Learning As We Go

My foresight’s always been in need of some serious prescription lensification. Never has this been more clearly demonstrated than with our decision on the way to our July 3 destination of Susan’s grandma’s house in Troy, Mont., to venture up into Canada just because it was so dang close.

So up US Highway 95 we went to the Idaho 1 where we arrived at the entry point of Porthill and met a cordial Canadian customs agent who pretty much asked if we had any guns or alcohol onboard and after we told him we didn’t he welcomed us to our Great White Neighbor and we ventured forth across the international border a few miles up to the village of Creston where we tried to familiarize ourselves with kilometers as we turned onto Highway 3 and went across to Highway 95, which brought us back to our exit at Eastport.

Time spent in Canada? Roughly an hour. Extend of our activities? Well, we stopped on impulse at a cherry orchard outside of Creston hoping to score some of their awesome looking wares — lapin cherries — but the proprietor told us we were about a month too early. And later on down the 95 we stopped at a lovely riverside turnout to set up the tripod and get a photo of us. Oh, and first aid was administered to Susan after she poked her foot on a sharp stick at said turnout.

Arriving in Eastport we faced a nice-length of cars in front of us wishing to cross the border and when we finally were motioned to pull up to the U.S. border patrol agent, he asked for our IDs and as we handed over our passportsI got the sense right away that we’d made a mistake crossing an international border so cavalierly and for so short a time. While my foresight is legally blind, my hindsight is so eagle-eyed sharp it hurts. Physically. Like a stabbing pain.

The officer commenced with the grilling. What were we doing in Canada? Just taking a quick look around. I think he almost laughed, but not in a good way… more in an do-I-look-like-the-idiot-you-look-like way. More questions: Are you carrying more than $10,000 in currency with you on this trip? No, sir. Did you purchase o are you in possession of any prescription medications? No sir. Fruits? Meats? Cheeses? Weapons? No, no, no, and no. Where are you from? Los Angeles. Is this your car? No, it’s a rental. Where’d you rent it from? Redding, California. And where are you headed? Troy, Michigan — I mean Montana!

I saw his eyebrows go up and I knew I’d blown it because it’s well known that terrorists always confuse the two Troys.

And what are you doing in Troy? Visiting relatives. And are you carrying more than $10,000 in currency with you? I had to stop myself from telling him he’d already asked us that question and I instead I just properly reaffirmed that indeed we did not have anywhere near that amount of cash in hand.

And what do you do for work, Bill? I let the “Bill” go and just told him I was presently unemployed. And you Susan? She explained she was an office manager for a trial presentation firm. He looked at me and asked me what I did before I became so presently unemployed. And I told him I’d worked at the L.A. Zoo as its web editor.

And how do you two know each other? We’re married. Sue do you still go by McLain? Susan said no she goes by Campbell now and let the “Sue” go realizing out loud that she hadn’t yet updated her passport.

Then there was some awkward silence and I realized my heart rate had increased and I totally felt guilty. All I was was an American wanting to move ahead a couple hundred feet and be back in the country of my birth, but instead I realized this little jaunt had set off about a dozen red flags back at Homeland Security headquarters. In fact I’m sure Dick Cheney picked up a stack of the steadily growing pile of cc’ed incoming faxes from border agents all over the perimeter of the lower 48 saw us and almost had another heart attack.

“So here’s what I’m going to have you do,” said the teresly cordial border agent shuffling our passports from behind the bullet proof partition. “I’m going to have you pull up in front of the building right here and come inside so we can talk to you a little more.”

Awesome. No. Haaaaaaawesome.

So we did as we were told and my heart rate ratcheted it up a few notches as we stood before the counter for many minutes until finally another agent stepped before us and had us fill out customs declarations, which after we had completed them we then had to wait another eternity until that agent collected them and asked us the same series of questions the first agent had done.

Why were you in Canada? Just passing through. And so on and on and on until she said “So here’s what I’m going to have you do. You’re going to take seats behind you while I search your vehicle.

I had visions of box cutters slicing through upholstery and quarter panels being removed and tires being deflated and oil pans being drained and baggage being disposed of by bomb squads and other delaying tactics until the marines could show up to transport us to Gitmo forever.

I couldn’t watch, but Susan kept an eye on the officer’s explorations, and provided a running commentary on the activities. At least there wasn’t any slashing of seatcovers or dismantling of engines. Bascially the officer took a good look around and through everything and concluded that we weren’t terrorists, just a coupla California nuts on a roadtrip who couldn’t see that coming into a foreign country for a few minutes on the day before the anniversary of the birth of our country and the requisite heightened security that accompanies such a significant day might not set off more than a few alarms and skepticism.

Our bad.

Back inside, she walked back behind the counter and motioned for us to rise. “Welcome back to the United States. Have a safe journey,” she said, sliding our passports across to us — passports that had undoubtedly been scanned and entered into some nasty database that might land us on a no-fly list at some inappropriate time to be determined later.

With relief we accepted our documents and just got the heck out of there and across the border and onto Troy (which is not only absent any public wi-fi connections, but is entirely without cell phone service as well!) where we had a magnificent couple days catching up with Susan’s grandma, her uncle Jim and his Elva, her mom Jeannie, her brother Michael and his brand new wife Linda — they surprised everyone with the news they were quietly married on June 17.


Seeing as it was July 4th, we also took in Troy’s good old-fashioned small town Independence Day parade, which included a bunch of classic cars and a rather heroic version of who may or may not be George Custer (and I do believe that’s a woman portraying him) bringing up the rear of the parade:


And later that night (11 p.m. as it didn’t get totally dark in Troy this time of year until after 10 p.m.) a wonderful fireworks show, which I captured via this time-lapse image from our vantage point in the front yard:


In between the two events we found time to go explore the spectacular Kootenai Falls and river, which Jim pointed out was one of the locations used in the Meryl Streep film, The River Wild:


This morning we said our goodbyes and set out for the 300-odd miles to Butte, Mont., where we are presently having arrived about 5:30 p.m. On our way we stopped for a walk through the awe-inspiring majesty of the giant cedars found at Ross Creek in the Kootenai National Forest. Not only was it remarkable to be roaming around these beautiful trees, some as old as 500 years, but we practically had the place to ourselves and at one point were serenaded by elks calling out from their unseen locations not too far away up the hillside. It doesn’t get much better than that.


Tomorrow we head out of Montana and into Wyoming and Yellowstone via the Beartooth Highway, heralded by Charles Kurrault as “the most beautiful road in America.”

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Will Campbell arrived in town via the maternity ward at Good Sam Hospital way back in OneNineSixFour and has never stopped calling Los Angeles home. Presently he lives in Silver Lake with his wife Susan, their cat Rocky, dogs Terra and Hazel, and a red-eared slider turtle named Mater. Blogging since 2001, Will's web endeavors extend back to 1995 with laonstage.com, a comprehensive theater site that was well received but ever-short on capital (or a business model). The pinnacle of his online success (which speaks volumes) arrived in 1997, when much to his surprise, a hobby site he'd built called VisuaL.A. was named "best website" in Los Angeles magazine's annual "Best of L.A." issue. He enjoys experiencing (and writing about) pretty much anything creative, explorational and/or adventurous, loves his ebike, is a better tennis player than he is horr golfer, and a lover of all creatures great and small -- emphasis on "all."