On Friday we woke up in Blue River, BC to the sound of the heli-skiing pilots flying overhead. We couldn’t see them because, even though the sun poked out here and there, the mountains around us were mostly engulfed in clouds. Berck declared them insane, and we began packing up the car, which was beneath several centimeters of melting, heavy, thick snow, even though it was warm enough outside to be in shirt sleeves. Soon after we’d parked the night before, a giant diesel pickup had boxed us in, but it was gone by now. We drove out of town not by the shortest route but possibly the quickest route, as the streets were all coated in a thick layer of slush. So that’s why the piles of snow on either side of the road stayed so high!
Fortunately, the highway was clear and dry, and we headed south through the valley, enjoying the rare visible peaks poking out of the clouds. The further we headed south, the less we had to worry about making sure we had enough gas to get to the next town with a station. We turned east on “Maple Leaf” 1, which is only divided in a few areas. There was a lot more population and more traffic and fewer opportunities to pass, so our headway slowed quite a bit. A black Civic in front of us wanted to be going about the same speed as we did, so we took turns passing slower vehicles. On one rare instance of four lane highway, a semi decided to pass another semi, uphill, of course, slowing all of us behind them way down when we all could have been passing both of them. The driver of the Civic thrust out his middle finger though his open window as he passed the slower semi and then kept it up while blowing by the second semi as well just before the extra lane ended.
We stopped in Revelstoke for lupper, as we we weren’t convinced we would pass any other towns of any appreciable size that had any decent restaurants. Berck said he wanted to eat at the nicest hotel’s steakhouse to prove to me that not all hotel restaurants were bad, but I wasn’t sure they’d let us in, wearing flannel shirts we’d been wearing for days and fraying BDU pants, mine with a nice hole in the right knee that I’d punched through when I fell on a rock snow shoeing. My knee would only bother me at night when I was trying to fall asleep or if I brushed up against something. So we walked around looking for a pub I’d seen driving by, eventually finding it and finding it closed. So we went back to the hotel and realized there was also a more casual pub attached to it. We ordered a couple of the house beers and split some chicken fingers and fries. The fries were really good, though the ketchup in the Heinz bottle on the table was gross. I don’t know what it is with Canadian ketchup. It tasted weird wherever we went, either too sweet or just nasty. Berck asked for some vinegar, and our waitress brought us a bottle of white vinegar. Berck then specified malt vinegar, which she also provided. The chicken fingers were nothing special, but we’d apparently found one of the few places in Canada without poutine on the menu.
Back on the road, we continued on the highway, which had become virtually empty, more rainy, and occasionally slushy. We could tell that there were mountains all around, but the clouds cut them off a few hundred feet above us. We drove through Canada’s Glacier National Park and possibly drove past some glaciers, but who could tell. We then headed south on highway 95, which was incredibly lonely but beautiful, presumably because everyone takes the quicker route to our west or the more beautiful route to our east. By now the clouds were mostly gone, and then evening sun was painting the snow covered peaks to our left a beautiful golden color. By the time we reached the junction with 93, the sun set and the road became much more busy. We weren’t far from the border, so we decided to try to get there and spend the night, hopefully saving a few bucks on lodging paying in our own currency. Unfortunately, it started raining, though not hard enough to wash away all the grime that had accumulated on our headlamps. We stopped at a gas station, and I used a squeegee to scrub them off. It was still really hard to see the road, as Canada seems to be lot more relaxed about painting lines on their roads (we couldn’t see the lines at all except very occasionally) and the lights of oncoming traffic made it even harder to see where we were going. We were also passing unending signs warning about various forms of wildlife crossings. There was a semi behind us, and I suggested letting him lead the way so we could at least follow his lights, but another semi appeared up ahead, which Berck tried to catch up to. Eventually, we turned off onto the road leading to the border, a pickup turning right ahead of us. We followed him with ease and joked about passing him right before the crossing so we wouldn’t have to wait for him to go through customs, but he pulled off right beforehand to apparently get ready.
The border crossing had several lanes, which all had stop signs in front of them, although we finally figured out that for one of them the stop sign was a little to the side. We pulled up and a man with a shaved head started asking us questions. He asked where we’d been; we answered Watson Lake, but he didn’t know where that was. The Yukon, we said. He asked if we’d bought anything while we were in Canada. Well, this is a rather silly question since we’d driven all the way up to the Yukon and back and would obviously have bought fuel and food along the way. “Did we buy anything in Canada?” Berck repeated. Shaved Head asked, “Did you acquire anything while in Canada? Are you bringing anything back with you?” Berck answered that we had a bag of potato chips and some drinks, but before he was done, Shaved Head asked, “How much cash are you carrying?” Berck answered, “Less than $10,000,” which is the threshold at which you are required to declare the amount. Shaved Head repeated, “How much?” I said I didn’t know and reached for my wallet, while Berck did the same. Shaved Head said, “Just an estimated amount.” Berck answered, “Well, I don’t know. I don’t want to be accused of lying to a federal officer. I have about 20 Canadian dollars…” But then Shaved Head said, “Pull over to the yellow posts and go inside.” I got out, opened my wallet and told Shaved Head, who had left his booth and walked over to us, “I have ten dollars.” But he didn’t seem to care. He asked for Berck’s keys and asked if the car was unlocked, and we went inside.
The O’Reilly Factor was playing very loudly on a TV above the door. We looked around briefly, then a slight border officer wearing a cap and Van Dyke told us he was going to search the car. Berck asked he if could be present while his car was being searched, and the guy said that was fine if one of us stayed inside. I volunteered and spent the next few minutes browsing through the brochures in the corner about not transporting firewood with bark on it, carrying large amounts of currency across the border, and which drivers licenses could be used to cross the border in lieu of passports. I thought about picking up one of each of them, but it drives Berck nuts when I do that (even though it helped us find a motel room in Jasper). A few minutes later, Van Dyke reappeared and asked if I had a key to the trunk. I handed him my keys and went back to examining a poster of different kinds of fish that were native to Montana. A few minutes after that, Berck reappeared with Van Dyke and a friendly, tall, youthful looking officer, who handed Berck my keys and our passports. I said that we were still missing a set of keys, and they looked around until I said, “That guy took them,” pointing at Shaved Head, who had just walked in, looking not at all happy. He found the keys on a desk, and then we left.
Berck had to adjust his seat before we could drive away, as they’d pulled the seats forward to look behind them and opened the trunk, but not removed any of the bags, snow shoes, or dirty laundry crammed in there taking up each inch of space. Berck said they spent most of the time under the hood examining the engine. I’d suggested at one of the convenience stores we’d stopped at previously that we buy a Kinder Egg to give the border agents something to confiscate. Kinder Eggs have a toy inside, and the FDA is convinced that Americans will choke on them and die if they import them into the country. I think it would have been quicker getting through customs if we’d given something to take. They always seem so disappointed when you insist that you don’t have any alcohol, tobacco, firearms, firewood, or less than $10,000 in cash.
We drove a couple of miles to Eureka and stopped at the second motel we came to, where we checked in with the girl behind the counter in the convenience store of the attached gas station. Our room smelled almost overwhelmingly of air freshener, but improved slightly when we removed the vanilla scented one and opened the door wide and the little window in the bathroom, which was normally secured with a wooden stick. The wifi worked, except in the rooms, but now that we were in the U.S. we could use Berck’s Android as a tether and get online that way before going to sleep.