Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Into Seattle

October 23rd, 2011

P1060946

It was late. Gone ten pm by the time I’d cleared US Customs at the ferry terminal in Seattle. My luggage – four panniers, one large dry bag stuffed with bottles and the handlebar bag, one tent and my trusty steed – retrieved and my bicycle laden for the short journey – a few miles – to meet up with an old school friend.

I’d taken the fast catamaran from Victoria, on Canada’s Vancouver Island, directly into Seattle, Washington State. A little shy of three hours. Turning up ridiculously early for check-in had paid dividends. In spades. Arriving prepared to lash panniers together to minimise excess baggage charges, only to find my early arrival being rewarded with some sensible discretion. My luggage treated as equivalent to the normal inclusive allowance of two larger items.

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Roadhouse breakfast

October 5th, 2011

33MileRoadhouse

There are several reasons to stop at the Thirty Three Mile Roadhouse, a short distance along the Haines Road over the US border in Alaska. Their magnifient breakfasts are one. The other is Gabriela. Warm smile. Greeted me enthusiastically as I wandered into the small cafe.

Gabriela

An elderly chap sat in the corner. Baseball cap, tinted glasses. Couple of bikers, in their sixties, their heavy leathers showing little signs of wear. I took a window seat, contemplating the menu and sipping the hot coffee I’d been given. Which, I enquired, was the largest option? Explaining I’d not had an evening meal the previous day, and had already covered thirty or so miles by nine. I was hungry.

Order placed, I contemplated the road ahead. Thirty three miles to Haines. But then, I discovered from a road sign a little way back, a further five to the ferry port. Thirty eight. Average ten miles an hour if no headwind. Should be fairly flat. Call it four hours. Check in by two. Just after nine now. Needed to be back on the road before ten. Then focused riding.

33MileRoadhouse (2)

Breakfast arrived. Hot cakes, bacon, mini-burgers, eggs, toast, hash browns. More coffee. And, yes, Gabriela explained, she could fill my flask for later. Did I want more to eat? I hesitated briefly. Extra toast would be good. Once underway they’d be no time for stopping if I was to make the sailing.

The day had at least started better than the previous had ended. Still a bit mystified as to who the men in the pick-ups were that had come close to stumbling on my camp. They’d not returned, or at least if they had, I’d not heard them. An innocent episode, or, so close to the border, a small fragment in a wider intelligence jigsaw? But I’d not been able to get the plates, even less a description of the individuals.

ThreeGuardsman

I’d risen at dawn, struck camp and headed for the border. Soon rising out of the thick mist. Discovering I’d spent the night a little short of a decent sized lake beneath the Three Guardsmen mastiff. A few brief climbs but mostly long, sweeping downhills. Soon back below the treeline.

Reassured by Canadian Customs that there was no requirement for an exit stamp in my passport, a further quarter of a mile to the US border post. Greeted by a friendly guard. Purpose of my visit he asked? Sat astride my trusty steed, I explained I was cycling around the world, North America my fourth continent. Cursory check of my documents and I was on my way. Time to find breakfast.

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Officer 21113

September 29th, 2011

US Customs and Border Protection Officers had names. Canadian ones had numbers. Mine was Officer 21113. Blonde. Mike and I had joined in the small line of cars waiting to be admitted into the country. I’d have said crossed into, but we’d already ridden twenty five miles through Canada to reach the Customs post at Beaver Creek.

I’d been a bit nervous leaving Alaska. No checkpoint on the outbound side of the US Customs post. Fearful I’d need show some sort of exit stamp to the Canadians, I’d pulled over to the inbound side to ask if I’d need something put into my passport. No, I was assured, this wasn’t necessary. Carry on to Canada.

Officer 21113 referred to it as an interview. I thought it more a chat, describing my intended route through the Yukon and British Columbia. Just one pertinent question. Why did I have a US visa? She seemed reassured when I explained it was simply because I needed more than the three months the normal waiver would allow me. Stamp in passport. Six months entry.

Canada - Immigration - entry stamp - Beaver Creek - 19 Aug 11

I’d half expected to be asked how I’d support myself, what ties I had to the UK, that sort of thing. But no. Rather, it was Mike who got asked the more searching questions. But then he did have a beard.

[Please note that the Canadian Customs and Border Protection Officer’s number has been ever so slightly changed to protect her identity.. And Mike’s beard does look terribly respectable. For UK nationals note that the six months I’ve been granted by the US and Canada runs from the day of entry, irrespective of the number of times I cross their mutual borders]

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A dog called Jasper

June 29th, 2011

His name was Jasper. I knew because I’d asked his handler. The pair had approached each and every passenger. Waiting by the baggage carousel. The dog seemed disinterested. I was pleased.

