[ kùl də sák ]
“Street closed at one end: a road with no exit at one end.
Impasse: a situation in which further progress is impossible.”
“The name Canada comes from a Wendat (Huron-Iroquoian) word, kanata, meaning “village” or “settlement.”
She knew where she was going. She just wanted to camp under the Northern Lights that night. In fact, that is all she wanted to do the entire trip. Hell, that is all she has wanted to do her entire life.
She raced the train north and won. Little did she know she would be racing it south in just a few, long and exacerbating hours. Two dead ends later. Two visits to Immigration later. Two denials later. Two passports later. Two flip flops later.
Two flip flops? It was the beginning of April in Minnesota, after all. Winter had barely kissed Spring. It was icy and snowing that day. It was below 30 degrees.
Anyone who knows her, knows she wears flip flops everywhere, regardless of weather. She wasn’t planning to be long that day though. She was staying with her cousin and just intended to pop out to the store for some ciggies and a caffeine rush.
Well, the music was turned up and the caffeine went to her head, so one thing led to another, and Lizzy found herself marooned in a cul de sac in the middle of the wilderness and in the midst of one empty cabin after another, staring at her destination across a lake. Canada.
The day trip started out like any other during that epic journey out West – manic, delusional and highly energetic. A recipe for disaster, or comedy, depending on how you look at it. And believe me when I say this, Canada could smell that coming from 100 miles away.
I know where I was headed, but I don’t know how I got there. I remember blasting down the highway with the only direction being North and West.
I came into a small town named Ely, MN. In it, and to my delight, there was a sanctuary for wolves aptly named, “The Wolf Center.” Pure luck! I have always been a huge fan of these majestic creatures. I used to study them when I was young. I was a bit obsessed for anything wild early on.
I drove into to the center that magically appeared on my right. Hardly a soul around. My heart beat fast as I saw how large the sanctuary was, just from my view alone. I walked up to the education pavilion right outside the doors. I walked up slowly and highly aware of my surroundings. It was almost a sacred gait. I was honored to be in their presence, even if they were unseen. Meeting a wolf face to face was a dream.
I paced the pavillion, reading excerpts about the wolf population in MN, Canada and the like. I don’t remember all that was written on those walls, but I do know that my heart sunk. I took quick snapshots of their paws imprinted in concrete and then ran up to the door only to have a care-taker pop up around the corner to tell me that it was closed during the weekdays. Of course. As usual. My heart sunk again.
“Will you be back to visit us this weekend?”, she asked.
“You betcha!” I answered back with utmost certainty.
I never did go back that weekend. One thing I definitely regret. One place to which I will definitely return.
She got into her car and hurriedly pointed her GPS in a new direction. Time was ticking and she had to make it to Canada before night fall. North.Toward International Falls. Four years earlier, she was North on the East Coast at Niagara Falls. Just as manic. Just as delusional. And had not one ounce less energy.
She raced away from her wolf pack and into the wilderness. She paid more attention to her car’s compass than the GPS, which is why she ended up in the western edge of Superior National Forest, a hundred miles away from her destination. But the trip was not in vain. It was absolutely stunning. It was a fairytale setting, missing only wolves and bears alike. There was a hiker, about 30 miles into the desolate wilderness. She pulled aside the road and asked if he needed a ride and he pointed in the opposite direction toward Ely.
She shrugged her shoulders and with an oblivious smile she pointed North, “I am headed that way!” She sped off and prayed for her own forgiveness for not turning her ass around and attempting to make someone’s life easier for just a day.
Exiting her little detour, she came to a road with cabins. All empty. No one for miles. No passing cars. No humans walking or working about. She drove on and out of the corner of her eye, she caught a road marker. On it was painted “Canadian Border Road.” There were about seven mailboxes on the corner of this Canadian Border Road and this unknown mysterious forest drive.
She drove passed the sign post to the first Cul De Sac she’d see that day.
It wasn’t even a road at that point. It was paved with mud and ice and snow. Lots of snow. Something she would not dare go down on a good day in her car. But there was a sign with hints toward Canada so she took the road, not so cautiously. After all, the music was up and her excitement rose the closer she imagined herself laying out under the sky with a lake lapping at her feet while cozied up to a fire.
