Given our last experience crossing into Canada, Georges and I weren’t sure we wanted to venture across the border again.
But one of the goals of our Year on the Edges of America adventure is to visit the furthest north, south, east and west points of the continental U.S. We’ve already tagged the southernmost and easternmost points, are within spitting distance of the northernmost point now, and we have a plan for bagging the westernmost point next month.
(Brownie points for any readers who can name each of the four points without resorting to Wikipedia – or reading further into this blog post.)
There are only two ways to reach the northernmost point of the U.S. in the summer. One involves paying something like $500 to charter a boat for the 40-mile trek across the Lake of the Woods to the marker in tiny Angle Inlet, Minnesota. The other is to cross into Canada just west of Lake of the Woods, drive 60 miles in Manitoba, and then circle around to the tip of the Minnesota toothpick that is Angle Inlet.
(If it were winter, it would actually be easier. We could just drive across the frozen-over Lake of the Woods directly to the marker in Angle Inlet – without having to enter Canada. But our perimeter trip doesn’t bring us to northern Minnesota in the winter – thank goodness – so we have to choose between a $500-plus boat ride or risking Another Border Crossing.)
Are you sure it’s worth the effort, G, ever the pragmatist, asks.
No, I say, I’m not. But we’ve already hit two of the other geographic markers and we’ve a plan for the fourth. It would be a shame to let some power-tripping, anti-Texan cranky Canadian border agent with an attitude dictate the parameters of our adventure of a lifetime.
Angle Inlet is the only part of the United States, besides Alaska, that is north of the 49th parallel. It doesn’t look like it should be in the U.S. as it is surrounded on all but its southern side by Manitoba.
This weird and completely illogical finger-shaped protrusion of a boundary is the result of two cartographical errors dating to the 1783 Treaty of Paris, according to the excellent book, How the States Got Their Names by Mark Stein. The first treaty misplaced the origin of the Mississippi River; a later treaty designed to correct this error based the U.S.-Canadian boundary on erroneous assumptions at the time of the position of Lake of the Woods relative to the 49th parallel.
The 49th parallel north is a circle of latitude that is fully 49 degrees north of Earth’s equator. It crosses Europe, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean. Less than one-eight of the Earth’s surface is north of this parallel.
No wonder Angle Inlet was calling our name.
At first, we leaned toward springing for the boat trip, so terrified of another border crossing were we.
It wasn’t so much the impoundment of our car last month and the $500 fee for its retrieval that haunted us. It was the injustice of it, that the accidental oversight of a $10 canister of pepper spray would be viewed as an international weapons offense and trigger the application of a sledgehammer penalty normally reserved for bonafide evil-doing criminals.
Criminals we are not. Being mistaken for them (e.g. treated like them) rattled our sensibilities.
What if we tried to cross the border again and somehow G’s cooking knives (essential tools for his life of joy) or my Swiss Army Knife (a gift from an earlier employer for 20 years of service) were interpreted by some anti-Trump border agent as weapons of mass destruction?
We haven’t been able to find for months now G’s second pair of glasses or the jumper cables we know we packed. (A favorite chips clip is also mysteriously misplaced.) What if the next Canadian border agent, searching the car even more thoroughly than my OCD husband already has, were to find them and ascribe some nefarious purpose to their existence.
What’s the penalty for a second border offense?
What if they don’t take credit cards?
What if we’re hauled off to prison?
(In calmer moments, I recognize the exaggerated lunacy of the above catastrophizing. But recognizing it and expelling it are two very different things.)
Does it matter that our appeal of the July action is still under review by the Canadian Border Services Agency?
We looked into chartering a boat. It would be complicated. Plain old tourism isn’t big in this part of Minnesota. Everything is about fishing – from boats in the summer, from ice shacks in the winter. The idea of chartering a boat just to cross the lake – no fishing involved – seemed to raise eyebrows.
Plus, it would take all day to go out and back. Equal odds that it would be a lengthy, expensive and great experience or a lengthy, expensive and lousy experience.
We reconsidered the driving-through-Canada option.
The petite young woman at the Marvin Windows and Doors Visitor’s Center in Warroad, Minnesota, just six miles from the Canadian border, assured us we could detach the Casita and leave it in the parking lot for the day. That way, we figured, we could leave on the U.S. side anything that might arouse Canadian suspicions and enter the foreign country with just our Nissan Xterra and the clothes on our backs.
We’d already decided we’d only go for the day, figuring that the incentive for nailing unsuspecting visitors might be less when said visitors plan to be in the country for hours rather than weeks.
Of course, said the woman at the visitor’s center when we asked permission to leave our precious Casita in the parking lot. Just park toward the back of the lot and be sure you get back before the sun goes down.
So detach we did. And stuff we transferred.
We probably over-prepped. We took the box with all of our campsite cooking equipment (including knives) out of the car and left it in the Casita. Ditto re hiking equipment, including my prized Swiss Army Knife. I even took the footlocker-sized first-aid kit we’ve been hauling around for thousands of miles and never opened out of the car and left it in the Casita.
It seemed illogical to leave the first-aid kit behind. What if we had an accident during our few hours in Canada and had no emergency bandages or medicine? Kind of defeats the purpose of having a first-aid kit in the first place.
But we have just-in-case antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, anti-viral drugs, etc., in the box and I’m not sure where the actual written prescriptions are …. We’ve already been mistaken for weapons dealers, we sure don’t want to be mistaken for drug dealers.
Finally, having rid ourselves of anything that could possibly be misinterpreted as contraband, we headed for the border. It was 9:56 a.m.
