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Entering Canada
Entering Canada

The Chronicles of Sarnia | Part 1

Where to begin. My 51st challenge has officially begun with Indiana and Michigan becoming my 21st and 22nd states to visit, knocking off two states and bringing me closer to my goal. Wednesday was full of events so let me run down the first half of my day, Chicago to Sarnia, Ontario:

I got up at 5:35am to grab a quick bite and to get all of our travel preparations together. My boyfriend, Roman, decided to come travel with me and support me with the challenge. Passports, food, credit cards. Every was a go. Now to get the rent a car from Avis.

First off, to get a car from Avis was a hassle, especially last-minute. It’s no wonder that people hate to get rental cars because rental companies charge for every fee they can think of. For example, for a rental from Avis, I was charged 55 dollars for the car, 27 dollars for being underage (I’m 24), and then about 20 dollars for other fees and taxes, bringing my total to just over 100 dollars. It’s a tad steep to just rent a car for a day. Rental companies are not efficient, have poor customer service and seem disorganized. To get my reservation it took me 3 hours of calling different companies and persistence. Some companies were charging $150 or as high as $200 dollars! For one day!

I hung up immediately because I knew rental cars shouldn’t cost that much. It took some experimenting but finally Avis had a car close to my apartment, for cheap. The only catch was I had to drop it off at Midway Airport. For some reason, if you drop a car off at a different site it can be cheaper in price. If I wanted to drop it off at O’Hare it would have costs me double. The worst part was when I booked the car Avis charged me even though my reservation didn’t go through. I called their hotline and kept calm, explaining the situation. Avis did credit me back the money but it took 4 days and a phone call to square it away. Really it was ridiculous that they charged me and didn’t book the reservation. They credited me back the money and this time I spoke with a representative to book my reservation. Everything was set.

So Chicago was in a downpour and flooding when we left. Not the perfect start to our travels. I walked about a mile, in the rain, to get to the car. Pants soaked, socks wet, road were flooded; it was miserable in Chicago. Got the car, went back to load it, and off we were traveling through flooded Chicago. My own street was so flooded that water was coming up to the bottom edge of the door. Made it to Lakeshore drive in Chicago and headed south towards Indiana.

Crossed Indiana which became my 21st state to visit. Nothing different about Indiana compared to Illinois. Just cheaper gas prices! I did take a picture at The University of Indiana-Calumet, though. It was then time to head north to the Michigan border.

Indiana is surprisingly big at its northern border with Lake Michigan. The state is about 50 miles along the lake from the border of Illinois to Michigan. While driving through, it rained the entire time and also through the western part of Michigan. Sometimes heavy. Annoying yes but nothing I couldn’t handle.

Across the Michigan border there is a city called New Buffalo. We arrived in my 22nd state, Michigan! Stopped in a gas station to eat and get some water. It was a cute, charming city that bordered Lake Michigan but not very much going on so with a quick pit stop it was back on I-94 towards Kalamazoo.

Michigan is very beautiful to drive through. Who knew there were so many hills. The region has definitely seen more rain than my home state of Texas. Trees were huge and plants looked healthy from the side of the road. Driving on I-94 is scenic and a comfortable drive. The road was never crowded with cars and the speed limit is usually around 70.

The next major city to pass through was Kalamazoo. Didn’t actually see the downtown area of Kalamazoo but the great part about Kalamazoo was that is where it stopped raining… After 3 hours driving, in the rain, I was relieved! We continued on wards to Lansing, Michigan.

After about 40 miles there is a cut off from 94 to Lansing using I-69. Took the exit north onto what felt like an empty road. It’s a short drive and there isn’t much cities on 69. It took less than an hour to get to Lansing where we stopped off to see Michigan’s State Capitol Building.

Here’s something to try! So we followed the signs into the downtown area and stumbled upon the state capitol building. Drove around to fun parking but nothing for free! So eventually we just pulled to the front of the state capitol, and ignored the meters because we didn’t have any change. Got out of the car quickly and took some pics of the state capitol building while we anxiously watched our car; making sure a meter maid didn’t come along.

Rushed back in the car and drove around downtown Lansing. Cute town but very small. So after 15 minutes it was time to get back on the highway and drive to our last destination. The Canadian border near Port Huron.

