Canada One, Mid- November 2012 – I finally got to Waterloo where I was to pick up a load of meat bound for Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I got to the meat plant and drove past the entrance to the shipping office. In backing up the street, I tried to nail a car that was behind me in the street, but the clever bugger backed up quick enough to avoid contact. In the parking area I met another Stevens Driver, Buddy Nguyen. (I changed the first name, in keeping with my policy of not naming names, but kept his last name because fully 50 percent of all Vietnamese are named Nguyen.) Buddy had a couple of weeks on me, longevity-wise, and would also be heading to Montreal.
He seemed like a nice enough kid and used to be a chef at a Japanese steakhouse not 15 miles from where I live in Texas. What were the odds?!? He gave me a couple of king fruit (I think) that his father in law had grown in his back yard just outside of Washington D.C. They were good. Kind of a cross between an apple and a star fruit.
Upon reaching the shipping clerk I found I had to wait a few hours to get loaded. Since I had the time, and I had the points necessary for a shower at Pilot /Flying J back in Evansdale, about eight miles east of the plant, I left my trailer at the plant and bobtailed it back to the Flying J where I enjoyed a nice hot shower. Walking back to my tractor I got the call from the plant that they were ready to load. I scooted back to the meat plant in time to back up to my door and get loaded. Unfortunately, it was another couple of hours before I got loaded an another couple of hours after that before the international FDA inspectors blessed the mean before I could hit the road. Buddy was all done and had left a couple of hours earlier.
So I hit the road. I got to the mega I-80 truck stop in Eastern Iowa where I spent the night. I was up at 9:00 busted it through Illinois and Michigan and made it to the border in Detroit by 8 p.m. Snaking through the last mile before the toll bridge was a bit anxious but I evidently found the right path. A whopping $26.25 to cross the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and I found myself approaching the Canadian customs station. Would I have to exit the truck? Would he have a ton of questions? Would my truck need the rubber glove level inspection? Will I need a rubber glove inspection? I had no answers. Yet.
I was the only vehicle in the neighborhood as I crept up to the booth. For trucks, they have windows that are at semi-window-level. I pulled up to the window, popped my air brakes and, noting a sign that said Turn Off Engine, I shut down. The first thing the border agent did when he opened the window was point at another sign that said “Do Not Engage Air Brakes.” Damn. He explained that he had ear plugs in so it didn’t phase him, but the ear-splitting sound made when the air brakes are engaged actually hurt. And when you’re dealing with dozens of trucks a day, you can evidently get repetitive ear drum disease or something. It made sense, and I apologized and admitted that I was a rookie and could he please be gentle.
He was. He asked what I was carrying, where it was from, where it was going, how often do I travel into Canada, and do I have anybody else with me. I had the answers. He also asked if I had any weapons on board. No, I replied.
And he said I could proceed. Now it was my turn for a question. Where could I park and wait for my company to clear me to proceed? He told me there was a place seven stoplights in where I could stop.
Unknown territory. I collected the paperwork I had given him and pulled away from his window. Before I got to the third stoplight I had lost track of how many I had encountered. After what I thought was the sixth stoplight, and seeing what I thought was the edge of town ahead, I spied a lot with a couple of semis parked in it. It was a shallow lot in front of what appeared to be a truck repair place. Since it was now 9 p.m. on a Saturday night and quite dark, the establishment was closed. I carefully pulled in, pulled ahead, and backed between the two truck that were already parked there. They looked deserted too. I QualCommed a message in saying I was in Canada and do I need a reinspection. Nothing. This address seemed to be within a block of the broker that was handling our load. I got out of the truck and walked a couple of blocks back towards the border. I found the address and can say without fear of contradiction, it was not a building that housed brokers. I walked back to my truck and waited. After another 10 minutes, I got the blessed message that reinspection wold not be required and that I could proceed.
So I cranked up rig again, eased out of the lot and started heading northeast up Canada 401. Again, it was dark. Driving in the dark is like driving in a tunnel. Fortunately, once I got past all the construction at the outskirts of town, it was clear sailing. The next challenge would be finding a place to spend the night.
SPECIAL NOTE: While I had my smart phone with me, I couldn’t use it. Once you cross into this foreign country, special rates apply. And I didn’t have the money to pay those special rates.
I had done a bit of research before I got this far so I knew there were truck stops, even in Canada, and figured I’d find one. The challenge was to find one before I ran out of driving hours.
The first truck stop I came to was in Chatham. It didn’t feel right, plus I was past it before I realized it was there. I came to a couple of rest stop plazas, like we have on tollways here in the states, and pulled into one to pee. I wasn’t absolutely certain they allowed overnight parking, so since I had another couple of hours, I continued on. Two plus hours into Ontario, I was approaching London. A sign indicated a Flying J at the next exit. I pulled in. It was a pretty good-sized lot and it was less than half full. I found a nice spot that I could pull into, parked it, did my Post Trip Inspection, and headed in to take care of business before I turned in.
