We drove into the USA under a periwinkle-blue sky and in sunshine, listening to Deva Permal, trying to summon some inner zen. We were both a little anxious, worrying about all the little things we thought might be issues: the dog food (we’d heard stories about people having to throw their dog food out before being allowed into the States), proof of rabies shots, my parents’ ashes, etc. There were three possible border crossings we could go to and, on our last Canadian night, the talkative owner of the Ocean View Campground in NB recommended the small crossing all the locals use. It had only two booths and a short line-up of waiting cars when we got there but we were up in less than ten minutes. Five minutes later we were in Maine.
The guy in the booth, the most jovial customs official we’ve ever encountered in all our years of border crossings, asked us three questions: how long will we be in the USA, how long have we been planning our trip, and do we have any fruit or vegetables on board. The fruit and vegetables question threw us a bit – we weren’t expecting it. I ran a quick mental inventory of our fridge drawers: a couple of so-so apples, a rubbery carrot and a few stalks of wilting celery, a half pack of romaine hearts, and half a bag of mushrooms. I also had a couple of potatoes and onions, a knob of ginger root, two heads of garlic, and two tomatoes. Should I be telling the guy about ALL of that? Uh, I’ve got a couple of apples? He waved us through. Just like that. Enjoy your stay. No questions about what kind of dog food we had, nothing about whether the dogs have had their rabies shots. I was armed with Melo and Pix’s certificates of health and ready to prove how all our dog food was fully compliant and it all came to nothing. Five minutes. Enjoy your stay.
And, as soon as we crossed the border, we gained an hour. Eastern time, eleven on a Friday morning, the sun was still shining, and we felt light as air. We stopped at McDonald’s for coffee and headed to Bangor to see about setting up a US data plan. A bit of a surprise, I thought Canada was supposed to have the most expensive cell phone rates in the world but it really isn’t much better for us here. Because we don’t have a US address or SSN, we could only get a prepaid plan. We had to go with AT & T, Verizon’s prepaid plans don’t allow tethering. $50 for 5GB of data. In Canada, we were paying $100 for 15GB. But so it goes, we rely on data for researching campgrounds, sanidumps, and other essentials.
The next surprise was our re-introduction to grocery shopping, American style. I was hoping to find a Trader Joe’s – I LOVE Trader Joe’s – but Bangor doesn’t have one. So, since we were parked near a Walmart, we went there. I remember reading an article on how stressful having too many choices can be. Choosing between two or three brands of peanut butter, for example, is much easier than picking one of a possible ten. How do you know you’re making the right choice? If you’re a label-reader, like I am, too many options can be exhausting and time consuming too. I only needed a few things but the sheer volume of foodstuffs on display made my head spin. It was overwhelming to have so much choice and so many brands I’d never even heard of!
In Canada, we too, of course, have supermarkets with truckloads of product on the shelves. Superstore, for one. Go in there and you’ll come out two hours later, worn out, a buggy full of things you didn’t plan on getting but couldn’t resist, wondering where the time went. Yet even so, it seemed that at the Bangor Walmart, there was three times as much. I looked around me and wondered if any of the other people shopping realized how spoiled we North Americans are by our access to so much of everything. In the end, Roland and I picked up the few essentials we’d come in there for and left. It was getting late and we needed to find a place to stay.
We drove about an hour to an RV park still open, Christies Campground, where we paid $27 for a water and electric site on the shore of a small lake ringed by trees. No neighbours. Yes, there were other RVs around, but they were seasonals sitting empty. It’s going to be a nippy one tonight, the owner told me as he checked me in. Outside, the temperature was 6C (42F) and dropping. We didn’t know where we’d be going in the morning or even in which direction really. But at least we had a data plan, a fridge full of food, and we were ready for the next leg of the journey.
