Posts Tagged ‘customs’

Days 79 and 80: Return to the land of litres and kilometers

August 18, 2010 2 comments

Location: About 80 kilometers from Ft. St. John, British Columbia

Miles Driven: 1,180

Total Miles: 19,491


Early Monday morning I crossed Customs once again, heading back into Canada’s Yukon Territory.  This was my quickest passage yet – no car searches, no litany of questions…just a couple to answer and the nice officer sent me on my way.

Back in the Yukon, enjoying the early-morning views

I was soon back to my old ways of covering a lot of ground.  The spoiled days of traveling in Alaska, with maybe just 200 or so miles between destinations, were over.  But no problem.  I set myself a goal to cross the border into Montana by the end of the week, so I’d have to grind out a bit of driving these first few days back in Canada.  I was glad to have my satellite radio functioning again (in Alaska it stopped working, but learned that’s supposed to happen, and wasn’t an issue with my unit), and between that and some audiobooks (thank you, Elyse), the kilometers added up quickly.

It’s probably a psychological thing, but I think I prefer seeing distances to cities in kilometers as opposed to miles.  Even if I see a large amount, such as 400 kilometers, it still seems more visually appealing to me than 248 miles.

It was interesting traveling the opposite direction on the Alaska Highway.  I recalled all the little places I stopped to get gas, and the cafes I had visited to take advantage of free WiFi.  Once I made it back to Whitehorse, I felt like it was a return to a place I used to live, even though I only spent about a day and a half there before.

I had driven about 430 miles that day before deciding to call it quits.  I fell asleep early, and woke up shortly after midnight.  I had looked out my window and saw stars for the first time in…I don’t know…over 10 days?  Part of me wanted to get out and set up my tripod to take pictures, but that day I had been brutally attacked by bugs the second I stepped out of my car.  I decided to stay in the car, and quickly fell back asleep.

The next day, Tuesday, didn’t differ that much from Monday…had a lot of driving to do still.  The day was different in the fact I saw more bison than I ever saw before.  I must’ve seen at least three dozen bison in different spots along the road, most of them in little herds.

lots of bison butt

There were some stretches of driving where the air was smoky and hazy from forest hires (Watson Lake, noticeably), but it was to a lesser extent than on the drive up.  Incidentally, I stopped at the visitor center in Watson Lake (home of the Sign Post Forest), and saw that there are over 67,000 signs up there. Wow.

I passed Muncho Lake on the way, which I had seen before but my views were a bit obscured by haze from forest fires.  This time, it was a bit clearer.

I drove more than I intended on that Tuesday.  By 9PM or so I was ready to call it a night, after passing the city of Ft. St. Nelson, but I had a hell of a time finding a rest stop.  Prior to this stretch of driving, it seemed there was a rest stop every 50 km or so.  I had driven over 130 miles passed Ft. St. Nelson and hadn’t even found one.  Very surprised, and a bit annoyed, I continued driving in the dark.  I didn’t like it, as there were lots of signs regarding wildlife in the area.  It wasn’t until after 11PM I finally found a little place I could pull over and close my eyes for a bit. 

I ended up driving 747 miles that day – a new record, but not one I wish to challenge anytime soon.  I think the toughest haul of Canadian driving is over now.  Soon I’ll be in Dawson Creek, and from there the route will be entirely new to me as I go into Alberta.  Who knows, I might even make it to Jasper National Park before Wednesday is over.  Jasper and Banff National Parks are two of the “must-see” parks in Canada, and both are conveniently located on my route (well, I guess I somewhat planned it that way).

A side note – you’ll notice the Joe-tracker on the top right of the page still shows me in Palmer, Alaska.  Disregard that.  I think when I use the GPS on my phone, AT&T likes to charge me extra in Canada, so I’ve disabled it for the time being.


Day 69: Dreams realized

August 7, 2010 20 comments

Finally arrived

Location: Fairbanks, AK

Miles Driven: 610

Total Miles: 17,068

Well, as you can see in the picture above, I finally made it to Alaska.  Over 17,000 miles since leaving Acworth, Georgia…I’m finally here.  Feels great, and it’s pretty surreal.