With Emma, my trusty steed, safely parked up in Sydney, I’d decided to spend a few weeks in New Zealand. Visiting friends. Exploring. Alas, too expensive to bring the bike over. Flying into the Capital, Wellington. Southern tip of the North Island. The other one’s South Island.

Visa

Immigration. Six month visa. Of sorts. Just a quick stamp in the passport. Customs. Biosecurity. Terribly friendly. Terribly. I’d ticked a few boxes on my Declaration Card. In some countries that’d get you a full body cavity search. No lubricant. Here the worst you’d probably get is a soggy biscuit with your cup of tea. And they’d be very apologetic about it.

Struggled to find the very items I’d declared. Becoming increasingly concerned I’d forgotten to pack them. Medication mostly. Said so to the inspecting officer. We chatted for a while whilst I rummaged around in my bag. Weather mostly. Already knew I was going to like it here.

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Quarantine

January 19th, 2011

Immigration. Passport control. Customs. Familiar terms for international travellers. In Australia add another. Quarantine. They’ve very protective of their unique eco-system. Keen to keep the likes of Foot and Mouth out. Or other bugs and nasties that could reek havoc with their agriculture. So, some pretty tough restrictions on what you can bring into the country. Intentionally or otherwise. And they enforce it. Strictly.

Seizure - web

Early morning at Sydney airport’s international arrivals. A long queue at Quarantine. And growing. But Emma, my trusty steed, and I weren’t in it. We were just contributing to it. There’d been hints from the plane’s Captain. Declare everything. Searches are thorough. Penalties for attempted evasion serious.

And I’d declared just about everything I could think of. First aid kit. Prescription medications. Dried milk powder. Emergency rations. True value of my kit. And Emma herself. Australia fearful of contaminated soil, mud or dirt inadvertently introducing spores or such like into the environment.

Inspecting officer Laura was very friendly, helpful. And very thorough. Professional. Tyres and boots inspected. Bags x-rayed. She explained that the milk powder could act as a carrier for Foot and Mouth so she’d have to seize it. Together with my emergency freeze-dried stew. No dried meat products permitted.

I’d forgotten to mention the tent. Not used for a while, cleaned and dried since its last outing. She’d spotted it on the scanner. I was a bit embarrassed and said so. An honest mistake. Been up for over twenty four hours. Hoped that as I’d been so massively up-front with everything else, she’d realise this was genuinely the case. Tent pegs quickly inspected for soil contamination. Clean. Checks complete. No stamp. Just a certificate. Notice of Seizure of Goods. For the items confiscated.

[Author’s note: If you’re entering Australia with a bicycle, or other outdoors equipment like a tent, make sure it is clean – no mud or soil. And declare absolutely everything on the card given to you before you land. Checks are very thorough. Did I mention the sniffer dogs that patrol? Well, they do. With handlers rather than in pairs]

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Over the border

August 3rd, 2010

China. I’d emerged from the ordered confines of Customs and Immigration, through a small gate and into the waiting crowd, surrounded by money-changers, unperturbed by the guards just feet away. Pushing the hawkers forcibly aside, I headed down the wide boulevard towards what I imagined to be the centre of Khorgas.

I’d returned to the Granitsa, the fortified zone that ran along the border, a few hours earlier. Permitted to enter and ride the five or so kilometres that led to the crossing proper. Finally. Then Passport Control. Brief check that I’d a valid Chinese visa, then a stamp and the nod to proceed. Ahead the road through no-man’s land, a half open gate now the only bar towards China. A few mini-buses waiting, their drivers sat around whilst their passengers had their papers checked.

Thought I’d see if I could ride across, but was quickly turned back by a Kazakh guard, gesticulating towards the mini-buses. I’d suspected as much, but it’d been worth a try. Hardly a commotion, but enough to draw the attention of the drivers, one of whom indicated he’d take Emma and I across once his passengers re-appeared.

The otherwise short journey, a few hundred metres at most, was punctuated by several stops, sometimes the driver disappearing with a sheaf of papers, returning a short while later, other times a Chinese guard peering through the bus’s half drawn curtains, a quick head count. And then, finally, the large, imposing Customs and Immigration building.

Inside, forms to be filled in, fortuitously written in both English and Simplified Chinese. Passport Control. And then the searches. Thorough, the contents of my cameras inspected, the netbook checked for illicit material. But polite and professional. Just one pannier spared, the best my hindering helpfulness could muster. And lots of questions. Had I been to China before? Did I miss my family? Why did I want to visit?

And then the final hurdle, the exit door tantalizingly close. A metal detector, beeping as it sensed the cleats in my boots. Checked with a hand held scanner by a young woman, I apologised profusely, my shirt having not been washed for more days than I’d want to admit. "Welcome to China" she said, smiling.

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