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July 10th, 2013
Run for the Border
Since this is my first real story, I feel like I should explain an important detail about recent developments in my life. I moved back to my hometown of Buffalo, New York from Austin, Texas a few months ago. Being away from my hometown has made me more wide-eyed about the world I live in and I was determined to take this approach back to Buffalo with me. My goal was to put myself in places that weren’t necessarily in my comfort zone. With that idea in mind, I set out to rediscover Buffalo though running.
Out the front door and down the steps of my apartment, I put my passport in my pocket and took off for a run. Why a passport for just a run? Well, my new apartment is a mile out of downtown Buffalo and just over a mile from the Peace Bridge which takes you straight to Canada. I’ve only ever crossed the bridge in a car, never by foot. After doing some research, I realized it would be really simple and totally free plus, why not?
It didn’t take too long to make it to the bridge, but the usual anxiety from having to deal with border guards was creeping in. You never know if you’ll get the nicest person ever or the person that inspects your car for three hours and interrogates you with the same questions over and over. It didn’t matter this time because I was down for the adventure.
The way it works is that you go through a turnstile then start crossing without talking to anyone. Well, I didn’t know that at first, so I pushed an intercom button and waited to speak with someone. A voice came on saying something in what I think was English, but it was so jumbled I couldn’t understand. I waited and waited then realized that no one was coming and that I was just supposed to cross through. With that, I took off running up the bridge. The view is way better than in a car because you get to take your sweet time and enjoy it. The funniest moment was stopping to get a photo of my feet straddling the international border with one foot in either country. Once the silliness of that wore off, I proceeded down the bridge towards the inspection area.
Once in Canada, you have to loop around under the bridge by going through this random dark tunnel that looks like it’s never been used. After the tunnel, I reached a sign that said “Pedestrians and Bicyclists use 1st open lane”. Wait, I have to stand with the cars? There isn’t some sort of room where I can talk to someone? Nope, guess not, but I was down for the adventure. I ran over to the first open lane and waited my turn. I was a little nervous while waiting for the car in front of me to finish up. This was going to be really awkward or epically funny. Actually it would probably be both.
The car finished and I ran up to the booth. The guard was a nice lady who was completely caught off guard by me. It’s not every day that a runner comes up to the window. The surprise definitely made it easier to cross. She asked all the usual questions and then asked if I had anything to declare. I paused because I really had nothing. I was wearing tights and a running shirt. What could I really bring over? Without much room to carry anything, the only thing I had to declare was “I’m wearing tights.” We laughed and then she gave me directions to get out safely.
All the stress was gone now that I was legally in Canada, so it was off to check out the bridge and run towards the mouth of the Niagara River. My run times were terrible this trip because I stopped so many times to shoot photos and take in the view. I’ve lived in Buffalo almost all my life, but never went to Canada just to see Buffalo from the other side.
My goal was to run to the actual fort that the town of Fort Erie is named for, but I nixed the idea since I thought it might be further than time would allow. After scanning for a place to run to, I settled on the point where the river meets Lake Erie. It really wasn’t that far, but I was finding it tough to get focused on running due to all the sightseeing. From here you could see five miles north or south of Buffalo. Everything looked so much closer than it seemed while living on the other side.
I finally made it to my turnaround point when I actually found Fort Erie. It only makes sense that a fort would be located at a place where the lake and river meet. As luck prevailed, I picked the day of the week the fort is closed, so I had a self-guided tour of the place. I definitely entered areas that I might not have been allowed to walk through if the place was open.
After the fort tour, it was time to head back. My usual rule of thumb is to never follow the same path back because you already went that way once. Why not go a different direction to see something new. It was difficult to do on this run, but I made sure to look the other direction on the way back.
It was still weird for me to just walk onto the Peace Bridge. I just waited for the border guards to roll up and interrogate me about what I was doing and why I was shooting so many photos. Luckily that never happened, so I headed up the bridge, vaulted over the international border and down to the United States’ border guards.
If you’ve ever crossed into the United States in Buffalo then you know that the American guards can be really tough. Again, my border guard induced anxiety started to rise. The running adventure broke the ice and the guard was actually really interested in what I was doing. I explained that I had never ran this way before and it seemed like a really good idea. A nice, safe answer which doesn’t lead to any other questions.
I’ve done plenty of eight-mile runs, but none this interesting. I crossed a giant bridge spanning an international border, ran along the Niagara River which leads to Niagara Falls 18 miles downstream, stopped at one of the Great Lakes then toured a fort used during the War of 1812. I hope I didn’t just have the best run in Buffalo during my first month back here. Let’s see if I can top it.
Jim Cielencki Contributor
Jim Cielencki is a former BMX professional who can't seem to shake the thrill seeker in him. He founded Sunday Bikes in 2005 and continues to wear many hats there today. Jim has also written for numerous BMX magazines and websites.http://www.sundaybikes.com