Agent Downing at the Manitoba crossing six miles north of Warroad was a big burley guy with dark hair.
Where are you from?
Where are you going?
What’s the purpose of your visit?
To take a photo at the northernmost point of the United States.
Any alcohol or drugs?
Any fruits or vegetables?
No, but we were cited and fined last month for failing to declare a canister of pepper spray we didn’t know we had.
Just a minute, please.
Agent Downing disappeared into the kiosk behind him. We waited nervously in the car. Two or three minutes later he returned.
Thanks for disclosing. I don’t have any concerns. Please proceed.
I could hardly catch my breath.
It was 10:09 a.m.
Did I detect a hint of a smile on Agent Downing’s face, sympathy perhaps for our having been so harshly treated last month by his colleagues three provinces over in New Brunswick?
Whatever. The yellow and purple wildflowers lining both sides of the narrow paved roadway suddenly seem particularly lovely. We spot a gorgeous large tan-and-white speckled hawk sitting a big roll of hay in the field just off the roadway – probably observing us to make sure we mind our Ps and Qs on this side of the border.
The last 20 miles are on a well graded, dusty dirt road. One of the passersby on this section is the first motorist in hundreds of miles to wave in greeting.
Must have been a Canadian with Texan instincts.
The trees are already beginning to turn yellow and red here and it’s only August. Fall colors won’t show themselves in most parts of Texas or Arizona for another two months….
We re-enter the United States at Northwest Angle, Minnesota at 11:02 a.m. There are several signs informing us that we must check in with U.S. border patrol via the video phone at Jim’s Corner in eight miles.
The gravel road at this point is great. We’re doing 50 miles an hour easily. New Jersey’s paved roads aren’t this good.
We phone in at Jim’s Corner at 11:20 a.m. The U.S. border agent on the line asks our names, birthdates, license plate number, purpose of travel, etc. and then clears us to proceed.
We arrive at the much-sought marker at 11:30 a.m.
There are three other people at the marker. Turns out that Mark, Mike and Sally are from outside of Chicago and members of the self-created Four Corners Club. They’re wearing matching navy T-shirts with the club emblem.
They did Key West and Cape Alava in 2013 and West Quoddy Head just last year. They’re impressed that we’re doing all four corners in one year.
We snap pictures of each other and trade contact info. Perhaps we’ll ask to purchase matching shirts. Better yet, G suggests later, let’s devise our own Perimeter shirts and add a Four Corners component….
Turns out there’s not much to Angle Inlet, unless you’re into fishing. There’s Young’s Bay Resort, on whose property the marker rests.
A few blocks away, there’s a one-room school, a church and a large vegetable garden with Lake of the Woods visible in the distance behind it.
We stroll over to Jerry’s Bar and Restaurant – “the most northerly bar in the Lower 48” – for a beer to celebrate our success and perseverance against all odds.
We chat it up with Linda, the attractive, blonde-with-the-updo waitress and bartender. She just retired here in January with her husband (who was already spending much of the year here) from north of Minneapolis. They live on an island; she boats in six miles each day to work. He grades the road into Angle Inlet. She’ll retire completely next year.
We wound up ordering another beer – and BBQ wings and fried Mac-cheese bites. The food is great; the kitchen immaculate. Linda is warm, gracious, funny, efficient, a good story teller.
The other day a guy came in and told me I looked 39. I told him if you’d said I looked 49, I’d have said Bless You. But because you said 39 I know you’re blowing smoke up where it doesn’t belong….
Linda loves living here. The quiet. The peace. The sense of community among people living on the edge of the earth, helping one another, loaning tools, sharing burdens. We talk about the spirituality that comes with opportunities to Pay It Forward.
And we order a slice of her homemade rhubarb pie. Then we took another slice for the road.
G is in a celebratory frame of mind when we leave Jerry’s a little after 1 p.m. I still have a nervous stomach. After all, we have to re-enter Canada and then re-enter the U.S. in order to return to our Casita in the visitor’s center parking lot in Warroad.
There’s still plenty of time for something to go wrong.
We return to Jim’s Corner and this time use the phone to call Canadian Border Security (instead of the U.S. border patrol) to request permission to re-enter Canada to re-enter the U.S.
The woman on the other end of the line asks me the same questions Agent Downing did in the morning. When she gets to the weapons query, I repeat the disclosure of the Unfortunate Incident last month in New Brunswick.
She puts me on hold for a couple of minutes. My stomach turns over.
Then she returns and asks me to write down a particular 11-digit number, which I do.
What’s that for, I ask.
It’s the number that proves that you’ve cleared customs. Keep it with you at all times. You’re good to go.
We are good to go!
An hour or so later, we pull into the U.S. border crossing just outside of Warroad. The border agent there smiles when we disclose, in answer to his question, that the purpose of our trip was a photo at the marker. He waves us through.
We’re back to the visitor’s center by 3 p.m., re-hitched and on the road headed west shortly thereafter – feeling positively giddy about our success….
…But we still don’t know what we’ll do next time. We’ve never seen Banff or Jasper national parks and our original Perimeter plan has us re-entering Canada, after visiting a cousin in northern Idaho, to experience the Canadian Rockies.
That would require us to cross the border with the intent to stay a week. And we’d be towing the Casita, so we’d be without a convenient place to stash our threats-to-public-safety cooking knives and first-aid kit.
Would we be pressing our luck trying to enter Canada a third time? I can’t help worrying that there’s a Canadian border agent out there already salivating in anticipation….