It Finally Happened – Sidney, British Columbia, Canada

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Crossing borders with Betsy can be a bit stressful.  A large RV has many more potential hiding places than a car does, and the Border Patrol is suspicious of what might be in there even if you honestly declare everything you’re aware of in there.

On this, our 29th border crossing, the three rigs in front of us got through without much delay – we didn’t notice if they were from Canada or not.  We drove up to the officer with our South Dakota license plates, handed over our passports, and prepared for the barrage of questions we’ve answered many times when entering Canada:

 

 

Officer: Where are you headed?

Steve: We have nine planned stops on Vancouver Island.

Officer: How long will you be on the island?

Steve: Six weeks.

Officer: Do you have anything to declare?

Steve responded by reading from our prepared inventory list, declaring a 6-pack of beer and three bottles of wine, and stating we did not have any fruits or vegetables.

Officer: Do you have anything in there we may find that you haven’t declared?

Steve: No.

Officer: Are you carrying over $10,000 Canadian dollars?

Steve: No. (we wish!)

Officer: Do you have with you any Cannabis, in any shape or form – lipstick, makeup, lotion?

Steve: No.

Officer: Are you carrying a gun?

Steve: No.

Officer: Do you own a gun?

Steve: Yes, it’s stored in Arizona.

Officer: If you had your gun with you, where would it be?

Steve: Next to the bed.

Officer: Do you have ammunition with you?

Steve: No.

Officer: Do you live in this rig?

Steve: Yes, it’s our home.

Officer: How long have you been traveling in it?

Steve: Seven and a half years.

Officer: Thank you, please pull over for a second inspection.

Steve and I looked at each other and thought this would be over in a few minutes.

As we stepped out, we gave the keys to our kingdom to a second officer who repeated several of the previous questions, plus:

Officer: Have either of you been arrested before?

We both replied in unison:  No!

We were asked to sit in the office and wait until they were finished.   A few minutes turned into over an hour as they ran through the refrigerator and every cabinet, drawer and cupboard.  Then they extended the slide-outs and we watched helplessly as Betsy was stripped searched top to bottom including all of her compartments.  Finally, they went through every nook and cranny in the car.  Guess what, no gun or anything else illegal found – Yay!

We’ve never experienced a second inspection while crossing into Canada, and had been thinking about what we thought would be the tougher one back into the U.S. in a few weeks.  We were polite and answered the questions truthfully, and yet for some reason they had an eye out for Betsy.  They were courteous and professional, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience.  They thanked us for our patience and said that inspections can take a long time on a big rig.  We were finally on our way!

When we got back inside, we could tell that every door, drawer, bag and purse had been opened, scrutinized and searched.  Even our underwear drawers and laundry hamper had been rifled through 😦

We don’t know why it happened this time, but Steve said he’ll make sure to bring his book along to the office next time so at least he can pass the time!

And we thought our worries were over…

Our site at Oceanside RV Resort

After a short drive we were settling in to our site and plugged in the power.  The inverter/charger promptly let out a loud BANG! – along with some smoke and a heavy burning electronics smell.  Oh-oh!  I grabbed the fire extinguisher, but there were no flames and after several tests Steve confirmed that the inverter had failed but the surge protector, battery charger and transfer switch seemed intact.  Of course this happened a Friday afternoon, on the long British Columbia Holiday!  There would be no repair help until the following Tuesday.

So, what to do?  Should we run back to the U.S. and cancel our itinerary here?  If another component fails can we find an RV repair shop on short notice?  Who should we call for the repair?  Those and many other questions were under discussion. Sigh… 😦

We decided since we could live without the inverter and as long as the other components weren’t damaged we would change our plans if we had to for repairs, but forge ahead.  Steve left messages for several RV repair shops (which are extremely busy this time of the year) and learned all he could about our inverter and what was needed to replace it.

On Saturday he found a replacement inverter and drove over 120 miles round-trip to pick it up.  Now we needed someone to install it, since we don’t have the tools, time or place to do it ourselves on the road.

Our new high-tech pure sine wave inverter/charger – who’s going to install it?

