When we reached Washington State we were on the road for three months and at that point we were very happy to head south for warmer temperatures. We were looking forward to the sunnier days. In my mind I was already on an exotic beach laying on a hammock.
In Washington State we experienced our first tedious border crossing, finally fixed our Multiplus charger and inverter in Neptune Bay (Yes!), visited the buzzy and jazzy Seattle, enjoyed a nice ferry ride, wondered around Olympic National Park and met good friends in Lakewood, prior to heading inland towards Yelllowstone for our next adventure.
Crossing Borders from Canada into USA
It was the 4th of October 2017, exactly three months since we landed in Halifax.
We were grateful for what we had seen and experienced so far but were also happy to close Canada and Alaska chapters continuing our adventure in mainland USA. But for that the first thing we had to do was to cross into US at Washington State.
Before crossing many had advised us not to cary any fresh food or alcohol as customs officers could arrest and dispose it. The officers are strict enforcing their regulations, asking if you carry fruits, vegetables, tobacco and alcohol, and you are bound to say the truth otherwise you may find yourself with a fine or even more trouble.
It was early morning when we approached the border crossing south of Vancouver, we could see a long queue on a number of columns of cars. There were cameras and all sorts of sophisticated equipment scanning everything, everywhere. All seemed carefully monitored. We reached the first officer at a small cabin who asked us:
“So, what’s your story?”
We explained briefly and then he asked if we carry any fire arms, ammunition, fresh food, what type of food, what fruits, what vegetables, alcohol, what type and how many bottles, tobacco , cash, valuable things bought from Canada. We responded no to all but had some food so we explained fruit by fruit and vegetable by vegetable we had in our fridge and food storage :)) He pulled us over for a detailed food inspection.
We were directed to a covered parking area where an officer informed us firmly to get out of the truck leaving everything behind and to go inside to speak to customs. Quietly we followed the instructions. We took both our backpacks inside. JP had a big black backpack with his computer and all his gadgets. The customs officer reacted assertively:
“Why do you need your backpack inside? Leave your backpack in the truck!”
I was holding myself not to laugh knowing how important it was for JP to have his backpack with him, to carry his personal valuables. It was one of the few situations he had no choice but to obey the rules.
When we got inside there was another big queue. We lined up. A lady from the department of agriculture came and called us out of the line so we could explain her what type of fruits and vegetable we were carrying. When we mentioned “avocado” she asked for the keys of the truck. She wanted to inspect everything by herself alone. JP gave her the keys explaining each key and how to deploy the automatic ladder to enter the cabin.
We were a bit nervous that she could get all of our things out , disorganizing everything. After about ten minutes she returned with a bag containing: avocado, mandarins and limes. Fast and efficient operator 🙂
She informed us that we were not allowed to cross the borders with citrus or avocado not grown in US. Everything else was good.
We were fine with that and happy that nothing else was confiscated.
After stamping our entrance paper we returned to the truck and checked inside to see how bad everything was after the inspection. Everything was left exactly as we left, with the exception of the garbage that was not closed. She had checked our garbage as well. Fair enough.
We drove to the exit point, showed our stamped ticket to the customs officer at an exit booth and he opened the barrier for us. No smile, no welcome words. We were looking for a friendly Hollywood scene “Welcome to the United States of America!” To our disappointment it felt the opposite :)) But hey, we were in, free to explore mainland USA! Happy days! Yuuhuuu!!!
Fixing our Victron Multiplus Charger and Inverter in Neptune Bay
It has been a while since our Victron Multiplus charging and inverter started acting on us. We had two problems: firstly, the charging frequency configuration, secondly was the reliability of the inverter function.
In Europe the charging frequency configuration was originally set to 50Hz, whilst in USA the power comes with 60Hz. For this reason the Multiplus would not equalize the frequencies progressing from ‘mains on’ to ‘bulk’ and so on, not charging the batteries when connected to the grid. It was not a big issue, as we are practically self sufficient with our solar panels and have an intelligent solenoid that charges the batteries of the living cell when we drive; however, it was an inconvenience that JP wanted resolved. To change the Hz configuration we needed a specific cable to connect the inverter to the computer. This cable was only available at Victron service centers.
