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Travelogue - 05/31/04                                                                                                                               Links to all Travelogue pages


Philosophical Flotsam

05/22/04 - It's a rainy evening in this Northwest forest, a setting conducive to introspection. I'm thinking about why some people tend to do things they want to do and others don't. As I travel around living my version of a fun life, people sometimes say to me, "Man, I wish I could do that." It occurs to me that when we say, "I wish I could do that," or "I'd like to have this" or "I'd love to go there," we're simply expressing what we want, or what we think we want, or what we think we should want. But when we say, "I am doing this" or "I am getting that" or "I am going there," then we are stating the desire as if it were already a fact, an action in progress. The difference is enormous. One is merely wishful thinking, which is about as productive as daydreaming. The other, the "I am" statement, creates a goal and that is a much more powerful thing to do. Wishes are rarely granted, but goals have a tendency to be achieved.

That said, I suspect most people who say "I wish I could do that" really don't. Maybe they think they should; maybe they even think they do, but the reality is that most of us are already doing what we have set up for ourselves to do, already living the reality we have created, however unconsciously. There is much to be said for a cozy home, a steady paycheck and a lifetime partner. I guess.


Nearly Halfway

It also occurs to me that I am nearly halfway through my life. My time here no longer seems endless to me. I'm aware  that I only have so much of it to do the things I'm going to do. 




So with that in mind, here are several...

Excursions I am going to make in the next 20 years:

- see British Columbia and Alaska by camper van (OK, so I'm already doing that.)
- go to New Zealand
- rent a bungalow on a beach or in the rain forest in SE Asia and write a book
- skipper an Amazon riverboat
- cruise the South Pacific and other places in a sailboat, 6-months a year for about a decade
- check out the entrepreneurial opportunities in China
- spend a summer or two touring Europe in a VW-type camper van
- spend a summer or two touring the canals of Europe in small canal boat
- spend a summer or two cruising between Vancouver and Alaska in a trawler
- tour Africa
- visit Chile
- whatever else occurs to me along the way

Check back with me in 2024 and see how I did.

Of course, there are other things I have in mind to do, but they're not travelogue material.


Meanwhile, back on the road...

05/29/04 - I'm parked near the City of Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Since leaving Orcas Island, not a great deal has happened worth writing about here with the exception of a visit to Mount Baker National Forest. That was impressive. 

I spent a few days there. The first day I drove up Mount Baker itself as far as the road had been snowplowed, a little above 5,000 feet. The sky was heavily overcast; low clouds shrouded the surrounding mountain peaks. I didn't see nearly as much of the rugged terrain as I think was there. However, at that altitude my cell phone got a clear signal, something it was not doing in the lower elevations. So I sat in my camper surrounded by dark forests and snow-clad slopes and called a few people back East just because I could.

I spent the rest of my Mount Baker visit in the woods, down in the Nooksak River valley. To me it's an ongoing challenge, a kind of one-man sport, to find the most beautiful places to park & camp away from other people, without resorting to the paid campgrounds, which is something I almost never do. I mean, what's the point of "camping" in a manicured acre or two crammed full of the least adventurous people in the forest, with a Campground Host, for heaven's sake, which is some old retired guy the rangers let stay there to make sure people keep their dogs on a leash and pay the fee to use the place. How boring is that?

I cruise down the roads less traveled, the rutted forest roads identified on topographical maps with four-digit numbers if they're identified at all. Some of them are just barely maintained. I'll often follow one of these back roads for miles, slowly, avoiding the potholes and low-hanging branches, in search of quieter, more natural places. Sometimes a road will degenerate into a track too rough or too narrow for my 8' wide camper to continue and I have to back out until I reach a spot wide enough to turn around. On some forest roads that can be a long way back, as much as a mile or two on several occasions. I've gotten pretty good at driving this truck in reverse, steering by the side mirrors.

Avoiding the designated campgrounds isn't just about saving money, although on a 6-month driveabout and a modest budget, that small daily expense could mount up. Actually, I sometimes burn more dollars-worth of gasoline in search of solitude and beauty than I save by not paying a campground fee. No, this is about quality of life. After all, that's why I'm out here. 

