Haven to Billings, MT

I was up quite late this morning, almost 8:00. I made and had coffee, then went out to winterize the water system.  That done, I finished packing the truck. It was then time to go to the post office. My cheque had finally arrived! There was also a new SK health card giving me permission to be out of the province till May 31st, 2015. So that’s my return by date!

I came in and did some banking stuff, called SaskTel to suspend service (need to wait till I have US service to do that since they can’t postdate it), and called my mother to let her know that I was heading out. I then did the final swing around the property, putting away the garbage barrel and propane tank, reading the metre, putting away the power cord, etc.

I made a set of keys for Caroline and was halfway to her place when I realised I had forgotten something important: PILLOWS! I went back and grabbed then, then went to C&C’s. They are away this week, so there were no goodbyes. Caroline had told me where to leave keys and I did so with note informing her that I only have one house key (really?!) so to please not lose it. I can get back in through the cab when I get back. 🙂

It was 11:30 when I pulled out of Haven and I was at the border by 12:15. I crossed at Opheim, MT. There had been big changes since I was there in April; CDN customs now has a shiny new building and the US has a new scanner thing that I drove through too quickly… Oops. The customs official was super nice about it and told me to just circle around the building and try it again. I was mortified!

We had a nice chat while two other officers poked through what I had in the bed of the truck. We talked about my job, why I picked Mazatlan, my hamlet, and my planned route and meetups while in the US. He was kind beyond words and just when I was thinking, “This is going too well. Secondary inspection, here I come!” he said, “Drive safe and have a wonderful winter. Exit’s that way.” Wow!

From the border, it was about an hour to Glasgow, the only sizable community between Haven and Billings. As is normal for me on departure day, I’d left on an empty stomach. The stress of the border behind me, I was ready for lunch. I’d done my research into some yummy, quick, and filling and headed to Flip Burger, formerly Quick & Tasty. I had a (veggie) burger my first night in the original Glasgow, so I think my choice was appropriate. 🙂 The burger was great and made exactly to order, no stock toppings. I had cheese, bacon, tomato, mustard, and relish. Service was great and pretty quick.

Quick&Tasty in Glasglow.

Quick&Tasty in Glasglow.

From Glasgow, I continued my European tour by stopping in Malta (ha!) for gas. $3.41! Wow!

After Malta, there was just… land. If I felt so isolated and overwhelmed by the open country around me flying down the highway at 70 miles per hour, imagine how it must have felt to the pioneers trekking across it on foot!

My ETA for Billings was 6:00 and I drove straight through from Malta. I decided to land at a Walmart and from there find a suitable place for overnighting. Because I sleep in my truck, I am not going to share the place I found, but it’s perfect and was the first location I scouted. I’m getting good at this!

Heading into mountains.

Heading into mountains.

I went into the Walmart and came out with an AT&T SIM card with 2.5GB of data, all for $70. I forgot to pack a paperclip, so until I get my hands on one, I can’t set up the phone. Who comes up with these designs?! I have to go back to Walmart for an oil change tomorrow, so I’ll go back to the tech desk and see if they one I can borrow.

Once I found a place to spend the night, I went to a nearby McDonald’s to do research on sushi. I knew Billings has several well rated sushi joints, so I just wanted the closest one, which turned out to be Nara.

Nara was surprisingly packed for a Tuesday night and the kitchen was slammed. Service was slow, but still managed to be attentive. My Sapporo and “OMG, so delicious!!!” miso soup came quickly once I was finally about to put in an order, but the wait for my food was interminable, about 40 minutes. After 15, I really should have gone out and grabbed a book. I wouldn’t have minded the wait then. I did have a whole evening to fill.

Just at the point where I was ready to walk out, a server plopped a big bowl of edamame (soy beans in pods) in front of me. “On the house, ma’am.” That changed everything. They realised that the service level was unacceptable and did something to fix it before I got huffy. The edamame was a smart choice: it’s a super overpriced delicious treat that I never get in restaurants because I can buy a huge bag for less at a supermarket. Their cost was small, but the value to me was big.

My meal came out after. Everything was very expensive, so I just went for a spicy tuna and salmon roll and splurged on two pieces of octopus nigiri. The food was worth the wait and the prices self-explanatory! Look at that roll! Just about every sushi place I’ve visited has had way more rice than fish to cut costs.

