On August 30th, we left Canada and entered the lower 48 for the first time in almost two months. Some had described the ride through south Vancouver as disappointing in comparison to entering through the west. Victorian neighborhoods melt away in the humidity and soon we are surrounded by strip malls bifurcated by 4 lane boulevards. Multi-million dollar homes on western edge replaced with cheap motels packed into dusty industry. This is the first time Canada has felt edgy, poor. We ride along a truck route next to the river. Semis push us to the edge of the no shoulder streets and little shacks with rotten planks patching chain link fences encapsulating hungry pit bulls flank us on the right.
We cross over a beautiful suspension bridge with a logging operation below. The twisted cables holding it up are thicker than my arm. Woodchips ferment in the slow water beneath and the breeze tastes like a sweet pine bourbon. After the bridge we are on several miles of bike path. Pasty Canadians walk on their lunch breaks and pick blackberries. I think about crossing the border and realize that it has been a long time since I checked that I still had my passport. I consider the possibility of having to stay and remember what Karen said in Terrace, “Free Health care, 1 year paid maternity leave, and 10 weeks paid vacation. What’s not to love?”
As we near the border there is a sign pointing to two different destinations. In one direction is Hope. In the other, the United States. Also of note within the last mile of the border is a king’s ransom in discarded pot. I was a bit surprised the locals had not caught on to this yet. It would be more lucrative than collecting cans. I suppose observations like these are why I’m not homeless.
Customs and border patrol is the bureaucratic manifestation of a massive inferiority complex. The whole process of walking across an imaginary line is over complicated and obfuscated to make you feel like an idiot. There is a long line and a short line. One person yells at us to get in the long line. Another in the short. There is some vague signage, but none of it seems to apply to us. We luck out and the short line is where we need to be. It is hard not to notice that they are much more ill-tempered if you’re brown and have an accent. A young woman in uniform harasses a Hispanic man and demands to see receipts for all of his purchases while he was in Canada. We reach the front of the line.
“Any meats, cheeses, dairy, or fruit?”
I thought about the cured salami and fresh cheese we had just bought and about a friend that had been detained for 8 hours on her way back from New Zealand because she forgot she had a kiwi in her purse.
She had stamped our papers before she was even done asking her questions.
We had service on our phones for the first time. This turned out to be a stroke of luck as we were not prepared for the barrage of navigating in front of us. Over the previous two months, we had been on less than 10 roads. That amounted to about 1 turn every week. Before beginning a new stretch we would say goodbye to the last one and think a bit about what we had experienced on it. In the first twenty miles inside of Washington we must have taken twenty roads. My brain was overloading.
The first things I noticed upon entering the states were the potholes, increased car traffic, and lots of people. A runner yelled something to us that I couldn’t hear. I didn’t want to stop so I made an assumption and yelled back “Argentina!” Blackberries were ripening in full all around. I tried to grab one from a bush while riding. It seemed like such a romantic thing to do. I missed and got a thorn stuck in my hand. I was able to pick it out with my teeth so I didn’t have to stop riding, but cut my tongue and my mouth tasted like blood. Somehow that was still enjoyable.
American trucks with American flags pass us. For two places that are so close and share so much in common, The US and Canada have a very different feel. It had never occurred to me that people are afraid to come to America because of gun violence in the same way that Americans are afraid to go south of their own borders due to cartels and gangs. I suppose if you live in a country that does not regularly experience school shootings and often see this happening somewhere else on the nightly news this may seem like odd behavior. Still, it is a bit sad when it occurs to you that somebody sees your country as one that is filled with violence and lacking in compassion for the underprivileged. It’s sort of like the guy that finds out that he is making all of his friends uncomfortable when he gets drunk and hits on everyone’s wife at dinner parties.
In the end, Canadians lived up to their friendly and quirky reputation. I could spend all summer riding through the Yukon and BC. There were over 2,000 miles ahead of us through the states to reach the Mexican border, but somehow this now felt like the easy part.