Haven't Had to Think About Internet In a Long Time

I’m all set to pull out of Blaine tomorrow morning and am wondering what sort of internet access the next month will bring. Obviously, for such a short period of time I don’t want to invest too much. If I manage to come south next year for three months or more, I will look into getting a US SIM card and air time for my modem, or whatever the best option is at the time.

There appears to be an abundance of wifi hotspots in Eugene, so the plan right now is to find the nearest one to where I’ll be staying and visit it once a day. I really can’t go for more than a day without internet, so now that I have a laptop doing a hotspot run isn’t going to be too onerous.


Bob’s Burgers and Brews, Birch Bay

I was told by several people this month that I just ‘had’ to try out Bob’s Burgers and Brews at some point. This local burger chain is apparently an institution. Well, I ran out of propane tonight and didn’t want to fill the small tank since I’ll be filling the on board one on Tuesday, so I decided that a burger and a brew sounded more appealing than a peanut butter sandwich.

The menu has burgers, salads, wraps, and a few platters. I opted for a chicken wrap with bacon, BBQ sauce, ranch dressing, lettuce, tomato, and crunchy tortilla strips in a tomato tortilla. It was one of the best sandwiches I have ever had! Very flavourful, with a good mix of textures. I wish I’d known how huge the sandwich was going to be and ordered a salad instead of ‘jojos’, which are potato wedges. Tasty, but I had about four out of about four dozen! The portions were insane!

With my meal I enjoyed the brew of the day, an Indian Pale Ale from Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham. Yu-um. A bit spicy and quite fruity. Washington beers are making me forget my favourite Yukon brews!

Service was excellent. The servers were very cheerful and attentive without being pushy. I was served promptly, brought water at the same time as my drink order was taken, did not have to sit long before my pint arrived,  waited a reasonable amount of time for my food, was allowed to eat in peace with only one interruption, and was promptly relieved of my plate and brought a bill when I asked for it.

The place was packed and I can understand why: excellent food + good service + reasonable prices. A winner! With the tip and taxes, dinner came to $18. Without the beer, it would have been $13.

American/Canadian Differences

I’ve been living in the US for a month now, and every day I encounter a little thing that is different from Canada.

Food (and Beer) Prices are Lower and Portions Are Huger

In the US, I can come out of a restaurant stuffed to the gills and with food left on my plate for $10, including the tip. $15 if I get a beer. In my first few days here, I found that funny, but now I think it’s sad; there’s just so much waste. Some things I can take home and end up with two meals for very little (thank you, Applebees!), but foods like potato wedges just aren’t worth taking home. I’m learning to ask for smaller portions and making it clear to the server that I don’t care if I get charged the same thing as for the full meal.

Cash is Currency

In Canada, we’ve been using the Interac debit system since 1994 and cash has really fallen by the wayside. I remember the old days when there were $5 minimums for using our debit cards, or a 50 cent transaction fee, but now you can use your card to buy as little as a stamp. I very rarely carry cash in Canada, and even more rarely more than $40 worth.

The US has a debit card system now, but it’s not the same as in Canada. I don’t quite get the nuance yet; it seems like it’s associated with the two major credit card systems. However it works, Americans seem quite distrustful of it in general and people carry cash. Moreover, I was shocked to discover that some gas stations here offer a discount for paying with cash, something that is illegal in Canada.

I’ve been using my credit cards as much as possible, but for smaller transactions for which I would normally use debit, I’ve been using cash. Doing so is very onerous because the bills all look the same. I’m learning to keep my bills in different sections of the wallet so as to better keep tabs on what I’ve got. It’s very easy to think I’m flush when all I have is a thick stack of singles!

Finally, in Canada we use US coins like they are our own. Most stores here have signs saying ‘No Canadian coins! (Our banks won’t take them)’. I understand that for the loonies and toonies, but for nickles, dimes, and pennies?

Cream Cheese and Hershey’s Chocolate Suck

The bakery at the Birch Bay Market sells a really nice pumpernickel loaf, so I’ve been having a lot of toast for my breakfasts. My favourite thing to put on black bread is cream cheese. I always buy the Philadelphia brand in the plastic tub, like so:

In Canada, the cream cheese is just moist and it spreads thickly. In the US, it’s viscous and melts into the bread like butter.

I actually discovered the Hershey thing during my Chicago jaunt back in ’99, but it hasn’t changed. It seems that water differences at the Canadian and US Hershey factories affect the flavour. US Hershey’s bars have an awful aftertaste. No Hershey’s with almonds for me while I’m here, but that’s okay because…

More Chocolate Bar Variations and Types

Americans have access to more varieties of Kit Kats, Reeses, and other chocolate bars. They have Milk Duds and my absolutely favourite, the Baby Ruth Bar. They don’t have Smarties or Coffee Crisp, however.

This translates to other foods, too. In Canada, we might have two or three different kinds of chips with onion as an ingredients. Americans probably have twenty, and all manner of flavours with cheese. But they don’t have ketchup! Oh, and Americans still have Bugles. Unfair!

(This section of the post might indicate that I eat an inordinate amount of junk food. I actually spend an inordinate amount of time looking at junk food while talking myself into buying fresh fruit!)