The second issue, the reliability of the inverter function of the Multiplus, often would not work. This meant from time to time we couldn’t charge our computers, or use the fan. Everything else would work on 12V, so although a problem it was not a major one as we could charge our computers whenever we stoped on the way.
So we wanted to check this issues out at a Victron Service Center, and we found one in Neptune Bay, just after the border in Washington State, called Microtech Electronics.
After some time searching on the spit of Neptune Bay, we finally found the beach front house where Microtech is located. Jeff King, the manager, immediately offered his help to fix our problem. He spent some time checking the inverter and putting it on a tester. After trouble shooting and testings Jeff changed the charging frequency configuration of the Multiples to 60Hz and the charging function was back on. After some time charging, the inverter function returned to its best. Soon after we realized that the inverter function required a descent battery level and adequate voltage to work properly. And as we had been using our heater almost every day the battery levels had been strained.
After about two hours checking the equipment, putting it on the testing equipment and fixing the problem we were expecting a large bill. When JP asked how much does it cost, Jeff’s answer was:
“Nothing man”. We were like… "What? How comes nothing?” He repeated: “Nothing, really, I am a Victron guy, I am here to support Victron customers, and it was my pleasure. I am glad all has been resolved and that you are another happy Victron customer”.
We were shocked by Jeffs kindness and generosity. We met a few people on the road including the staff of a few John Deere dealers that would help us out of pure kindness. People could be genuine and generous with us without hidden agendas or interests from you. People can be nice and good without expecting anything back. This was a lesson learnt. There is hope for mankind as there is pure kindness in this world, there are good people out there, there is hope 🙂
We thanked Jeff for the service and kindness. Then we had a few beers that afternoon and enjoyed a wonderful sunny day at Neptune Beach. The weather was gorgeous, we could hear the birds songs, the waves of the Pacific Ocean just 50m away from us. Life was good.
Jeff made sure to give us his business card and informed us we could reach him anytime if we encounter future troubles with the Multiplus. What a nice guy!
We continued driving up the Pacific coast and after various searches we found a beautiful spot to overnight at the exit of Larrabee State Park. We were in the rainforest, up the coast of the Pacific Ocean, viewing the scenic landscape and the sunset from the top. When we expected less, nature didn’t stop to impress us.
We were excited to reach Seattle, the largest city of Washington State, pictured in so many movies and reference for its grunge music and home of Starbucks, Microsoft and Amazon. We were curious to discover the vibrant atmosphere and the buzz Seattle is known for.
We parked next to Andersen Park, at the parking lot of a protestant church very close to downtown and next to Pine Street.We paid 14$ for overnight parking and as soon as we parked we were ready to hit the streets of downtown and the waterfront.
As we walked on the Pine Street we could feel the buzz and cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city. There were different bars and restaurants of all types and all tastes, the city packed, intense, busy with street music at every corner.
We went until the end of Pine Street where we would reach the Pike Place Market, one of the main attractions of Seattle. The market is overlooking Elliot Bay waterfront and is one of the oldest local markets in USA which offers you all sorts of local produced products from food, jewelry, art, craft, flowers and everything that you may need or you may not need. This is also where Starbucks opened their first coffee shop.
Continuing walking towards the waterfront we passed through a very busy area under a congested flyover road. At the waterfront we checked the Seattle Great Wheel, took some nice shots and enjoyed the pleasant breeze of the Pacific.
Returning to the hidden streets on the back of Pike Place Market we discovered the popular Bubble Gum Wall. There were a lot of local expressionism about the politics in US too. One thing we learnt about US as soon we entered was that they take their freedom of speech seriously. One can say almost whatever he wants pro or against the system and no one will arrest you, nor judge you. Freedom of expression and speech are the core values of the nation. Of course you know that already, we knew it too, but it was pretty cool to experience it in reality. Check these pictures out :)))
By this time we were starving. We searched on Trip Adviser for authentic “cheap eats” restaurants. We set for Pike Place Chowder which promised to offer original crab clams chowder, something we heard it’s a typical local food here.
The chowder met our expectations. We couldn’t refrain from ordering as well a starter of fresh fried cod with french fries and as main we got the creamy New England chowder with crab clams. We paired the menu with beer. We paid 29$ for two people. We felt we ate like kings. It was simply delicious. New for our taste, authentic Seattle food, filling and cheap.
