Saturday, September 25, 2010

A long way from West Virginia

I’ve travelled a lot in the last 4 days.  Wednesday morning I woke up in Moorefield, West Virginia.  I had one last breakfast in the delightful little coffee shop that I had found on the south side of Moorefield and then headed north toward Pittsburg. 

I let the female navigator inside Microsoft Streets and Trips talk me through the route she had selected.  I had previously let her navigate me to Annapolis but was forced to give her an unflattering name on the way through Washington DC.  She did better on the mostly open terrain between Moorefield and Pittsburgh but fell down severely on some of the interchanges right in Pittsburgh.  Before I left for Annapolis I found a cheap inverter at Wallyworld which was just barely sufficient to keep my computer working on the road.

The famous New England fall colours were just starting to appear – in another week that trip will be really spectacular.  It was still a pretty pleasant drive and certainly a lot more relaxing than it was on the way south in the dark with no GPS. 

I got to the airport well ahead of my flight time and got checked in.  I had been sitting at the gate for a while before I realized that nothing was happening at any of the gates.  As I started paying attention to the conversations around me I began to realize that the airport was in fact completely shut down.  I have no idea where the staff goes during a shutdown but they were gone.  There wasn’t an official soul to be seen anywhere and it continued that was for over an hour and a half past my flight time.  That left me in no doubt about making my connection in Chicago.  I had barely an hour on the schedule to make my Chicago connection so losing an hour and a half before I ever boarded the plan didn’t seem like a good thing.

The storm that had shut the airport down finally blew over as quickly as it had arrived.  It was a clear sunny day when I drove into Pittsburgh and it was just as nice when we flew out.  Of course when I checked the departures board in Chicago my flight wasn’t even listed anymore.  I looked around for a United counter and couldn’t find any with real live human beings but did find a bank of computers that purported to be service points.  The computer was relatively easy to figure out and it quickly informed me that I had been rebooked to the following morning at 6:00 AM. 

In addition, rather than flying direct from Chicago to Regina I was now booked through Denver.  I didn’t really relish the idea of catching a 6:00 AM flight – it was already around 7:00 PM so a 6:00 AM flight pretty well meant a night in the airport.  So I kept looking and finally found a United counter with real live humans behind it.  After a long wait in line I was able to get rebooked for an almost immediate departure to Denver. 

I won’t bore you with the added details of how I finally arrived in Regina a full day late.  Nor will I dwell on the fact that my bag had a nearly zero chance of actually travelling on the same flights as I did and sure enough it didn’t.  I finally made it back to Buchanan in the late afternoon on Thursday.  Then we dashed around doing the things that Marilyn hadn’t been able to do alone so that we could get back on the road to Lethbridge.  I got the alternator that Marilyn had purchased installed and got the wiring right eventually.  When we did get on the road the improved power output was a welcome improvement over what we had been putting up with.

We’re now in one of our Holiday Trails membership parks in Lethbridge where I am doing a Growsafe installation at the Ag Canada Research Station.  We’ll likely be here most of this week and perhaps into the next week but as long as the damnwind doesn’t blow its pretty pleasant here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

East coast report

I’m a long way from home in more ways than one.  Wardensville, West Virginia is only 90 miles from Washington, DC but it lives in a different time.  It’s like stepping back 50 years when you drive into town.  The guy who runs the research centre where I’m doing this installation says that it’s only in the last 2 years that they have had a restaurant in town that would take credit cards and I don’t have any trouble believing that.  We’ve been eating lunch every day at the VFW where the daily special runs $5 or $5.50, depending on the day and it’s a full meal. 

Last Tuesday I left Marilyn and Jorgito in Buchanan and drove the mighty cubevan into Regina.  I only killed one snake on the trip down to Melville – got two on the trip north a couple of days earlier.  I love those signs on 21 highway down the east side of Alberta that say “watch for rattlesnakes”.  I watch for them alright – how the hell else are you going to run over them if you don’t see them and anticipate their movements?  Fortunately all I had to kill Tuesday night was garter snakes.

Wednesday morning I was at the Regina airport shortly after 6 AM for a flight to Chicago.  By the time I got through all the pseudo-security bullshit and the customs nonsense in Chicago I nearly missed my connection to Pittsburgh.  Customs was the worst but when I looked around the room it wasn’t hard to tell why it was taking so long.  I wouldn’t have let 90% of them into the country if the decision had been up to me.  I could have speeded things up a lot but nobody asked for my assistance.  The first ones to go would have been everyone with BO – that room was the foulest smelling place I’ve been in since RJ and Jared shared an apartment in Saskatoon.

