July 4, 2017
There have been several bumps in the road during my journey, but the last 8 hours have been the most stressful hours I have experienced since I set out. Here’s the story:
Yesterday (July 3), I woke up in Port Stanley, ON. My new friends there had convinced me to stay through the weekend and Jason offered to drive me to the Detroit-Windsor border yesterday so that I could make it to Ann Arbor by the 4th of July. The plan was solid, except that I wasn’t too sure how I was going to cross the bridge to get to Detroit on my bike. I had heard that it was impassible by bicycle and so I called the Port Authority yesterday morning to inquire; they said they couldn’t help and that I’d have to disassemble my bike, put it in a bag, and take a bus.
Jason dropped me off as close as he could to the border without crossing over the bridge and risking dealing with customs (for personal reasons). He left me at a McDonald’s and we parted ways around 9 pm. Here was my situation: I had checked out the bridge and it was absolutely impassable by bicycle, there were huge semis going on it every second at 60 MPH and no lane for pedestrians or bicycles. The bridge once had a pedestrian/cyclist path but it was removed years ago. It is also the busiest truck route between the U.S. and Canada. I was told that I could take a tunnel bus between downtown Windsor (in Canada) and Detroit. However, it turned out that in order to bring the bike on the bus I had to disassemble it and put it in a bike bag and they were very strict about this. I also found out that there was a Greyhound bus that went across but their bike policies were just as stringent. The other option was to bike to another border crossing but that would add another 4 days. Nonetheless, it was about 10 pm now and all of these options wouldn’t be available until at least 5:30 am the next day (today).
I sat there at the McDonald’s sorting out my game plan as I snacked on a loaf of bread. I started calling Uber drivers and seeing if anyone would take me across—I was turned down 5 times because the drivers either didn’t want to do it, or because they simply couldn’t due to their legal status. I began talking to strangers to see if maybe anyone was headed that way and could give me a ride—no luck.
I should also mention: last week, Clara lost her entire wallet so I gave her my credit card so that she could function; since then we’ve split and I don’t have that card anymore, but she definitely needed it. I had two other debit cards though, except for that I noticed that one of my cards was being charged hundreds of dollars by some sketchy website so I called my bank and had to freeze the account. So now I was down to one debit card, my emergency account, and it had $48 USD left in it, at least until my transfer that I put in 5 days ago finally goes through tomorrow (July 5).
So here I am: dangerously low on cash, no way to get my bike across, in a sketchy border city, and it’s now 11:00 pm. I start talking to this guy on a bike outside McDonald’s and he feels sorry for me so he gives me some loonies (Canadian dollars). I wasn’t begging and it totally caught me off guard when he did that, but then I realized I might actually need it so I thanked him for it and took it. I asked him if he knew where I could pitch a tent until it was morning and I could start sorting things out. He told me to follow him so I did. We biked across some railroad tracks and he brought me through one of the sketchiest neighborhoods I have ever seen—and I’m from L.A. It was a neighborhood that was completely abandoned; there were blocks of houses and not a single person lived in any of them. All the windows were nailed shut with wooden boards and marked with “NO TRESPASSING,” with graffiti here and there. It was straight out of a zombie apocalypse movie. He showed me an opening in a fence to the backyard of some of the homes and told me to be careful and pitch a tent out of sight. I did just that.
I took my chances and pitched a tent in an abandoned house next to the highway. I slept with my knife. I set my alarm for 3 am but my body woke me up at 2:55 am. I packed up and went back to the McDonald’s to charge my phone and bike lights. The lady there didn’t let me take my bike inside and I told her that it was my entire life and that I couldn’t leave the bike outside. She was really afraid of getting in trouble but she did me a favor and asked me to go around and opened a back door where I stored my bike. I went into the bathroom, filled up on water, brushed my teeth, and charged my electronics. I walked out of the McDonald’s at 4 am and was going to head over to the Greyhound to see if maybe I could convince somebody to let me smuggle the bike on the 5:30 am bus. As I exited the McDonald’s, a young guy approached me and told me he heard my story earlier. I told him, “yeah, I’m in a really shitty situation right now man.” He brainstormed some possibilities with me but nothing I hadn’t tried or could try until the morning. As we stood there talking, he pointed over to a large cab pulling over across the street. “Hey, what about that guy?” he said. I asked him to watch my bike as I ran over to the cab driver. I asked the driver how much he would charge to take me across the bridge. He began to add up numbers, “Well it’s a $25 fee for crossing the bridge, and then there’s the meter, and if they have a lot of questions for us then that’s a lot of time on the meter, and I’m about to go home. . . ” I cut him off, “I’ll give you $40. That’s all the money I have left.” He hesitated but seemed to take pity on me and replied, “OK. I do you this favor this one time.” He drove me to an ATM and I took out $40, leaving me with $8 now. He wanted me to hand over the cash right away but I told him that I couldn’t do that since this was all the money I had left. I wanted to at least be on the bridge. He said he needed the money and we argued but I realized that I just had to trust him since I had no leverage. I gave in and handed him the cash. Luckily, he didn’t screw me over. He drove me across the bridge and we were interrogated by U.S. Customs.
The border patrol officer first asked the driver what he was doing; the driver explained. He looked at me and then asked me where I was coming from. I gave him the shpeel—biking from Boston, came through Canada, trying to get back into the States. These guys are notorious for being able to keep a poker face but when I said that his eyes went wide and he cracked a smile that said, “no way buddy, are you crazy?” The slew of questions began and he asked me everything from where I was sleeping, to what I ate, to where I used the bathroom. This went on for about 5 minutes and then he asked to search the vehicle. He saw the bike, inspected my bags, and decided that I indeed was doing what I claimed to be doing. I told him how much of a headache crossing this bridge had been for me and he took pity. He approved my entrance and forced the cab driver to drive me to the safest place nearby, the Michigan Welcome Center. Never have I been so glad to be an American.
There was a Warm Showers host just on the other side of the bridge, Margo, who was out of town but had offered me her backyard a few days ago so I took her up on it and arrived at her home at 5 am. Holy crap was I relieved. I’m sitting in her house now writing this as the sun is rising. I can’t sleep, my survival instincts have kicked in pretty hard and I’m not tired.
I’m going to try and catch a snooze now, then bike over to my buddy’s place in Ann Arbor and celebrate the holiday with them. I’m going to buy as much bread as I can with my few bucks and that should get me to Ann Arbor without starving.
It’s been a stressful night but I know things always work out, because they just have to. If things don’t work out then that means I’m dead or seriously injured. But I’m not. Good thing I didn’t attempt to bike over that bridge because then I very well might have been. Anyways, I’m just ranting now. Thanks a lot to Jason, the lady at the McDonald’s, the young guy who saw the cab, the cab driver, the border patrol officer, and my friends who offered me help in any way they could.