Suddenly behind her, approaching slowly, was an SUV. As it got closer and as she rounded her culdesac for the second time, this time totally confused and frustrated, she realized it was the police. Undoubtedly suspicious. She slowed down at the end of the cul de sac that had her falsely believing it led to Canada. Teased again! The cop pulled up beside her asking her where she was headed. Because really, who the hell would be out in a sedan in the wilderness, in that weather anyway? But she was oblivious.
All smiles, she answered him out the window, “I’m headed to Canada through International Falls!”
He laughed and said, “You are a long way off on this road. You have to go back from where you came and head to Ely. Pass through Virginia to get to International Falls.”
“Shit!,” she yelled in her head. “Is he messing with me?” That was hours back. The sign said it was right around the corner. It was right there, taunting her. She exhaled and put her head down and said in a defeated tone, “Okay…back to Ely then?”
“I’m afraid so,” he answered, shaking his head.
She half thanked him and let him go on his way before she rolled out of the first cul de sac, the first tease.
As most know, I have a bit of an incorrigible flair.
So, I rolled back down the road following the cop, again passing the signpost “Canadian Border Road.” I drove down the road slowly, thinking and stirring this idea around in my head. “Should I turn this car around and head down that road that has been teasing me this whole time? Did this cop really know what he was talking about anyway? Nah. He didn’t. I knew that road was my way out. Why else would be so obviously named?”
As I turned my car around, I saw his brake lights go on and then slowly release as he rolled further down the road until he disappeared. Once out of sight, I made a bee-line for the road to my left. The road that led to Canada. Why go the long way, if you can make a shortcut, right?
Right. Awesome choice. Little did I know that an hour and a half later, I would have my ass sorely handed to me by poorly constructed roads and Mother Nature herself.
She bee-lined left, past the mailboxes and closed-down outdoor outfitters. No one around. Not a soul. All cabins empty. This road was far worse off than the last. Mud and ice and two measly tracks for her tires to navigate while slipping and sliding their way forward. It was the best she was going to get this far in, she decided. So she rolled on, desperation setting in ever so slightly.
At this point, there was no GPS or service available and the twists and turns made it impossible to tell if she was going North, South, East or West. It was like being in a wilderness survival version of the Twilight Zone. And night was quickly closing in on this stretch.
After navigating the turns and road marker after road marker, she admitted to herself that she was utterly frustrated. Utterly desperate. And utterly lost. She was too far in now on this road to turn around, plus, where was there to turn around in such narrow straights. She saw one last left and took that road down a hill. She saw hope ahead as she rounded the corner. A cabin on the top of a hill with an SUV parked in the driveway. Up until now, she hadn’t seen any cars other than officer Joe’s.
The cabin was gorgeous. Stunning. A magnificent cabin and a dream come true at this moment in time. The SUV meant someone was home and could help her get to Canada for the night.
She parked her car outside the cabin entrance. The friendliest of labradors came running out to greet her as she stepped out of her car into the frigid air. Her flip flops landed in ice cold mush and she gasped. No turning back now. She had help and a little chill in her toes wouldn’t stop her.
She got out, greeted the pooch with a hearty pat and trudged through the ice cold water towards the steps that led to the balcony and a side door. She got to the top and knocked softly as not to alarm anyone. No one answered. She knocked louder. No one. Louder still. Not a single rustle or noise from inside. All she heard was nature surrounding her.
Before panic set in, she looked around and saw the balcony wrapped around the cabin. Following the dog’s lead, she walked around the balcony to the back. She couldn’t believe her eyes as she peered over the edge. A lake and a cliff with pines lining the edge to the right. It was breathtaking. Something she had wished for all her life.
Windows wrapped around and followed the balconies edge so, surely someone must have seen her by now? No one came out to greet her. She knocked on the windows and peered in. Immaculate, as you’d expect a cabin of this caliber to be. No one still.
Remembering there was a small deck underneath the main balcony, she headed back from where she came to the steps. Before she descended, she stopped one more time at the side door. Knocking. No one. Realizing she really had no choice, she gathered her courage to try the door knob. She opened the door ever so slowly and yelled inside, “Hello? Is anyone home? I’m lost.”
