Oh, Canada

Wednesday, 21st July 2010; 5:57 pm

There were no updates during the day today because I went to Rondeau Provincial Park in Ontario, and they don’t have Internet in Canada.

I kid… of course they do, they just don’t have wireless Internet. No wait, they just don’t have AT&T wireless, which is what my US iPhone uses. It will do international data roaming, but who wants to pay for that?

This had implications beyond my blogging ability. No internet means no weather radar, no Fuelly gas mileage log, and (most importantly) no map service.

The weather info, I didn’t really need. The day started cloudy and gradually turned to mostly sunny, and I knew that was the prediction before I left. There was a steady W-NW wind that boosted my speed above 40mph on the way out, and slowed me to 30mph the whole way back. {sigh} Unfortunately it didn’t reach to ground level while I was hiking in the woods, which would’ve kept me cool, and help me keep my cool by keeping the flies away from my face.

In theory I might have been able to get in and out of Canada without buying gas. It was 100 miles, round trip. But I didn’t quite have a full tank when I left, and I did some riding around while I was there, and I didn’t want to tap into my reserve fuel. I almost couldn’t find a gas station; nearly the whole route was through farmland, and not even the little dots on the map had stations (or much of anything else). So I had to take a different route back, to go through the village of Blenheim and the city of Chatham-Kent, just to make sure I’d pass by a gas station before I ran out.

Not that finding a different route was necessarily easy, without online map service. But I’d done some advance planning. Before I left home I had printed out maps of each day’s route, just in case of iPhone failure, so I already had a picture of the general area. I also preloaded the Maps app with info for the area I’d be going through by fingering my way through the route; it held this info in its cache for the duration of the ride. What’s neat is that the GPS function (being satellite-based) doesn’t need the internet, so it could update my location, and use the cached map info as a backdrop. I couldn’t zoom in further than I had on the pre-flight walk through, but at least I could tell where I was, which was especially handy trying to make my way on the more complicated route back, through the city of Chatham-Kent.

OK, so enough about the challenges of being offline. Canada:

As anyone who’s crossed between Canada and the United States in recent years can tell you, it’s become a long and tedious process, especially when you include the wait to get over the border. Not for me, it wasn’t. I arrived at the Walpole Island/Algonac ferry dock at 8:30am. It’s not hard to find: it’s on the river, in downtown Algonac, just north of the city park where the town’s teenagers go to hang out and be cool when they’re bored. Which seems to be a lot this time of year. I was the only passenger. So when the cars from Canada got off, the attendant waved me on board, took my $4 for the motorcycle and me, and across we went. There was a freighter coming up the river, which we had to stop for, then I disembarked on Walpole Island.

I almost wrote “Walpole Island, Ontario” but I’m not sure that’s strictly true. There’s a sign by the street at the dock that identifies it as “Walpole Island, First Nation, Unceded Territory”. In other words, this is land that the natives managed to hold onto when the Europeans took over; in the U.S., we’d probably call it an “Indian reservation”. Which explains why the ferry crew, the Immigration agents, and most of the people I passed before I left Walpole Island for mainland Ontario were of native ancestry, rather than looking like Dudley Do-Right.

Anyway, the agent for Canadian Immigration quizzed me about the purpose of my visit, and when she wanted more than just “day trip, sight-seeing”, I explained about the big scooter ride and going to Lake Erie but not wanting to ride through Detroit. She asked how long I was staying a couple different ways, apparently to see if I gave inconsistent answers. She asked “Have you ever been denied entry into Canada before?” and that final “before” made me a little nervous, as if it was about to happen for the first time. But she smiled and sent me on my way.

Most of the 50 miles from Walpole Island to the park is farmland, which at least makes for easy navigation: get on the right road and it’ll go in a straight line for miles and miles. The bad news is that the road will run at a diagonal, not north/south. And it will probably be called a “line”, not a “road” or some other familiar term. But I was enticed off the road line by an unexpected sign for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Huh? Time for another ethnic stereotype to be challenged. Josiah Henson, an African-descended former slave and abolitionist whose autobiography provided material for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, had settled in the county of Kent, Ontario, and this was where he lived and was buried. I stopped at the museum there, which wanted an admission fee to see a video and get a tour of the site, which I declined. The woman running the place was delighted by my scooter and my account of how I’d ridden it from Mackinac, because she’s been wanting to get one herself.

When I arrived at Rondeau Provincial Park, I was relieved that they accepted credit cards for admission, because I had no Canadian currency. (Just a quarter… more about that in a minute.) But my card didn’t have a chip in it, like a proper credit card should, so I had to sign for it; I apologized that I came from a primitive placed called the United States, were we didn’t have that kind of technology. The park is a huge curving peninsula that almost blocks off a secluded bay from Lake Erie. It’s great for bird-watching, but not being a bird-watcher and not having a camera that’s well-suited to it, I didn’t appreciate that like others might. But I had a good hike, including a stretch along the beach, and I got a couple OK photos of circling hawk (among other things). It must have been a nice place, because not only did I reach lake Erie, I spent three hours at the park.

As part of my trip to Canada, I repatriated an elk. The “elk” being a nickname a couple college friends and I gave to Canadian quarters. I see them all the time around here, but I brought one along on this trip to return it to its homeland. Before leaving the park, I dropped it in the dirt. Maybe it will escape into the woodlands. Maybe a Canadian kid will find it and it’ll brighten his day. I’m just glad to have been able to achieve the real objective of this journey: returning a coin to the country in which it was minted.

I ran into a similar credit-card-processing issue when I tried to buy gas at a Petrocanada station: the pump wouldn’t authorize it because the card didn’t have “the chip”. I had a little difficulty understanding the attendant as she explained through the speaker at the pump, because of her accent. Her Asian accent, another example of Ontarian multiculturalism. I have no idea what the actual price of the gas was. Converting from Canadian dollars per liter to U.S. dollars per gallon requires just a little too much mental gymnastics. All I’m sure of is that prices were generally around “0.90”, which feels less, but is probably more.

I arrived at the Walpole Island dock for the return just as the ferry was pulling away, so I had to wait about half an hour for the next one. The U.S. Immigration agent was just as thorough as his Canadian counterpart, asking about the nature of my visit, asking leading questions like “So you went there to meet friends?” to gauge my reaction, and noticing the apparent discrepancy between my account of the long scooter trip and the fact that I wasn’t carrying camping gear (which I explained was at Algonac State Park waiting for my return). He tried to run my plates to see if my vehicle was on any lists, but the number on my moped registration sticker didn’t come up with any hits.

I returned to the camp site and packed up my camping gear. It wasn’t quite 5:00 yet, but I knew I had a good ride ahead of me yet. I still had time for dinner (especially since I hadn’t had lunch), so I stopped at the Roadhouse Bar & Grill on the road out of Algonac. Yes, it’s a bar, but with equal emphasis (depending on time of day) on serving food and a full menu. The lake perch sandwich was delicious and the service was good enough that I didn’t have time to finish this (rather long) entry before my food came, and had to come back to it.

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