When the baggage carousel in Pittsburgh stopped turning it shouldn’t have been any surprise to me that my bag hadn’t arrived.  I barely got on the plane in Chicago so the don’t-give-a-shit baggage handlers could hardly be expected to have got my bag onboard.  Fortunately the lost baggage office was conveniently located next to the carousel and staffed with a reasonably personable “Lisa”.  She started filling out the form and didn’t throw a fit when I told her that the boarding agent in Regina had kept my luggage claim tag.  By the time I was done in her office she had determined that my bag was in fact still in Chicago having arrived at the gate too late to be boarded with me.  She thought it would likely come to Pittsburgh on United’s 7:30 flight so I went off to pick up my rental car and then came back to confirm that my bag was going to arrive at 7:30. 

Lisa was gone and the door was locked but after a while Leslie lumbered onto the scene.  She confirmed that my bag was scheduled to arrive at 7:30 so I reluctantly settled in to wait for it.  I had carefully selected a flight that missed Toronto and got me into Pittsburgh so I could drive down to West Virginia in daylight but now I was stuck with a drive in the dark.  I had also forgotten to bring an inverter to power my computer while it was running the GPS which turned out to be a major error.

I didn’t get out of the airport until around 8:00 by which time it was completely dark.  I tried to use the computer sparingly but it seemed like every time I turned it off I promptly went off course.  A couple of times when I turned it on I was a long way off course and had to recalculate the route completely.  I know I went through some really pretty scenery but I didn’t see any of it.  I kept thinking that somewhere I’d run across a WalMart where I could pick up a cheap inverter but didn’t see one until I arrived here in Moorefield.

Today I took the day off and drove over to Annapolis to look at a boat.  I was pretty sure we didn’t want to buy it, mainly because it’s on the wrong coast but it is priced right and it’s a 49 foot Defever so I figured I should look at it anyway. 

My height continues to be our greatest challenge to buying a boat.  This one has the same wonderful engine room that I have come to expect on a Defever and it has an inside helm in the salon which is my preferred design.  It also has covered side decks which I am sure are a wonderful feature - - - for people who can walk under them without constantly ducking.  I don’t think we will use a flybridge a whole lot but I couldn’t stand up on this one so not using it would have been a lot more likely. 

The broker was a likeable sort and we had a good visit.  He had priced cross country transport for a similar boat so I got a price point for that eventuality although I don’t think it is practical for the price range we are considering.  The broker had priced moving the boat on it’s own bottom to Texas and then loading it and trailering it across the west to Vancouver.  I have already priced Dockwise transport from Florida to Seattle.  The Dockwise trip comes in around $35,000 and the combination water/land trip comes in around $25,000.  On a $300,000 boat those numbers might make sense but on a $100,000 boat they don’t work.

Annapolis harbour was a fun place to hang out so I wandered around a bit and had lunch there.  Then I headed back west but on the return trip I routed myself right through the heart of Washington.  I’ve been there enough times to sort of know my way around but today was the first time I’ve had time on my hands and been able to drive around enough to feel like I could find my way without a map. 

Some fools had “organized” a World Peace Day at the foot of the steps to the Lincoln Memorial and at the risk of giving them publicity that they clearly don’t deserve I have to comment. 

I think it is an exaggeration to say there were 12 people in the audience – the real total may have been as low as 8.  I suspect that 4 of them were the sister, brother, brother-in-law, etc of the dude in the suit that was the invited guest.  I walked the length of the pool to get away from the saccharin lyric peace songs set to popular tunes like Yellow Submarine and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.  By the time I returned to the west end of the reflecting pool Mr. Suit and Tie was introducing his illustrious career as a UN diplomat.  I kept on walking over to the Vietnam Memorial and mercifully the nonsense was over by the time I got back to the Lincoln Memorial.  I take comfort from the knowledge that even in a city as famous for it’s lack of common sense as Washington there were so few fools who think that world peace can be achieved by singing silly songs and listening to self important idiots talk about all the wonderful things that they have done.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Many more miles behind us

The boat that we were so excited to see turned out to be an incredible disappointment.  I ended up telling the boat broker that put us onto it that I considered it a dock queen, nothing more than a floating condo and that I was very disappointed that he would have shown it to us knowing what we intend to do with it.  It was no doubt a very nice vessel in it’s past but it has now been so extensively butchered as to render it unseaworthy. 

After we got over the disappointment of looking at the first boat we spent the next three days looking at more suitable vessels.  We even came within a whisker of making an offer on one of the boats we looked at.  We had initially looked at wooden boats, then ruled them out completely, then considered them again and would have made an offer on a Monk McQueen if it hadn’t been for the advice of Peter Leech.  Peter is the father-in-law of one of Marilyn’s nieces and a former partner in Grand Yachts of Coal Harbour, Vancouver.  We spent about 4 hours with Peter and his wife on Wednesday and at the end of that time he had convinced us that for our purposes we need to find a fibreglass boat. 

