Washington Respite

Ooh, well I’ve had a day and a half.  I didn’t want to talk about my plans ahead of time for fear of jinxing them. But now that I’m here, I’m happy to say that I managed to cross over into the US for an extended vacation with my rig!

As I said to US customs, quite some time into my interview, I picked northern Washington because a) the cost of living is much cheaper than in Canada and b) I’m still close to the border in case of a medical emergency (I did take out some supplemental coverage, just in case). Now, I’m well situated to visit with blog readers in the area, tour around, and perhaps even do a bit of shopping.

I didn’t expect the border crossing to be easy, so I’m surprised that it went as smoothly as it did, all things considered. I think I was there about an hour and a half. It took all of thirty seconds for them to pull me over and tell me to go inside.

The American customs officials were very decent. They treated me with respect and asked only relevant questions, but there was one huge issue that I hadn’t even though about: the leftover CDs from the RV show! I had them out in plain sight because, to me, they are essentially useless. Who wants to pay shipping on a disc for a file you can download?

The American officials said that because I’m selling the book online, the discs have value in their eyes and that thus I was importing a commercial product, and well over the legal limit. Until this point, I was sure I was going to be allowed in once they were done playing hardball with me regarding confirming that I could support myself and that I would be returning to Canada in April. Soon as they said this, my heart sank. I figured that they were going to say I was trying to do fraud or something and I actually got a little scared. I was completely unprepared for this scenario!

The supervisor and a subordinate talked a bit more to me, to understand why I’m on the road, what I left behind, how I support myself, and why I had all those discs on board. Their tone went from being hostile/cynical to being very friendly, but I didn’t let me guard down and watched what I said, but I got the impression that I was in a situation where more info was better than too little. Remember, I used to process security clearances, so I’ve had intensive training conducting these same types of interviews.

The supervisor finally  looked at his subordinate who nodded, then said “From an immigration point of view, we’re satisfied. But from a commercial point of view, we can’t let you in. Are you willing to go back to Canada and dispose of the discs?”

I’d already made back more than what the discs cost me and didn’t expect to sell more, so I didn’t have a dilemma there. They talked some more and told me I could leave the rig in the US customs parking lot, walk back to Canada, get rid of the discs, and come back. I said I would go straight to the dumpster of the duty free store and the subordinate actually looked pained. “Isn’t there anyone you could leave them with?” I said “No, they really don’t mean anything to me, ma’am, and I feel stupid for being in this situation.”

She gave me a piece of paper to show to Canadian customs so they would know I hadn’t come into the US and thus had nothing to declare. I walked into the Canadian office and was greeted, as always, like a criminal. The woman told me that I’d better not dump the discs on their property, such as the bathrooms! I acquiesced and walked across the street to the duty free, dumped the discs, and headed back to US customs.

At this point, I thought that they would have to do a more thorough inspection of the rig and ask more questions and I was really getting worn down, but, again, I feel that the Americans were doing their job well within reason and that all the questions were completely justified. I also had a feeling that this first time was going to be the hardest and that I might as well play this to the end so that I would know what to expect next time. I still didn’t think I was home free at this point, but I was optimistic. After all, they had let me to leave the rig while I walked to Canada and back.

I went back into the customs office and the lady was waiting for me. She smiled brightly and said “You made it! Have a great trip!” without making me hand my passport back. I headed back to the rig feeling a bit stunned, and drained, but I’d been allowed in!

For the next time, I will make sure to print out all my financial info. They wanted to see bank, credit, and investment statements, plus proof of the money I’d made in the last year. I had all of that on my computer, but that wasn’t good enough. They did let me through without having to produce anything.

So, now I’m okay to be in the US until April 8th! I might go back a bit earlier than that, as a good will gesture, but I paid rent at this RV park till March 8th. It cost me half of what it would have cost me to stay in a much less nice place in the Vancouver region!

I’m really feeling drained and will be taking at least the next couple of days off, but I have to share one last anecdote that made this day completely surreal. I arrived at the RV park and left the rig to check out the sites. I met a couple and the lady said to me “Hey, I saw you on TV last week!”

