WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: Finishers Wander 13 - Station Laurier, Province du Quebec
Date: Thu, 22 Apr 2004 17:22:25 -0700

    Well, so much for the gentle spring breezes. A nasty weather front that made a mess of the south is encroaching on the coast, and I finally have to endure a cold and wet Maine morning to avoid getting socked in. So for the first time this trip I resort to the electric socks. And for the first time since they were a gift, after carrying them for about 20,000 miles of rain avoidance, I become a pumpkin in a set of bright orange Froggs Toggs. Every experienced rider has his or her own set of best choices for gear and clothing, but I strongly recommend Toggs. They are made of a tyvek material, paper thin yet nearly tear proof. Despite their breathing holes, they are windproof, and of course waterproof. My size large set easily fit over the bulky North Face down coat I am wearing and still packed into a 8 by 8 inch square. Just wearing the Toggs let me avoid using the using the electric jacket most of the day.
    I was running literally just ahead of the storm. An 8 am start got me out of the increasing drizzle until I stopped for gas and coffee. Twenty minutes later, it was drizzling again as I readied to leave. Cold I can handle. Wet is a nuisance. Cold and wet is no fun at all. So it was boogey up the boundary on the straight arrow road to Blaine Maine (coincidentally, the traditional 4 Corner NW point is Blaine Washington) and then through Presque Isle. There's just something a college does to a town to make it invigorating, even in the dreary expanse of the north woods. I could sense it was a college town before seeing the school. But one wonders why here, so far from anywhere but here.
    Stopped for gas in Madawaska, I was asked if I was doing "the corners". They said I was the first bike this season. The town takes some pride in being a motorcycle destination. But to get to the real northernmost point in Maine, you have to go through Canada. There are no public roads to the northwest corner of the state. There are private unpaved roads for which permit to pass is difficult to get - they are logging company roads and the company does not want observers. The customs crossing into New Brunswick was easier than I expected. A few simple questions and the guard wanted out of the cold. Then somehow I missed the road that would take me back down to the northwest Maine border. The mapping program gave me a precise location ... but there was no exit there, and the GPS did not show the provincial highway at all. Doubling back, I saw a small sign toward one of the towns on the road I wanted, but the GPS showed me going in a circuitous approach. Thank goodness for the GPS. When I got to Riviere Bleue I could see the road I wanted barely a kilometer "over there", and found a turn to get to it. By the way, resetting the GPS to metric was a great help in not having to constantly calculate kph to mph.
    Finally reaching Saint-Eleutherie, I was able to turn left under the railroad tracks and set foot in the northern most point in Maine. There are a few houses here and one is precisely ON the border. (The man is not hiding, it is raining.) Wanna bet both countries demand taxes? [Photo of boundary house]
    The road in front of the houses is still in Canada, but you are expected to present yourself a half mile away (sign is in US measure) for inspection. [Photo of customs sign]
    I went down to take a look, but stopped while still on the Canadian side to take a photo. You can see from all the rules, this is not one of the more friendly crossing points. A sign not visible beyond says PRIVATE! KEEP OUT! [Photo of Estcourt Station Customs]
    Right after I took the photo a US border guard came out and motioned me toward him. He did not seem any more friendly than the mood of the building, so, realizing as soon as I crossed the line I was "in custody" to do with however he pleased, I declined. "No, I do not intend to enter." He snapped back in a commanding tone, "You can not take pictures. Come here." Oops, this was not going well. Going to him would surely 'not be a good thing', as Martha would say. "No, I am in Canada. I choose to stay here. Sorry, but I am out of your jurisdiction." He responded even more stridently "I said come here. Failure to obey could subject you to imprisonment." Obviously this conversation was not going to end on amicable or even neutral terms, so I ended it immediately. He asked if I was an American citizen. I did not answer and did not look at him, but went about my business bundling up to leave. I made sure my license plate was not visible as I left. He said something else which I could not understand over the sound of the engine. Sorry, but short of extradition, one can not be forced to cross a border. Luckily, there was no Canada Customs at the border to create a "DMZ" between them. Canada Customs is near the boundary house and it is honor system reporting to present yourself for inspection. Since I did *not* just cross either border, I reserved my honor and did not report, but I did stop a minute in front just in case the US guard called them about an orange terrorist. No one came out. The rain softly fell. I softly left.
    Canada is a different country. No surprise there. Quebec is a different country within Canada. Surprising how much so. Much of Canada is bilingual. Quebec is NOT bilingual. All the signs are in French only. Personally, I dislike the French language above all others. It is the one experiment gone wrong in the petri dish of Latin based languages. You may think otherwise, but to me it is a waste of good letters. Too much inflection, not enough content. So, I was frequently lost. Lost in Quebec City, and lost in translation.
    Cold and tired after finally breaking out of the rain, I spied a reasonable looking motel and went to the office. A sign said something in French. With this being just off the Trans Canada Highway, a lot of non-French speaking travelers come through and one kindly soul had hand written under the French: If you want a room, go to the bar, eh? As I said, Canada is a different country, more European in many customs and mores, particularly in regard to what the US would consider display of sexuality. The girl at the bar eventually concluded I could not parlez vouz, so she motioned me to follow back to the office where she pointed to the costs and we did a silent pantomime to complete the registration. In following her, I determined she was wearing purple, frilly, lace panties under her slit-to-the-low-waist shorts and nothing under her one-shoulder, fashion-shredded blouse. It was impossible not to see. Canada is different.
    Later at the restaurant across the road, I asked the waitress for a non-smoking area. She looked quizzically at me then took a long drag on a cigarette. A patron seated nearby came to my rescue and said "non fume". No English spoken here. The same customer translated the specials board for me, and I actually got what I ordered (poulette avec jambone et frommage). But he left before I got to dessert. Having lived with a pastry chef for quite some years (and having carefully watched the other customers), I did know one phrase that would work: gat-toe shok-o-lot.

438 miles
Calais US1 TransCanada2 QC232 QC289 TrCan20 QC116 QC132 QC271 Station Laurier
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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