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Travelogue - 05/20/04                                                                                                                               Links to all Travelogue pages


Same Old RV

Early in this travelogue I promised to show updated photos of my RV to illustrate the many upgrades and improvements I expected to make after buying it. Alas, much of what I had planned to do remains undone so far. I still haven't had the dinette cushions re-upholstered to cover up that awful blue-green fabric. Nor have I taken time to build in permanent storage lockers in the forward overhead compartment. (I'm still using the cardboard boxes I fitted to compartmentalize the area when I hurriedly moved in back in February.) Sometimes I berate myself for this lack of progress. More often I think, "So what? What I have is functional and I'm traveling." In the end I have to keep my priorities straight, don't I? Would I rather spend half the season tricking out my camper just so, or spend that time visiting new places? Gee, that's a tough one.

The RV could be better, but it works. It has gotten me to the San Juan Islands and seems ready to continue. That's downright acceptable to me. So, having given you my best excuses, here's what the Walkabout looks like these days. (click on photos to enlarge):


While my camper is functional, it is not maintenance-free. Far from it. After all, it's 9 years and 50+ thousand miles old, and by boat standards cheaply constructed to boot. Just before I left Mount Shasta, my mechanic buddy, Yari, and I did a front brake job - well, I assisted by handing him tools and stuff like that. While we were in there, we replaced the calipers. Now I actually know what those are! In the past week alone I have personally rebuilt the collapsible TV antenna gear assembly (not that I ever use it), fixed a sudden leak in the water pump that saturated the cabin sole aft, wired in a new wall thermostat for the furnace, fiddled with the generator, which doesn't start when it's warmed up, and have done at least a half-dozen other odd jobs that popped up in addition to regular maintenance chores. And I had to order in parts for some of these things from vendors as far away as Alabama. RV's are less work than cruising sailboats, but they're not self-tending.

On the plus side, precisely because I have never possessed a natural inclination towards things mechanical, I feel great gratification whenever I do manage to fix something. Therefore, this has been a most gratifying week.

Getting Here

The western Cascade Mountains in north-central Washington are striking for their steepness. Monolithic rock blocks soar almost vertically from the lush temperate rain forests that blanket the region. I spent a few days among those mountains, biking the damp forest roads and trails despite the sporadic drizzle so characteristic of the Pacific Northwest. 

The last time I was in Washington, seven years ago, I met some guys on the Olympic Peninsula about to bike down a mountain in the rain. When I commented to them that it seemed like a dismal day for the outing one of them replied, "Dude, if you don't go biking in the rain around here, you don't go biking." I kept that in mind in the Cascades and did just fine. 

What did you wake up to Monday morning?

I spent Sunday night parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot, something I occasionally find convenient when I'm near a large town or just making highway time. In this case, I was positioned to catch a ferry in Anacortes, Washington, the next morning. Around 6 a.m. I was sitting up in bed practicing meditation, something I do every day, when I was interrupted by a loud banging on my door. It turned out to be another RV-er who suggested I might want to move my camper. When I asked him why, he directed my groggy attention to a pickup truck close along the other side of my camper. It was fully ablaze! I moved, quickly, and in a matter of minutes the local fire department arrived.

With that Monday morning excitement behind me, I headed for the ferry terminal in Anacortes, Washington and a 10-day visit to the San Juan Islands.


The San Juan Islands

Taking the car ferry from the mainland to the San Juan Islands is not cheap. They charged just over $100 to carry me and my 24' RV to Orcas Island where I was going to visit an old sailing buddy of mine. To their credit the Washington state ferries tend to be punctual, clean, smooth-riding and well-run. But a hundred bucks? Ouch!

The ride offered a cruising view of the hilly green islands that make up this picturesque group. The San Juan's lie just barely within sight of the mainland coast - well, on clear day they do - yet they exist, like most islands, in a world of their own. I was about to discover a milder way of life on Orcas Island. 

I went there to look up a friend I hadn't seen in more than 20 years. Tom Averna and I go back to the mid-1970's, when we both lived aboard sailboats in the free anchorage off Coconut Grove, Florida. Like pretty much everyone else there in those days, we were long-haired ocean vagabonds doing our best to keep our old wood boats afloat on a near-zero budget. When I first met him, Tom had just sailed his pretty gaff cutter, Silver Seal, up from the Virgin Islands. Eventually he crewed with me on my very first paid yacht delivery in 1978, helping me take a 37' sloop from Florida to the BVI. Maybe I'll tell you some of our wild stories some other time. Suffice it to say we had lots to reminisce about, and even more to catch up on.

Today Tom owns Deer Harbor Charters, a fleet of three US Coast Guard certified boats that take summer tourists out to see the Orcas (killer whales) and other wildlife that populate the waters hereabouts. Each excursion is accompanied by a trained naturalist who educates and entertains the passengers, leaving the skipper free to concentrate on running the boat. It's a good arrangement and a great experience, in no small part because the captain and crew are so into what they're doing. I went out twice while I was on Orcas Island and really enjoyed it.


Tom offered me a job skippering one of his whale watching boats for the season, but I've got other fish to fry this summer. Alaskan salmon, for example. He also offered me the use of his sloop, but there was little wind for sailing while I was there. Besides, there seemed to be an awful lot to do in the time I had on lovely Orcas Island.


Orcas in the San Juan Islands


Here's a photo of Tom and his naturalist, James, aboard Pelagic, the newest addition to the Deer Harbor Charters fleet. Pelagic arrived by truck from Maine while I was visiting and the three of us went over to the boatyard in Anacortes to fetch her and drive her back to her new home on Orcas Island.


New Friends

Tom skippers many trips himself. In fact, he was out chasing Orcas with a tour group when I arrived in Deer Harbor that first afternoon after ferrying across from the mainland. Waiting for him to get back, I strolled the docks checking out the local boats and chanced upon some sailors gathered for a good old-fashioned cockpit gam session aboard a funky converted life boat, now someone's home.

They invited me to join them and one thing led to another. By the time Tom found me we were all about three sheets to the wind, as sailors call it. It was a fine introduction to Deer Harbor. People came and went, stories were told and embellished and laughter erupted often. The skipper, Ian, read a new poem he had written and it was damned good! I'm not a big poetry fan, but his stuff was bawdy, ballsy and articulate and moved us all to cheer when it was finished. Then an imagined challenge prompted one fellow called Long John, who must be pushing 60, to prove he could still shinny up a mast. This naturally required another sailor to show that he could scramble aloft by way of the shrouds rather than the spar. The rest of us passed the bottle and shouted encouragement from the deck while the ship's dog barked excitedly. Later, when I announced that I had to get going to meet Tom, Ian jumped up and cried, "Ah, but not before you've been scanned by the ship's anti-terrorist detector." Moments later he emerged from the cabin wearing a bright green jokers cap and waving some kind of clacker around me, to the great amusement of everyone on deck. This was definitely one crazy bunch of sailors. It all reminded me of my Caribbean days and made me feel right at home.



Hiking and Trail Biking on Orcas Island

I drove across the island to the densely wooded eastern side. Finding no clever places to park discretely for free overnight, I camped in a nearly empty State Park campground for a few days and made forays, by foot, bike and RV, through the forest and up the mountain.



Movin' On

After a fun week-and-a-half on Orcas Island I said farewell to Tom and my new friends there and ferried back to the mainland. Spring was slowly advancing towards summer and the Canadian west beckoned.

Next Entry: 05/31/04


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