Walking back to our truck, the city center was filled with artistic characters and street singers. Diversity and creativeness characterizes Seattle. Buzz, vibes, music, artsy places seemed to distinguish this part of the downtown. We enjoyed the walk through this colored and joyful atmosphere.
As we crossed through the park where our truck was parked, I was confronted with a dramatic reality. The park had a corner with people consuming drugs and they were looking pretty scary.
I went to the ladies restroom and one girl had a blanket laid in one of the toilets handing over under the door a syringe to her friend. I believe it was heroine.
She seemed to be living on another planet, a planet that she created on a pink blanket inside one of the female toilets to consume drugs. She was talking with the other girl something nonsense. I was a bit afraid to go to the toilet, but I had to go. After this event I couldn’t stop asking myself:
“Why do people reach this stage? And why the authorities don’t seem to be doing much about it? They are consuming drugs in front of public eye, even a child can see it. Why?”
It’s not a healthy environment for anybody to play in that park. The park was positioned in a pretty central area, there were plenty of teenagers and young adults playing sports there. However nobody was doing nothing about these people with serious addiction problems.
No wonder why some parents are terrified for their children to get in the wrong entourage. Addiction can be seen everywhere from the homeless people hanging on the streets to the consumers that do it without hiding. Such a sad reality. We were in US, considered one of the biggest economies in the world, and still so much misery.
I was outraged.
We returned to the truck and we were ready to call the night.
JP could barely sleep, he was afraid some homeless or drug addict would come to steal something or even ambush the truck. He was checking the windows every half an hour. For this reason we both slept very bad if at all that night.
We woke up really early in order to get out of there. We headed out before 8am towards the Olympic National Park.
Olympic National Park
We left Seattle without even having breakfast and without realizing the magnitude and how long it would take us to explore Olympic National Park. We thought it would be a day visiting a beautiful park with rainforest, Pacific coastlines and hot springs and it took us two full days only to drive through the park. That was one of our few road miscalculations.
Olympic National Park is a peninsula located in the west side of Seattle and if you are in Washington State and have never been on the Alaska coastline or Vancouver Island it’s a similar scenery. We chose to reach it by ferry and crossed the bay from north Seattle.
We paid 20$ for shipping the truck with the ferry and took about 30 minutes to get to the other side. It was a very pleasant ride on the largest ferry we came across thus far.
As we advanced driving into the park and when we almost made it to the hot springs, dreaming to have that deserved bath and relax in the thermal waters, to our disappointment we had to pay 25$ only to enter the park, than 15$/person entrance fee to the hot springs and 20$ for camping overnight. That would ad to our daily budget 75$ only for this. Way out of our budget. By this time we were drained, but we had to skip it and continue driving another 70 km to the next spot we found for free, recommended on the iOverlander app.
At this point we were tired, hungry and moody. It seemed that the park wouldn’t end and the rain either, although the landscape was beautiful, similar rain forests and coastlines we’ve seen in Stewart, Alaska.
We finally made it to a camp site which was to our happiness a spot for free. It had nice fire pits, outside table, toilets, everything you needed. We arrived exhausted and jumped into bed.
The next day was a fresh day and we were ready to enjoy the park’s offering: coast lines, dramatic views of the Ocean, rain forest and very old tall trees. The mist in the atmosphere and the wet air made it a mystic and unique experience.
By evening we made it to Woodlake to visit one of JP’s friends and former work colleagues, Chris Nordby. We ended up staying three days at Chris’ home enjoying his and his lovely Transylvanian wife hospitality. We spent sweet evenings cooking delicious pasta carbonara, sharing lifetime experiences and debating on politics. A friendship we will carry with us forever.
Lucky us 🙂
After three relaxing days spent with Chris and Sasha we had to continue our journey. In my mind I was pretty much ready to head straight south to Oregon and than to California hoping for warmer weather, but in JP’s mind something else was going on. He wanted to cross most of the national parks of US such as, Yellowstone, Arches, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Zion, Yosemite, to name a few. For this we needed to head east of Washington towards Idaho and Montana aiming to reach Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in the following two days. Although we had to continue with the cold weather, he was right this time. We couldn’t miss these nature wonders. They were all absolutely unique and gorgeous. More about the parks in the next posts…