Chapter Two: The Trip Begins
Jesse met us at our house. We tossed his lone backpack next to our suitcase, backpack, and two Tupperware containers of gear. I envy his simplicity. I may try that for my next ultra. Mark met us at a local gas station as his nephew Greg dropped him off. We tried to convince Greg to join us, but he mumbled something about the craziness of running for half a day and drove off. We immediately hit the gas station to begin carb-loading. I chose a hunk of cellophane-wrapped cheesecake bread and some raspberry cappuccino for a healthy shot of 1,100 calories. This would begin another trend for the weekend- eating a ton of garbage at every stop.
The entire trip was really defined by one thing… a sincere, genuine lack of seriousness. Maybe we were repressing some latent fears over the mountainous endeavor before us. Our Lack of focus could be our brains’ last-ditch effort to divert us from the inevitable suffering staring us in the face. Or maybe we’re just a bunch of adult-sized adolescent goof-offs that got a momentary reprieve from their stress-filled lives. At any rate, it did not take long for the ice to be broken.
Mark immediately produced a family pack of snack crackers, a case of bottled water, and a bushel of licorice. It’s good to know he came prepared, AND we would have plenty to eat between our multiple stops. I think the pound of licorice I ate really helped in the race… I will have to remember that strategy.
Things were going smoothly as we cruised through the Michigan countryside on the way to the Canadian border. The route was familiar, so I didn’t bother with maps or GPS. At some point I had a feeling we had been driving too far. We should have changed highways. Without voicing my concern, I discretely pulled out my phone and checked Google maps. Hmmm… not only did I miss our exit, I missed the entire metropolitan area of Lansing. That speaks volumes about my power of observation. I pulled off the highway under the guise of needing a “bathroom break.” After a short 30 minute drive through the sticks of rural Podunk, Michigan, we were on the right highway cruising towards Canada!
Going through customs always makes me a little nervous. As we approached the bridge separating Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario, I gathered our passports. We pulled up to the booth and I handed the documentation to the girl.
“Where are you heading?” she inquired.
“New York.” I replied.
“What’s going on in New York?”
“What kind of race?”
“Ummm… a foot race?”
“Oh. Like a marathon?”
“Well, actually it is a 12 hour race.”
With a “what the Hell is wrong with you” look, she replied “You run for 12 hours?!? Okay, have fun.”
That exchange would be repeated several times. Once in Canada, we were struck by two things. First, there are huge fields of nothing but dirt. Second, Canada has a $10,000 fine if caught speeding 50km over the speed limit. Both would be frequent topics of our asinine jokes.
I’m sure Ontario is just preparing for the planting season, but the thousands of baron acres led to a lot of speculation. Are they growing hockey pucks? Maybe hockey sticks? We even tried busting out Canadian accents. As it turns out, it was more fun to pretend our crappy British accents were Canadian. Okay, that was the extent of our Canadian stereotypes. Well, that and the “I love the Queen” spelling of words like “centre”, “colour”, and criticise.” And we couldn’t tell them apart.
Somewhere around London, Ontario we stopped to eat and get gas. We pulled into a small town, but the only gas station was full service. I’m weird. I don’t like people pumping my gas, I prefer to do it myself. After driving around a bit in a state of indecisiveness, I pulled back onto the highway. We found a truck stop/gas station/country buffet a few miles down the road. They had nice urinals.
After the bathroom break, we decided to grab a bite to eat at Pizza Hut. We lucked out- they had a buffet. I’m not a huge fan of buffets as I tend to overeat. Tomorrow’s ultra gave me a free pass, so I was pumped! The Pizza Hut had interesting facts painted on the wall, such as the first Pizza Hut was located in Wichita, Kansas and the sound E.T. made walking was made by a man squishing his hand in jelly. After binging on the equivalent of eight pieces of pizza, I was ready to go!
As we approached Hamilton, Ontario, it seemed like we were going quite far north toward Toronto. I vaguely remembered that Toronto was on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, we needed to be on the south side. If only I had printed out some maps. Damn my lack of preparedness! I had a gut feeling that I should exit, so I cut across three lanes of heavy traffic and hit the exit. It felt as if the hand of the Canadian Gods were gently persuading me to take this particular exit. As luck would have it, the exit was a shortcut through southern Hamilton. We saved about 10-15 miles due to my stupidity. Score one for procrastination and laziness… or maybe it had something to do with channeling my French Canadian ancestors.