She gently closed the door and walked back down the steps to the lower deck. At the edge of the deck there was a door leading to the downstairs of the cabin. She peered into the window and saw herbs drying on racks and hanging from ceilings. These were definitely her types of people. A small pang set in her gut, knowing she may never have this dream someday, or was it because it was so close she could taste it?
Shaking her head free from its daydream, she knocked on the downstairs door only to be answered back with silence, once again. She also opened up this door in hopes to yell into the house and awaken someone inside. Not a soul. Just an overly friendly dog, for which she was thankful.
Defeated, she walked away from her mission back into the frozen mud and icy water. No one noticed her car was outside blocking the road. No one heard her, even when she went into the house. No one saw or heard a thing. How odd, she thought. “Where could they be?” she asked as she slipped back into her car, her feet burnt red from the cold.
If there were one day where she should not have worn flip flops, today was the day.
I kicked off my flip flops in frustration and desperation. For the first time in my life, my feet were frozen solid, burnt red from the ice. I decided to go barefoot from that point forward.
I didn’t have much choice but to move forward, literally, because I could not turn around. What’s up next? A huge hill down through ice, snow and mud. Great combo for a city sedan. I figured, there had to be a way out moving on, so it wasn’t so bad to have to slide down this hill in my car. I would go slow, so no big deal.
It wasn’t so bad going down. I slid, yes. Barefoot, yes. But it was a successful launch on my way.
I drove a little ways only to find that I was smack dab in the middle of a Cul De Sac. Again!
There were a few cabins surrounding the circle, but again, no one home. All shut up for the winter months yet.
Survival mode set in long before I even looked back up that hill from which I came. Getting down was one thing. Getting up it was an entirely different scenario.
In fact, it was such a dismal task, that I gave up for a bit. I settled on the fact that I would be stuck in this Cul de Sac overnight with no one around and started to mentally prepare myself with supplies in my back trunk. First up? Proper foot wear. I went out barefoot into the mud once again, this time not feeling the piercing cold. I flung open my trunk and desperately searched for socks and sneakers. I threw everything in my way to the ground into the mud, including my tent. No shoes, nothing but extra clothes and coats that would eventually come in handy.
I threw everything back into the trunk and just sat in my seat for a while trying to think my way out of a dire situation. Lost. Stuck. Alone. Hill. Big Hill. Ice. Lots of Ice.
I sat for a few minutes until I finally decided to not give up so soon. I knew if I could make it up this hill, I was able to make it through anything. Anything.
Barefoot, I turned the car around to face my enemy. I backed up into an empty driveway and floored it as fast and as hard as I could forward. It fishtailed through the ice, mud and snow and finally straightened out to make it halfway up the hill. At that point, I floored it and the car fishtailed to the right and left but could not even begin to make it up any further. I started to slide backwards down the hill as gravity took over. I went to brake, but due to the pressure and lack of traction, my brakes suddenly shut down on me and locked up. I somehow managed to steer the car straight back into the cul de sac as it slid the rest of the way down the hill.
I was shaking at this point. “I’m really not making it out of here tonight am I?” No one around for miles, no service to call for help, nothing. Nothing but me and a tent and two flip flops. I had really reached an impasse at this point.
I couldn’t give up and backed it up again into the driveway facing the hill. I floored it faster and harder this time, fishtailing the entire way up the hill. I got past my first obstacle, and gunned it. Only to my surprise, I made it up this time around. I did some serious damage to the road though, not that I really gave a shit at that point! I knew from that point on, that since I made it up that hill, I could now continue on my journey in confidence.
I immediately came up on the cabin with the suv in the driveway. Except this time, a lady stood on the top balcony looking down. Now there were two dogs. The other not so nice as the last. I opened my door and grabbed my flip flops and walked out of the car. I waved my hand and said, “Hello! I was just lost and stuck down in the cul de sac! I am sorry for intruding, but I needed help and came up to see if anyone was home!”
She yelled down and said she was so very sorry that she didn’t hear me. “Where are your shoes, young lady?,” she prodded, surprised.
I laughed, “I didn’t expect to be up here today.”
“Where are you headed?,” she asked.
“Canada,” I said almost laughing at this point.
She didn’t bat an eyelash, as if it were common or something. “It’s only 3 miles away! It’s right across this lake here, if you only had a boat,” she said, laughing.
I could have killed. I knew it was right here! Trouble is you kinda need immigration services to get across the border. Ya, little things like that.
