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Road Path to Our Next Chapter

Franklin Beecham

Are you feeling old? When are you going to retire? What are you going to do when you retire?

Sixty – it was inevitable. It was 2016, and two major influences put me on a path of realization.

One of my daughters is a full-on vegan. Her healthful outlook on life and spiritual well-being affected my wife and I immensely. My diet was hugely altered, and I feel healthier for it. I’m not quite vegan but appreciate the dietary lifestyle, and continue to evolve to this day.

My main influencer is my wife, who wants me to live long and enjoy retirement without the ties to work, or the ongoing maintenance of our century house. It seems that retirement comes too late for some to enjoy. We toil hard to earn a keep to support our families and provide a roof over our heads, all the while trying to stay healthy, while looking forward to the day when we can stop and relax without the pressures of responsibility. Our financial planner played a part in some decision-making also, opening our eyes to future possibilities.

When to stop working? Are we keeping the house? What goals need to be met in order to open up our dream retirement days?

My questions or dreams about leaving the rat race revolved around hobbies and what to do with the coming years of life. I could go back to painting. I was pretty successful several years ago. The arts culture burned me out, so that’s why I took a break from it… But no, something else called to me.

We love being around friends. Shooting the breeze about the old days and sharing a drink and a meal over enlightening conversation means a lot, and the camaraderie of friends sitting around a campfire sharing stories and anecdotes of our life experiences is also appealing. Ah, the great outdoors. Fresh air during the day, pine trees and lakes, and the smoky air of the campground. We live in Canada, and there’s so much of this just waiting to be experienced!

Camping has been a big part of my outdoor life since my early teens as a Boy Scout growing up in the UK. Tent camping, canoeing, and fishing took over in my twenties once I emigrated to Canada at 19. From farmers’ fields in England’s Derbyshire moors to the outer islands of Hong Kong; from the pine forests of Ontario’s provincial parks to the Inca Trail high up in the Peruvian Andes, every adventure has its own share of memories. And it all begins with planning locations and getting there.

Photo by Scott Goodwill on Unsplash.

Okay yes, back to sixty. After deliberating with our financial advisor, we decided that my sixty-second year would be the optimum time to walk away from my forty-year career as a creative professional. That was a difficult decision but a necessary one. We would hope that our health would allow us to enjoy the next few decades.

Being an online denizen, social media played a big part in our future direction, most notably Instagram, where I saw posts from people camping in wilderness areas. Bush camping, though adventurous, would not pass our comfort limitations and at my age, was not an exercise I wanted to start my retirement days with. For long-term trips even tent camping was out of the question. (Not that we’ve stopped doing that – we still looked forward to our summer camping trips.)

Comfort and mobility is our future.

Our recent travels entailed flying to a destination, renting a suitable vehicle, and lodging in hotels or Airbnbs. Have you ever driven in Costa Rica? Yikes! And we need more room than a suitcase!

Then, whilst browsing on social media, came exotic images of van life. Camper vans offer mobility and personal space, a simple nomadic experience that seemed to fit the bill. Could it be? Yeah, we could drive from Canada to Central America with detailed planning and time…

What if…

I used to have a wild dream back in the Seventies of motoring around with friends in an old painted school bus like a free-wheeling spirit from the flower child era. That balloon burst when reality slapped me across the head and I emigrated to Canada and enrolled in art college – not to mention I didn’t have my driver’s license or a job. But the dream didn’t disappear forever, and every now and then it cropped up in conversations.

VW camper van rally.

We like to take day trips exploring different towns and places nearby, and on one occasion came across a camper van rally. There must have been about fifty Volkswagen vehicles, some customized with flower power designs, some with pop-up roofs or surf boards strapped to their sides, others equipped with awnings , slide-out cooktops, and space for a bed. Now you’re talking! This is doable. I now had new things to research.

Not only were these vans being used for trekking across the country, but larger delivery-style vehicles were shown online customized with full kitchens, living space, and even outdoor showers. Wow! And look at all those places… lakes, forests, parks, Walmart… Walmart? Hmm. Most of the destinations were where we could also tent camp, but the old back doesn’t want to lay on a deflated mattress over a pine needle floor.

There were lots of pros and cons. Mobility was key and built-in amenities were a plus, but we needed a toilet and shower! We also have ‘stuff.’ This led me to start thinking about doing this or that to a van – and customization needs research. This time I searched YouTube, where there are tons of “van life” videos made by weekenders and full-timers, showing customized vans tricked to the hilt with fridges, generators, solar panels, and more.

It was time to spring the idea on my wife to see if we were on the same page. Lucky for me, it went over well and now I had research help (which was her career). This was something we could both share and enjoy. And so we scoured the internet looking for interesting information and possible destinations, all the while watching online help videos by like-minded people. We decided on a ready-built vehicle that was thought out by the manufacturer as opposed to us retrofitting a van ourselves. Custom vans were pricey with so many variations to choose from.

We looked at the variety of age groups travelling in vans, and at the abundant number of North American manufacturers of recreational vehicles of all different types and sizes. Vans were for everybody: easy to drive, easy to park and setup. We started to add phrases like Class A, Class B, Class C, black water, grey water, dump station, and much, much more to our vocabulary. Some vehicles had slide-outs and tow hitches. Some “vans” had toilets, some had showers. Some had both. Decisions, decisions!