Succulent tako (octopus).

Succulent tako (octopus).

The spicy tuna and salmon was melt in your mouth delicious. I like how the salmon was whole piece, which varied the texture a little. It’s funny how I don’t like spicy food, but I love this roll!

Wow, rare to see sushi that focuses on the fish. No wonder this was so expensive!

Wow, rare to see sushi that focuses on the fish. No wonder this was so expensive!

As for the octopus, I can’t remember the last time I had some and I hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed. Not in the least. It was so tender and succulent. I think this is the first time I’ve had some with the little suckers still attacked. They’re very chewy, but not in a rubber band sort of way.

So while the wait was disappointing, my overall experience at Nara was positive and this restaurant will be filled into the category of some of the best sushi I’ve had.

Now, I’m at a McDonald’s near my overnight spot, getting a start on downloading work for the weekend and also just passing the time because I don’t want to go to bed too early.

Not sure how tomorrow is going to go. I have to get an oil change and run a few errands. I think I’ll meander my way towards Yellowstone National Park and plan to spend the day there Thursday.

Upgrading a Magnetek Converter

Stock RV converters are notoriously poor battery chargers. One of the worst, and most common, is the Magnetek. It is essentially a trickle charger that can boil batteries dry because it doesn’t know when to stop charging. I spent up to six months at a time plugged into shore power in the last few years and I know that is part of the reasons my last set of batteries didn’t last long.

Because the charger in the Magnetek only puts out a few amps, it is not efficient for charging batteries with a generator. I usually consume 45 to 70AH per day and the generator puts back in an average of 1.5AH. At that rate, I would have to run my genset for up to 47 hours to get a full charge using the Magnatek only! Of course, I have solar, but when it’s grey like it’s been here the last little while, solar just isn’t enough.

An easy and relatively inexpensive solution is to charge the RV batteries with a dedicated charger that can put in up to 15A. This works well enough when I turn off the solar, otherwise the dedicated charger thinks the batteries are full and won’t work. But it’s a pain to have to hook it up and run an extension cord.

What many boondockers do instead is upgrade their Magnetek converter to a better multi-stage smart charger, such as a Progressive Dynamics Converter Upgrade Section, matching the Progressive Dynamics unit to their Magnetek model. For example, my Magnetek was a 45A model, so I had to pair it up with the 45A Progressive Dynamics model.

I picked this converter upgrade because it was well rated and available on Amazon so it didn’t cost me much out of pocket ($2 for the unit, $21 for tax, plus the gas to go get it in Montana). I had it shipped to Opheim, MT, where it arrived Friday.

This morning, I headed out around 8:45 and enjoyed a scenic, albeit very isolated, drive to the border where I was grilled about my last trip to the US. Oh, I hope not to have any issues this fall…

My package wasn’t at the post office since they don’t accept Fed Ex, but I was told to try the bar across the street. My package was there and cheerfully given to me in exchange for $5. I got some beer for C&C while I was there, filled up with gas since the SK stations were closed for the civic holiday, and then I headed home.

I got grilled by CDN customs about why I’m now living out here and then paid the duty and tax on the beer and the tax on the converter. Then, it was an easy drive home. The trip took just under three hours.

I got to work immediately, having previously read the instructions and gathered the bulk of the tools I would need (many types and sizes of screw drivers and wrenches, plus a wire cutter that I only needed because one screw in my DC panel was badly stripped and I couldn’t get the wire out without cutting it). I also had different coloured electrical tape on hand to use as markers. This came in handy when I had to wire the new DC panel as I had many wires the same colour. I wrapped each one in a different coloured tape and then made a note of in which order I had to reconnect the colours.

Installation was easy. I just followed the step by step instructions and really didn’t have any problems beyond needing a strange screw driver that isn’t stock in most basic tool kits (thankfully, I’m well beyond a basic tool kit) and having to struggle with too short wire lengths. It took me 2.5 hours to install and a good part of that involved getting up to get more tools, trying to get the flashlight angled so that I could see, and wrestling with tight screws. None of the difficulties had to do with the technical part of the installation.

I’ve been so nervous about tapping into the factory-installed wiring, but now that I have, more upgrades are in my future!