Cranky Border Guards and Getting Busted on the Ferry

If objects at rest tend to stay at rest, and objects in motion stay in motion, than it’s no wonder I feel exhausted. Our travel itinerary for the last twelve days has pulled us thousands of miles on every medium of transportation this side of sled dog on ice pack. Small boat from Hanson Island to Alert Bay, ferry to Port McNeil, drive to Nanaimo, ferry to Vancouver, drive to Seattle (and past the crankiest border guard), drive to Bellingham, ferry to Juneau, ferry to Gustavus, fly to Juneau, and lastly, fly to Anchorage.

After a winter of sitting quietly on a rock in the middle of nowhere with nothing more pressing than to run into town once every two weeks, our manic travel itinerary left us both in a haze. A haze that provided plenty of magical, confusing, and absurd moments. It all starts, I suppose at the B.C/U.S border. We’d spent the day driving south down Vancouver Island after pulling ourselves away from Hanson Island and watching the little cluster of cedar buildings disappear for the next for six months. But the weather turned sunny as we moved down island and spirits were as high as they could be at the prospect of reaching Seattle that evening and spending some time with Brittney’s aunt and uncle.

Joy was further magnified when we reached the border crossing to see four open stations and only a handful of cars in line. With Brittney behind the wheel we glided up to the kiosk, passports in hand.

“Hello!” called Brittney handing over the passports, speaking loud enough to be heard over the quiet whistle our precious pathfinder makes at low RPM.
The U.S border guard didn’t smile, didn’t nod, or in any other way acknowledge or return the most basic and acceptable of human greetings. Instead he snatched the passports from her hand and stared at them as if he’d just picked up something dead and repugnant. After X-raying them for several long moments, his head jerked violently to the side, a great bird of prey ready to grab us and the pets in his talons. His eyes stare into the tinted back window.
“Um, I can open that for you if you want…” Brittney offers.
“Ok.” It speaks!
She rolled the window down, exposing an embarrassing cluster of bags, boxes, and of course, a rabbit, her eyes wide and nose bouncing as the window slides down.
He stares into the labyrinth of our worldly possessions.
“Is that a rabbit?” He sounds disgusted, maybe a little amazed. Surely he’s asking ironically. What he must have been like in high school.
“Yes?” Brittney answers.
Why do we always seem to draw the nastiest of border guards?
“Why are you here?” He snarls.
Seriously? A little ember of rebellion catches some try tinder in my chest. What a hack. Just ask us where we’re from, what our business is, and let’s be on with it. You can be professional without being an asshat. I badly want to say, “why are any of us here man? What’s it all about, man?” But refrain.

Brittney tells him, and before the words are out of her mouth, he’s tossed the passports back into the car and turned away. Wherever he is right now, I’m willing to bet he isn’t smiling.

But we were free, that’s all that mattered. Free to pick up a six pack of glorious IPA after a winter of Kokanee. As we moved further south the road got wider, the trees fewer, the shopping malls greater, and the things I needed to possess to be happy more expensive. If the billboards were to be believed.

“Money doesn’t buy happiness,” Said comedian Daniel Tosh, “but it buys a Waverunner… try to frown on a Waverunner.” Fair point.

We enjoyed a few wonderful days in Seattle, and all too soon, were making the drive north again to the border town of Bellingham to catch the ferry. For the pets, it was the greatest hurdle. Three days cooped up in the car with each other for company. Twice a day we were allowed to go down to the car deck, feed them, and promise that we were almost there. Kind of.

The journey aboard the ferry Matanuska was not a lonely one. A bouncy, adorable two year old with no concept of personal space joined us on the covered back deck of the ferry known as the solarium. A gaggle of wilderness guides based in Haines, including some familiar faces were also aboard, and we prepared for a merry ride north. As we neared Ketchikan, the southernmost town in southeast Alaska however, a ferry employee gave us some grave news. 250 high school band members would be boarding in Ketchikan, swelling the ferry to the bursting point and undoubtedly putting us over the U.S Coast Guard regulated number of tubas. We did what guides do when they’re not on the ocean, the rivers, or the woods. We bought some beer.

Sure. I mean, technically no alcohol was supposed to be consumed in the solarium, but it’s Alaska, surely it’s more of a wink wink, nudge nudge sort of rule. Nope. Half an hour into what looked to be an enjoyable ride from Ketchikan to Petersburg, a lady in a uniform so starched it could stand up on its own materialized in front of us. I had taken the necessary precautions and poured my beer into a nalgene bottle, giving the impression that I was drinking the muddiest, nastiest water in the 49th state. But I remain amazed at how quickly bottles and cans disappeared as she appeared. It was like watching cockroaches scurrying from the sudden flick of a light.

“We had a chaperone complain that there was some open containers of alcohol up here.”
Dead silence.
“Is that true.”
Slowly we shook our heads, muttering “no” while failing to meet her steely gaze. Put us in the woods, in a kayak on four foot seas, and we wouldn’t bat an eye. But here, we were emasculated, or efemulated in Brittney’s case. When in doubt, deny.
“Really?” Stunning that she didn’t believe us. “Cause I don’t think that anyone would just complain for no reason.”
“Maybe they mistook a soda…” one of the other guides mutter.
The lady marches into the middle of the circle. Brittney’s bends her torso over her legs, her Arc’teryx jacket folded over a Sierra Nevada Celebration IPA. The lady tilts her head, “what’s that than?” She points to a big glass bottle beneath one of the lawn chairs someone had been sleeping on.
“That’s… creamer.” Someone says just above a whisper.
“Uh-huh.” She marches over, a soldier of marine enforcement and picks it up. Technically we weren’t lying. Bailey’s is indeed, a creamer. “Consumption of alcohol is not permitted on Alaska state ferries.” She says, much kinder than we probably deserve after lying to her face. “I have to take this, but you can have back when you leave the vessel. I just need to have a name.

Still we’re silent, no one willing to claim any responsibility. We’re all in college again, a militaristic RA confiscating our good time. At last, one of our friends raises his hand. “You can put Mike on it,” he says meekly.

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