We had felt a little niggle of anxiety at the thought of entering the USA at either of the two major bridges. Sarnia/Port Huron or Windsor/Detroit. Previous experience had not been great at either. First, the traffic was horrendous, then the border was quite an obstacle course of questions, paperwork, iris recognisation and fingerprinting. Not to mention the very intimidating border patrol officers in their dark, wraparound RayBans and the heavy weaponry held at the ready. Once through, we would then have to negotiate the rush-hour traffic congestion of the large city of Detroit and the pressure of being on a very busy interstate (motorway). But, A flash of inspiration had hit me the previous evening: let’s see if the ferry across Lake Erie is running and can we get across in one day? This was the route we took the first two trips, but the recession hit and the ferries were cut drastically – last time we checked, it would have meant a 3 day stay on Pelee Island – the halfway point between Canada and the USA. Now, Pelee Island is nice – but not three days nice! Anyhow, a quick check on the internet and it appeared that the ferries were running daily once again. But the timetable isn’t the easiest to figure out, so we decided to head for Leamington and see if we could make the 2pm ferry.
We made an early start on Friday 3rd June. A quick coffee in the motel, packed the bike and were off by 0730. We wore our mesh jackets and, yes, it was a bit nippy at that time of the morning, but we expected it to warm up as the sun rose. By 10 am, despite the sun shining, we were frozen. We pulled into a Tim Horton’s (best buns in the world) for a hot drink and to revive our circulation. ‘Shall we put our waterproof jackets on?’ I asked, ‘Nah, it’ll soon warm up now’.
Well by midday, we were still shivering – I thought my chattering teeth would start losing their enamel. So, in a small town, I nudged J to pull over so we could put our rain jackets on. They helped, but by then we had become chilled to the bone and still we shivered.
Finally, we arrived in Leamington – ‘ Tomato Capital of Canada’ claimed the welcome sign. To back that up, sure enough there was a huge Heinz ketchup plant in the town. At the ferry terminal we asked when the next ferry was leaving. ’15 minutes, or you can waiti for the 4pm crossing and that ferry goes across to Sandusky, Ohio. No need to change ferry on Pelee’. Wow, how convenient – no riding on and off the ferries, only need to strap the bike down once.
That gave us an hour and a half; time for a hot meal.
At last, around 3pm, we boarded the ferry. Once the boat left the harbour, we retired below decks, bought a cuppa and then got our heads down (no seasickness for us two and, when you get to our age, you take naps and sex whenever the opportunity presents itself!). I woke as the ferry came into Pelee Island (Canada) and went on deck to watch the line-catchers and the people and goods being loaded on and off. Someone was having about 6 new mattresses delivered!
It was only a 15 minute stop in the port and once we left the harbour, I found a long seat and promptly fell asleep for most of the remaining 1hr 45 minute crossing to the shore of the USA.
As we approached Sandusky, I returned to the deck to watch the rides of Cedar Point Amusement Park on the edge of Lake Erie. Until just a couple of years ago, this park had the highest, the fastest and the most frightening roller coaster in the world – it is still the 2nd highest now. As I watched the cars on the ride twisting and turning, turning upside down and making the most stomach lurching convolutions, I thought, ‘jeez, I’d rather be in a force 10 storm’.
Finally the ferry made the turn into the harbour. We put our arm armour and jackets back on and joined the queue to disembark. Waiting on the quayside were three border control men – wearing the usual sunglasses and peering at each passenger. As soon as they saw us two, in our bumble bee suits, they made A bee-line for us.’ Step this way please’ was an order, not a request. We stood by a portacabin and waited. Meanwhile, one of the crew from the boat asked us to ride the bike off. J went towards the rear of the ferry but was quickly apprehended by Customs, ‘Please remain where I asked you to wait, sir’. ‘But,….’ J pointed towards the boat and the crew – who were waiting to offload the bike so they could start to allow the cars going back across onboard. ‘REMAIN IN POSITION, SIR’. No arguing with that then.
Another of the three came over to us with a green form to fill in. There were a series of about 8 questions with a tick box – Yes or No – beside each question.
‘ Are you entering the USA with the intention of commiting an act of terrorism?’ Yes or No. Duh!
Form duly filled in J still wanted to get the bike – before the ferry set off. Eventually one of the officers came over and said it was ok to ride the bike off, go through the x-ray machine and park it ‘seaward side of this line’.
Once that was done, we were ‘invited’ into the portacabin. Bit squashed in there with all the equipment, us two and the three officers. They brung us up on a computer screen. ‘you haven’t submitted an ESTA’. ‘A what?’ ‘An ESTA, to enter the USA’. Never heard of it, we said. ‘Yup, you do it online, about 6 weeks before your arrival’. Ermm??? BUT, gradually, a little light was flickering in my old head….. I thought, ‘hey, this is ringing a bell’. Then it dawned on me, this was a new requirement, which we had heard about last year, done the deed, handed our form in on the Detroit border. Then promptly forgot all about it for this year’s trip. But I hoped the dawning of the light wasn’t evident in my expression; try to look old, and dumb girl, I thought.
Well, a big conflab ensued with a lot of anocrynims and cop-speak – all over our heads. The guys all flipped through the pages of our passports. ‘So ya don’t have visas!’ (again, statement, not question). ‘Well, we did, until we renewed our passports last year’. ‘OK, so wydya have visas?’ ‘Well….’ we both started to say. But J got his bit in first; ‘Well, we used to sail up and down the Caribbean – visitng the USVI’s, Puerto Rico….’. ‘Oh yes, why was that?’ All three sets of RayBans were focused on us now. ‘Well, we used to do deliveries’. Says J. I gulped internally (boats, Caribbean, deliveries – of what Ganja?) and had a big desire to kick him in the shins, hard. Silence. ‘Of sailboats’ he added limply. Ever wanted to fall into a deep hole? Another conflab, more peering at the All-Knowing monitors. Another flick through the passport. Youngster then said, ‘ Well, I can see the lady is Bridish, so she don’t really need a visa. But…. this other place, the guy? Where’s that?’ The older and wise one said, sure, that country is fine too.
The next obstacle was the code required to put the clearance fee into the computer. Nobody knew it. More discussion with the result, they decided to waiver the $6 fee.
Finally they ‘released us’ into the good ol’ US of A. Well, for 90 days!
J rode the bike through to the car park. He climbed off to check brake lights – went to the wrong side of the bike, touched the clutch and OMG, the bike jumped forward and fell on its side – breaking the left-hand mirror off. Guess the strain of customs caused a little brain fart! With the help of a guy in a car – with a plaster cast on his arm (from a similar incident on his own motorcycle) – we hoisted the bike onto two wheels, stashed the mirror in the bag, climbed on and headed off into the setting sun.
It was less than 50 miles to the home of our friends, Pete and Barb and we pulled onto the drive just as the sun sunk below the horizon.
Of course we had a few beers – especially when two other friends rode their Harley around (they’d heard our little whispering engine pass their house).
So, here we are, ready for the next adventure – two new tyres should arrive tomorrow (Thursday) so we’ll fit them and, weather permitting, be off on the road Sunday. Fingers crossed.