Now that was a picture taken earlier this afternoon, but there was a lot of driving before that photo (and after), so let’s go back to the morning when I was in Whitehorse.

I’ll readily admit I’m not the handy-est of people.  My skills with a car are limited to changing tires and jumping batteries.  So when I realized I needed to replace two headlight bulbs, I was hopeful I could get someone at the NAPA Auto Parts store to give me a hand.  See, my car owner’s manual was not incredibly helpful.  In the section entitled “replacing headlight bulbs” it said:  Be sure to visit an authorized Mazda technician…  Not the biggest of helps there.  So I got to the NAPA store shortly after it opened, and checked with the mechanic dude that was working there.  He was real kind, but admitted he’s never been under the hood of a Mazda before…and after a quick look inside realized there was more to take apart then your typical bulb change.  My experience was limited to changing bulbs on an old Mercury Topaz years ago, and I recall little to disassemble in that operation.  Not the same here, it appeared.  The mechanic suggested I hit up a Mazda dealership in Fairbanks, and not to worry about the law where you need to keep your lights running during the day.  “You’re a tourist, you’re fine…hell half of the tourists don’t even know the law.”

An added bonus I didn’t think about…what better place for your headlights to run out than in these northern latitudes.  In Whitehorse, there was still daylight the previous night after 10PM.  Daylight will last even longer when I’m up in Alaska.

So I was in the car and got back on the Alaska Highway, heading northwest towards Fairbanks.  I had about 600 miles ahead of me, and it seemed a bit daunting, especially after all the driving I had done since the start of the week.  But it actually went by quite smoothly.  The nice scenery certainly helps there.

It’s difficult to make progress driving when you’re distracted by all this spectacular scenery.  I found myself pulling over quite a bit for some nice views.

For some reason I had a good amount of energy, and outside of the occasional gas-up and leg stretch, I was able to keep plugging away along the 600 mile route.

Kluane Lake

Around 3PM I was approaching the Canada/Alaska border.  There was a rest area just 20 miles outside where I stopped.  Another clear blue Canadian body of water – Pickhandle Lake.

Before I knew it, I was at the border.  The “Welcome to Alaska” sign was just before Customs, so I got out to take some pictures.  Met a nice couple from Michigan and the man kindly took my photo (the one you see above).

Amazing to see that sign in person

I made it through Customs relatively unscathed this time.  The officer asked me a lot of questions, but I think he was more trying to see if I would trip up than he was actually paying attention to my answers.  He didn’t like my passport.  Apparently I’ve bent and warped it a bit in my travels, so it doesn’t easily scan.  As he put it, “Since your passport has been to the Himalayas and back, it can’t be read by the scanner.”  He told me I need to get a new one.  I think he just doesn’t like typing.  Also, I have never been to the Himalayas.  I was expecting my car to be searched like the previous border crossings, but he waved me through and I was on my way.

I didn’t have to drive long to see some of the beautiful country for which Alaska is known.

I experienced a bit of rain not long after crossing the border.  Can’t complain about that.  I could barely remember the last place I saw any sustained rain in my travels. I think I narrowed it down to when I was on the way to Big Bend, in Texas.  Almost a month ago.  I’ve had some great weather while touring the western US and Canada.

I arrived in Fairbanks not long after 8PM.  Still a lot of daylight remaing when I arrived.  In fact, as I write this, it’s almost 11PM and there’s still a good amount of daylight out there.  I love it.

For the first time since Will’s place in Vancouver, I have a home to stay in.  Thanks to I linked up with a Fairbanks local, Ericka.  She has been extremely generous, having offered me her couch with limited notice, in addition to hosting another couchsurfer.  She even plans to take us out for some outdoor activities…maybe go out on a lake or go hiking, even.  I’ve only communicated with her using email and text messages, but she sounds like a great person to link up with.

I’ll go to Ericka’s later tonight, get some much-needed rest (and shower), and then tomorrow is my first full day in “The Last Frontier.”

Coming here was just one goal, of many, along this trip, but was definitely the major goal.  Thanks to all my friends and family who have been so supportive along the road here.


