On the way back to Whitefish, my mind races. Being denied entry to Canada has not exactly helped my situation, but I’m not going to give up so easily. I call a friend who has experience in this area, and when I make it back into town I head directly to the library to print out some paperwork. I’ll head up to the border again in the morning, at a different crossing point, and this time I will not make the mistake of being too honest.
After leaving the library, I gas jug ¾ of a tank and then head downtown and promptly run into Jacqui and Liam. They’ve met another traveler, a freight hopping circus performer named Loam. We hang out beside the rail yard, drinking wine from a plastic jug as huge trains rumble by. Loam explains which trains are headed to which cities, and he points out which cars would be best for catching a ride.
* * *
In the morning, I drive an hour north to the border crossing at Roosville. The customs officer is friendly, and she asks me all the usual questions about pepper spray and firearms. After getting down the basics (I am a freelance writer who lives in Virginia and I’m headed up to do some camping in the Canadian National Parks) she looks at her screen and frowns. “Ok sir, please pull around to the side and wait in your car.”
After 30 minutes, which is really a pretty long time to sit waiting in a car, an angry looking officer marches out of the building and walks directly up to my window. He wastes no time with small talk. “WHY DID YOU COME HERE WHEN YOU WERE TURNED AWAY FROM THE BORDER YESTERDAY,” he growls.
I try to smile. “Sir, I feel as if I may have misrepresented myself yesterday. I’ve come back today with some documentation—” He seizes the papers from my hand and walks back inside.
Five minutes later, he returns. “Why did you come to a different border crossing?” “Sir, when I was turned away yesterday, I didn’t know what to do. So I drove back to Whitefish because it was a place I at least knew some people. Then a friend told me that if I brought some documentation, it might be worth giving it another shot. And this is the closest border to Whitefish, so I came here.” “Ok. WAIT.”
He goes back inside.
A tuft of white fuzz floats through the air in front of my windshield. Clusters of flowers grow beside the road, and I watch a bumblebee drift from one to the next. Green stems protrude from slight cracks in the concrete near the door to the office. In the distance, I can just barely see honey-colored bales of hay rolling through pastures. My heart is no longer pounding. I stare at the splattered stains of unfortunate bugs dashed against my windshield. I am taking refuge in the present moment, in this wild moment, this crazy moment. I have no idea what will happen next. I will in mere minutes though, and whatever this officer says could either launch a journey hundreds or thousands of miles into the northern tundra, or it could swing me two thousand miles south towards warmer weather. The immediate course of my life will change in several minutes. And in this moment, I do not know which will happen. But I realize that either one will be just fine, and I smile as I sit there waiting.
In a few minutes, he returns with my passport and a slip of paper. “Don’t lose this. Be back in the Lower 48 by September 9th.” “What?” “Which part of that did you not understand?” “I can go in?” “Yeah.”
Ten minutes later I pull over at a “washroom” because I feel like wetting myself. I step out of my car, feeling the glorious sunshine on my arms, and I look around me at the snowy crags of the Canadian Rockies. A trucker pulls up and jumps out. “Enjoying the beautiful weather, eh?” Yes I am, eh!
I drive north through the afternoon and arrive in Banff with no Canadian money, no idea where I’ll sleep, no particular idea what to do or where to go, and seriously craving a cup of coffee but I don’t have any money. A snowy stone peak towers over the picturesque main avenue, and I slowly drive through rivers of pedestrians walking along the street beside dozens or hundreds of shops and cafes and restaurants.
At the end of the road I park in a free lot, shoulder my guitar, and wander back towards the main street. Three hours after arriving, sun careening through east/west alleyways, I have 51 Canadian Dollars in my pocket, a new friend to visit in Edmonton, a steaming cup of coffee warming me in the cold starry twilight, and a place to sleep tonight in a warm cabin. Travel is an art and I am getting better at it. My heart is full.