From Canada to California: a father-son pandemic roadtrip

Tyrian was in Vancouver, Canada – and after a number of months went by where his only in-person interactions were with DoorDash employees and the staff at the local grocery store, he decided that being in solitary confinement in his apartment was not the experience that he was looking for. He decided to come home, and from there the adventure began…

We had to figure out how to get him home, and thus began the excitement of paperwork. Initially, we hoped that it would be as simple as dropping him off had been – drive up to Vancouver, load his things in a vehicle, and drive home. However the Canadian border patrol was letting absolutely no one across unless you were Canadian, so Matt’s venture to Vancouver turned out to be impossible. After weeks of back-and-forth with the Canadian border patrol, Canadian immigration, and the US border patrol, we found out that we could make an exchange at the US border site for commercial vehicles, in the visitor’s parking lot. Matt set it up with the agent on the phone, then began booking his trip. He would fly to Seattle, pick up a rental truck, and go to the border to receive Tyrian. Tyrian, in turn, had a car service that would drop him off on the other side of the parking lot – finding a service that was operating during COVID with vehicles large enough to transport all of is stuff was a trial in and of itself.

Things never go as smoothly as planned.

The flight to Seattle was effortless. Matt was able to breeze through the airport, as almost no one was there, and United was extremely good about providing cleaning products to ensure that he was able to clean his seat and everything that he touched without dipping into the six packs of 70% alcohol wipes Christina packed for him… Two masks and care meant that he felt pretty confident in his sanitized environment. He also got upgraded to First Class so had even more room from other passengers than originally planned. A brief taxi ride to the rental facility with open windows was very easy. Once there, however, things started to get complicated.

It turned out that everyone was fleeing the city. Rental trucks were in extremely high demand, and the truck that Matt had initially rented was no longer available. The company honored the reservation by providing a much larger truck, so all of a sudden he was driving an 18-foot truck rather than a 12-foot standard pickup. That meant that he needed commercial driving insurance… but at least he had a vehicle. He spent an hour disinfecting the cabin, using 50 of the wipes that Christina had sent him with, creating a mobile bubble. Next he drove up to a motel by the border. Best in town – it rated two whole stars! (The first-choice accommodation at a Bed and Breakfast had declined our reservation request due to COVID.)

Matt’s alarm went off in the morning, and, having not heard from Tyrian, he ended up texting to see if the pick-up at the apartment had happened as planned. It turned out Tyrian was already at the border, having been picked up early and zipping down with no traffic. Well, sort of — he was actually dropped at the Canadian border patrol parking lot, on the commercial truck side… hundreds of yards from the US border, with his bike and entire apartment in suitcases and boxes on the sidewalk. It was 7:44 in the morning, the temperature was 30º and the wind was howling, dropping the temperature even further. He tried to get help, or borrow a dolly, but no luck. He ended up doing a box-and-bike relay, moving a few items to where he could see them, going back for more, and making multiple trips per leg — staggering steps closer and closer to the US border. Meanwhile, Matt had driven the six minutes to the border parking lot and settled in to wait for Tyrian’s paperwork to clear.

An hour later, two or three armed border patrol agents came to the parking lot and while one came to the window to talk with Matt, the others circled behind the truck. Once they started talking, they went from wary to friendly, but explained that Matt was not allowed to be in the visitors parking lot. Any pick up had to be made off of border patrol property. They directed him to a lot up the hill, where he parked by a few businesses that looked closed on Saturdays. While pausing a minute to try to figure out the best way to help Tyrian with his stuff, there was a sudden tap on the truck’s window. It was Tyrian!

It turned out that the really strenuous work had been getting the gepäck to the border. His paperwork took all of 30 seconds, showing them his passport. So he had come up the hill and brought a few of his things with him… but the majority of his apartment belongings were at the bottom of the hill, still at the border. He was very tired after hauling his gear in the relay, so Matt went down with him to try and get things up faster to the truck.

Once down the hill, one of the border patrol folks said that Matt should bring the truck down and load it at the border so that they didn’t have to lift everything up the hill. This was, of course, what Matt had hoped would happen when they saw how hard Tyrian had been working to move things… so Matt went back to the truck and drove it back down to the visitor’s parking lot, where the border patrol agent met him and led him through their winding routes to where Tyrian and his things were waiting. Matt opened the back of the truck, 10 feet from the pile of belongings… and out came a ranking officer who said they were not allowed to load there, it had to be off the border patrol property due to liability concerns. She gave the agent who had let Matt on site a talking-to, admitting that it was against basic humanity and empathy, but that it was the rule.

Matt drove back up the hill and parked.

Tyrian and Matt schlepped the stuff up to the truck, finally getting everything loaded after much groaning and moaning— though the border patrol folks did keep an eye on the pile so they didn’t have to relay. It was a relief to have Tyrian back in the US and heading home. They got Matt’s belongings from the motel, breakfasted at Starbucks, and hit the road south. The “comfort ride” experience was anything but that.  The cab was poorly sealed – rain came in the driver’s window – and heat escaped very quickly. It was also extremely noisy. During conversation, they were both unconsciously pushing their voices and when they stopped, it was actually a mental effort to speak in a normal tone.

It was a pretty uneventful trip, though their COVID protocols of masks and wiping down the gas pumps, restaurant door handles, and hotel surfaces got some weird looks from other travelers. As they passed through Seattle, the one major delay was due to a boat accident on the freeway. Yep, there was a crashed boat taking up three lanes. Their biggest challenge, though, was trying to find a room at midnight in Yreka, as most of the hotels were full of the firefighters battling the West Coast wildfires. Heading south, they drove through devastation for miles, forests and hills blackened and burned on both sides of the road.

They pushed through and made the 14-hour trip in two days. It was great to get home. Once home, we sectioned off the house so the girls were in one wing and Tyrian and Matt were in the other… isolating, wearing masks, and rigorously cleaning spaces we alternated using like the kitchen. It was a long five days before getting the COVID test, then waiting for the results was even harder. After they cleared, it was quite a relief to have the entire house for everyone and to finally have the whole family safe at home.