Summertime RV trips allow a Canadian couple to explore their varied interests.
By John Johnston
Graham Gibbs pores over printed maps and brochures. He gathers more information online. He then compiles a detailed travel itinerary, which he and his wife, Jay, discuss and modify. Eventually, they settle on what might be called Plan A for a summertime road trip in their Roadtrek motorhome.
Although it’s a nice framework for places they plan to visit, the Gibbses, F422076, never expect to stick to it. “It’s basically notional,” Graham said. “We’re both great at doing plans B, C, and D.”
They’re also adept at keeping their schedule flexible. From their home in Ottawa, Ontario, “We set off with no clear plan of when we’re coming home,” Jay said. “We sort of say, well, by the end of August we should be thinking about it.”
Over the past six summers, they have driven their motorhome about 40,000 miles from coast to coast in Canada and the United States. RV travel has been a dream come true for the two natives of England, who retain their charming accents.
“Having a new country is very exciting,” said Jay, who became a Canadian citizen in 2015. “Coming from England, which is small, I really was shocked by the size of North America,” she added with a chuckle.
Graham and Jay first met as teenagers at a coed boarding school in England, and then went their separate ways. Graham, an electrical engineer by training, immigrated to Canada, became a citizen in 1975, and worked for the Canadian Marconi Company before joining what would become the Canadian Space Agency. He spent 22 years representing the agency in Washington, D.C., the last seven as counselor for space affairs at the Canadian embassy.
Jay, meanwhile, lived in London for 30 years. Eventually, she and Graham reconnected and fell in love. Jay joined Graham in Washington, where they married in 1999.
While in Washington they did a lot of tent camping, which they both enjoyed. But they often dreamed of taking longer trips in a motorhome — and being more comfortable, especially during inclement weather.
That dream materialized in 2011, about the time Graham retired. The Gibbses bought a 2004 Roadtrek 190 Popular, intending to explore as much of Canada as possible. “We bought a (Type B) because we wanted to be able to go anywhere in it,” Jay said. “We wanted to go into towns, and go on narrow, winding roads, and pull off where we wanted, and not use highways.”
Their first motorhome trip, in August 2011, was relatively short — two weeks in Quebec exploring the “whale route” on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City to Baie-Comeau. On longer adventures since then, there’s been one constant: Jay, perhaps owing to her upbringing in England, does not consider a trip complete unless she sees an ocean.
For seven weeks in the summer of 2012 they traveled through Quebec to the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In the summer of 2013, they drove west for seven weeks across Canada to Vancouver Island, and spent five weeks in the United States traveling from Portland, Oregon, to Washington, D.C. In July and August 2014, they explored their favorite Canadian province, Newfoundland and Labrador. In the summer of 2015, a trip to the Gulf of St. Lawrence included visits to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Les Iles-de-la-Madeleine. Last summer, they returned to Newfoundland and Labrador to revisit favorite spots and explore new places.
“Generally speaking,” Graham said, “we like to be away from the madding crowd,” which is why they drove only 200 miles on interstate highways on their Portland-to-Washington, D.C., journey. They prefer experiences like the one they enjoyed in the high country of Idaho. “We just stopped for the night on the side of the road,” Jay said. “It was the middle of nowhere, with a vast vista, and the moon came up. It was quite lovely.”
The curious travelers often take detours to explore their varied interests. Jay loves learning about the flora and fauna of the areas they visit. She’s also a geology buff — “a rock hound,” as Graham puts it. “When we come back from these trips,” he said, “our campervan is groaning with all the rocks that then end up on the balcony of our condo.”
Graham has long been interested in history and writing. As a young man, he kept a journal while hiking across England. Later, he wrote of his experience on a scuba-diving expedition. While traveling in the motorhome, he keeps a daily journal that contains information about the hundreds of historical sites, interpretive centers, and museums the couple has visited. Every 10 days or so, he emails a trip report to family and friends. And when a trip concludes, he produces an extensive report, with photos. Summaries of the trip reports are on Graham’s website, www.GrahamGibbsMyCanada.ca.
At first, those reports were intended simply to be a way the couple could look back on their experiences when their traveling days end. But the more places they explored, and the more information he gathered, “I began to realize that what we were learning could be converted into a history of Canada,” Graham said.
And that’s how his retirement project became a book, Five Ages of Canada: A History From Our First Peoples To Confederation, self-published by Graham through FriesenPress. The timing is impeccable, given that 2017 marks Canada’s 150th birthday.
The book earns high praise from a reader who can be forgiven for being a bit biased. “It is a surprisingly good read, a digestible way to take your history,” Jay said.
Information about the book, as well as Graham’s trip reports, routes the Gibbses have traveled, and their recommended campgrounds, can be found at www.GrahamGibbsMyCanada.ca.
Even after six summers of motorhoming, Graham and Jay acknowledge there’s much they have yet to see. They will be traveling again this coming summer, although their plans do not include a long trip in their Roadtrek. “I’ll be 70,” Jay said, “and I thought I should do something a bit special. Most people might want palm trees, but I really want to go see the Arctic, so we are flying to Churchill, Manitoba. This will be another ocean for me to see.”