A picture of the author in front of the local post office in Woodstock, New Brunswick. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — I haven’t had a Dairy Queen Flamethrower burger since the Canada border closed in March 2020. There are no Maine Dairy Queens within 100 miles of Houlton, so the most direct route is to travel 15 minutes from where I live in Houlton to Woodstock, New Brunswick.

Although Canada started welcoming back Americans on Aug. 9, the rules for entering the country while the world still grapples with the pandemic remain complex.

I decided to go through the process myself to see just what needed to be done in order to get my burger. It felt great to finally cross the border again, and for me marked an important milestone in the two countries’ recovery from the virus.

But first, I had to get a negative COVID-19 test, which can be taken up to 72 hours prior to arrival at the border. Canada does not accept rapid antigen tests, such as those administered at Walgreens. So at around 2:45 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 9, I headed to the Katahdin Valley Health Center in Houlton for a PCR test.

The staff warned me that it could take up to five days to get results — possibly rendering my test a waste of time due to the 72-hour rule. I went through with it and hoped for the best.

Next, I uploaded my information into the ArriveCAN app, a mobile app where the Canadian government requires travelers upload health and travel information before they cross into Canada. This includes proof of vaccination, a location in case of a required quarantine (I put down the Best Western hotel in Woodstock) and my proposed date of arrival.

Here, I discovered another snag — my passport expired four months ago. Since I hadn’t traveled anywhere internationally for the last 16 months, I had forgotten to renew it. Fortunately, U.S. citizens don’t need a passport to enter Canada, as long as they can prove citizenship with their driver’s license and a copy of their birth certificate along with their expired passport.

I decided to risk it. With the rest of my ArriveCAN info uploaded, all I needed to do was wait for my test results.

The first 24 hours went by with no word. Then 48 hours. By the end of the second day, I started to worry that my quest would be for naught. Around noon on Thursday, I received my negative results, with two hours to spare before the 72-hour deadline.

My results, birth certificate copy and vaccination card in hand, I made my way to the border. Here was the sink-or-swim moment — would I be granted access, or turned away due to the complex rules and my own stupidity in not having a valid passport?

Fortunately, the Canada Border Service agents could not have been friendlier. After showing them my ArriveCAN receipt and my vaccination card, and informing them of my mission, I was given permission to enter Canada for the first time since March 2020.

Though a second COVID-19 test done at the port of entry is part of the requirements, one of the border agents said that the test is administered at their discretion — and given that I was only planning to go to Woodstock for the day, he saw no need to give it to me.

Just like that, I was in. Fifteen minutes later, I arrived at my destination and at long last was served a Flamethrower burger with a side of fries and an orange soda.

It wasn’t just that the burger was delicious, it also was symbolic. As I ate and stared out the window overlooking the downtown shopping area, I thought that despite the complexity of getting here, there was hope for living free of fear from the pandemic.

On my way back home, there was one final test. How would U.S. Customs treat me when I tried to enter the country without a valid passport? But once again, I had no reason to worry, as the customs agents quickly realized I was who I said I was, and I returned safely home to Houlton.

My conclusion: if you’re just trying to go across to get a burger from Dairy Queen, perhaps it’s not worth the hassle just yet.