Old Man Winter & Autumn Glory
During the night at Christies Campground, while we slept, the icy fingers of Old Man Winter grazed the brass water pressure regulator on our water hose and it froze. In the morning, when we turned on the taps, no water came out. Roland had to disconnect the regulator and bring it inside to thaw it out before we could wash up or make tea. It happened again our second night in Maine too. We were at Stony Brook Campground, near Newry, and it was cold there as well. A frost on the ground, steam at your breath, glove and hat weather cold. Not so much in the daytime – we hiked in the afternoon in just long-sleeved T’s – but the temperatures dipped down as soon as the sun was gone.
On the plus side, the cold brought out the spectacular colours of fall full force. Like New Brunswick on the Canadian side last week, New England is an autumn fairyland. Our hike, along the Grafton Loop at Grafton State Park, was through deciduous forest where I felt like we were hiking in a golden bubble. The ground was already thickly carpeted with fallen leaves and the canopy above us filtered the sunlight and glowed like stained glass. Silent and beautiful and magical. This is what we came to east coast to see, Roland keeps saying. The colours of autumn.
Now we’re already in Vermont and, suddenly and oddly, it’s warm. I’m writing this after eight in the evening and it’s still 16C (60 F) outside. Maybe we left the cold behind in Maine. We left there in the morning and drove through the northern part of New Hampshire, and then into Vermont. We slid from one state to the next – it’s incredible to me that a few hours of driving will take you through three states – along a highway bordered by a flamboyant display of colour. We’re at Onion River Campground, a private campground not listed on Allstays or on the GPS that just happened to show up at the side of the road precisely when we needed it to.
A colourful hand-painted sign caught our attention. The place is a bit ramshackle, some of the buildings have a very “relaxed” look, and it looks like it’s maintained with a somewhat casual hand. I can imagine that people who like everything neat and manicured wouldn’t like it, but we love it. $22, cash, for a water and electric site. There’s a handful of other campers and we’re spread out in a grassy area along the river, running to the left of us. To the right, shaggy hills lead up to a small orchard and a couple of meadows bordered by woodland. The vibe is laid-back and unpretentious.
There was no one in the office when we got here, only a note on the table: we’re not here right now so go ahead and find a site you like and we’ll catch up with you when we get back. We headed toward the campground and met Laslo, the bearded longish-haired caretaker who, judging by his greying hair and demeanour, possibly spent some time with the Deadheads in the Jerry Garcia days. He was genuinely friendly and seemed happy we were staying.When Roland asked if it was ok for the dogs to run around a bit Laslo just waved his hand over the landscape expansively and said oh sure, they can go anywhere they want to.
We took him up on that and headed up the hill to the meadows, Melo and Pix racing and laughing ahead of us. At the top, a tiny house stands half-nestled into the trees, a small car parked alongside. I want to live here I said to Roland.
So, so far, it’s been a great three days. I forgot how much I like being in the USA. How easy it is, generally, to talk to people here. Or, maybe, how hard it is not to get drawn into conversations. Last night, at Stony Creek Campground, another couple was just pulling their trailer into a site a few over from ours. I walked past, on my way to the showers, just as they were beginning the game we ourselves play and see played out over and over again by others: he trying to get the rig level and she, outside, directing. She saw me and waved to me like I was her lost sister. Huge smile on her face, huge wave. I smiled back but, I confess, I was taken aback a bit. I glanced at the license plate, thinking they might be from Canada too and the greeting was maybe an expression of national kinship but no, the plate said Maine. She just was that friendly.
At a picnic park in Gorham, New Hampshire, we met a couple of fellows who were out walking their two dogs. One of their dogs was a rattie, like ours, and not two minutes after we got there, we were all happily comparing dog stories and life stories, talking like we’d known each other for ages. I actually felt sad to say goodbye; I would have liked to know them longer.
Am I implying that Canadians aren’t friendly? No, I’m not. Because we generally are. But we are, perhaps, a little more reserved with that friendliness. It takes a little longer for us to let it flow out. For us to jump into conversation. It could be there just are more people here so you might as well be friendly. Or maybe it’s just small town hospitality. In the cities it might be different. Whatever the reason, I feel myself relaxing and practising my Howdy’s and Hey There’s. And I’m looking forward to the next several months.
And more about our transition into the USA in Roland’s post: