At first I didn't tell a single person this story because it was too upsetting to think about. But in time I began opening up more, and discovered people laughed like crazy when I told the story. So now that I have had time to process and heal from the frightening ordeal, I will share the entire story.
10pm April 21. I was sitting at work completing paperwork, thinking about all my recent adventures traveling all around to various states spur of the moment. I had the next 4 days with no work and no school and my co-worker asked, "So you gonna go on another road trip?"
I looked at her with a light bulb going on in my head. "I should!"
I mulled it over for a few minutes and then thought, "Wisconsin. I have never been to Wisconsin. I can get to Wisconsin and back in 4 days!"
Two hours later I was on the road headed North. I drove through a few states I had never been to; Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. In my hurry to pack and hit the road, the thought had briefly crossed my mind to grab my passport in case I had time to visit Canada.
I stopped at a maple syrup stand in Minnesota and got jar from "Grandpa Ben". He pointed to his property in the near horizon and said that he got the syrup from his trees just the day before.
Once I hit Wisconsin I drove around for a bit to enjoy the scenery, ate some famous Wisconsin cheese, and then decided I most definitely wanted to go to Canada while I was in the area.
It was another several hours drive, but I made it to the Canadian border and was very excited to be visiting somewhere new. There was a highway from Minnesota that went around Lake Superior and connected back in USA in Wisconsin. I decided I wanted to drive down the highway to see all the scenic attractions the great lake had to offer.
Getting to the border was interesting, as it was heavily wooded, deer were jumping out into the road every few minutes and would scare me and make me drive crazy each time.
But things got way more interesting once I reached the border.
I saw the sign, "Welcome to Canada". I thought about stopping to take a picture, but it wasn't the best stretch of road for stopping, and I figured I'd have another opportunity somewhere down the road.
I got to the gate and came to the stop where I was greeted first in French then in English.
I had a big smile, feeling so excited, when the gaurd asked me the nature of my visit.
I answered honestly. I said I was sightseeing.
He asked where I was sight seeing.
Again I answered honestly. "I took a road trip to Wisconsin, and wanted to drive around Highway 11 to see all of Lake Superior, while I am in the area."
It was getting near sunset and he looked at me with suspicion. "The sun is going down. How are you going to sight see at night?"
"Well I was thinking I would stop at a hotel in Thunderbay for the night." Thunder Bay is about 45 minutes past the border.
"What hotel are you staying at?"
I was a little dumb founded. "I don't have one yet. I was thinking I would find one once I got there."
"And how long are you planning on staying in Thunder Bay?"
"Just for the night. I'm going to continue on Highway 11 in the morning and see the whole lake before I head home."
"Do you have family or anyone who knows you in Thunder Bay?"
"No?" My excited smile was now crooked with confusion. I had already told him this was a fairly unplanned sight seeing trip.
"Would you please pull your car around and come inside?"
I was still fairly convinced nothing was wrong and this was all routine, but I was starting to feel a little nervous as I parked my car. Two men were waiting by my door as soon as I got out of my car.
One stuck out his hand, "We need to search your car. Keys please."
Before I was ushered inside, the other man asked, "That's a pretty bad dent in the front of the car. Did you hit something on your way here?"
"No, the car already had the damage when I bought it about a year ago."
I was walked into a lobby area, where the man who I originally talked to started asking me a list of questions. "Now you said you were here to visit a friend right?"
"No, I don't know anyone here. I wanted to sight see around Lake Superior."
"Oh that's right. And you are going to go camping?"
"No, I am gonna stay one night at a hotel in Thunder Bay, then go home tomorrow."
"So does anyone know you are here?"
"How did you tell your mom?"
"I texted her."
"May I see the text?"
I felt a little hesitant but handed him my phone. He asked if he called some random contacts, if they were going to know who I was. He then told me to go have a seat and he would get back to me in a minute.
Many minutes later he called me back over. "Ok, few more questions. Who is this Kathy?"
"That's my mom."
"Really?! Well that's strange. Why would you have your contact listed as Kathy instead of Mom?"
He gave me a glare like I was busted. "Why does Kathy have a different last name than you?"
"Because she's remarried."
"How convenient." (I have no clue what he meant by that)
"Can you tell me what you were doing in Uganda and the Netherlands?" (referring to the stamps in my passport)
"Ya, I went on a missions trip to Uganda. There was a layover in the Netherlands."
"What kind of mission? Are you with the military?"
"Oh no," I smiled trying to make light of the conversation, "it was missionary work with my college."
"What? With your college? Look lady I don't know if your joking or what but churches do missionary work, not colleges."
"It's a Christian college."
"Hmmf" He huffed, "You've just got an answer for everything don't you?"
At this point I could clearly tell they were not happy about me being there, so I offered to leave.
"Look, this was kind of a spur of the moment decision. I was in the area so I thought I'd like to go to Canada since I have never been. I didn't think it would be a problem. But I can just leave, I don't want to be any trouble."
Right then a woman walked up beside him and said to me in a scolding tone like a kid caught jumping on the couch, "Well, guess what. You are here now. You don't get to leave until you start telling the truth about why you are here."
The man handed my passport to her, and she shook her head and threw it on the counter. "What, what is this? This is garbage? This isn't you. It doesn't look anything like you."
"It's just an old picture. My hair was short and dyed."
"What, was it some kind of identity crisis? Cutting your hair and dying it to try to be a different person? Running from your life huh? Did you come here to kill yourself?"
"Why would I drive all the way to Canada to kill myself?"
"So you admit it! You're suicidal."
"What line of work are you in?"
