Crossing the border

The Blue Water Bridge from the South along the...

Blue Water Bridge - image via Wikipedia

I set off early Saturday morning from Toronto and headed straight for the border. I wanted to get that over as soon as I could. I still had niggling doubts about them letting a vagabond like me in. If I was going to be refused entry then I wanted to know about it sooner rather than later.

Now that Heavy TO was off the cards, I wanted to hit Chicago by Sunday. Max had emailed me to tell me that the Wicker Park Street Festival was on and that his friend Jason would show me around.

Since I wanted to move quickly, I decided to take the Interstate and its Canadian equivalents. I’d had problems navigating around Toronto the day before, but this time the signage took me straight to the 401 and I was heading for London, Ontario.

Riding on a motorway is rarely interesting on a bike, and my mind kept coming back to the possibility of being refused entry to the US. When I next stopped to fill the Trooper’s tank, I took another look at the map. The obvious route was straight down the 401 and across into Detroit, but there was another smaller crossing at Sarnia and across into Port Huron. I figured this smaller crossing might be less busy and I’d get an easier entry to the US, so at London, I turned off on to the 402 and headed for Sarnia.

It’s a $3 toll bridge crossing from Sarnia to Port Huron. On the far side of the bridge the traffic was tailed back for the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) check. The noon sun was relentless. Stop-start for 30 minutes in a leather jacket and helmet was a sweaty business.

When I got to the border check, the CBP officer explained that the ESTA application I’d paid $14 was useless for a land crossing – that was for flights only. Instead I needed to fill out a green I-94W. He said it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes and directed me to secondary screening. The queue for secondary was plenty more than a few minutes, but the act of getting the form stamped seemed a mere formality. The CBP officer was very pleasant. He asked a few questions about my trip and what my occupation was, then stamped my form and my passport, and wished me a safe ride. It seems America did want me to visit after all, and my fears about being sent home had been completely unfounded. I’m still surprised that I found the American border guards much more welcoming than their Canadian counter-parts. I had expected the opposite. Perhaps this trip would be full of pleasant surprises.

When I got outside to saddle up, 3 CBP officers were stood around the Trooper. My bright yellow British number plates were causing some interest. They asked where I’d come from, how I’d got the bike across and about the rest of the trip. One of the officers pointed out his immaculate Soft-tail across the parking lot. When I mentioned that I was heading for Sturgis, he said he’d love to go one day. It seems that the Trooper, being a Harley, was going to break a lot of ice in the US.

As the Trooper and I rode on to the I-94 heading for Detroit, I had a massive grin on my face. I’d been let in. Let the adventure begin. America prepare to be invaded.

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