WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: Finishers Wander 17 - Grafton, North Dakota
Date: Mon, 26 Apr 2004 23:23:01 -0700

    Asking a traveler where he is from is natural. It seems to me when I say California, there are more occurrences of the small world syndrome than when I named other places I used to live. The Walleye Inn desk clerk just moved here from Oakley, in the SF Bay Area. Small world.
    Something has me baffled. The regular grade of gasoline here is 89 octane. In most of the country regular is 87 (and at high altitude it may be 86 or even 85). This is not ethanol laced, which often raises the octane even though there is less energy in ethanol gasoline. This is not an unusual altitude. Why would "regular" here be the same as "mid range" every where else?
    Human nature is a flexible structure. Like religious faith, confidence is based on doubt. It is natural to doubt a decision, and a wise planner will at least 'critically review' each chosen course of action. So when the forecast called for one more day of cold weather before the high pressure moved in, I resigned myself to a later start and full electrics. At 9 am it was 30 degrees. At 10, 34. At 11, 36. Hardly racing toward the predicted 40s. Dejected, I went out to load the bike and was hit by a brutal wind pushing stinging flurries. Doubting, I went back to arrange for a late checkout, then studied the maps again and trusted my own ability to read weather patterns. I left at 12. The flurries stopped in 10 miles. Adversity is a persistent pursuer. Confidence can not be learned, but it can be self taught.
    My target was the northernmost road in the contiguous United States. To get there, you have to go through Canada again ... just like Maine. Crossing at Sprague, Manitoba, I pulled to the customs stop and saw two border guards strip searching a car with South Dakota plates. The driver was standing aside. The guards were as dogged as a truffle snuffler. Every piece of clothing taken out of a suitcase had its pockets turned out. Each scrap of paper was being studied like a recipe. The driver's face was ashen white and I don't think it was from the cold. I waited patiently. Best not to rouse the pack when they already have a carcass. A few minutes later, the female officer approached me with a big smile like she had just been enjoying her favorite pastime. (Maybe she had?) Simple questions, who, where, why, etc. Then she surprised me by asking if I knew how to get where I was going. An odd change. As she asked, she stepped around the fairing and stood very close. Too close. I said, yes, I have a map and a GPS, pointing. Ah ha! She was in grabbing range of the GPS. Radar detectors are illegal in Manitoba ... she was ready to acquire. Instead she turned and went back to the car, still smiling. The other guard was looking intently at each individual pill in a prescription bottle as I passed.
    Manitoba is environmentally conscious and has nicely decided to saturate the utility poles with a green colored preservative solution instead of the black tar common in the US. This would make the poles blend into the forest scenery unobtrusively. Except, all the forests in southern Manitoba are white. Aspen, or white spruce, or white birch, I'm not sure, but bright white. The poles stand out like a floater in a punch bowl. Nice idea though.
    A few miles later is the unguarded border to cross back into the US. I scrunched together two photos of opposite sides of the road. Somehow, I think they could have chosen a better acronym than nWANGLE. [Photo of border signs]
    Signs along the road then indicate you must report to a video phone at Jim's Corner to identify yourself to US Customs. Signs also indicate when returning to Canada, you must use the same video phone to notify Canada customs. What if you are coming and leaving at the same time? When I got to Jim's Corner, it was clear from the lack of tracks in the dirt that these signs are roundly ignored by the natives. I decided to pass. Meanwhile, the GPS loaded with data from Mapsource had each local street to guide me. Incredible device. Another mile down the road, right, left, right, there is the finishing point for this part of the wander. N49.35801 W95.09202 [Photo of Northenmost point]
    The northern part of the trip is over, now I am headed west. On the way back to Jim's Corner I reconsidered what might happen if asked at the border where I had been. Saying "the Angle" might entice another smiling guard to check notification records. Rumor has it, it is not nice to lie to border guards. So I stopped. But which button applies? I have come into the US, I should notify US, but I am immediately returning to Canada, I should notify Canada. Pushing both at once seemed like a good idea - but no. Things that "seemed like a good idea at the time" are often called disasters later. US button first. Telephone call on speakerphone. "US Customs". Yes, I am calling in from Jim's Corner as required. "Name. Date of Birth. Citizenship. How long are you staying." I'm not - I am leaving now to return to the US. "You just got there and you are leaving?" Yes. Looooooooooooooong pause. Hello, are you still there Customs? "You have to call Canada Customs to let them know you are entering Canada. click."
    Well, that was rewarding. Push the Canada button. Telephone call on speakerphone. "Hello". Is this Canada Customs? "Yes, why?" (Thought to myself, does ANYONE use this thing?) I am calling from Jim's Corner as required. "Where?" Jim's Corner. Angle Inlet. "Oh. Ok. Name. Date of Birth. Citizenship. Vehicle plate. State. Color." ... "A motorcycle, really? What kind?" And she gave me a 'case number'. Curious, I asked if I needed that back at the border. "No, but occasionally the RCMP stop people and ask. They can get really upset." After the smiling guard in Sprague, I'd hate to see a sour Mountie!
    The next border crossing was uneventful despite the long pause at Jim's Corner. The guard did want to look in my saddlebags, but more to see my compliance than my contents. Thus far no one has asked for even a driver license to establish identity, let alone the birth certificate which is claimed "you MUST" have with you because license is not proof of citizenship. Grandpa used to say: having is not needing; needing is not having.

    Finally, at last, and fini ! The 4th of 4 states precipitating this wander falls under the tires. North Dakota finishes the map for my K75. Adversities overcome, goals achieved, scenery seen. It is time to rest, then return west.

    One more amusement. While standing waiting for a table at Grandma's Kitchen, I noticed a man eyeing me suspiciously. It happened that I was seated across the aisle from him. After a few more looks he finally asked "why is there a wire at your waist?" This was the Y cord from my socks to the thermostat which I had not bothered to remove after taking off the thermostat. Thinking about the block heater plugs outside the motel and how all the local cars have this little wire plug hanging out the grill, I said: you plug your car in at night to keep the oil warm, right. That caught his wife in mid slurp. She nearly choked on her soup.

259 miles
Baudette MN11 MN313 MB12 MB308 MB525 Angle Inlet
MB525 MB308 MB12 MB/MN310 MN11 ND66 I29 ND17 Grafton
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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