"I'm a social work student, and I'm employed at a children's mental health facility."
"When are you expected back at work?"
"She's got a text on her phone to the supervisor saying she's not coming in until Saturday. She's supposed to be there Friday but told them she won't make it home in time." The man whispered to the woman as if it were an incriminating text.
The woman asked me the name of my employer, then told me we needed to take this conversation out of the lobby, and the man escorted me to a small, dimly lit room in the back of the building.
They left me alone in there for a few minutes, then the man, woman, and another man I hadn't seen before piled in and crowded the room.
The first man held up a parking permit for Mt. Rushmore and asked me, "Why did we find this in your car?"
"I have been going on a lot of sight seeing trips lately. I went there a couple weeks ago."
"Oh you just up and decided to go to South Dakota from Oklahoma, and now you just up and decided to go to Thunder Bay from Oklahoma."
"Yes, please believe me, road tripping is just something I do a lot of. I have ever since I learned to drive. I can show you pictures, I just like to travel."
The other man suddenly put his face right up to mine, and slammed his hand down on the table I was sitting at, and shouted, "Liar!"
As quick as he had stuck his face in mine, the woman joined him. "We're on to you. We know all about the whole scheme you have going on. We are going to find those drugs and we are going to nab you for terrorism!"
This is when I started crying. I couldn't believe what they were saying. A simple joy ride had turned in to me being labeled a terrorist. "Oh my God, no!! I'm not suicidal, I don't have drugs, and I am not a terrorist!"
The first man said in a calm tone, "Look, we just need the truth. We want to work with you here, but you're not giving us anything to work with. Why are you here?"
"Why are you here!" The woman shouted immediately after him.
"I told you!!" I screamed this time. "I wanted to drive around the lake. That's all. I didn't see how anyone would be upset by me wanting to drive around the lake. I just wanted to sight see."
The other man let out a loud laugh, "Look at that. She's talking past tense now. She wants to make us believe she won't try again to get back in at some other border. I wasn't born yesterday pouty face!"
That man then left the room. For about 30 minutes or so, the man and woman took turns screaming at me trying to get me to admit to something.
When the other man walked back in, the woman looked at him and said, "I'm sick of her games. Let's just arrest her now for the fake passport and let her attorney explain her motive."
The man had a victorious smile. "Well good news for us, I know her motive. I just got off the phone with the mental hospital she supposedly works at. They've never heard of an employee with that name. AND they had a homicidal patient matching her description escape earlier this week."
At this point I got pissed, and I let them know, "Ok this is getting ridiculous! Now I know you are lying! My job holds kids age 4-17. Do I look like a 17 year old to you?!"
"You know I'm lying? You know I am lying? Well I know you are lying! Now tell me why you are here!"
After that it turned into mad chaos with all 4 of us screaming at each other. I was tired and mad and scared. They kept getting up close in my face screaming. It was giving me a headache and they were getting spit all over my face.
At some point in the next 3 hours my shouting turned to sobbing. I just wanted to get out of there. I thought I must be in the twilight zone or something.
They went back and forth with theories and accusations of fake passport, drugs, terrorism, and suicide. Constantly insisting my Uganda and Mt Rushmore trips were extremely suspicious and that listing my mom as Kathy was proof I wasn't who I said I was. They even looked at my facebook at one point to see if I had the same relatives listed as family on there as I did in my phone.
In about the 4th hour of the ordeal, a man brought in a bottle of over the counter pain killers that I had in my car. Then all the attention turned to me escaping a mental health facility, and being suicidal.
Finally the original man said, "Listen, we are all tired, we've been going at this for almost 5 hours now, and if you are having some kind of mental health issue, then we don't want to push you past the breaking point. We are going to deny you entry into Canada today, but you are welcome to come back and try again once you have a hotel reservation and actually give us proof that you have a legitimate reason to be in Canada."
Then someone came in and said they found a wood walking stick in my car. I told them I take it on all of my road trips, and that I got it in Uganda. They told me it counted as contraband because it was made of foreign wood. They made me sign a document acknowledging I was being denied entrance but was welcome to come back in the future. Then they made me sign a document saying I acknowledge the stick was made of African wood and was not allowed at the border and was therefore being confiscated.
Yes, that's right, they made me leave my favorite souvenir from Uganda!
They used a piece of wood that US Customs had no problem with, be a scapegoat for 5 hours of interrogation.
A short time later, I was FINALLY back in my, now torn apart, car. My suitcase had been in my trunk. It was now empty in the back seat, with all its contents spread all around the front seat. The dashboard and arm rest cupboard were open with all the insides thrown around the car. My rear view mirror was knocked off. The car carpeting was pulled up. Several of my cds were scratched and thrown around the car as well.
Turning back to the US border patrol, the guy who greeted me said, "Hey you finally made it! We were getting kind of worried about ya. They kept calling to confirm your passport was legit, and we kept telling them it was. They aren't to fond of us Americans at this stop. You're better off coming in through Fort Frances."
As they lifted the gate, I felt such a great relief to drive back on American soil.
I kept my window rolled down as I completely let go and cried my eyes. I stuck my head out the window as I slowly drove away, and sang as loud as I possibly could, hoping those 3 Canadians would hear me, "GOD BLESS AMERICAAAAAAAA!!! LAAAAAAND that I LOOOOOOVE! (waaah booo hoo hoo sniffle sniffle) STAND BESIDE HEEEEEER (waaah haa haa) AND GUIDE HER, THROUGH THE NIGHT WITH A LIGHT FROM ABOVE. GOD Bleh heh heh heh less AMERICAAAAA!!!
My home, sweet home.