After many phone calls and visits to RV shops we finally located PC Auto and RV Electric, a place that specializes in RV electrical repairs and could take us in a couple of weeks.

With the inverter issue hanging over our heads, we tried to enjoy our time in Sidney.  The bright flowers adorning the riverwalk made us temporarily forget our troubles:

Beautiful flowers everywhere around the harbor

More flowers along the riverwalk

To prove once again it’s a small world, especially when you’re a blogger, a couple visited us at our campsite at Oceanside RV Resort on our last day.  It turns out we have a lot of friends in common with Steve and Diana, and that’s how they recognized us.  And what do you know, they’re Canadians from Vancouver Island!  We peppered them with questions about things to see and do on the island, and wished they could have visited longer.  But alas, they were expecting company soon so we’re hoping to meet up with them again in Victoria on our way back to the U.S.

The following day we continued on to our next stop at Crofton, a short 55-mile drive.  At this point we did not have to change any plans or reservations.  We ran the generator on the way, and quickly plugged in at our site to keep the refrigerator nice and cold.

But on the way there, Betsy started making a new noise that Steve didn’t like at all.

Now what?

 

Next up:  Betsy, don’t fail us now!



 

 

 

City of Gardens- Victoria BC

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Following the urgings from several of our friends who had been to Victoria, we decided to go back to Canada when our last opportunity to visit presented itself.  Steve discovered we could go to Victoria via a fast ferry from Seattle. Since Woodland is only 2.5 hours south of Seattle, we drove (leaving Woodland at 4:30am) and then hopped on the Victoria Clipper Ferry.  For two short days, we were back in Canada, visiting the capital city of British Columbia, Victoria.  These were our 9th and 10th US/Canadian border crossings since June, I wonder if they were starting to recognize us?

Stratchcona, Victoria's Entertainment Center

Stratchcona, Victoria’s Entertainment Center

Victoria was named for the British monarch Queen Victoria who reigned from 1837 to 1901 and has been the capital of British Columbia since 1868.  It is the 2nd largest city in BC with a population of about 350,000.  Known as “The Garden City” due to the abundance of gardens and city parks, Victoria also has an impressive selection of historic sites and heritage architecture.  Its downtown is full of heritage buildings that now house shops and restaurants.

Butchart Gardens

There are a wonderful array of attractions in Victoria, so we had to pick and choose what we could enjoy in two days.  Fortunately, there are several hotels close to the harbor and most attractions are within walking distance.  We discovered that taking the fast-ferry from Seattle actually worked out better for us than the service from Vancouver would have.  The reason is that the Vancouver ferry stops at Sidney, which is about 20 miles north of Victoria.  You can take a free shuttle from Sidney, so it’s no big deal, but unless you want to particularly see Sidney it takes time out of your schedule at Victoria.  However, the fast-ferry stops right at the harbor in Victoria and you can walk to just about everything from there.  We wouldn’t suggest the extra cost of taking your car on the ferry from Vancouver unless you really plan to be there long enough to travel outside of Victoria.  Besides, walking is good for you, right?  We did over 5 miles on our second day!

The showpiece, Sunken Garden

Our first stop was the world renowned Butchart Gardens which is also designated a National Historic Site in Canada.  The garden is a century old, created and transformed out of a barren limestone quarry by Robert and Jennie Butchart.  We have been to many man-made gardens and by far this is the most impressive, beautiful and well-planned exhibit.  It has four sections – The Japanese Garden, The Rose Garden, the Italian Garden and the centerpiece Sunken Garden.  It took us about two hours to go around the 55 acres and admire the Butchart’s  passion for gardening then and now.  It continues to be maintained by their descendants. The pictures don’t do justice to this stunningly beautiful and impressive display.

Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens

As we  walked around town we noticed a vibrant community and a city with a mixture of the old and the new which demonstrates what  our tour driver has said that  “Victoria is a city of the newlyweds (honeymoon destination) and the nearly deads (retirement haven).” We strolled around Victoria’s most famous buildings, the majestic 1908-completed Fairmont Empress Hotel and the 1898-built BC Parliament Buildings.

