The Elephant's Stuff

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Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Monday, August 25, 2014

Spokane Washington was a substantial and not unattractive small city but in the blistering heat of summer and with lodgings at a particularly mean hotel, we were not enticed to take a long overdue rest day. We decided to move on, studied the map for options and found a minor road that met our needs. Washington 20 runs from the Idaho border at Newport across the state to Burlington north of Seattle. It winds up and over the majestic North Cascade Mountains well away from major towns. We planned out a route that would keep us off the freeways all the way to the Canadian border crossing at Sumas, WA.

It was while alternatively dodging forest fires and rain along Route 20 that we started to notice a feature of American small towns that had, up until then, passed us by. Many towns, both wealthy and poor, had a self storage facility on their outskirts. Once we started to look for them, they were everywhere. Some were new, purpose built facilities, others adapted from an older building. Some were concealed behind a screen of fir trees, others unapologetically fronted the main road. All seemed devoid of life, a series of closed identical doors concealing something... or nothing.

They were also, it seemed, sad places. After all, they were full of stuff. Stuff that the owners didn't need or didn't want or couldn't store or couldn't bear to part with. And the stuff, the good stuff and the useless stuff and the broken stuff and stuff with parts missing, would just sit there, piled unceremoniously in grubby musty cardboard boxes waiting to be forgotten. And when it is forgotten, and the storage rental no longer paid, it is auctioned off as a job-lot to that tribe of people who pick over the bones of forgotten lives.

Of course, we have as much stuff as most people and if workshop equipment is considered, more than most. There was, therefore, no moral high ground to make us feel good about this. The one bright spot for Team Elephant was the months we spend away from our stuff, with everything we need within arms' reach. This discipline has, at the least, confirmed the obvious. You don't need stuff to be happy.

The WA-20 had many delights other than the opportunity for social commentary. It is, in part, a fine, swaying, mountain road through a stunning landscape so deserted it seems incongruous in a country with such a large population. We didn't see our first bear, but deer were common enough for us to moderate our speed and we dropped down into the valley of the Skagit River and the muggy wet of a lowlands summer in the North West.

We eventually ambled up to the Canadian border feeling more relaxed about a border crossing than usual. Somehow, Canada didn't seem quite as foreign as the US, Mexico or the UK. The border officer asked only if we were carrying any weapons.

“No,” I answered, “we are hoping to get away from them.”
She smiled.
“Do you have much trouble with weapons?” I asked.
“Lots! They conceal them, so we search a lot of vehicles.” She pointed to a dozen search bays just ahead.
I nodded.
“Welcome to Canada.” She handed back our documents.

We stowed them without ceremony, fired the engine and were off. By the end of the week we had found a safe haven in the town of Revelstoke and settled for a weekend off; our first days off for more than a month. Revelstoke turned out to be an easy choice for a rest. Within 100 metres of our motel were a craft brewery, a patisserie and a gelato shop. No brainer, yah.

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Greg & Kerrie Lane on

Hi guys - we are seriously envious and want to head off for our next adventure NOW! Great photos and commentary - keep it coming. Stay safe and watch out for the deer.

New retiree on

As always: very much enjoying your journey.

Mal_C on

Hi Mike and Jo,
So, off to Kelowna. Hope you enjoy this great part of Canada. If you are wine tasting and you ask nicely, someone may open a half bottle of ice wine. Lovely people the Canadians. The Okanagan valley will be great this time of year. The floating bridge across the lake is worth a look. I think I am looking a bit green!!

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