Let’s Recap

July 31, 2010 14 comments

Well now that the first portion of my time in the U.S. is over, I figure it’s time to update my map.  Recall that I consider the drive from Maine out to the South and West “Phase 2” of the trip.  Phase 3 is the drive north to Alaska, and Phase 4 is the indirect journey home.

You may recall I had a general goal of getting to the Washington/Canada border around the start of August.  The gods of timing have been with me on this trip, as I arrived in Vancouver just before the end of July.

Here’s what the map looks like now after 61 days on the road (red diamond marks the start of the trip just north of Atlanta).  I tried to match up my lines as best as I could with the routes I took.

The journey so far

It’s not until I spent the time drawing out the map that I realized how much ground I’ve covered.  A lot to go, yet, but I am still enjoying being on the road.

So after two months of driving, it’s time for some Roadtrip Stats:

Miles so far: 14,800

Oil changes: 5

Total gas expenditures: $1,521 (give or take $10)

Most expensive gas: $4.59/gal – Big Sur, CA

Cheapest gas: $2.45/gal – Joplin, MO

States traveled through: 31

Nicest rest areas: Illinois

Not-so-nice rest areas: California

National Parks visited: 9

Crawfish meals wasted: 1

Time zones traveled through: 5

Nephews met: 2

Close calls with deer: 1

Bear encounters: 0

Longest period of facial hair growth: ~2 weeks

Tolls paid: $121.20

Most expensive toll: $11.00 – Verrazano Bridge, New York City, NY (one way!)

Most expensive admission fee: $17.24 – Ausable Chasm, NY

Website hits: 9,738 (thanks everybody)

Website hits, to date, on my original roadtrip blog from 2005: 13,774

Total miles traveled in 2005 road trip: 11,500

Arrival in California for 2005 trip: Day 11

Arrival in California for current trip: Day 50

Some searches that brought people to this site: zion park facts aliens, my favorite place in the world is my bed, how bad are the mosquitos in the cascade, moon star in endwell hour, something bit my ear, joe’s pancakes

Traffic/Speeding tickets: 0

Flat tires: 0

Car searches at Customs: 2

AAA usage: 1 – battery jump

Nights spent camping: 2

Hotel/Motel/B&B stays: 4

Friends/Family homes I’ve stayed in: 25

How lucky am I with that last item?  I’ve been able to crash at 25 different homes.  Thanks to everybody who has offered a place to stay for this vagabond.

With this current foray into Vancouver, Phase 3 of the trip has kicked in.  On August 1 I head further North.  It’s over 2,000 miles from Vancouver to Fairbanks, so I have my work cut out for me.  But it’ll be worth it.


Day 61: Oh, Canada

July 30, 2010 8 comments

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia

Miles Driven: 315

Total Miles: 14,602

The goal for today, Day 61, was to get to Canada.  But first, I had to check out the Hoh rainforest (recommended by Margaret in Seattle) which is part of Olympic National Park.  I should’ve gotten on the road before 8AM, but I found myself incredibly comfortable lying there in the car under the blanket.  I had woken up originally around 2AM and was up for a while, but then fell asleep and was out for several more hours.  Lesson learned: near 12 hours of lying in a reclined car seat does a number on your lower back.  But it was good to get the rest.

I was only about 35 miles or so from the Hoh rainforest (northwestern section of Olympic), and just by the drive there I could tell I was in for a unique experience.

I made it to the Hoh visitor center area where there were a number of trails through which you could explore the rainforest and the nearby Hoh River.  The Hoh River trail looked especially appealing – 17 miles out to Mount Olympus, ascending you somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 feet.  But I decided to save that for another time, especially considering I wanted to get up to Canada today, not in two days.  I ended up going on a short hike through the forest that, although pretty chilly, was quite interesting.  Yesterday, I thought I saw the most green I ever saw in my life…that feeling was even further intensified this past morning.  Not sure what else to say, but I took a lot of photos.  Very beautiful place.

Just outstanding.  I never got to spend time in a temperate rainforest before and was happy I made it out here.

By 9:30AM or so it was time to make moves in the direction of Canada, though I was still quite a bit away from the US/Canada border.  I would first have to navigate the width of Olympic along Hwy 101, and then catch a ferry back across Puget Sound, and then I could head north.  I was making decent progress along 101 for a bit, and then I found a local cafe and I decided to stop for a breakfast.  Best oatmeal ever.