BC Parliament Building

Fairmont Empress Hotel

Fairmont Empress Hotel

We took a tour of lavish, Edwardian-era luxury at Craigdarroch Castle, the former mansion home of local coal baron Robert Dunsmuir.  Built in the 1890s, its splendid interior features Scotch granite columns, stained glass, oak staircases, and mahogany fireplaces.

Craigdarroch Castle

Craigdarroch Castle

Mahogany staircase, we’ve never seen so much wood on the ceiling walls and floors in one place before!

We passed by St. Andrew’s Cathedral, the mother church of the Catholic Diocese of Victoria, which was built in 1890. Its 22-m/72-ft facade features sharply tapered bell towers and materials like red brick, stone and slate.

Inside St Andrews Church

Inside St Andrews Church

Fan Tan Alley, Canada’s narrowest street located in historic Chinatown, once North America’s second-largest.

Inner Harbour

And so we had a great time in Victoria coupled with beautiful fall weather.  Then we hopped back on the ferry for Seattle and drove back to Woodland, WA on the second day.

The Lake, the Vineyards and a surprise visit!

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Heading down south was a breeze, taking overnight stops at Smithers, Prince George, Blue River and Kamloops in British Columbia.  The jaunt was uneventful and the scenery was still outstanding.  Finally, we stopped for 3 nights in Kelowna, BC  where we surprised our friends whom we met once nine years ago.

In December 2003, we were on a cruise to Mexico and at that time we were assigned dinner seatings with strangers.  On this cruise we met Ron and Rita from Kelowna,BC. We hung out with them during the entire cruise and exchanged email addresses at the end of the trip.  Since then we had only contacted them once, then we just seemed to stop as is often the case. Fast forward, Sept 2012.  Kelowna was on our route so we decided to call them and jog their memories of who we were by sending a picture taken in Dec 2003.  Luckily they remembered us and they welcomed us to their city and their home.  After showing us a couple of the fantastic wineries that exist among the dozens in Kelowna, Rita prepared a taco dinner with mexican beer and in the background was Ramon playing guitar, just like on the cruise.  We had fun catching up on those long nine years with no communication. With FB and our travel blog, we will certainly be in better contact now.  Ron and Rita showed us again how warm and friendly the Canadians can be – what gracious hosts they were!

The Lowes RV Adventures

Us, having mexican beer in 2003.

The Lowes RV Adventures

Us, having mexican beer nine years later.  How cool!

Little did we know that Kelowna is on the border of a beautiful lake, Lake Okanagan and is a bustling wine country.  Kelowna is the largest city in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley and is known for its hot summers and temperate winters.  That is delightful knowledge, considering that we have been starving for sunshine and warmer weather.  This is definitely a “must stop” for folks coming into the area, and the West Bay Beach RV Park where we stayed is one of our favorites – quiet and beautiful by the lake with lots of trees.

Lake Okanogan, BC

Winery at Lake Okanogan, BC

Lake Okanogan, BC

Sunrise at the Lake

Gray Monk Winery

Gray Monk Winery where we had meats, cheeses and some very fine wine.

The Lowes RV Adventures

Catching up nine years of stories

We were so excited with the sun shining on us that we spent most of our remaining time outside to get our vitamin D.  We went wine tasting, hiked and checked out other towns along the lake. We went to a farmer’s market at Peachland and bought fruits and vegetable , then strolled along the lake and basked in the glorious sun.

Beach Ave, Peachland

Strolling on Beach Ave, Peachland

Beach Ave, Peachland

Farmers Market at Peachland

Peachland

Is this it?  Searching for good overlooks of the lake during our long hike.

 Peachland

Pathetic trail head marker.

Kelowna was our last stop in British Columbia, Canada before crossing one last time into the USA.  Coming up, we’ll check out Chelan Lake, Yakima, and then a week in the beautiful Columbia Gorge.  Stay tuned!

Our Alaska adventure parting thoughts and stats

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Above is Our Alaska Adventure Route, the red pins on our way in and the purple ones on our way out.

Exploring Alaska on our first year of full-timing was considered ambitious and brave by some of our friends.  But we’re so glad we did it!  The experience taught us so much in a very short time.  We learned to navigate tight spaces, deal with rough roads, make due with minimal utilities and live in remote campgrounds with like-minded adventurers.  We have synchronized to perfection our tasks of moving in and out of tight sites and hooking and unhooking the tow.  We feel more than ready to live on the road full time from now on.