Late on Wednesday we finally got around to liberating the cubevan from it’s storage yard in Chilliwack. We’d been having so much fun looking at boats that we just hadn’t got home early enough any day up until then.  As it turned out we picked a pounding rainstorm for our pickup time.  The Malibu tarp had come undone so we redid that in the rainstorm and took the van back to the campground.  Around noon on Thursday we headed for Kelowna. 

We had a good visit with Marilyn’s brother Fred on Thursday evening and with her other brother, Dan on Friday morning.  Fred loaded us up with garden produce and home canning which we have been enjoying as we travel.  Today we met up with Dick and Olive, a couple that we met in Mexico close to 15 years ago now.  They were well into their 70’s when we first met and they are still driving to Mexico so they are our travel mentors.  They live in Comox but were visiting friends in Alberta.  We met them on the side of #3 highway in Fernie and cooked dinner for them.  Then we continued east until we got across the Saskatchewan border.  We’re in the rest area at the Welcome to Saskatchewan booth outside Maple Creek tonight.  Tomorrow we’ll be back in Buchanan for a couple of days and then I need to fly out to West Virginia for a few days. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

We’ve been everywhere

I’ll fill in some details with another posting but we’ve been around in the last week.  When I posted about the Walmart idiot we were on our way to Andrea and Mike’s wedding.  We spent a couple of days in Canmore reuniting with various members of Marilyn’s family and then moved into Calgary for the actual wedding last weekend.  They had a morning service which neither of us had ever seen but it worked out well.  The weather was threatening but it gave them sunshine for the (very late) nuptials and an OK evening for the garden party at Mike’s parents.  They probably saved a lot on beer because it was really too cold to drink beer that evening.

The wedding was Saturday – on Sunday morning Judy’s sister was celebrating a special birthday (the number of which we won’t mention) so she invited the whole family for dimsum.  We were back at the same restaurant that she and Jim took our kids to for their first dimsum experience and it was very good.  After the breakfast we went up to Mike and Andrea’s house for a brief visit at which time we dropped off Marilyn’s cousin Cohl who had been staying in the bus with us during the wedding.  Then we pointed the frenchy-bus south towards the Coutts border crossing.

We got sent inside at Coutts which prompted flashbacks to our ordeal at Sumas last winter but this time was different.  They made us wait for about an hour while they pretended to review our file but mainly I think they were just making us wait.  Their benches were much more comfortable than the ones at Sumas and they had TV – tuned to Fox no less – so it could have been a lot worse.  My advice – if you plan to get hassled going into the US then do it at Coutts rather than Sumas.

By the time we got out of customs it was dark so we only went as far as the Pilot in Shelby.  We’ve spent the night in their parking lot many times on our way from Nipawin to warmer places in December or January.  On Monday morning we made a leisurely trip over to Havre and got settled into the Havre RV Park by noon. 

For anybody planning to travel to Havre by RV I have some simple one word advice: DON’T.  The Havre RV Park appeared to be the best game in town and it was crap.  It was “managed” by whoever happened to be on duty at the neighbouring gas station and “managing” appeared to consist of coming around once a day to kick out anyone who was over their time limit.  The garbage was overflowing, the sewer didn’t work, it backs onto the highway, all the connections were on the wrong side – I could go on but I won’t.  Just avoid Havre completely if you are travelling in an RV because this one seemed to be the best game in town.  We spent 4 nights there – they actually tried to kick us out after three nights but Marilyn went toe to toe with an idiot and won because she had written proof that we had paid for 4 nights.  It sounds like even that was a near thing though because the idiot had an idiot-helper who tried to convince Marilyn that 4 nights meant 4 nights but only 3 days – whichever was less apparently.

I got NARC’s new Growsafe equipment running, more or less.  We’re still having some QC issues with various components but I think we are gaining although some days its hard to tell.  By supper time Friday there wasn’t anything left that I could do so we headed back toward the border and this time pretty well got waved through by Canadian Customs.  We figure we’re due for another ordeal soon because we’ve had several fairly easy crossings lately.

We made a brief stop in Airdrie for Alison and Camiel’s big BBQ on Saturday evening.  One of their staff had volunteered to roast a whole lamb on a spit so we had to be there to see that and there are many of their friends that are mutual friends so we had a great time reacquainting with them.  Then yesterday morning we were back on the road headed for Vancouver.  We had pretty decent travel weather – not hot but not pissing rain either – most of the time anyway.  We arrived in Chilliwack around 9:00 last night and parked on the Wallyworld lot for the night. 

Today we have a boat broker lined up to show us a boat that I have been watching online for a couple of years now.