I'm often amazed at the astonishingly beautiful, private little hideouts I find and have all to myself. At the same time, I wonder at the herd instinct that impels all those other campers to crowd together in the official campgrounds. Whatever it is that drives them, I am grateful for it. 


I spent a night camped above this huge waterfall. The insulated walls of my little cabin-on-wheels muted the thunderous roar of the cascade so that it remained a remote rumble that lulled me to sleep. 


One evening as I was parked in a forest meadow, a pair of swallows roosted on my camper's doorsill, wonderfully unafraid as I stood close and photographed them.

The next afternoon I came upon a stretch of the Nooksak River alongside a little-used dirt road. It was so tranquil and inviting that I set a chair down by the riverbank and read for a while. Still feeling attracted to the spot, I spent the night just so I could awake to this private view in the morning. 


I spent several days in Bellingham, Washington, where I had a few favorite hangouts. One of them was a busy downtown street where I found a "wi-fi hotspot," a place where an Internet connection is available through radio waves rather than through a hardwire cable hookup. As long as a computer is set up to receive these wireless signals and is within their typically limited broadcast range, it can log onto the Internet without plugging in, often for free. My laptop came with a built-in wi-fi card and antenna, and these free hotspots have become a kind of holy grail for me, one of the first things I look for when I role into a new town. (Click here for a complete discussion of how I use a computer in my RV.)

In Bellingham my wi-fi benefactor was a smoky luncheonette and bar called The Horseshoe Diner. I ate a meal there once just to repay them for providing this public service, but I preferred doing my online computer work in the private comfort of my RV parked outside, sitting at the dinette with a mug of tea on the table and Mozart on the stereo. This privacy also allowed me to experiment with my new Internet-based telephone system without disturbing anyone else. 

It was fun having broadband Internet available "at home" for a few days. I would drive into Bellingham early in the morning, leaving my Wal-Mart campsite well  before rush hour, and grab one of the few strategically located parking spaces along the broad avenue outside the diner. There I would sit, feeding the parking meter two bits an hour, and work online. I eventually figured out the Internet phone system to which I have subscribed. Now, whenever I'm logged onto the Internet I can make and receive phone calls through my laptop anywhere in the world.



05/31/04 - Memorial Day 

I left Bellingham on a Saturday morning and crossed the border into Canada at a small Customs checkpoint in Aldergrove, BC, opposite Lynden, Washington. A truck driver back in Bellingham had advised me to enter at this little-used crossing rather than on the major highways to the west. Clearing through at Aldergrove usually took a few minutes, he said, whereas the larger ports of entry on the main routes could get backed up for hours. This proved to be sound advice. Where I cleared in, the modest line of cars moved through very quickly and I waited maybe 5 minutes. I heard later from a couple that crossed via Interstate 5 that same morning that they were delayed nearly 2 hours at the border just waiting their turn. 

On the other hand, it was at this Aldergrove checkpoint that I encountered Canada's most ferocious customs agent.

I carry a sawed-off, 12-gauge shotgun in my RV. I consider it a piece of emergency safety equipment, kind of like a life raft on a cruising sailboat. You never use the thing and sometimes wonder why you bother with the expense and trouble of keeping it, but if you ever did need it and didn't have it you'd surely regret the lack. 

I was expecting to be searched by Canadian Customs simply because I was entering with a firearm. Canada is much more paranoid about people possessing guns than the United States. From their perspective Americans are all gun-crazy cowboys. To alleviate their concerns I not only had my shotgun unloaded and laid out in the dinette for inspection when I arrived at the border, but earlier in the week I had also downloaded the Canadian Customs Non-Resident Firearm Declaration form (Déclaration d'Armes a Feu Pour Non-Résident) from their web site on the Internet, along with all of their requirements concerning the importation of such terrible weapons of mass destruction. I then dutifully measured the barrel and the overall length of my gun as required and filled out their form in triplicate. (Actually, being a technologically enhanced kind of guy, I did this on my computer and so only had to fill it out once and print 3 copies.) 