Americans Are More Cheerful and Friendlier

I hate to generalize, but I’ve traveled enough around North America to say that, generally, Americans are more cheerful and friendlier than are Canadians.

One thing that shocks me every time I go into a store is that there is customer service in the States! Maybe it’s because Americans have so many more stores with similar low pricing than we do, but I always come out of a store feeling that my business was appreciated.

I wonder what else I’ll learn about this country in my remaining time here…

How Quickly a Month Goes By…

I feel that I’ve only just gotten comfortable here in Blaine when the time has already come to move on! Friends in Eugene, Oregon, have graciously invited me to stay on their RV pad during my time in the area, so there’s no reason to hang out here. I’ll be in Eugene until at least the 18th since I’m having work done on the rig in nearby Springfield on the 17th.

I’ll pull out around 11 on Tuesday and head south slowly. I could get to Eugene in one day, but knowing there is an RV-friendly Walmart mid-way makes me want to stretch out the trip a tad.

I still don’t know what’s happening after. My first instinct is to hoof it back to Canada and get some work for a few months, but doing so in southern BC makes no sense at all; the cost of living would outweigh any income. So, I’ve planned a weather-dependent itinerary through eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana to take me into Alberta. The lower cost of fuel in the States and in Alberta as well as the lower sales tax at Alberta customs would not make this route much more expensive than a straight shot back to the Fraser Valley from Eugene.

I have absolutely no commitments at this point and have concluded, to my immense surprise, that I’d be okay with not going back to Yukon and Alaska this summer if something else pans out. In short, I’m open to the vagaries of fate and willing to go anywhere they take me. I love my life!

Adding a 12V outlet

Before I get into this project, I’d like to ask my RVing readers who have not yet bought Andy Baird’s Eureka to please do so now, then come back to this post. From recipes to tips for using a multimetre, this treasure trove of ideas for improving an RV is the best RV upgrade guide I’ve found. It’s written by someone who is a full-timer and an expert in electrical, electronic, and technical matters. I could not have done this project without his guidance. It didn’t go as smoothly as he would have thought, but I learned a lot during the project and I now feel I have the necessary know-how to do some more electrical upgrades to the rig. Thanks, Andy!

So, I added a 12V outlet to the rig. Two, actually. I wanted a couple at the head of the bed for plugging in the electric blanket and my iPod. There’s a 12V outlet in the media cabinet at the foot of the bed, but having to reach eight feet to plug something in is less than practical.

I started to look online for a 12V outlet and realised that most of them came wired to be plugged into an existing socket. So, I emailed Andy to ask if I could just hack off the plug in order to hard wire. Yup. And he helped me pick out a dual-socket model by Magnadyne. It also has two USB ports, but I’ll say right now that I goofed during installation and apparently blew the 12V to 5V converter that powers the USB ports, so they’re dead. Small price for the knowledge I gained!

The high quality unit came with 3M dual lock tape AND screws with brackets as mounting options, plus a set of instructions

front of the unit

back of the unit (the yellow thing is a fuse)

Andy told me that the easiest way to add the outlet would be to tap into existing wire, such as that for a lamp. There just so happened to be one a few feet away from the bed, close enough for me to have plenty of wire to reach it.

light fixture on the ‘lounge’ (passenger) side of the rig)

To access the wiring, Andy, who has a very similar rig, told me to try lifting out the bottom of the cabinet.

step one: remove books

step two: use flat instrument like a chisel to pry up the bottom of the cabinet

This exposed two bundles of wires, one with black and yellow, the other white.

I then snipped the plug from the outlets

and drilled a hole into the side of the cabinet through which I fed the wires.

And this is where everything fell apart and I would, eventually, learn the very valuable lesson of ALWAYS using a multimetre to confirm the polarity of wiring before hooking up anything.

As it turns out, my super high quality rig HAS DUMB WIRING: in the study, white is positive and black is negative. I would learn that in the library, white is negative and black is positive!!!

Andy told me to get the multimetre out, confirm polarity and voltage, and change the fuse in the new outlet. Turns out my multimetre was ‘dead’. So, I went out to get a new battery for it and discovered a sale on multimetres at Walmart. New multimetre with more gizmos and a more intuitive layout: $5.99. Two-pack of 9V batteries for my old multimetre: $6.99. Guess what I picked. And it even matches my decor!

Using the multimetre, I was able to confirm that I needed to reverse the polarity (something that tickles the sci-fi fan in me). I then changed the fuse, rewired the outlet, and tested it out with the electric blanket. The result was a ‘grssssh’ sound (sizzle according to Andy), with a fluctuating voltage from the sockets. I tightened up the connection points with some electrical tape and tested the voltage again: a steady 14.4 volts. No luck with the USB ports, but not a huge disappointment.

the only thing I remember learning about electricity from my parents is to cover the marrettes with electrical tape


A couple of marrettes and some electrical tape later the project was done. Now, I just need to mount the outlets in the loft. I’ll wait till I go to bed tonight to do that so that I can figure out the best position to do so while lying in the position in which I will be plugging things in.

Now that I know to use a multimetre and some of the things I should be looking out for, I look forward to adding an extra outlet in the study so as to be able to plug the electric blanket in there for those chilly movie-watching nights.

Thanks again for your help, Andy!