After years of covering bad news stories, Emmy-Award winning journalist turns to good ones
Mike and Jennifer Wendland are spending their retirement years roaming across the U.S. and Canada in their Roadtrek Camper van.
After five years of RV travel, Mike Wendland never gets tired of seeing new places and meeting new people. Wendland's career as an investigative journalist propelled him around the world covering bad news stories. After retirement, he wanted to return to places he'd only glimpsed while covering the news event of the day. He knew there was more to these places than just the deadline.
Wendland, and his wife, Jennifer, travel all across North America.
So far they have gone 117,000 kilometres (over 110,000 miles), traveling the Oregon Trail, the Michigan Peninsula and outbound on Route 66 to the West Coast. One of the longest treks they've made was retracing the Lewis and Clarke expedition trail from Pittsburgh to Oregon.
“The expedition is one of the most amazing trips of exploration the world had ever seen," said Wendland, "the equivalent of going to the moon in their day.”
These intrepid trekkers prefer backroads, unbeaten trails, mountaintops and seldom seen vistas.
The Wendlands travel in a Roadtrek Class B camper van. The CS Adventurous XL is just under 24 feet long and very eco-friendly.
This RV sits on a Mercedes Benz Sprinter chassis. Its roof has solar panels that generate 650 watts of electricity, which makes it ideal for boondocking. The power is stored in a large array of lithium batteries, making them energy independent.
Boondocking is all the rage in RV circles. To boondock means to enjoy off grid camping—no formal campsites with hookups and water. Out in the boondocks you're self sufficient and in the middle of forests, mountains or deserts. It's remote—just the way Wendland likes it.
According to Wendland, the couple's trekking philosophy centres on “serendipity travel, no reservations, no plans on where we're going or what we're doing—just drive the backroads and stop at interesting places.” For example, while travelling through the Sandhills in Nebraska, they discovered the popcorn capital of the world. They stayed a couple of days touring the area and learning all about popcorn.
The only other plan the Wendlands have each travel day is the “330 rule.” This means they travel “no more than 330 miles in a day or stop by 3:30 in the afternoon, which gives you time to explore wherever you are," said Wendland.
For Wendland, adjusting to RV life has meant dealing with the confined space of a small RV, keeping a close eye on the weather as it can change very fast, and being sure they pick a good location for a campsite. Keeping the campsite clean is also important—especially in bear country.
As a retired journalist, it's pretty hard for Wendland not to write stories about interesting people he and his wife encounter and places they experience. Along with taking numerous photographs, Wendland writes an RV lifestyle blog called Roadtreking. He also voices, along with Jennifer, a podcast with lots of tips and information about the RV lifestyle.
“The blog exploded in popularity, with 650,000 reads per month. The podcast had 1.2 million downloads in one year— just took off," said Wendland. He believes the reason for the popularity is that people want good news stories, to learn about new places and people reinventing who they are.
On the Oregon Trail, the couple met a man who restored and rebuilt the old wagons that were used to transport settlers west across the American plains. After years of writing bad news stories for newspapers and television, Wendland finds it exciting and rewarding to write good new stories.
What has he learned after five years of trekking? “Most people are good decent people, hospitable and friendly and willing to help," he said.
The allure of the open road beckons year-long as the Wendlands roam from the frozen tundra of northern USA to the western Rocky Mountains. While trekking in Australia and New Zealand may be on the horizon, Wendland said there are enough destinations in the United States and Canada to keep Jennifer and him going for the next 10 years.