The only other major city you pass on this road is Flint, Michigan. After that it’s all huge trees and fields until you see the first signs of the Canadian border. The border crossing we went to, has the city of Port Huron on the American side and Sarnia, ON on the Canadian side. Lake Huron borders both cities to the north. Near the end of 69 you see lines for Canada and ran into our first problem. We had no change to cross the border and they wouldn’t take a credit card. Luckily a nice man waived us on through anyways and we didn’t have to pay the fee. Tip always bring change.

Once on the Canadian side you are then asked for your passport.

Canadian border crossing guy: Bonjour! (Hello!)

Me: Bonjour! (Hello!)

Canadian border crossing guy: Ça va? (How are you?)

Me: English is fine.

Our story came across a little weird to him. First off he asked us where we were from and what we were doing in a Canada. We just said we were coming to Sarnia to spend a couple of hours. He asked why? Why would we drive from Chicago for 5 hours just to come to Sarnia!? I started to get nervous… He keep going saying that even Canadians don’t come here to visit and that is a little suspicious that two men came all this way just to come to Sarnia for a couple of hours. But that was the truth! We weren’t lying to anybody. I started to stumble on my words and I was nervous… Probably adding to the suspicion.

He gave us our passports back and then directed us towards the area where they checked our cars. Then it got REAL interesting and frankly awkward. There were two border crossing guards that started questioning us immediately. Told us to get out of the car and flat-out said our story didn’t make sense.

“Why would you drive from Chicago to just cross into Sarnia for a couple of hours?” “What are you going to do in Sarnia?” “We live in Sarnia and don’t even want to stay here!” “Do you have relatives here in Sarnia?” “How are y’all related?” “You see your story doesn’t make any sense because you can’t even pronounce the places you want to go to!” “It’s really suspicious that two men are traveling 5 hours just to see Sarnia, Ontario.” I didn’t know what to say to them. Just the truth. Basically we were suspicious to these border crossing officials and they were being quite rude and direct about it. God forbid anybody can drive across the border for a couple of hours. It didn’t occur to me until we were talking to them, that I could have just said I owned a travel website, which I do, and I’m driving across Indiana and Michigan and wanted to step in Ontario. I told them that, but they were still very suspicious acting like we were drug mules. Even telling me that they could deny us entry if they wanted to.

I was standing there, little shaken up, and couldn’t believe the treatment I was receiving. They searched the car and then told us we could go free. After this experience I felt different about my whole idea for this trip. Were we just so crazy to come all of this way just because we wanted to? They made us feel like we were stupid for even suggesting what we had just done. And it was that alone that unnerved me.

So still a little baffled by what just happened we talked about it when we got into Canada and I came up with this conclusion. I wasn’t the crazy one here. To me it’s sad to think that nobody can be creative with their travels and actually travel just to travel. To the border crossing officials, crossing over to see Sarnia for a few hours sounded stupid, pointless and suspicious. Because to them people only cross over to go see Toronto or Niagara Falls? Is this what it has come down to? You can only go see Niagara Falls and Toronto to NOT be suspicious. There was a time that you didn’t even need a passport to cross into Canada and now crossing for a day has become too suspicious.

I enjoy spontaneous road trips and I’m well aware that Sarnia is nothing glamorous. But it was an idea that I thought of and just wanted to step into Ontario for a few hours, nothing more. But apparently, for some people, that is an unbelievable idea. Two men driving 5 hours from Chicago is too suspicious. I talked about it some more and didn’t become jaded with what was to them ridiculous. NO! I love to travel and even though Sarnia is not the most important town in Ontario, it was still in Ontario and in my eyes still an adventure; something different. That is what they had fail to realize. My way of thinking didn’t even occur to them. But, in the end, I still got in and after an hour I decided to let it all go. I did something spontaneous, it was fun, and I pushed myself to travel. That is what counts. It also helped to talk to a native Sarnians… But more on that in the next post.

In the next post I will continue with my adventures in Sarnia and the return trip to Chicago; all on Tuesday. Stay tuned and feel free to leave a comment.




images by: shawn voyage

About Shawn

Shawn is a native Texan now living in Chicago with his boyfriend. His passions include traveling the world, planes, foreign languages, history, mimosas, documentaries, eating healthy, boots, good style, staying fit and being openly gay. He has been to 39 countries including 6 months in France to learn French. Above all he enjoys traveling the world and motivating others to travel as well.