The best of both worlds
A permanent home in Nanaimo, B.C., and periodic contract work around the province keep this RVing couple grounded
As confirmed seniors, Donna and Mike Mitchell have the best of both worlds. Mike, a retired Canadian navy CPO (Chief Petty Officer), spends his time fly-fishing, exploring, doing maintenance on the couple’s truck and 27-foot fifth wheel, and researching their next travel adventure. Donna is officially a retired bank manager for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), but she takes on short-term contracts when there is a management vacancy in one of the bank’s B.C. branches.
Donna took early retirement in 2004, and Mike decided to retire then too. The Mitchells had spent lots of time camping and RVing while their children were growing up—in every type of unit from tent to trailer to truck-camper to motorhome.
“It was a way we could afford to take our kids to their sports camps and have holidays together as a family,” said Mike.
The cross-Canada dream, and more
“Our dream was to drive across Canada when we retired,” Donna said. “We had friends who were going to come across Canada with us in their own RV, and friends who were going to meet us in the Maritimes. We had a plan all worked out, and 2004 was going to be the year for it.”
When both friends had to bow out of the plan due to family crises and health issues, the Mitchells thought hard about whether they should make the trip on their own and decided to go ahead. For 10 years, Donna had collected tips from travellers she had met about things to see and places to go in Canada; by 2004 she had a foolscap page and a half of suggestions.
“For example, in Saskatchewan, we didn’t stick to Highway 1,” she said. “We took the Red Coat Trail through all the little towns in southern Saskatchewan. One of our stops was in Gravelbourg, home of Hayley Wickenheiser, where there’s an amazing Catholic church.”
They have fond memories of attending a Ukrainian cultural festival in Dauphin, Manitoba. In Trois Rivieres, Quebec, they visited Donna’s cousin and went with him to the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City for a memorable lunch.
From Quebec City, the Mitchells travelled down the beautiful Gaspé Peninsula—marvelling at the acres of cod on drying racks—to the Maritimes. Then, with Donna’s sister, the couple toured the eastern United States all the way down to Key West, Florida. At the end of 10 months, they crossed Texas to California and drove north to their permanent home in Nanaimo, B.C.
Venturing farther afield
After several trips criss-crossing the United States, Donna wanted to visit Mexico, but Mike wasn’t so keen.
“When we saw an ad in a magazine for a caravan tour down the Baja peninsula, it sounded perfect for us as first-timers,” Donna said. “We crossed the border into Mexico with a caravan of 10 RVs—and what they called a wagon master and a tail-gunner—on February 13, 2010, and were gone for 37 days.”
The Mitchells were both a little nervous about this venture, but quickly realized that their guides were competent and experienced and had taken care of all the details. Mike and Donna didn’t have to think about a thing except enjoying the experience.
“By the end of that trip,” Donna said, “a few of us were talking about doing it again, and four couples went on a second trip, early in 2011. This time we did it on our own.”
Obey your own rules, and be spontaneous
The Mitchells have some policies that they follow when they’re travelling. First, they are always careful to have proper health and vehicle insurance. Second, if they need a place to simply park for 10 to 12 hours overnight, they often boondock—staying in the parking lot of a casino or a Walmart—to save money. But for the sake of security, they never stop in a site where they are the lone RVers. On the road, they pump their own fuel or keep a close watch on the pump gauge if someone else is filling the tank for them, to make sure they are getting the fuel they are paying for. And when they’re staying in a town overnight, they always pick up a local paper to see what’s happening.
“That’s how we got to see Willie Nelson in Asheville, North Carolina,” Donna said. “And in Ottawa, a scan of the local paper ended up in us getting to attend a Canadian (World Cup of Hockey) intersquad game and an exhibition game between the Canadian and U.S. teams.”
“You never know what you’re going to happen across,” said Mike.
Where to next?
Donna has accepted a job in northern B.C. for September, and while she works at the bank, Mike will fly-fish, explore, take care of domestic details—except the cooking—and make sure the RV is road-ready. Though the unit is equipped with batteries, Mike has installed solar panels and has some ideas for an eco-friendly water-heating system; for a handy guy, there is always something to tweak.
The Mitchells haven’t decided where they will go on their next big trip in January, but coming to a decision is not a problem. It’s a very enjoyable process that's always about the adventure.