So much for coming to the US for a bit of anonymity…

Doing the Math on Solar

I’ve had solar on the brains for months. I’ve been RVing long enough now to know what I need in terms of a solar setup. Soon as I can free up the cash, I’ll be ready to spend!

My battery bank is comprised of two 6 volt golf cart batteries with a capacity of about 200 amp hours. I only really get 60% of that capacity, so I have 120 amp hours available to me. By being frugal and only using power for the fridge, propane detector, and furnace, I can spend two to three nights off shore power. I can do three to four nights if I don’t have to heat. The 15 watt panel on the roof gives me about 4 amps a day, enough to recharge my laptop once a day when it’s sunny, so I don’t factor that into the equation.

So, with strict energy consumption in mind, I average 40 amps per day at 12 volts. Having 60 amps available to me would mean not having to be so careful and give me a good buffer.

Also, I have very little use for 120 volt power, except for computer charging. I don’t miss the microwave or toaster when I’m not plugged in, so I was hit with the realisation that I don’t need a whole house inverter! My little 400 watt inverter is more than enough for my needs. If I absolutely needed to print while boondocking, it’d be cheaper to just go have it done at a copy store. So, all I need is a solar panel and a regulator.

I’d like to be able to boondock in the Yukon this summer for two weeks at a stretch, the length of time you can stay in a territorial park in a 28 day period. So, that meant I’d need a solar panel capable of providing me with 840 amps of power.

This is the point in my calculations where someone came up to see what I was scribbling about. Turns out he knows solar (too funny, what a coincidence). He looked at my numbers and said “That’s an easy one. 125 watt panel and a regulator. Add two to six more 6 volts if you have the space and weight for them and you’ll never have to worry about power again.” I got a second opinion on that, and got the same answer. So, now I know what I need and I’m starting to accumulate quotes.

I think I’ve given up on the generator. It’s surely a lost cause by now. I’d probably be better off having it removed and then using the extra carrying capacity for doubling, or even tripling, my battery bank. Three people also suggested that I might be able to get enough for the scrap generator to finance a good part of my solar investment. So, that’s another thing I’m going to be looking into.

Investing in solar has been a long time coming, but I’m glad I waited because now I really know what I need and I can spend my money well.

Twice Makes It Worth Posting About

The other night I did a Walmart run and someone recognized me from my Vancouver Sun article. She asked for an autograph!!!

Tonight, I was back at the Walmart when I noticed a couple glancing back and forth at me and whispering. Finally, the woman came up to me and said “Weren’t you on TV last week?”

I think I need to get out of town…

Nice Rest Area in Abbotsford

I needed to be out of Tradex ASAP this morning and have unresolved business with the RV show. Until that is settled, I don’t want to make any firm plans. One thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to spend the next couple of months in the Vancouver area; the cost of living is way too high. So I’ve decided to bump around a variety of dry camping spots for a couple of days until my batteries force me to plug in somewhere for a night.

After some Googling last night and this morning, I found out that there is a nice rest area on Cole road, exit 99, in Abbotsford. It has an easy access dump and water station. I was very overdue for both dumping and taking on fresh water, so this place is a haven! Stays are limited to 8 hours (which is very different from ‘no overnight parking allowed’), so I’ve decided to come spend my days here since it’s peaceful and a bit off of the highway, and then move to the Walmart for the night since it’s only a couple of exits away. I called to make sure that they allow parking; yes, but they warned me that it’s noisy since RV parking is allowed only on the Home Depot side (“delivery trucks come in all night”) and the road. I’ll stay on the latter side. I’ve been at an airport for a week, so I doubt a little traffic is going to keep me up! 😀

I know where I want to spend the next few months, until winter breaks and I get some more options, but I’m really stuck in the GVR until the RV show file is firmly closed. I’m really disappointed to be in this situation, since I just want to crash somewhere and sleep for a week, but I’m hanging on and will reassess in a few days.

What's Next

I’ve just ended an incredibly public week, something that was very difficult for me, much as I enjoyed it. I’d like to thank everyone who stopped by to speak with me.

There are a number of things that could happen in the next days and weeks, but I need a timeout, so I’m not going to discuss the options on the blog at this time. I’ll check back in once I’ve had time to process the last few days.