June 19, 2015 – Today will be a day of research and discovery, acclimation to the equipment, and to Canada. This is one of those days that is chock full of little stories. The take-away? I stayed in Chilliwack the whole day doing stuff, and went back to Wal*mart for another night of free lodging.
On Display – I awoke a little late, but well rested, a little troubled by power problems in the wee hours of the morning. It was 10:30 am, time for a light breakfast in the Wal*mart parking lot. I raised the shades and watched the world go by over some granola and blueberries. Within minutes I had folks waving in through the window and commenting how cute the trailer is. I open the door and answer some questions and share some stories. After several such encounters I finally finish my breakfast.
Maybe Not Ready? – After last night I was hesitant to head north. I ran out of power for the CPAP in the early morning hours. I had pulled out one of my Lithium Ion batteries and got back off to sleep. But if this is how the system is going to behave the trip will be difficult. I am also thinking I should get a Canadian cell phone before I head further north, so that’s on my list for today. But first, let’s get some fuel. So errands it is.
Buying Fuel – To secure the most consistent exchange rate I’m using credit cards to pay for things. But the process with a US credit card at a Canadian pump ends up being an amusing dance. I only found one or two stations where I could use my cards at the pump, these were stations that had installed new pumps quite recently. Otherwise it was prepay, tell them how much to authorize (more than you need), pump the tank full, and then come back to get the refund receipt. So each fuel-up was two transactions, a charge and a refund. That meant two transactions of their Goods and Services Tax (GST) a charge and a refund. It also meant that the end of the month credit card statement had four transactions. One charge and an associated international funds conversion fee, one refund and an associated international conversion funds refund. By the time you drive 3000 miles in Canada, keeping your tank full at every opportunity, the number of receipts is daunting, the number of lines on the monthly statement end up being ludicrous. Reconciling the two, painful.
Tell the Banks! – Before you leave home, sort out your plans with your banks. Do this while you have access to a phone and internet. Much easier than trying to find Wi-Fi and poking at small screens. Informing Discover was a breeze, and it seemed the same was true of Bank of America. But for BofA the app was really only recording this information for my debit card, and not applying it to my credit card. I kept getting notices that my credit card was locked due to suspicious activity, I would go in and approve the charges and it would work for another day. Then it would be locked again. Finally when I was in Alaska, a couple of weeks later I was able to call them on the phone and sort things out. Not a practical solution while I was in Canada. The credit card side of the company had no record of the changes made on the web site, even though I could see the plans listed online. I do recall from years ago that, due to mergers, Washington and Idaho accounts were on a different accounting system than the rest of the country, so I’m guessing that the credit cards still haven’t been merged. In any case I finally got it sorted out.
Juxtaposition – Finding free Wi-Fi in an unfamiliar town while towing a trailer can be challenging. I tried several places where parking turned out to be a problem, finally I found a Safeway grocery store with a little more parking. It had a Starbucks inside, so I sat at their tables for a few minutes and used the Wi-Fi to notify banks, and check email. I was worried about the power problem so I also sent an email to the dealer asking for advice. Then I went out to the trailer.
Back in the trailer I set up the range extender hoping to do some internet research on a little bigger screen. It wasn’t working so well, but as I was poking at it, I became aware of constant loud chatter and bellowing laughter. In my state of mind I found this annoying. The building at the side of the parking lot opposite the grocery store was the back of an empty store. Here under the shade of a roof overhang a dozen or so folk were watching life pass by, and laughing at anything and everything. I finally figured out that the two campers that had pulled up after I was there belonged to them. Barely able to pull themselves around, one had nothing of a muffler, and a large engine. The other was lucky to be firing on all four cylinders and was a wonder in its heyday for being underpowered. Caulking had been liberally applied in places I wouldn’t have guessed could leak, and random swabs of house paint were covering other repairs. I’m going to guess these guys are in the construction trade, when their beverage hobby doesn’t get in the way. I believe they were honestly amused by the juxtaposition of their home with mine. I might have enjoyed it too if I wasn’t so busy trying to sort things out.
Canadian Phone? – Next I spent some time talking to representatives of four phone service carriers at the local mall. The amount of data available on prepaid plans was pretty low, one or two GB a month, and a cost of $70-$100 to get there. I figured this was a little high especially looking at the service maps heading north. If I was heading east it would have made more sense, but the coverage north was spotty or non-existent.
Power is Green – Getting email was a challenge unless I hung around a Wi-Fi hotspot, but none of the signals was near a place to sit and wait. I spent most of the rest of the day alternating between finding Wi-Fi and checking things on the trailer. It turns out that all the odd behavior with the batteries and solar panels was easily explained, and nothing was wrong with the power system. The appearance of a problem mostly stemmed from my prior experience. I was used to charging lithium Ion batteries as opposed to lead acid, and the top end voltage for a lithium ion is well over 13 volts, whereas the top end for lead acid is 12.6 to 12.8. I finally figured this out when I was able to do some internet research at the mall.
Well, I did actually find a problem, when I passed through Seattle in August. The two batteries are hooked up in parallel, this way they act like a single 12v battery. This should have provided 160 amp hours of storage. There are two short thick cables that tie them together. What I found when I pulled things apart was that the crimp type ends on these cables had come loose. So I was really only using one battery while I was in Alaska. That meant that it charged more quickly (less to fill) and discharged more quickly too. I replaced these with manufactured cables and the system has been behaving much better since.
End of the day – So I spent most of the day in and around Chilliwack, getting cards sorted out, researching phones and playing with the power system on the trailer. So back to the Wal*mart. I got back there and realized that I had really not had much to eat all day and was quite hungry. Across the parking lot was a Five Guys, and I know they make a point of closing at 10pm every day. I arrived at the door at 9:52, and they were happy to serve me. I took my food back to the trailer so they could clean up without me in the way. Off to sleep, a long day behind, and early rising tomorrow to get on the road.