I laughed and humored her. Little did she know how serious I was about getting into Canada to see those lights. Little did she know the journey I had taken today already. It was four hours later, when in anyone else’s day, it would have taken them two hours to get there. Oh but not me. I can’t do things by the book. I was kicking myself of course.
“You’ll have to go back from where you came, dear and head through Ely to get to International Falls. Where are you from anyway?”
Oh so, damn. The cop was right after all?
I laughed again and said, “Oh okay, thank you! I am from Pennsylvania. I am out visiting family.”
“I am from Illinois. We are just here to start the spring. This is our vacation home,” she says. “Would you like a coke for your journey?”
I said no. But I always mean yes. I just have a habit of not accepting help or a nice gesture when I most need it.
We said our goodbyes and I thanked her once more.
I knew there was a good half hour or so of navigating myself through the wild roads out back onto Canadian Border Road and then onto the main road, where I had to travel an hour or so again just to get to Ely through the National Forest once again, so I could head North properly. I guess there are proper ways of heading North in Minnesota, eh…so as not to hit too many lakes? It’s more like driving dizzily North and then West, South and then East, in a “general” Northerly direction of course.
I was pretty high on life at this point, because I had really just gotten over the biggest obstacle yet on my trip out West. I made it up the hill. And since I made it up, I could conquer anything and that even meant getting myself to Canada by night fall.
She meandered her way out of the icy maze and got onto solid ground about a half hour later. She sped off, shaking her head, unsure of what she had just been through.
She got passed Ely and got onto Highway 53 somehow. Heading straight for International Falls.
69 miles away, she saw a train to her left racing North as if it were a sign, “head this way!” She took it as a challenge and raced along side it as delusion set in. A couple miles down the road, she was closing in on the front. She threw her arm out the window and into the frigid air. Pumping it up and down so the train would see her and honk. The train didn’t disappoint and honked its horn loud and clear. She was pumped. On her way to camp underneath the Northern Lights. Canada, a place to settle and rest after a harrowing day.
She closed in on International Falls about an hour later.
I swear, considering the name, I expected International Falls to be quite the town and quite the sight. I expected a modern immigration office in the midst of waterfalls, wilderness and beautiful surroundings, welcoming you into their arms. Not the case. It was like a ghost town; industrial and cold to the heart. The main thing they had going for them were a set of train tracks which you had to traverse through a dizzy display of stop signs and signposts pointing to immigration.
My heart hardened remembering my last trip to Niagara Falls four years ago. I was manic and on a mission. I was searched and handcuffed after I opened my mouth and spewed out delusions. I was honest. Too honest. That is a story for another day. I was not allowed to cross the border and my passport was confiscated. All under the illusion that I was not allowed to bring wood, that I had in my car from a recent camping trip, into the country. I was immediately transferred to the first set of mental institutions shortly thereafter. Bitterness rose up in my soul because not unlike this time, all I wanted to see was a rainbow. Note to self, don’t go chasing rainbows anywhere near the Canadian Border. They don’t appreciate whimsy. Or manic people.
This time was different. I had enough of a sober mind to know what not to say and how to act. After all, what was I afraid of? I just wanted to camp on a lake and watch the Northern Lights. What is the harm in telling them that? My mind had somehow forgotten it was under 30 degrees though. So,it was a bit odd and would eventually raise red flags for someone who is obviously already flagged in their system.
I proceeded to the immigration window, palms sweating and heart pumping. The key was to act normal. I saw two to three cars proceed through the line without incident. My turn. In pride, I held out my brand new passport that I was re-issued years ago for business. Ha! Take that Canada! The gentlemen took the passport, ran it through and immediately asked what I was doing so far Up North.
Not about to lose my composure, I confidently replied, “I am headed to camp for the night. I am trying to catch the Aurora Borealis.” Simple. Stated fact. Short and sweet. Which was completely different from my speech in Niagara Falls.
“Any idea where you are headed in Canada for this camping? Do you have a tent?” he asked without glancing up from his screen.
“I have a tent and supplies, yes. I was hoping you could offer suggestions for camping near the border,” I answered.
His stern attitude softened and he looked up and toward me. I was relieved. He was smiling.
“Isn’t it a bit cold to be camping tonight? How many nights are you staying?” he pried.
