Border anxiety is pretty common. There’s something really uncomfortable about the imbalanced power relationship between the border guard and the passport holder.

Perhaps it’s because it’s really rare to be quite so beholden to someone of authority as when at a border. Stuck and under scrutiny. Forced to answer questions. Personal inquiries that feel designed to trip you up. An unsmiling face that seems permanently suspicious. It all makes many people really anxious—me included.

As my partner and I left the mining town of Stewart, British Columbia (population 500) and drove toward the panhandle border at Hyder, Alaska (population less than 100), that familiar border anxiety started to grow. We ran through the usual drill: Do we have any fresh fruit? What about meat? Do we have any alcohol to declare? Where are the passports?

No, no, no—and the passports? I don’t know. We’d been driving through our home province of British Columbia for two weeks and hadn’t needed them.

But signs were counting down the distance to the border, and with only a few hundred meters to spare, we found a gravel area to pull over where we could dig through our over-packed trunk to find the passports.

“We’re going to look suspicious,” I said, passports in hand and getting back into the car. Because borders feel like 1984-level surveillance to me.

I’ll never forget the moment we drove around the last bend in the road and could see the actual border.

Expecting anxiety-inducing lineups and scowling guards, there was nothing. The paved road simply bumped down, turning into a gravel road and a couple of signs bid us hello: “Welcome to Hyder, Alaska.”

There’s still no US Customs at the border, but that gravel road has since been paved and that unguarded border crossing now has a gate that’s closed from midnight to 8 am each day. For those returning to Canada, there is a small Canada Border Services Agency post on the way back through.

Hyder, Alaska border
Hyder, Alaska border

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