Since I didn’t have to be at my delivery until 1:00 a.m. I was ahead of schedule and would not be able to leave this location until I could reach my destination and have a little time for unloading and getting to a safe haven for my next 10 hour break. This mean I would be at this Flying J for about 18 hours. I turned in and would figure a way to pass the time tomorrow. When I woke, it was sunny, bright, and cold. I took a walk about a third of a mile down the road to a little commercial area that had what looked like a restaurant. It turned out to be a glorified donut shop so I hiked back to the FJ and had an overpriced breakfast at the Denny’s there. The waitress was nice and actually rammed through a substitution for the pancakes on my order, but they don’t have the $3.99 Grand Slam.
I wiled away a few hours watching television. I saw my first episode of Cash Cab. Cute concept where a quiz show host / taxi cab drivers picks up a fare and poses questions to them. Big winners may walk away with a few hundred bucks. I believe this episode was in Toronto but I’ve since seen an episode that took place in New York City. Also saw a couple of documentaries on airplane disasters. Also interesting.
Hanging out at this Canadian truck stop also exposed me to the trucking business north of the border. You buy your diesel in litres, drive kilometers, and have your choice of how to get your gross weight – pounds or kilograms. The clerks were very nice and the coffee was better than average.
Mid afternoon rolled around and the time finally came to leave. The trip through Toronto involved more traffic than I would have thought. A lot of the same stores that we have in the states but also a lot of Canada-only chains. Their airport was busy. Perhaps the thing that surprised me most were all the residential highrises, even this far from the city centre. A very cosmopolitan metroplex.
As I drove my way to Quebec, the sun set and I was in darkness once again. I had a fuel stop at a Fifth Wheel in Cornwall, Ontario, just a few miles from the Quebec border. It was very cold and I was not looking forward to getting out and dealing with the hoses and pumps. Imagine my surprise when a young lad came bounding out to take care of things for me. I had only to walk inside to take care of the financial arrangements. I wasn’t buying a full tank, perhaps only 60 gallons and I asked the clerk if that qualified for a shower. It didn’t quite measure up but he said he’d spring for a shower just the same. I was very appreciative.
Until I got to the shower. They had heat for the store and the restaurant, but evidently the didn’t feel it was worthwhile to heat the hallways and the shower rooms. This would be a quick one. Back out to the parking lot and in my truck, it was past 10 p.m. and I was within a couple of hours from my destination. It would be a looong couple of hours. Everything was in French Nav Chick had trouble with her lefts and rights and easts and wests. I had to do a dozen miles of turnarounds and backtracking. But I finally got to the refrigerated warehouse and who did I see? My new buddy Buddy.
He shared a little more food and pointed me to the people I had to talk to. The receiving clerk could not speak much English and she was surly to boot. The lead lumper was a little more kindly and even took his fee in American dollars. But by the time they got me unloaded, I was out of hours. They told me I could park on the street but I found a place on their property and camped out for the night. Ten hours is a long time when you’re up and awake and still have six hours to kill. I took two longish walks. The first was about six blocks down the street to a golf club (yes golf club) where I got a cup of coffee. Nobody golfing outside but a handful of people playing virtual golf inside.
My second walk was about a mile to a commercial area that actually had a truck stop with perhaps 20 overnight slots. I thought about heading back and driving over but didn’t want to risk an hours of service violation or getting back and having no spots available. Their restaurant was a little to pricey for me so I went to a strip mall next door and got a middle quality Gyro platter from a Middle Eastern counter service restaurant.
Mid afternoon finally arrived and I set out for my next pickup, a load of cheese from a factory in Boonville, NY. This meant a drive back down Canada 401 to Lansdowne, Ontario, and across what I am sure is a beautiful region called Land of 1000 Islands. Too bad it was dark. The border crossing with an empty trailer was a breeze. Didn’t take more than five minutes.
I continued down I-81 to Watertown, NY where I was routed onto country roads for the 40 mile trip through Lowville to Boonville. In the middle of the latter town I saw a patron stumble out of a bar and light up a cigarette. For some reason I was suddenly nostalgic and almost parked my truck to run in and get a Seven & Seven. But I fought the temptation and made my way to the cheese plant on the southwest side of town. It was an older facility so the warehouse doors were pretty tight. After waiting for an hour and a half, I finally got a door of my own and within another 90 minutes was making my way back out of town. The land was nothing but rolling hills and dairy farms. Would have been gorgeous. In the daylight.
Back on I-81 I was hoping for a truck stop within the first hour. The only one I past, was well past the exit I needed to take. I don’t like leaving freeways if I don’t know where I’m going. I got to the northwest corner of Syracuse where there was supposed to be a Pilot. Never saw the exit for it so I headed west on the New York Tollway. Within 20 miles I came to a rest stop / plaza and pulled in. There were no legit slots left at 2 a.m. so I found a space at the back of the lot and shoehorned myself in and slept like a rock. It was good to be back in the real America, even if it was in Yankeeland.
I had survived my first trip to Canada. It was not without its anxiety producing moments, but I think I could do it again. Practice would make perfect.