In The Way

Getting Through to America

When we last updated we were leaving from Millgrove, ON towards London, ON, stopping at a African Lion Safari we found on the road that Joe, our couchsurfing host, lived on. We biked to the end of his road which was about 17 or 18 kilometres, got lost on some backroads, then eventually ended up on our correct route, a provincial road. Joe is an avid runner and informed us that when he was 41 he ran down to the end of the road and back, approximately 35 kilometres, once every so many weeks. This was right around the time he placed 2nd in Canada in a marathon, one of the 26 marathons he’s ran in so far.

Before leaving, Joe took us to visit two beautiful waterfalls. We remember him saying, “Drop everything! We’ll go now!” He drove us there to save us the long bike ride. They were absolutely amazing! We ran behind Webster’s Falls, getting ourselves nice and wet and waking ourselves up.

We also discovered this awesome tree that Valerie had a good time hanging out in.

The original plan was to make it from to London in one day then to Sarnia the next day. However, our Couchsurfing host ended up not being able to host us the day of, and by the time we got near London, we were exhausted! We stopped at around 70 miles in the town of Thamesford (pronounced tamms-ferd), and camped on the Thames river in a local park.

The next day we cycled through London, and got lost, as we do with most cities. The iPhone didn’t work with the whole 3G GPS thing, so it was kind of confusing navigating with road maps. The main thing I remember was nearly cycling into a girl jaywalking across the road, complete with trendy clothes and headphones in. Kids these days.

It’s interesting being on the tandem. With most bike trips, you can listen to music at least SOME of the time, but the tandem demands concentration and, more importantly, communication. We spend a lot of time in silence, wishing we had music. Sometimes we sing, but when you are pedaling hard it’s easy to forget to. All this being said, music has now become overwhelming for us. So has riding in vehicles. If we are riding in a vehicle we feel like we are in a rocketship, and having music playing at the same time feels like sensory overload.

We got to Sarnia around 8PM, our longest day yet, at 80 miles. We cycled from 9:30AM to around 8PM taking breaks every so often.  I’ve started to notice daily mile-markers. The thirty mile-marker is when my rear-end really starts hurting. The 50 mile marker is when my neck starts hurting and I try to remember to sit up straight on the bicycle. The 60 mile marker is when we have to keep consuming food to keep our morale up. These aren’t exact, but approximate.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner at our Couchsurfer Nathan’s house in Sarnia that consisted of leftover pizza, salad with tomatoes and strawberries, potatoes and carrots, juice, almond milk, and more strawberries for desert.

We were using their computer to check the blog and other social networking sites when we received a message from my mother, telling us that not only was there a family wedding the next day, but that they were driving there, and that it was within an hour driving distance to where we were!  It seemed like the stars had aligned for us to be able to go to my cousin Owen’s wedding so the next morning Valerie and I took off with one purpose: To get into America and to the wedding.

We biked up the St. Clair River towards the bridge. For the occasion, Valerie wore her red and white dress and David sported his blue and white button up(we’ll let you decide if the occasion was coming back into our homeland or the impending double date with Dave’s parents). At this point the plan was to hitch-hike across the border because our earlier research revealed bicycles and pedestrians were absolutely prohibited.  David updated his twitter to say “Hitchhiking into the US to try and make it to a wedding on time. I never thought I would speak such words.”

On our way we stopped at a welcome centre to find the best bike route to the bridge.  When we rode into the parking lot two American tourists walking out screamed and squealed at the sight of us and asked if we would stop so they could take our picture.  David rolled his eyes behind his sunglasses and Valerie squealed with them in delight.  When we finally made it inside, you’d never believe what we saw… unless you saw the picture!!

That’s right! Every welcome centre in Canada it seems, has the same cardboard mountie hiding in the back.  This handsome fellow was lovingly named Keith. Keith the Mountie. As you might recall, we ran into another mountie in our first Canadian welcome centre.  Valerie commented that it was just like Nurse Joy in Pokemon. The welcome centre woman looked at her confused.  David also said he had no idea what she was talking about.

After we asked her to call our friends at the other centre to say hi for us, she asked about our trip.  When she heard our plan to hitchhike out of the country she made a phone call. This is where it all began.

