Calais, Maine border crossing into St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada
Canada! Finally we crossed the border on the third day through Calais, ME and into St. Stephen, New Brunswick.
Getting through the border was veeeeeery interesting. The ride from Cobscook to Calais was short and uneventful. I had said to Erik that we’re supposed to take the Millstreet crossing because it’s supposedly not as busy. Well, between my ‘no sense of direction’ and his ‘I didn’t look this up ahead of time’, we wound up just following the street signs in Calais which took us to the old crossing. When we got to the bridge, it wasn’t too bad. I figured about 15 minutes to get through. Oh was I so very wrong.
We pull up to the booth when it’s our turn. The guy is very nice and had a cool tat on his arm, sorta a Celtic knot thingey that went all the way around his bicep. We killed the engines and politely handed over our passports. He stuck his head out the window and said, “Is that a DRZ400?” I’m so used to everyone going on and on about Erik’s Dakar, something about that silly blue and white roundel, that I’m usually ignored (or it’s assumed my bike is also a BMW, which I think is very cute). I was so excited to finally get some cred. I had debadged Elsa so I yelled over, “Sure is! How’d you know?” He said he had his own KLX400 but sold it because “the seat was a killer!” and got himself a Versys (which is the bike Erik says I should take a serious look at). He asked if we had alcohol or firearms, to which we answered ‘no’. Erik asked if anyone actually says ‘yes’, and he said plenty of folks have firearms in their cars. Who knew?
He asked when we had last been in Canada, and I had a complete brain fart and said 20 years. Erik said the same thing. I had completely forgot that I was at the University of British Columbia in 2004, but it wouldn’t have mattered as they still would have wanted to run Erik’s credentials. The guy said we had to park and go into the office and see the immigration officer. Little did we know how long this was going to take.
And why did it take so long? Because of some kid named Timmy in a Vanagon camper with Vermont plates and a Phish sticker stupidly told the border guard that he and his friend were going to Canada to teach. Really? And guess what you need to teach in Canada? That’s right…working papers. There was only one guard working and she was consumed with these hippy dippy trippy idiots. Not only were we held up well over an hour, but a couple from Japan travelling throughout North America by public transportation and a retired couple in one of the biggest RVs I’ve ever seen all sat together in the tiny immigration office. The older couple joked with us that they hope they wouldn’t tear apart our saddlebags. What a pain that would have been.
Eventually the guy who was in the booth walked in to the immigration office and said, “You’re still here?” He immediately went behind the desk and had us come over to him. He did something with our passports, wrote something on a piece of paper, and we were free to go. We asked him about the route and he suggested that in order to make up time, as we had lost about an hour and 40 minutes plus the lost hour when crossing into the Atlantic time zone, we should take Route 1. Ugh. I had really wanted to avoid highways. I really wanted some smaller, secondary roads. But it was well after 2pm and we had a ways to go. He wished us a safe trip and off we rode into the cleanest country in North America.
We stopped quickly at the tourist information booth in St. Stephen. I’m glad we did because Adam, the sweet kid working there, really set us up. We told him we were aiming for Fundy National Park and did he think we would make it. I have learned that when asking that question, the answers come with a grain of salt because if one more person told me that we could do it in 3 hours, I would have punched them. I’m on a bike with absolutely no wind protection. I’m all over the road, and one man’s three hours in a car is one woman’s 4.5 hours on an unfaired, no windshield 400.
Adam called ahead to Fundy to ask if campground spots were available as only one campground was open (we were a little bit before season). He also told us where there was a Sobey’s grocery store on our way to the highway, and how the liquor stores work. Each province has their own liquor stores, so just look for the province’s initials and LC (so we were looking for NBLC). Happily it was right next door to the Sobey’s. I picked up some baking potatoes and steaks for dinner, and a nice bottle of red wine to wash it down. I was very excited because the Sobey’s purchase ended in a penny and the checkout person asked Erik if he had a penny. I exclaimed, “Oh, I do! It’s been sitting in a box at home for 20 years!”
Finally we got on Route 1. It was one of those highways that makes you wonder, why did they build such a big dual carriageway in a place where the volume of traffic doesn’t seem to warrant it? The DRZ was pretty happy cruising around 65 indicated. The weather was sunny. But as we got closer to St. John, the sky became very grey. I was getting cold but still puttering along behind the BMW. Eventually Erik pulls over into a gas station and yells over, “I thought you might be getting cold and would want to zip up your vents.” I sure was! After zip, zip, zip, zip and reconfiguring some velcro, we headed off again.
By the time we got to St. John, I thought my hands would need to be amputated. I was FREEEEEEEZING. It was going to start raining any second. We first stopped to try to find a connector cable for our camera (still no luck), and then headed to get gas. After fueling up, I pushed the bike over to the side and ripped into my side bags. Where is my fleece? Where are my Rev’It winter gloves? Will I ever get feeling in the tips of my middle fingers again?
I was actually so cold that I put on my fleece and my rain jacket/windbreaker. I now was wearing four layers. I pulled on my Rev’It Fahrenheits in the vain hope they would actually warm up my fingers.
We pointed the bikes toward Route 1 again, and not less than 2 miles (or 4 kilometers because we had entered the land of measurement from the moon), there was a toll. It would have been nice if there was some sort of warning (maybe there was but we were both so frozen our eyes could no longer transmit text to our brains?). Erik pulled up to the booth and fumbled around for change. There’s nothing like having to pay a 50 cent toll with fingers that can’t feel anything and using money that makes no sense.
I will say, Canadian highways are well signed. We exited onto Route 114, which shouldn’t even really be called a route because it was one step up from a poorly paved street in Providence. What I really enjoyed was the lack of anything. No shops, no traffic, no street lights. There was a house every now and again, but it felt very rural.
We entered into the park and continued to head for North Chignecto campground. Because we were travelling before regular season, the other two campgrounds were not yet open. The forest in the park was beautiful. Everywhere you look, fir trees. And the smell…INTOXICATING. It was like Christmas!
North Chignecto Campground, site #23 ... I got the campfire started to warm us up and cook up some juicy steaks and baked potatoes
We pulled into the campground and the ranger assigned us spot #23. It was quiet and private. Just far enough away from the showers and the RV sites. My favorite thing about this park was that you paid for a burlap bag and could fill it with as much wood as you could fit in it for your camp fire. Well, don’t put an offer like this in front of me.
Into the site we rode and started to unload the bikes. And the skys opened up. Drenching rain. Cats and dogs were falling from the sky. When I had the cooler and duffel off the back of the DRZ, I rode back to the ranger station to get wood. I carefully loaded the burlap sack with bigger pieces on the bottom and smaller, kindling sized wood toward the top. I even scooped up some wood chips for starter wood. What’s some rain?
Well, it was a lot of rain. While I was getting the wood, Erik set up the tarp. When I got back to the site, I put the wood under the tarp and we both headed to the community house. Some Canadian parks have buildings with picnic tables and a wood burning stove where campers can gather. We sat in there until the rain subsided.
After setting up camp, I got the fire started. I cooked up the steaks and baked potatoes over the licking flames and we feasted. It was cold but the fire warmed us. We were both pretty tired, but we stayed up late into the night. The sky was clear and we felt close to the stars.
Our first night in Canada, despite the immigration delay, the freezing cold, and the torrential downpour, was bliss.