The road to Alaska via British Columbia and the Yukon Territory in Canada can not be taken lightly.  No matter how many long hours and hundreds of miles of driving, you will never get tired of the endless views of incredible scenery.  Coupled with the scenic drive are unavoidable road hazards; unending road repairs with lovely female road workers waving at you, frost heaves, dips, gravel breaks and so on.  These hazards were realities that we were prepared for and dealt with as part of the experience.

As much as we tried to cover most of Alaska, it is just not possible.  Alaska is immense and super-sized;  we covered only a fourth of it.  Mountains are higher (Mt. Mckinley aka Denali) and parks larger (Wrangell-Elias National Park).  Check these stats: Alaska is 2.3 times larger than Texas and the size of Texas, California and Montana combined.  It’s home to the biggest this, the highest that and the most of these – with less than a million residents (about 700,000) enjoying all of it.

And the fishing – oh yeah!  To all my fishermen/women friends, this is the place to be excited about the fish.  I don’t fish, but I hooked a Halibut here.  As long as you know how to navigate the complicated fishing regulations,  you’re in for the tastiest and freshest Salmon and Halibut you’ve ever had.  Fishing is well managed here, and its monitored to support subsistence living for Alaskan residents.

Glaciers, glaciers everywhere!  There are approximately 100,000 glaciers here, with only about 600 named.  We never got tired of gawking at them, hiking to them (Portage and Exit Glaciers), driving to them (Mendenhall Glacier), flying over them (Kennicott, Root GlaciersGrewingk Glacier), landing on them (Mt. Mckinley) and sailing to them (KnikAialik, Holgate, Meares glaciers).  Many time we just drove by them while enjoying their beauty (Matanuska Glacier).  They were always unbelievably pristine and beautiful.

Wildlife, yes.  Alaska is where the wild things are!  Wildflowers adorned highways, mountains and homes, wild animals roamed around and across roads.  Birds chirped and/or just hung around, tart but tasty wild berries grew everywhere.  We never got tired of enjoying all of these things in their natural habitats.

Hiking and biking trails galore.  They were all there for the taking, with scenic views and often some wild animals along the route.

Alaskans live in a different frame of mind.  They are relaxed, hardworking, resourceful and rugged.  They are surrounded by such beauty, yet they thrive in the harsh nature of their environment.  We hung out with two couples – Wilma/Randy and Gemma/Steve – who had lived there for two decades.  Amazing people! Are we planning to go back to Alaska?  We can’t wait!

                                                                                                                             

Our trip stats:

Arrival in Canada, start of trip  =  5/30/12

Departure from Canada, end of trip  =  9/17/12

Miles traveled (including 410 on inland passage ferry)  =  5,722

Miles driven in Alaska  =  1949

Miles driven in Canada  =  3773

Days of trip  =  110

Days in Alaska  =  73

Days in Canada  =  37

Gallons of diesel burned  =  648

Border crossings between U.S. and Canada  =  8

Campgrounds/RV parks visited  =  37

Animals squashed while driving  = 1 squirrel and 2 birds of unknown species (obviously not fast enough flyers).  We had some close road encounters with moose, deer and a couple of bears, but fortunately they didn’t get together with Betsy.

                                                                                                                       

For those planning a driving adventure into Alaska, here are some must-haves:

  1. Milepost – it beats a GPS hands-down.  Order one in March for the latest version.
  2. Passports- you are going in and out of Canada, whether by ferry or driving.

  3. Be prepared for sticker shock; e.g. Halibut and Chips $16-$21 (but worth it), lemons $1.79 each.

  4. For RV’rs, the campground /RV parks are just that, nothing fancy – live with it.

  5. A spirit of adventure and plenty of patience.  You don’t want to rush this trip!

 

A word of advice and caution to be given those intending to visit Alaska…If you are old, go by all means, but if you are young, wait. The scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything else of its kind in the world, and it is not wise to dull one’s capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first. –Henry Gannet, Harriman Alaska Expedition 1899.