Passports please!

Today we officially set off on our southern adventure, three days later than we planned and two weeks later than we originally would have liked. Nevertheless – we departed! Which is, a mini accomplishment as the list of things holding us back seemed to be never ending.  The final thing was to store the motorcycle for the winter.  With that done and a quick impromptu visit with a family friend for the evening we said good bye and set off at a reasonable hour this morning.

We started to make a dash towards the border; we had a long drive ahead we had a manageable plan to make it to Chicago to visit a friend for a few days.  As temperatures up here are dropping pretty quick we are not exactly eager to test out the overnight sleeping in the van. Although we wouldn’t likely freeze, it wouldn’t really be all that comfortably either. Estimated arrival time: 5:14pm.

Of course we anticipated a few stops along the way – one of which we made to Wal-Mart to make a return and pick up some lunch supplies and a quick stop at the beer bottle depot to return some empties. Somehow we killed a solid hour – Estimated arrival time 6:17pm.

Next we landed at the border, paying the 3-dollar toll for the bridge to the US side.  We picked a pretty great moving line and were proud of ourselves as we advanced about 4 cars faster than the other lines. That is, until we were the ones at the border with the officer – the coming moments were less than ideal.  It went something like this:

Us: “Hi there!” pass over our passports
Officer: “Citizenship?”
Us: “um…” {we’re both scrambling here to grab the citizenship cards in our wallets}
Officer: “What country are you citizens of?”
Us: “Oh! Canada?”
Officer: “What is the purpose of your visit today”
Us: “We will be visiting some friends/family in the US”
Officer: “For how long?”
Us: “Well we will be seeing some Family for Christmas?”
Officer: “and what do you do for work”
Us: “I do web development/programing and she does research”
Officer: “Do you own a house in Canada?
Us :“No”
Officer: “..and when do your jobs expect you back?
Us: “Actually we can work from the road if we have internet” ** uh oh, I can see how this is starting to look..**
<excruciatingly long pause>
Officer: “please put your four way flashers on and move to the left hand side, park your vehicle and follow the directions of the officer there”
Us: “Yes sir, thank you”

Yes indeed, we were pulled aside, told to leave everything in the vehicle especially cellphones and placed in a long line. Here we would wait to be interviewed with an optional vehicle search (based on the interview).  With Andrew’s previous experience at being searched at the boarder – this could take hours and be extremely thorough if they felt it was required. Not that there is anything to hide but attempting to dismantle our van would be no short order. Estimated arrival time: unknown.

An hour and 15 minutes in the line and a 45-minute interview including a van search we started to have the stark realization how unprepared we were and that the plan of travelling to visit the States could quite possibly end before it even starts! Estimated arrival: questionable!

The interview process is different for each person but for us it was geared to determine if we were going to be working in the US while we were there (and I’m sure to ensure that we weren’t just fleeing to live in the States as we demonstrated no real ties in Canada).  Andrew had to attempt to convince/prove to the officer that he has enough clients in Ontario to keep him busy.  He seemed less interested in me but Andrew did most of the talking. The ultimate result was that we were eventually vetted and permitted to enter the USA, but we were not permitted however to take the 4-vine ripened tomatoes with us.  If that’s the best case scenario – we’ll take it! Back on track but estimated arrival 9:30pm

The rest was pretty smooth sailing through Michigan and Indiana, we made good time. Into Illinois and the tolls started. Its a pretty ridiculous system of random toll booths that you have to pay to go through. The worst part of it was that they don’t give you a price ahead of time so you can’t even get the exact change prepared and ready by the time you reach the booth. and of course, the prices are never the same. We paid, 0.60 cents, $1.50, $3.00 and $1.00 over an 80 km span and each stop was killing minutes off our arrival time. Estimated arrival 10pm.

We finally did make it after another stop for gas and then realized the clocks were an hour back, so we’ve gained time as we arrived at 9:15pm.
A huge welcome from our friends and dinner all ready for us, they had been waiting for us all day. We caught up a bit and ending the day with a very full belly and a warm comfy bed. I have to say, it feels good to be back on the road and I’m actually looking forward to sleeping in the van again, but that will have to wait another time – for now, we’re hanging out in the windy city for the next week or so.

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A: Friends in Niagara, ON
B: Friends in Chicago, IL

Today’s track – 900kms
Tomorrow’s plan – hanging out, getting some work done, seeing some of the neighbourhood