My first time crossing the border was eighteen years ago. I was coming up for an archaeology field school in Manitoba. One of my geography profs at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire asked what I was doing for the summer. Actually, I had been eying up a geology field school in Colorado but he vigorously shook his head. “No, no, no. You want to go to Canada.”
“Yes, for an archaeology field school. Six weeks living in a tent, digging and drinking beer with Canadians.”
That sounds about right for a twenty year old who likes travel, the outdoors, history and apparently beer, and looking for something cool to do that summer.
A couple weeks before I was scheduled to leave my prof asked if I minded if another of his students caught a ride with me. Sounded like splitting gas money. Back then I am sheepish to admit the shared expense was a bigger plus than the obvious environmental considerations of carpooling across several states and up into another country. I pay more attention to that sort of thing now. But I digress.
The other student was a forty-five year old ex-biker with long straggly hair and tattoos. I didn’t think much of the what or why of his appearance, but I’ll admit I took inventory of the situation. My spidy sense wasn’t freaking out and my prof obviously gave him the thumbs up as a safe traveling companion. Canadian Border Security did not.
Neither one of us had traveled to Manitoba before and we didn’t have the handy maps apps of today, let alone smart phones, that conveniently provide ETAs. We rolled into a 24-hour border crossing around 11pm and that’s when we were taken to separate rooms. I don’t know what his room looked like, mine just looked like a typical office with a big ‘ol desk and a nice border guard asking me repeatedly if I was there on my own accord, that I hadn’t been coerced, that I was okay. Safe. I showed him my paperwork from Brandon University, beaming at the upcoming adventure of learning how to do field archaeology. I didn’t clue in right away to what he was afraid was happening.
Maybe now’s a good time to mention that when I was twenty years old I looked twelve and probably looked just as naive. It was late at night, I was crossing the border, and with a man that looked significantly older than me and like he had lived at least part of his life on a rather rough side.
We were there for a few hours and kept apart. That was fine, I hadn’t ever crossed the Canadian border, for all I knew this was standard procedure. When we were allowed in and driving away my fellow student asked with snap, “Why didn’t they check you through interpol, too?”
“Because I look twelve and he thought you kidnapped me or worse.”
“Oh. Still isn’t fair.”
“No. He was trying to keep me safe.”
My travel companion was irate at being assumed super naughty, but seemed somewhat mollified when I explained the questions they had asked me.
I don’t know what it is like to be routinely grilled by those in law enforcement positions, but I also am grateful for those border guards. They were just trying to keep a young woman safe. And the experience gave my fellow “mature student” plenty to laugh about later as he shared it around the campfire during that field school.
This summer, may your border crossings be safe, prompt and lead to incredible adventures. Happy traveling!