Sault-Ste-Marie is both in Ontario and Michigan, but look totally different on either side. The only thing they have in common is the nickname: the ‘Soo’. The border is formed by river St-Mary that flows from Lake Superior to the North Channel of the Lake Huron. A long suspended bridge can take you across.
On the Canadian side, it’s a proper industrial border city at its worst: run-down and deserted shopping street, dark shops with depressingly old and dusty windows, big empty parking lots outside ugly administrative buildings, a grim duty-free shop with adverts for a free leather bag for the purchase of two bottles of bourbon, and a 24-hour casino right next to the border post.
On the American side it’s a lovely touristy little town that attracts visitors with the lock. There’s a nice little park by the river, a visitor center (yes, center and not centre on this side of the river!), a museum, and a two-storey glassed gallery overlooking the lock. The all lady at the museum’s reception makes announcement for every ship going through, with ship’s profile, stats, cargo and history. It’s all well maintained: mowed lawn, flower beds, American flags. The shopping street looks fresh, colourful and attractive…
Well, you get my point. Now about crossing.
The bridge can only be crossed with a vehicle. Bicycle at least. So for me pedestrian, I had to take a bus that’s only operated during the day, from 7am to 7pm week days, and 9am to 5pm weekends. I got in the Soo, Canadian side on the Friday at 7pm. That meant I was stuck in that horrible city. I camped near a power plant, between a railway and a highway, hiding in the woods. I would miss the Greyhound bus to get to Detroit leaving at 7:40am on the Saturday.
So when I got up in the morning, I didn’t rush and enjoyed my last Canadian coffee in a Tim Horton’s by that awful shopping street and carried on with crossing the border around 11am. This is when I filmed this quick video.
The bus is $2 (whether CAD or USD, the same!). The traffic line forms on the bridge and crossing took one hour. There was no customs to go through on the Canadian side, but I was submitted to proper examination and search on the US side. You should have seen the face of the lady customs officer when she search through my stuff: all my clothes dirty after one entire week of wild camping…!
I knew I would have to camp yet one more night before catching the bus on the next morning at 7:40am. I treated myself with a nice all-day-all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet for only $11, and I visited the Soo lock and very interesting and well documented museum. Later in the afternoon, I felt a sudden urge to take a shower.
Where could I find a shower…? Sneaking in a hotel Spa seemed difficult. Begging at reception to get access to the facilities seemed equally impossible. I didn’t find any swimming pool on Google, so I started looking for a stadium or sports complex. Undoubtedly the local football team would be practising, and I could probably sneak in or ask to get a shower in the changing rooms. Indeed I found a football ground, home to the local Soo football team, but to my surprised it was empty. I tried my luck, and was even more surprise to find the locker rooms were open. I had the best shower of my life and used my last clean clothes to dress up…
It felt so good that I went back to the shopping street and had a lovely pint of fresh lager. Also probably one of the best I ever had, but because I hadn’t been drinking for 2 weeks, I felt literally pissed! Even merrier then, I took a bus to outside of town, right in the commercial area where the Greyhound (actually Indian Trials, operating for Greyhound) stop is. Right next to the biggest Wallmart in the world! I found a nice a little hidden spot to set camp, and got lots of food from Wallmart, and had the best picnic on the car park…!
The following morning, I caught the bus, that took me to Detroit by the end of the day. I was in for a surprise, discovering yet another run down and deserted city…