to names) is not amused. He asks if there's anything he should know about before he starts his task. Silence. Panic. I stammer out "Ok.. I'm going to level with you." I see his eyes light up. "I forgot to mention some wine and beer in the back." I force this out, tripping over my words. He looks disappointed, perhaps annoyed. "I thought this was going to be something big." Jim laments. "Ha ha, well, we're not those kinds of people." I'm not sure what I meant by that. He suggest Pat and I take our dogs for a walk. I realize it's so he can bring in a drug sniffing dog uninterrupted. The searching process only took five minutes, we were all clear. And yet, I still didn't feel certain. Perhaps it was the appearance of another border patrol officer with his hand resting idly on his gun. Were we really that threatening? "Alright you are good to go. I decided not to waste my time looking for guns because, you know, you're not those types of people." Funny. "You just need to go to immigration now." What is that? My American comes through as I feel indignation. Me? Immigrant? No. I made it trough an inspection, they can't say no now. At least, that's what I kept telling myself as they ran out passports and drilled us with questions. Repeats of the usual ones; where are you going, how long, etc.; gradually becoming more and more specific. "Where do you work, how much money do you have, do you have and family here, friends? What kind of things are in your car, who owns the car, what is your relationship with each other? Things I'd never think they'd want, need to know.
Then, finally, the moment we'd been sweating for: "Ok, enjoy your stay." That's it. No explanations, no warnings, nothing. Justsweet, sweet freedom to peruse Canada for no longer than four weeks. I'll take it. Mission accomplished. Smooth sailing, I think as we drive off. Nothing but blue skies and sunshine and ..shit. What do these road signs mean? I don't know the conversion of miles per hour to kilometers. I come back to reality. That moment concretes that this journey is not going to be straight forward nor easy. But it's certainly always going to be an adventure. One I will welcome with open arms.
Written on September 6th, 2013 By Mollie Bailey