The United States and Canada once shared one of the friendliest borders in the world. No more, it would seem.
Just ask Alaska adventure cycling legend Jeff Oatley from Fairbanks. One of the friendliest men you are ever likely to meet in the northern wilderness, he took his fat bike on a 1,000-mile ride south on the wild and frozen Yukon River into Canada and almost pedaled himself into a jail cell.
As he reported Monday on his Facebook page, his problems began when he tried to do the right thing upon arrival in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, population 1,300. Dawson is the first human outpost along the wild Yukon south of Eagle, Alaska, population 86.
Between the two communities, there is in winter 150 miles of snow-covered, frozen nothingness. And, of course, the international boundary Oatley crossed without much thought. He didn’t recognize the Canadians might view him as an invader from the northernmost of the United States.
“Apparently entering Canada other than through an official port of entry is a somewhat serious offense,” he reported in his understated way. “At least as it was explained to me for 3.5 hours this morning at the CBSA office”
The CBSA would be the Canadian Borders Services Agency, the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Border Patrol sans the four-wheel drive pickups for chasing illegal Mexican immigrants across the desert. The Alaska-Canada border isn’t patrolled, and there is no fence. But parts of the boundary line are now delineated by a 20-foot-wide clearing through the forest, where there is forest.
And both Canadian and U.S. officials maintain this demarcation should make it clear to everyone they are crossing a closed border. Thirty years ago, officials in the Yukon, population 35,000 (no, that’s not a typo) and Interior Alaska, population maybe 100,000, didn’t give a hoot who went back and forth across this border.
Times, however, have changed. The U.S. Canada border is now considered more of a border than the French-German border, although it wasn’t that long ago that people from the two latter nations were trying to kill each other. You can now drive from Germany into France in a car without stopping. No need for a Panzer.
Do not, however, attempt to drive into Canada from the U.S. without stopping, and if you ride a bike across the unpatrolled part of the border be prepared for big problems as Oatley discovered the hard way after he managed to find a Canadian authority with whom he could register his entry into that nation’s little populated northern territory.
“Thinking I was doing what I was supposed to be doing,” he reported, “(I) handed the officer my passport and then started getting nervous about her concerned look and curious line of questioning.”
It probably didn’t help when he told her “that the border I crossed is in no way ‘closed’ and offered to show her a photo of the crossing which is marked by six lathe that Earl Rolf put there when he was marking the trail (for the Yukon Quest), but she wasn’t interested in seeing it at all.”
The Yukon Quest is a 1,000-mile sled dog race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, that began Saturday. Oatley, a past winner of the Iditarod Trail Invitational fat bike race along the Iditarod Trail, was taking advantage of the snowmachine trail put in for the Quest dogs to enjoy a different sort of wilderness adventure.
In perfect Alaska style, he failed to ponder the legal implications until too late.
“Eventually she informed me that I had violated a pretty serious Homeland-Security-ish sounding law, by entering Canada through a *closed* area, and that I’d most likely be arrested and shipped to Vancouver (British Columbia) until they could figure out how to deport me,” he said.
Vancouver, a community of about 2.5 million people just north of Seattle, is some 1,200 miles south of Dawson. Needless to say, Oatley got a little worried. But then he got lucky.
After a couple hours of discussion, during which Oatley said some Dawson residents attempted to vouch for him (something for which he is greatly thankful), he wrote that “we got into a conference call with a supervisor in Prince Rupert (British Columbia). He seemed like a pretty sharp chap. Once he was convinced that my story was likely true, or at least mostly true, and that I really did ride my bike there on the Yukon Quest trail, it didn’t take him long to figure out that no drug smugglers or terrorists could possibly be so stupid, and that I might represent a danger to myself, but not really to the general Canadian population.
“So we did some checking of bank records and VISA cards to prove that if I got my own foolish ass in trouble I could probably buy my way out of it and they gave me a 14 day ‘visitor permit’ under the stipulation that I not attempt to work or attend any classes or vocational training.”
Oatley was at last report back on his bike out of Dawson headed for Whitehorse.