After the breakfast, I got back on the road, but I was delayed quite a bit by road construction.  It wasn’t until 2PM that I made it to the Port Townsend ferry (a different ferry than I took out to the Olympic Peninusla. Ed had recommended this route back across the Sound).  And by then I was too late to catch the 2:15 ferry, so I had to wait for the 3:45 one.  No worries.  I relaxed, read a bit, and got a quick bite.  Enjoyed the scenery near the Port Townsend ferry, as well.

Eventually got on the ferry and we were on the way towards Whidbey Island.  Wasn’t a long ferry ride by any means, but man it was cold on the deck.  But the blue water and mountains made for a nice view.

Mount Baker in the distance

Soon was driving once again, and I crossed Deception Pass which brought me closer to the other side of the Sound, and closer to I-5 which would take me to the border.

Deception Pass

I stopped at a Starbucks near Burlington, Washington.  I took a little break, took advantage of the free WiFi, and then was soon back on the road and it wasn’t long before I made it to the border and Immigration/Customs.

Note the cool Canadian flag display on the left

The last time I crossed the border into Canada (late June, I think it was), the lady asked me how long I was staying.  I responded “a couple hours”, they checked my passport, and I was soon on my way.  Not so fast here.  I was grilled by the customs officer, albeit in a polite manner.  It seems the officers are trained to ask questions in such a way that they’d easily trip up someone who was trying to hide something.  Here’s some of the questions I faced, rapid-fire, one after the other:

  • What is the purpose of your visit?
  • What do you do for a living?
  • Do you have any weapons in the car?
  • When was the last time you had a gun in the car?
  • Do you have any drugs in the car?
  • When was the last time you had drugs in the car?
  • How much cash do you have on you?
  • What are you doing in Vancouver?
  • Who are you staying with?
  • What is his name?
  • How do you know him?
  • Do you intend to sell anything in your vehicle while in Canada?
  • Where are you coming from?
  • Where is your home?
  • Have you ever been to Canada before?

So if any of you are going to Canada to take part in some ne’er-do-well activities, you better have your story 100% straight or this line of questioning will expose you quickly.

I’m not sure if they are that thorough with everybody who comes through, but maybe it was the New York tags and all the gear in my car that makes the officers more inquisitive.  I answered the questions straightforward and no problem, but I think maybe people get naturally suspicious when I tell them I am unemployed by choice and that I’ve been on the road for the past 60 days.  I dunno.  So the officer handed back my passport with a form and told me to pull over to the side and go meet with a customs officer indoors.  So here I knew I was going to get my car searched (you may recall it was searched going from New Brunswick to Maine).

I had to answer a lot of the same questions for a customs officer inside, then he took my keys and went to perform the search.  It was about 15 or 20 minutes later when I got my ID and keys back and was free to continue on my trip.  No complaints about the process.  All the Canadians I have encountered have been extremely polite and courteous.

In Vancouver live brothers Will and Travis.  Will was on my brother Mike’s college crew team, and I met him and his brother for the first time at Mike’s wedding in Oregon in 2007.  Will offered me his apartment to crash at while in Vancouver even though he would be out of town.  Very generous.  Kindly, Travis offered to get me the key and show me around the area when he had free time.

So I arrived in Vancouver, picked up Travis at his job, and he showed me the way to Will’s place.  After dropping off my luggage, we went out and grabbed some Lebanese food.  I haven’t had Lebanese food in a long time, and Travis picked a great place – Al Basha.  Really hit the spot, and one of the best meals I’ve had on this whole trip (I have a picture on my phone, but having trouble getting it to my email.  Trust me when I say it looked, and tasted, delicious).

I’ll spend the weekend here before making my way further North.  Vancouver seems like an incredible place, and I’m looking forward to exploring it.


P.S.  Speaking of my phone – I adjusted my service plan so I wouldn’t be charged outrageous roaming fees while in Canada, but I still will have to limit myself from a lot of voice/txtmsg use.  So if you reach out to me in one of those ways and don’t hear back, know that I’ll probably get a hold of you online later on.