I forgot that when you cross through customs into Canada they ask you a million questions, and if you don’t have a simple easy-to-digest story that seems totally 100% normal and common and legit (i.e “we are going into your country for one week and we are both gainfully employed and not homeless at all and we have a ton of money”) and instead tell the truth “we live in this van and are going to hike through the wilderness for 40 days without permanent homes or jobs,” then they run a background check, and if you have any convictions (even misdemeanors) it’s likely you’ll be turned away at the border.
I have a bunch of misdemeanor convictions from my youth riding freight trains and taunting riot police at political protests. Like a whole stack of them. Convictions with ominous-sounding names like “interfering with a peace officer,” “trespassing,” and “failure to appear”. The customs dude didn’t know that the “failure to appear” was the time a friend and I got pulled off a freight train in Arizona in the warm springtime near Yuma by a kindly black railcop who just wanted to tell us stories. After he’d given us our trespassing tickets and released us we circled around the yard and got on another train, headed for Oaxaca with its $4 hostels that were just hammocks on the beach under mosquito netting and the ripe mangoes that littered the ground. We never returned for our court appearance and a few years later, standing on an onramp in Arizona with another friend, sunburnt and trying to hitch into town after climbing off another train, a cop ran our IDs and I had a warrant. Luckily my bail was low. We spent three days sleeping in the weeds alongside a canal and swimming in the turquoise water, and at my court appearance I was given a fine.
“Interfering with a peace officer”- in 2003 I was 21 years old and we had just started bombing Iraq. Critical Mass was a big deal in Portland at the time- a bunch of bicyclists riding together slow through downtown traffic once a month, blocking traffic and interfering with commerce to make a point about car culture, fossil fuels, whatever. An extra huge Critical Mass was scheduled as part of the protests against the Iraq War- we wanted to block the freeways, stop traffic to downtown, disrupt everything as much as we were able. On the Portland news it was announced that Critical Mass riders would be arrested. The women’s jail was the only one with empty beds (I learned later), and they arrested eleven women. I made eye contact with a riot cop and that was that- they dragged me from my bike and zip-tied my wrists. I spent four days in the jail downtown that overlooks the grassy park blocks, the elk fountain spouting water and the lazy traffic that circles around it. Each bed in my cell had a long narrow window overlooking everything. My cellmate was in for check fraud, and she was very kind. I read A Separate Peace and Slaughterhouse Five.
After they denied our entry into Canada I turned the van around and we drove back towards Glacier in silence. I hadn’t had any caffeine yet that morning and there was a sharp pain right between my eyes. Outside heavy stormclouds alternated with patches of clear sky and rain splattered the windshield. The van was stuffed with all our resupply boxes for the Great Divide Trail- hundreds of dollars worth of bars and dinners, carefully boxed and labeled, our portioned-out maps, extra shoes and socks, new raingear, hopes and dreams and fears.
I’d crossed into Canada before- but I’d always had a neat story, and when they’d asked me “Have you ever been arrested?” I’d lied and said “No,” and they had never checked. But now I was officially blocked from entry until such time as I returned with a large stack of court documents from several states and $200, and applied for a waiver allowing me in. There was no time for that right now, in this narrow window in which we had to hike the GDT. And I could no longer bluff my way across the border- My name was in the computer. They had a photocopy of my passport. Etc.
As we drove through the wild stormclouds towards East Glacier I thought of the time, in March of 2009, that I’d gotten a craigslist ride from Portland to Alaska with a wealthy Israeli man and two other young vagrants in tattered clothing returning home after a winter in California. Before crossing into Canada we made up a story of how we were all related, where we lived and what jobs we held, how long we had known each other and how we had met, how much money we had, etc. They waived us across at the border almost impatiently, and we were free. Our driver flipped the car into a snowbank in the Yukon and I ended up hitchhiking the rest of the way to Alaska in -20 weather, but that is another story.
Once I got over the initial disappointment and sting of rejection from Canada (why?!!), I realized that it’s probably for the best that I won’t be able to hike the GDT this year. We only had 40 days in which to hike it, and we were starting a few weeks earlier than what is considered reasonable. We were counting heavily on the low snowpack in the Canadian Rockies this year and just kind of crossing our fingers for the best. Now I can hike the trail another year, when I have more time, in a more relaxed and reasonable manner. It was probs meant to be.
I’m in Montana right now, figuring out what to do next. I really have no idea. I thought briefly about the Pacific Northwest Trail, but I’m not sure that I’d love that one, with its miles and miles of dirt roadwalking. I might fly to Alaska for a month with my bike. Or, I might just drive back to Oregon, find a quiet place to live near some forest, and take care of my gut stuff. I really have no idea. Dan is thinking about southbounding the CDT- he hasn’t hiked any of the 3 long trails! And here we are at the northern terminus, right in time for SOBO season, and he has all these resupply boxes already made.
I’ll let y’all know soon.