By Yasmin Mayne
Florida travellers Greg and Dixie Colby relax in their RV at Bow RiversEdge Campground in Cochrane, Alberta, Canada.
It’s a crisp morning at the Bow RiversEdge Campground and Roy Jones is shining the bumper of his Georgetown Forest River XL with a soft green cloth. Inside, his wife, Carol, puts paintbrush to canvas and carefully creates a watercolour scene.
Nearby, eight-year-old Rocky – a Pembroke Welsh Corgi – hints that it’s time for his walk at the nearby off-leash dog park. Before they go, though, there’s one more member of the family who Jones would like to introduce.
“This is Hila,” he says, pointing to the couple’s 37-foot motor home. “Hila is the Inuit spirit of the wind.”
Hila has been a lifesaver for the 73-year-old retired principal and his school teacher wife, after he battled bladder and skin cancer. Carol fought through the disease, too, with cancer of the breast.
The couple started off travelling one month a year in their RV, then two, then six. Recently, they sold their Ottawa home where they had lived for 32 years, then let go of their cottage in the Laurentians. Now, they’re about to sell their condo and explore the continent full time.
He said even though they don’t have a traditional house any longer, he and his wife aren’t hurting for luxury – inside their trailer is a La-Z-Boy recliner, a fireplace and a 40-inch television.
In the colder months, they make camp in a complex near Sarasota, Florida.
“My daughter keeps saying, ‘I can’t get over you guys.’ She envies us,” he says with a smile. “The waves in the wheatfield in the wind … the landscape is just mind-blowing. We’ve seen so many beautiful things.
“You don’t know how much time you’re going to have – so enjoy it.”
That romantic, vagabond theme is common throughout Bow RiversEdge, a hidden Cochrane gem of an RV park tucked in behind Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre that draws thousands of visitors every year from around the world to its 144 sites – including former High River resident Barry Jacks.
“It’s freedom,” said Jacks, who is now a year-round RVer. “You can do what you want.”
“Your home is where your RV is,” added Carol, Jacks’ wife of 47 years. “It’s wonderful.”
The couple pulled into the Cochrane campground in April and will stay until the snow flies in November, when they get out of Dodge and head for Palm Springs, California.
Until then, Barry’s content to sit on a lawn chair and enjoy the breeze in his tiny grassed yard, which is filled with the traditional comforts. A sculpture of a bear reading a book – a present from their daughter – sits in the trees, while an colourful hummingbird feeder, another gift, swings in the breeze.
Twinkle lights in the shrubs, pots brimming with petunias and even a thriving tomato plant fill out the small space.
“You sort of make it your own little home,” said Jacks. “Well, it is your home.”
The couple has also expanded their horizons in other ways by getting to know fellow travellers from all over Canada, as well as from Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Italy and more – something a lot of people don’t necessarily experience in a more typical residential scenario.
“I lived in Calgary for 25 years,” Jacks said with a laugh. “You’re lucky if you know your neighbours.”
A sense of community is what draws many people to the RV lifestyle, said Sam Frame, spokesman for the Alberta GoodSam RV Club, which boasts more than 10,000 members.
“We are very open-minded and we come from all walks of life,” said Frame. “When you’re sitting around a campfire, you can’t tell who is the CEO of the major corporation and who is the janitor. The common link is the RV.”
Wheel estate is becoming more popular across the province, with the Recreational Vehicle Dealers’ Association of Alberta noting a 40 per cent increase in sales at its annual trade show earlier this year – a number attributed to both the rebounding economy and a drop in price for the big ticket items.
In the U.S., the numbers aren’t much different: deliveries of new RV units have nearly doubled in the last decade to close to 500,000 a year, and some economists say that sales of motorhomes are an accurate forecaster of a country’s financial health.
Florida residents Greg Colby and his wife Dixie invested in their “cow” – condo on wheels – about five years ago, and this season already put 4,000 miles on the beast before pulling in for a 10-day stay in Cochrane.
“It’s a great life. It really is,” said Dixie.
The couple often returns each year to their favourite spots across North America, like Colorado, and was excited to be heading to Banff and Lake Louise in just a few days.
“We just kind of wander. We’ll sit in the evening and say, ‘Where should we go?” said Colby. “We had one young man tell us, ‘You’re living the dream.’
“And we are.”