Crossing The Border (Yikes!)

Almost all travellers who have crossed international borders have stories to tell.  As Forest Gump might put it: “Crossing the border is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get!”  Well, yesterday Betty & I got an unusual surprise, which I hope never to repeat…

My preface to that story is that a motorhome is not a car, and it is not a commercial truck. That may seem obvious, but as a driver I am regularly challenged to make a split-second decision as to whether I want to act like a car, or act like a truck, while driving our continent’s highways and byways.

Permit me to provide a few examples: When approaching a highway rest area, a sign will direct car traffic in one direction, and truck traffic to a different parking area. If we were to follow the cars, our motorhome would not fit the parking spaces. So we go with the trucks unless, as mentioned in an earlier post, we are on the Ohio Turnpike and can go to dedicated RV parking. Yippee!

A very special Ohio Turnpike RV parking space, complete with electrical hook-up..

When we fill up with gas, we prefer to go to Flying J truck stops that have dedicated RV pumps, because we are too big to manoeuvre around many car pumps, and do not use the diesel at the truck pumps.

Resting at a Flying J truck stop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on our way to Florida in December, 2018.

Yesterday we entered a toll road where the “cash only” lane was too narrow for us, and the “EZ Pass” lane was listed for oversized vehicles. We only had cash, but chose the oversized lane behind some 18 wheelers.  When I pushed the elevated ticket button, the ticket came out of a car slot which was 4’ lower. Despite calling for “go-go-gadget arms” there was no way to reach that ticket, so Betty had to get out, retrieve it, and return to her seat before the barrier went back down again.

A little car follows our motorhome wherever it goes.

Well, there are many more examples I could provide, but I’m sure you’re waiting with baited breath to hear about our border crossing adventure. In context, you must understand that the road through Windsor, Ontario leading over the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit, Michigan, is under construction. In fact, the bridge itself is on life-support, and we believe our gps was constantly trying to get us to go hundreds of miles north to the Blue Water Bridge between Sarnia and Port Huron in order to save our lives. In retrospect, maybe she (Samantha is our gps) knew something we didn’t!

Trucks were instructed to use the outside lanes prior to the bridge, but then switch to the inside lanes at bridge approach. We shifted from the curb lane, through the truck traffic, to the car lanes, only to find those lanes merged again with the trucks a few hundred feet (metres?) up the bridge approach. Most of the bridge was single lane, with trucks and cars combined. Beyond the crest – as we approached U.S. Customs – commercial truck traffic was diverted to the far right, with car traffic to the majority of kiosks on the left. Car traffic was fairly light at that point, with cars lined up at 3-4 of the check-points. But one of the OPEN check-points toward the right had no cars waiting, so that’s where we went. BIG MISTAKE!

If you enlarge this pic, you can see a small “auto only” sign under some of the large, lighted OPEN signs at U.S. Customs in Detroit, Michigan. It is easy enough to read while stopped, but not so much when you’re coming off a bridge and  negotiating merging traffic in a motorhome..

As I began to pull up to the first set of bollards I was able to read a small sign (under the huge lighted green OPEN sign) that read “auto only”. Well, at that point I was too close to the bollards to turn, and cannot back up with the Smart 4 wheels down on behind. The border officer left his post to frantically tell me to move my vehicle away from his lane, but that was easier said than done. I began to disconnect the car and Betty & Charlie came out to go in the car, as is our practice when we disconnect. But the flustered border officer insisted they go back in the motorhome, until he realized that I wasn’t going to be able to drive the car and the motorhome at the same time!

Betty was allowed to leave the motorhome, but the dog had to stay with me for some reason. She quickly grabbed her passport and drove through the checkpoint after I backed up and moved to the only line – on the far left – that had a small RV sign below the auto lane sign. Of course, because the Smart was the first car through after that lane re-opened, Betty was way ahead of me.  I had six cars slowly making their way through Customs in front of me, so called her to see where we could meet up on the other side. To my surprise, her phone rang on the dash beside me. Oops!

When I finally reached the Customs officer, he asked me all the routine questions. But where do I go with the answers? “Are you and the dog travelling alone?” No. “Where is your wife?” I don’t know…  It just went from bad to worse, with him arguing that I should have backed the motorhome up with the car on the back, even though I did that once in Austin, Texas, resulting in serious damage to the Smart’s steering column. By the end of our conversation, he was leaned back in his chair, telling me all the spots in Wyoming and Utah we needed to visit. I was just anxious to get out of there are get back on the road again.

Well, to make a potentially longer story short, I found Betty and the Smart on the side of the road, beyond the toll booth, and we were able to hook up (literally. Lol) and continue our trip to Elkhart, Indiana.  Just another day in the adventurous life of the Ramblin’ Reddochs.


Graham adds Michigan to our sticker map, with a not- soon-forgotten entry! Michigan seems like a dream to him now…

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