“It’s nothing I cannot handle and I am staying only for one night.”
“So let me get this straight. You came all the way from Pennsylvania only to camp one night in Canada?” his voice now carrying a suspicious tone.
I explained to him that I was visiting family in Minnesota, specifically Duluth at that time. I said it was a dream of mine to camp under the lights. I must have said too much or something, because he proceeded to tell me to pull over to the front entrance and get out of the vehicle. “Oh dear God, here we go again,” I thought. “So close! It couldn’t possibly happen again, could it?”
“Come inside and we can help you with places to camp,” he reassured me. I knew, as delusional as I was, that they just wanted to check me out again to see if anything had changed from four years ago. What story would she come up with this time?
I walked inside and had to answer a whole host of redundant questions. They looked at a map for me, but were concerned for my safety, being alone and under freezing temps that night. They led me to the lead officer that spoke to me through a bulletproof window. She was well humored and again, I was relieved.
Again, another set of redundant questions. Some new. Some about my family and reasons I was visiting so far from home. Prying questions actually. But she was kind, so I really didn’t mind. She finally asked me to tell her how much money I was carrying. I said, “$30 in cash and $90 on my debit card.” More than enough for a night at a campground somewhere close to here. She then asked me if I was traveling with anyone. This is probably what did me in. I was half kidding, half serious. I replied, “Physically no. Metaphysically, yes.” She looked out toward the car slightly amused. Note to self, keep your mouth shut next time.
She collected the information and excused herself as she disappeared into the offices in the back of the building. I sat down on identical chairs that I had sat on four years ago, waiting for my verdict. My whole world was crushed at that point in Niagara Falls and it hurt to recall. Luckily this time, I was more with it and in a happier mood, despite the day’s travels.
The officer came from around the corner and handed me a slip of paper and explained its contents as nicely as she could. It was a denial letter. Denying me entrance into the country under the illusion that I did not have enough means to support myself for a night in Canada. She also then asked me, “Weren’t you on the border four years ago?” Wink. Okay, enough said.
Shot down again. I had to turn around and drive back into the U.S. side only to be told to pull over so they could strip my car and search it. Again. For the second time in my life. Both times being on the Canadian border.
They raped my car. Throwing trash, meds and clothes all over the car. They searched my trunk. I couldn’t help but giggle to myself as I sat waiting in my manic, impatient state, “Someone yell rape! Because lizzy’s been fucked!”
During the search, another cop (this one male and nowhere near as nice) took statements from me. More redundant questions, except this time they were more in depth. He wanted family names and specifics. He jotted everything down that I said as if he were writing a profile for me. Where exactly in PA did I live? What is your Grandfather’s name? Father’s? Cousins? Aunts? It was a tad overboard.
He went out to stop the guy from searching and returned to tell me that my insurance was cancelled. He had actually gone into my purse and broke out a insurance bill that I had neatly folded in there. Talk about intrusive. I called him on that and said, “No, it is actually due in 7 days. The 14th.” He was just testing me.
He proceeded to tell me not to text and drive on my way out and explained the directions home. At this point, I just wanted to go back to Duluth to my cousin’s and Aunt’s house. I didn’t want to camp anymore. I was too exhausted and too turned off by Border Patrol. He pointed the directions out – down highway 53, straight through for about two hours until I got to Duluth.
She was happy to leave the building painted with stars and stripes behind her, mocking her as she drove off, middle finger through her sunroof, pointing at the Canadian Border.
First stop? Beer. A good ol’, big ol’ case of beer. After all, who the hell didn’t deserve a cold one after that day?
She threw the case in the back of her car and drove off, down highway 53. It was getting really dark now at this point and fatigue was setting in. Two or so hours down this road and she would be home. She did an overview of the ridiculous day and thought to herself, “If only I had taken this road in the first place, I would have been through this hours ago!”
She turned up the tunes and blasted down the highway and soon discovered yet another train to her right. This time both of them heading South. She had just enough juice left in her to race it home. A small score in a day full of cul de sacs….the only way out was South.
She threw her weathered flip flops out the window, noting to herself, “North just leads to dead ends.” Lizzy had reached her final impasse for the day and year for that matter, and she wasn’t looking back.
“Until next time, Canada. Until we meet again.”