It was about this time that I brought up Niagara Falls. We’d be driving right by the mighty falls, why not stop? Shelly, Jesse, and mark had never been there. Unfortunately, I had (in a previous life (figuratively, not literally.)) We decided to stop now; we may not be in the mood on Sunday after the race. That turned out to be a wise choice.
We meandered through the streets of Niagara Falls, Ontario following the “FALLS” signs. While driving around to find parking, we came across what appeared to be the only parking lot. It cost $14. That surpassed by “cost/see natural wonder” threshold. I was just about to park on the sidewalk and pretend we were looking for our lost children when I spotted a $4 lot about 100 meters from the $14 lot. Hmmm… nice tourist racket they have here. The more expensive lot was full… ours was empty. It was so empty, we could change into our Barefoot Runners Society swag right out in the open. Side bar- Mark has really nice pecs.
We made our way toward the falls. The rushing water and rapids were quite a sight! Also noticeable- the came across pretty much every tourist stereotype you could imagine: the Japanese tourists with the expensive cameras, the disinterested teens traveling with their families, an apparent homeless dude sleeping in the grass, the honeymooners with rug burns on their knees… we saw it all.
The falls themselves are always impressive. As either Mark or Jesse commented- you only see the same water once. That’s deep.
Of course, we spent more time climbing in a tree that could easily have doubled as a house. We have a few pics of Jesse and I appearing to be walking out of the tree. After several thinly-veiled comments about “sharing” the tree, we were on our way.
This would be a good juncture to mention a reoccurring theme throughout the trip. Mark and Jesse were sharing a room. This arrangement resulted in a steady stream of both Mark and Jesse making references to their “extracurricular” activities behind closed doors. Clearly we are all very comfortable with our sexuality. This would be put to the test later that night…
We piled back into the car and headed for the border. In my naivety, I assumed crossing into the U.S. would be even easier than entering Canada. We are, after all, citizens. I was wrong. We pull up to the booth. The Customs Agent seemed friendly enough. I handed him our passports. He asked the requisite questions. I confidently answered them all.
He then opened the passports in an attempt to match the pictures with the car occupants. He looked at me and asked “Where’s Mark?” I dutifully pointed to Mark in the back seat on the passenger side. “Okay, how about Jason?” “That’s me.” I replied. “Scott?” he questioned. ‘No, that’s his last name. His first name is Jesse, he’s behind me.” “Oh.” came the response. “So which one of you is Shelly?” At this point, I was questioning his expertise. Seriously? There’s only one person left. She’s the only female in the car. The picture clearly looks like her. Shelly confirms her identity. The agent then turns and appears to be entering our information into a computer.
I’ll spare the details of the next part, but as it turns out Mark had an old issue that raised a flag. I’ll let Mark explain the details some day, but I like to pretend it involved a $3 debt owed to a dancer in Windsor, Ontario. “Mark, you’re going to have to get out of the car and come inside.” he directed. Mark hurriedly unbuckled his seat belt and began climbing out of the car. Immediately the guard screamed “SCOTT, GET BACK IN THE CAR NOW!” Three armed guards immediately rushed to the car with weapons drawn. My first thought- “Holy shit, they’re going to Tase mark!” I still feel a little guilty about that one. Mark complied and climbed back into the car.
We drove around the small hut and left the car as we went inside the Customs office. It was slightly awkward sitting in silence for 10 minutes awaiting the outcome. I was silently wondering if Mark was a fugitive serial killer. If so, would he kill Jesse first, thus allowing Shelly and I to escape? What if he were a cannibal? Which one of us looked the most appetizing? Maybe that’s why he brought two kilos of licorice… he was trying to plump us up! I coughed a few times hoping he’d be weirded out by eating a sick person.
As we sat there, I couldn’t help but wonder just how secure our borders really were… this guy repeatedly got ALL of our names wrong. Anyway, the resolution with Customs was simple. Mark wasn’t a cannibalistic serial killer, which was a good thing.
Soon we were back in the car and on our way. As we sat outside the Customs office, I realized I had no idea how to get to Rochester. My phone GPS was acting up. It forced me to do what any guy would do. I drove aimlessly. We headed toward Buffalo. That seemed wrong, so I turned around and headed back to Niagara Falls. Once there, I finally broke down and decided to stop to buy a map. We stopped at a 7-11 in a suburb of Niagara Falls that looked like the ugly offspring of Detroit and rural Arkansas. What happened next would be another one of those life-defining moments we only experience once every few years.