After departing Solon Springs that morning, I shot across Minnesota through some of the smoothest air of the entire trip, from beginning to end. There wasn’t a whole lot underneath me but marshland, lakes, and tundra as far as the eye could see. The largest body of water I encountered beyond Lake Superior were the Red Lakes:
Crossing over the eastern tip of the Red Lakes, I set my sights on landing at Piney Pinecreek Airport (48Y). While making my descent, I ended up circling over the city of Roseau and felt immediately called to land there. First, however, I felt compelled to land at 48Y; half of the runway lay in America, while the other half lay in Canada. It was an American airport, and since I had my passport with me, I thought it would be a unique experience to land there:
It was unique, alright. Like something out of a dystopian novel.
I was wiping down the Dove
, enjoying the beautiful greenery and the rolled-up hay bales, when suddenly an SUV with U.S. Customs markings pulled up. Leaving the engine running, an officer stepped out wearing combat fatigues and body armor. He was a young guy. He didn’t look happy. In fact, he looked pretty stone-faced and too serious for his own good. I looked at his uniform. Stitched over his heart was the name, Miller
“Good morning!” I greeted him. I was in a great mood. Then that guy showed up.
“Where are you coming in from?” he asked me. He looked at me like he was about to reach for his gun.
“Duluth,” I told him.
“Well, we don’t open until nine o’clock. Why didn’t you announce yourself coming in?”
I told him that I did announce myself. I told him that I announced myself 5 miles out, then on the 45-entry for runway 15. Didn’t he hear me? Then he told me that I should have called ahead on the phone to let him know that I was coming. He repeated to me that the airport wasn’t open until nine-o’clock, and that I should have called him before landing.
“Yes, sir,” was all I could say. I felt like I was on the verge of being ordered to lie face-down on the pavement with my hands behind my head or something.
Then officer Miller told me, “Look. You see those tanks right there?” He was pointing at the fuel farm. I told him that, yes, I saw them. “Well if you walk past those, you’re in Canada, and you’re gonna be in trouble. Then if you try to walk back, you’re gonna be in even more trouble. You can use the restroom and get fuel if you need it, but stay on this side of the tanks. Got it?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. He started walking away. Just before he reached his vehicle, he spun around and looked at where I was parked. “You might be in the way, there. You might want to move your plane somewhere else. We’re going to have a lot of planes coming through here today.” Then he changed his mind suddenly, “Naw, I guess you’ll be all right there. But we’re gonna have a lot of planes coming through here today.”
“Okay, thanks,” I said. “Have a great day.” He didn’t reply. He just got into his SUV and drove off. That’s when I decided to use the restroom and get out of there before he changed his mind again and came back to arrest me, for God knew what.
I quickly climbed back into the plane and strapped in. It was clear that I was unwelcome and I could not wait to get out of there. Why in the world was there a rotating beacon and a lighted runway if you could only land there at certain times of the day? I cranked the Dove
over and rolled forward. As I was taxiing out, I saw the SUV racing toward the tarmac again. It was 9:00. There was a Piper coming in on final, and I waited for him to clear the runway before I back-taxied to runway 33. I didn’t waste any time blasting out of there. As I pulled the Dove
back around and headed for Roseau, I looked down and saw Miller walking up to the Piper. A family was getting out of the plane, and I felt sorry for them.
In just a few minutes, I was back on the ground again, this time in Roseau, MN (ROX). The pretty hay bales were again in the Minnesota background, but this time, nobody was around to make me feel like a criminal. The door to the terminal building was open, so I unpacked and went inside to relax over coffee:
There was a couch to sleep on, air conditioning, and a computer station to check weather. It looked good enough to me. And the coffee pot was working, too, even though it looked like it hadn’t been plugged in for months. I cleaned all the dust and stray bugs out of the carafe, filled it up with water, and waited for the coffee to brew.
About a half hour later, somebody pulled up on a quad. The engine was idling right outside the door of the building, so I went out there to talk to him. He was just sitting there on his quad, staring across the ramp at the Dove
where it was parked. I startled him when he turned his head and saw me standing behind him.
He asked me if that was my plane over there. I told him that it was. He said that he had never seen a plane like that before. What kind of plane was it? I told him that it was an RV-8, that I had spent the better part of 10 years building it, and that now I was flying it around America. I introduced myself, and he told me his name was Gary. He was a local farmer and a crop duster.
I asked Gary about the Piney Pinecreek Airport, about some guy from U.S. Customs getting upset with me for landing there before 9:00 and not calling him by phone ahead of time. I told Gary that I had never heard of such a thing.
Gary had some choice words to say about that. Really choice words. He told me that he knew the U.S. Customs supervisor very well---the head guy---and that he was going to give him a call and find out what was going on. Gary looked and talked like he was genuinely upset over the story I related to him. I wondered if I should have just kept my mouth shut. I was still a little rattled over the Piney Pinecreek episode myself and didn’t know just what to make of it.
Meanwhile, I told Gary that I wanted to go into town for breakfast. I had a bike, and I was going to assemble it and ride into Roseau. Gary told me not to bother. He took me back into the terminal building and handed me the keys to a courtesy car:
Thanking Gary, I drove into Roseau to have breakfast at a local diner:
While eating a healthy serving of French toast and sausage, I had a nice conversation with a local mother of two kindergarten-aged children who were with her. I asked her what there was to see in Roseau, about how I could spend most of my day there. She told me to tour the Polaris
factory. They gave tours there daily, and I really should go and check it out. I thanked her, paid my bill, and drove over to the Polaris
factory to make an appointment for a free tour.
The lady at the front desk said that the next tour would be after lunch at 2:00 p.m. Signing up for it, I gave her my name and phone number. Then she told me that I wouldn’t be able to wear my sandals in the factory during the tour. So I went back to the airport to kill some time and change into my shoes.
That is when all the fun began.