After she called the border, she instructed us to take four lefts to go to the bridge.  After that we’d enter onto the first entrance ramp then stop at the toll office, ask for their supervisor, then tell him we wanted to go home.  At the first entrance we discovered it was the 402, a very busy highway with a large “Bicycles and Pedestrians Prohibited” sign.  We ventured to the second entrance that was for “Nexxus Only”.  We weren’t sure what it meant but we figured if we were captured by anyone we’ tell them we had been sent to talk to their supervisor.

When we got to the toll centre a man who knew we were coming came out to greet us.  He made two phone calls, one to his supervisor then one to America.  Then he asked us to come with him– to the other side of the bridge!  We unloaded our bags and put everything in the back of his pick-up truck.

We did a quick U-Turn then headed across the bridge towards State-side. We asked the driver if we should just give him the $3 and he said not to worry about the toll. Because of this we got $3 in Canadian currency as our only souvenir!  The bridge had three lanes. The left lane was backed up to the middle of the bridge with semi-trailers and tourist buses, and the right lane was backed up with mini-vans and cars. The middle lane was empty with a blinking banner atop that read “RESTRICTED LANE”. Since we rode with the bridge authority, we cruised through traffic in the middle lane like we were on the fast track at a roller coaster park.

We stopped in front of the Customs and Border Patrol and an American woman directing traffic took over for our Canadian Bridge Authority driver. She directed us to stand at the door of the office where an officer would meet us. A very serious uniformed officer told us to park our bike then follow her inside. She radioed the people inside telling them to unlock the door then allowed us to follow her in. Once inside she pointed us to yet ANOTHER person and said, “Stand right there, that man will help you in a minute.” After a couple of nervous minutes of standing and clutching our passports, the man behind the counter instructed us to take Black Beauty to the back end of the customs building, where an officer would be waiting for us. We walked out the door and just in case we had forgotten to turn right and not left, there was a uniformed officer standing to the left to supervise our right turn.  Ahead a few more paces was another officer with a mustache standing on the left of the building to make certain we turned right again.  We assumed they were the ones called during the last phone call.  He told us to park, head inside, then wait at the double doors. He asked what we were doing then told us we were crazy.

After waiting we were eventually ushered in and questioned with the usual Customs questions. However, after hearing what we were doing, the border patrol officer inside asked us a series of questions, with our story sounding more and more ridiculous.

“Yes sir, we biked here from Maine. Well, actually we started in Boston. No sir, I’m from Michigan.  No sir, I’m from Chicago. Yes sir, we are on a tandem bicycle. Yes sir, one bike for two people.  Yes sir, we are using Couchsurfing.  Yes, we meet them online.   Well sir, we’re also staying with some people we know. Yes sir, sometimes we camp in city parks. Yes sir, we did lose our passport.”

You get the idea. My favorite question he asked was, “What is with you guys?” To which we responded: “We don’t know, people tell us we’re crazy all the time!” He clarified, saying “No, I mean, what is with you. What do you have in your possession?” We laughed nervously then said about 40 pounds of equipment plus food and water and he said, “OK I have GOT to see your ride.” He handed our paperwork back to us and we knew we were safe to pass through. While he checked out our ride, a young female officer (and new mother) questioned our sanity then told us to be careful and to stay away from strangers, clearly appalled at our trip.

So THAT is the story of us getting across the border. Mr. and Mrs. Shinabarger picked us up outside Lapeer, MI and drove us and the bike to Owen’s wedding in Flint. We got to hang out with a lot of our family, and it was a great awesome and exciting surprise.

Afterwards, we got a ride to Valerie’s parent’s house, where we sit now. We’re taking a break ‘off’ the trip right now, prepping and adjusting our equipment, adjusting the blog, working on pictures, spending time with Valerie’s family, doing yard work, cooking, going on recreational bike rides, doing laundry, showering as many times as we want, and preparing for Cornerstone Music Festival next week.

We are working on getting pictures up from the camera and are currently trying to decide the best method to show pictures online. We’re thinking of either using Flickr or making a Facebook Fan page.

I’m (David) working on making a new stove for the trip based on the design from the Asian guy we met, geared more towards the ultra-light approach. Perhaps I can post another, updated blog on how to make the new and updated version.

Oh yeah. We are excited to be working on a new tab at the top of this page that will be a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page. Keep an eye out for it! 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Getting Through to America

  1. Glad you came, have a great rest of the trip…

  2. Ryan McElhone on said:

    Enjoyed seeing you both yesterday. Stay safe on your trip, I’ll be sure to follow on the blog =)

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