Venturing across the U.S. border was something I had only done twice for day trips into Victoria, BC and Boquillas, Mexico, and John hadn’t done much more. So the prospect of crossing with our travel trailer on our way up to Alaska was a little bit daunting. Okay, I was pretty nervous about it. I had tried to research the regulations on what was allowed across both the Canada and US borders but instead got sucked into the vortex of reading other people’s experiences on the internet (perhaps similar to what you are doing now) and heard that they change day to day and are not uniformly enforced from officer to officer. I’d read the whole gammot of experiences – from people who got through with barely a glance at their passports to those who had every drawer and cabinet torn apart in am hour-long random inspection. One person supposedly almost got fined $100 because they forgot about a single apple in the back of their fridge, while many seem to just get asked a varying number of questions about their itineraries or possible weapons and sent on their way.
One of our biggest concerns was not having to throw away a bunch of food – or worse, wine from our favorite cross-country wineries – so we tried to consume as much of what might even conceivably be prohibited as possible beforehand, figuring we’d buy just a couple of weeks’ supplies once we crossed into Canada and again when we crossed into Alaska. In a way, this was almost kind of fun. Every day felt like a special occasion it seemed as we were indulging in all of our favorite consumables – as if we weren’t consuming enough deliciousness in the Pacific Northwest already.
We were also – perhaps more – concerned with the fact that our slide had just broken for the third time in five months. While we had been able to find a Camping World to miraculously get us in before Memorial Day weekend and were prepared with a new slide cable for them to install, we were told that our problems were much worse than replacing a cable, and that getting it addressed at the time would basically delay our trip at least a month or more likely force us to just give up and go back home since we had nowhere else to really stay while it would be in the shop for weeks. We just weren’t willing to sacrifice this rare opportunity we were not sure we’d get back anytime soon and were willing to live in cramped quarters if need be to do so. We were able to get it in by John pushing on it the last time, and were told by the service manager that that should work again if need be, but you never know. So, yeah, a little nerve wracking knowing we could be asked to open our slide without knowing how easily it would go out or in.
Our First Crossing
The morning we were slated to cross at the Peace Arch border crossing, some questions still lingered…”will they search our RV?”, “are they going to stare daggers at us if we get stuck in the holding bay struggling to get the slide in?”, “will it take me 2 days to put the camper back together if they search us?”, “will they take our Mini Wheats because I took them out of the box?”. So maybe the last two would have been minimal sacrifices to go on an Alaskan trip of a lifetime, but my mind tends to worry about everything.
Crossing on a Sunday morning, the line was less than ten minutes long at Peace Arch. Our RV GPS tried to take us to the commercial truck gate but we trusted our gut and followed signs to the car crossing. Once we reached the terminal, we handed the agent our passports, John’s driver’s license (which we apparently didn’t need), and I had our truck and camper registrations, insurance card, and even a list of all of our food ready just in case, but we were never asked for any of them.
The agent ran our IDs, got out to look at the truck tag since Pennsylvania doesn’t have front plates, and asked us questions for probably about three minutes. As follows was what she asked:
“Where are you headed?”
“For how long?”
“Are you moving to Alaska or just visiting?”
“Have you ever been to Canada? How many times? Where? When? Why?”
“Do you have any weapons on board?”
“Are you aware of our firearms laws?”
And then…“Okay, you’re free to go.”
We tried to answer as directly as possible, but I’ll admit I probably talked more than I needed to. There’s just something about when I’m a little nervous and the other person is stone faced that makes me just want to be cheerful and friendly.
Welcome to the Great White North!
We were relieved and excited to officially be on our way to Alaska! Now we had to adjust our mindset that though Canada does not feel extremely different than the US, we were not in our home country.
Luckily, our odometer had a kilometer setting and we were able to change the measurement on our GPS as well. Google maps updated the units automatically. The road signage looked pretty similar to those in the US save for them being hung on what look almost like planter hooks and including translations of place names in the local Squamish language.
The drive up 99 towards Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway was absolutely stunning as we skirted Vancouver – with no traffic – and climbed to views of the Strait of Georgia, Vancouver Island, and alpine scenery. It made us almost wish we had sprung for the ferry across to Vancouver Island, but we knew we’d be coming across more fantastic scenery than we knew how to process anyway.
The first gas we saw was about $1.20/liter, which, if we did our math correctly, was equivalent to around $3.36/gallon US dollars (the Canadian dollar was equivalent to approximately 74 cents in USD at the time). Definitely higher than the current prices in the US (we had paid between $1.90 and $3 in the past few months, the highest being in Washington state), but not too bad so far compared to what we had heard of others paying in the past!
We stopped at a Walmart in Squamish – abandoning our original plan to visit one of the Costco’s in the Vancouver area – and not too smartly so. We figured we didn’t want to buy too many things in bulk since we had heard that the US was stricter on agricultural items than Canada, even though we weren’t sure how strict it would be up in Alaska. However, we didn’t bother to check if the Walmart was a Super Walmart with groceries, taking for granted the fact that every Walmart in the lower 48 save for the ones at home in New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania had been so. We didn’t recognize many of the brand names except for Walmart’s store brand but did our best to pick out some frozen burgers, Toronto Blue Jays themed buns, and Clif bars – this is all we could really pick out from their selection that we needed.
Our last adjustment was paying for our campsite. I had found Cal-Cheak Recreation site on sitesandtrailsbc.ca, which was a great deal at $13/night in Canadian dollars and we were able to snag a dry site right against a river rapid. (Note, this park was pretty tight to navigate with all of the trees, but we made do in our 28 foot travel trailer with a few corrections getting into site number 4.) The only difficulty we had was that when we picked up some Canadian cash in Washington, they were out of singles, so we had to overpay a little bit. They accepted checks, but we were unsure about whether we should pay in US or Canadian dollars, and had forgotten to ask if there would be any kind of surcharge from our bank so we didn’t want to chance it.
All in all, our first border crossing went pretty smoothly all things considered, even if we had to get a little creative with our meal planning for the following few days as we checked out the Whistler area.
Stay tuned for lots more on our summer 2017 adventures!