We made it down the Alcan with few problems which included freezing cold weather, a cracked fuel line, congealing vegetable oil, and Walter’s lungs full of dust. The good news is only once while climbing a 10% grade did we have to jump out of the bus to switch from veggie to diesel because Walter had completely stopped moving and, who knows, was maybe about to start rolling back down the mountain. No worries. Now we’re resting in Portland and are nearly ready to head to Reno. But first, a story about how we got back to the US of A.
We crossed the border a few days ago at Sumas in Washington. The notorious efficacy of the US border patrol spared us no excitement as we tried to reenter our country:
So, we roll in at about 10:00 pm, and after seeing the plants growing in our dash board, the BP officers ask us to park the bus for an agricultural inspection. We enter the office where we are told to wait for the verdict. We feel confident of our innocence. We’ve crossed to and fro America a few times now and have never been in trouble except when an agricultural inspector at a California check point took from us a cotton plant that we liberated from a field somewhere in Texas.
With the door still swinging at our rears, an officer behind the counter engages us with a string of typical questions regarding the who what when where why of our travels. He’s an imposing figure, but void of physical aggression. He places his palms face down on the counter, and as he speaks he tilts his head ever so slightly to the left then the right and holds his chin upturned just enough that his gaze follows the spine of his nose like an arrow aimed our way. Below, his lips barely move, and no syllable falters. Below his neck his body stands columnar. We answer his questions to the very best of our ability. Our responses elicit only subtle responses from him whether he delineates the law regarding our suspect items or, satisfied with our answers, nods and moves on to the next question.
First, he asks about our plants. We have a few cacti, some herbs, a tomato plant and green beans growing (or heaving) on the dash. Where did we get the cacti? he asks. Seth says, South Carolina. His fingers rap the counter once. He warns us of the destruction to fragile ecosystems caused by harvesting flora from nature. Then he asks us about produce. We launch into a litany of all the fruits vegetables we possess, detailing the stores where we purchased them and accounting for every head of broccoli and clove of garlic, checking our recollections against each other’s like penitents before the day of judgment. Next he asked us about meat, particularly wild game. Uhhh…we have a whole cooler full of wild game products we got in Alaska. (We’re not really sure what all we have.) Again, the officer responded with such tactical calm–the kind to make you fearful of the punitive energy that must be welling up inside him. He explains that next he would ask us to see our hunting licenses because without them being in possession of wild game raises the suspicion that we are poachers.
You see, he says, We have many laws to uphold here.
We don’t have licenses, only a story about working at a meat factory. Does he believe us?
Then he calmly pulls on a pair of gloves and asks, Is there anything else, anything at all, you would like to tell me before I search your vehicle? We shake our heads, retreat to the bench and watch as the officer and two others head out to the bus. The officers not one second out the door and we remember two things: our massive stock of vegetable oil and our little, dirt slaked pet, Rreji. We wonder the fate of our pet and our sausages.
We sit there for probably a half hour, looking out the window, waiting for the officers to emerge and play their card. Other travelers come in, answer questions, sit and wait while their vehicles are searched, and are then granted freedom, both to use the BP bathroom (which we may not until the completion of the search) and to enter the US. Then Taylor notices some commotion around the outside of the bus, an officer signaling with his flashlight for additional officers to come. A line of men in black jog over and climb aboard. What on earth could they be doing? I wonder.
A few minutes later, one officer returns to the office, a look of exasperation on his face, and says,
Do you guys run that bus on vegetable oil?
Scratching his head: Did you do all that yourselves?
Man, that is awesome!
(laughter and sighs of relief fill the room) Thanks! we say.
Then our interrogator returns gently smiling and equally interested in learning about our story.
We see a lot of vehicles through here, but we’ve never seen anything like that, and that’s a compliment, he says.
We give them cards with our website on it, and ask if they want any reindeer sausage which their stringent protocol prohibits them from accepting. (Their protocol also prevents them from getting their pictures taken while on duty. I know this already: When we crossed into Canada from the US the first time, an agent confiscated my stun gun, which my parents have asked me to keep close since college and I have subsequently forgotten about in drawers and other dark places. My stun gun, alike a number of other self-defense tools [weapons, whatever you call them], happens to be illegal in Canada, and has now been “abandoned to the Crown to be destroyed.” I begged the officer who wrote me the citation to wrinkle his brow and give me a finger wag for a picture, but he said he could not even if he wanted to.)
So all ends well. We say goodbye to our friends at the Border Patrol and head to Bellingham, WA, perhaps one of the sweetest little towns in the Pacific Northwest, whose climate, I’m convinced, grows the most beautiful, luscious flowers.