About this time we travelled to Newfoundland and drove along the island. Because of our van research, we started noticing RVs everywhere – at the national parks, on lookout points, in grocery store parking lots. Even on Fogo Island were the remnants of a weekend rally at a music festival. We saw a couple of RVs on the ferry over. This was exciting to see – people from all over were motoring in their RVs. Wow!

Through the RV grapevine came many opinions. Some of these were very influential in our future choices, and we made the decision to search for a motor home, all-in-one type of RV. Having a dry bath was essential. Storage, both interior and exterior, was also important. Additional pluses would be solar power and a generator, necessary for those times where no power was available.

Interestingly, we also read that two Canadian companies had long and positive reputations for producing solidly built motor homes in the Class B and Class C sizes: Leisure Travel Vans out of Manitoba, and Pleasure-Way Vans from Saskatchewan. This pleased us greatly, as some other manufacturers had less than desirable reviews amounting to poor construction and service. Both manufacturers had several models to choose from and a huge selection of walk-through videos, professionally filmed and lit, giving us the feeling they were shot just for us.

We had to see some in person.

Located in a village just outside of town was a good-size RV dealer representing several manufacturers, but the products we were looking for were tucked away behind some huge towables. We talked to a customer rep who showed us two Pleasure-Way vans. We were impressed by the build and available technology, though I found that the living space lacked something, and the overall exterior shape was boxy looking. Both models we toured were sold, but we weren’t buying yet. We still had to work out our future plans. We were excited, though, to walk inside and get a realistic feel for the size and space, and the great features. It would be a major downsize from our 2,500 square-foot house! Could we get used to no personal space and always bumping into each other? It was something to consider.

The closest Leisure Travel Vans dealer was a few hours away, and as much as we were interested in them, we had too many priorities to think about in our lives so we chose to wait for the fall RV show in a few months. This gave us ample time to start purging the house of our belongings to prepare for its sale. I also needed to wind down my work and get ready for retirement. Every chance we got was spent watching video after video and learning about the Serenity, Unity, and Wonder models that LTV has in their lineup. The walk-arounds featuring their master presenter, Dean, and slick film production, were fun to watch. The choice would be difficult for any buyer because of the variables of all the different vehicles offered, but we watched the videos over and over and decided we wanted the bedroom situation to be easily accessible, which narrowed it down to the Unity Twin Bed.

At the end of 2018, Leisure Travel Vans announced their new ‘baby,’ the 2019 Wonder RTB. We watched the video over and over. This was the one! It was perfect, with lots of exterior storage, ample interior storage, and rear twin beds. I went on the LTV website and experimented with the Build and Price features. This was great because I could pick and choose the options I wanted and have them email me the results. On a whim I sent the email list to the nearest LTV dealer, and a rep responded with a quote. My wife and I decided that we had to see a van first and then think about it.

We were totally awestruck by the incredible variety of RVs at the Toronto RV Show. We toured many different styles of motor homes and towables, and soon found a Pleasure-Way dealer with several models on display. They were popular too, with lineups just to get a peek inside, but I’d had enough. I was here to see a Leisure Travel Van. It seemed like we walked for ages, even backtracking until we spotted the dealer we were looking for. Front and centre was a Wonder, standing end-to-end with a few Unity models. I can’t recall seeing a Serenity, but it didn’t matter. We were looking for the Wonder.

We talked to a LTV rep who was very helpful in showing us the Unitys and the Wonder. Unfortunately the Wonder on display was a FTB, or front twin bed version, which we liked, but was not the floorplan we wanted. The rep showed us all the great LTV features that we were used to seeing on YouTube and invited us to spend time to enjoy the van. Meanwhile he sought out the dealer rep who took over our tour. I mentioned that we really wanted to see the new RTB model. He explained that they had one on order hoping to get it for the show, but it was still in final production. He showed me the specs. It would be pretty much loaded with all options, very impressive and at a decent price. We returned to the FTB and decided that the RTB was what we wanted. The wait time for my initial Build and Price version would have eaten into the following year’s summer, and while there was no pressure (oddly), we decided to put a deposit down, which meant that the vehicle was ours. We found out later that several others were interested, but we were the first to lay a deposit. We were promised by our dealer rep that the van would be at the following Spring RV Show. We couldn’t wait!

The Christmas season came and went, the last in our house. Family and friend gatherings were abuzz with discussions of our future plans for moving, retirement, and RVing. 2019 would be busy looking for new accommodations and major purging our possessions. Friends and charity got many of our cherished items and we left some to the new homeowners.

Toronto RV Show.

Finally March 2019 rolled up. We were totally excited to finally see our van in person. The day before we headed out to Toronto, LTV aired their usual RV show video announcement featuring Dean and happy customers. In it Dean held up a card with my name on it. Yay! Sorry Dean – wrong people, right van. When we eventually showed up at the event Dean had left for another event, but not to worry, we immediately felt pride and satisfaction that this 2019 Wonder RTB was ours and it would be with us through the next chapter of our lives. And so it begins…

Franklin Beecham

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