The gun was not my only threatening possession. Having been forewarned by my truck driver acquaintance, I also counted in advance how much alcohol I had aboard - 7 beers, 1½ bottles of red wine, 1 liter of good Barbados rum. I was even prepared for them to paw through my groceries in search of forbidden fruits and vegetables. I then adopted my dealing-with-foreign-bureaucrats attitude of utmost respect with no smirking allowed, and got into the line of cars at the border.

The several cars ahead of me were quickly waved through after only a brief questioning by the uniformed woman in the drive-up booth. When I pulled up, I handed over my declaration form in triplicate along with my passport. She asked me several routine questions - where I lived, how long I planned to visit Canada - then told me to wait while she carried my papers back into the main office. She returned shortly and, as I'd expected, instructed me to pull over and come inside.

Inside the sterile, brightly lit Canadian Customs office I approached the counter and waited. And waited. Finally, a broad-shouldered bull of a woman, in full uniform and wearing (I swear) a bulletproof vest, confronted me clutching my papers. This woman was about my height but easily had 30 pounds on me. She wore makeup nearly as thick and as bulletproof as her vest and there was not an ounce of friendliness in her entire demeanor. "Do you have a firearm with you," she snapped? 

"No," I replied, "I left it in my RV outside. The other lady didn't tell me to bring..."

"DO YOU HAVE A FIREARM WITH YOU?" Clearly, she didn't like my first answer and she just as clearly didn't like me... or, I suspected, any other men.

"Yes, Ma'am," I replied without embellishment.

She proceeded to pour over my papers. At that moment I realized I had neglected to sign each of the three copies of my firearm declaration. She apparently noticed this as the same time I did and glared her extreme disapproval. For a moment I thought I was going to be summarily executed, but she merely shoved the papers at me across the counter and ordered me to "sign these." I complied without a word, pleased that my hand did not shake noticeably. "Go sit down." I went and sat. Had she ordered me to speak I would have barked - twice - just to keep from growling. 

Armed people in uniforms have always made me a little nervous, much more so when they're belligerent. These small individuals with big badges have The Power, and they know it, and it really pisses me off when they abuse it. It's just as well that I had left the shotgun in the RV. I was beginning to understand why this tyrannical bitch wore a bulletproof vest in the office. 

After about 10 minutes, during which time the agent went in and out of a back room and generally occupied herself with important official business that may or may not have related to me, she finally returned to the counter and snarled, "You, go pay the cashier." I sprung to attention and marched over to a pretty young woman in the corner by the cash register. She studiously avoided all eye contact with me. I was certain she was professionally embarrassed by the way I had been treated. For my part, I felt an urge to rescue her from this dismal place and take her away with me in my RV. Then again, I feel that way about most pretty young women I meet.

While I was paying the CAD$50 fee (equal to about US$36) that Canada extorts from people who dare to invade their country carrying lethal weapons, Agent Bull stomped around in her pen, snorting. At one point I heard her mumble something about how "people ought to just leave their guns at home." Even if they did, I'll bet she would still wear the bulletproof vest.

I finally escaped Canadian Gestapo Headquarters and drove into a new country. It looked much like the one I had just left, but the signs were different. Speed limits are in kilometers per hour rather than in miles per hour. Happily, my speedometer has a scale for both so I was not unduly confused.

I drove into the city of Vancouver. It is huge, much bigger than I was expecting. I am not a big-city fan, especially when driving a cumbersome vehicle. Still, I thought I owed it to myself to have a look around and since it was Saturday the traffic wasn't too crazy. So I drove to the heart of downtown and looked. Nice buildings. Clean. There was nothing there I wanted, so I decided to get out. That was easier said than done. It took me an hour with the inadequate map my Road Atlas provided to find my way out of Vancouver and onto the road to the ferry to Vancouver Island, which is a completely different place even though the city and the island share the same name and are geographically close to each other.

And so began my Canadian adventure. It was bound to get better, and it did.

Next Entry: 06/13/04


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