Endless road trip brings adventurers to South Slave

Endless road trip brings adventurers to South Slave
Home is where the camper is. Alan and Bev Brown of Birmingham, England retired to the road five years ago. The latest leg of their incredible journey is the South Slave region.Photo: Chris Talbot.

Five years later, the former white collar couple from Birmingham has not regretted the decision to retire to the comfort of a camper mounted on a pickup truck and venture across the world.

With no fixed address and a minimalist lifestyle, the Browns are “incurable nomads,” driving North American highways and byways searching for fun, excitement and adventure. The friendly, middle-aged twosome recently arrived in the Northwest Territories and are busy exploring the South Slave before their journey takes them north to Yellowknife and the Ingraham Trail. Their only time limit is a planned trip to Australia in November, where they will spend five months borrowing another couple’s camper and “going walkabout” down under.

“We do try to make a point of going to the most remote of places,” Alan told The Journal last week before he and Bev retreated into Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) for a few days.

Bev said they often go days – or more than a week – away from civilization. Prior to retiring, both were active, outdoors people. They enjoy hiking, camping and kayaking, although they noted they would not be tackling the rapids of the Slave River. They return to urban society about once a week to do laundry, check email and buy food.

“We live really simply. We don’t do all the touristy stuff. We love to hike. We’ve got a little inflatable kayak, and we take it out,” said Bev, a former personal development coach. “We like to experience a bit of stepping inside of people’s world and seeing what that’s like, so we find different ways to do that.”

Visiting smaller communities and experiencing a different way of life is part of the joy for the Browns.

“Because you’re not seeing tourists day in, day out, there’s still a real enthusiasm, energy, freshness about the welcome we get in places like Fort Smith you just wouldn’t get in Banff and Jasper because you’re just another couple of people and that’s it. There you’re just two more of the thousands,” said Alan, a former human resources development and strategic planning consultant.

The Browns have toured Canada, the United States, parts of Mexico, New Zealand and Portugal. Bev said many people assume they are wealthy because of their early retirement and what they are doing, but that is not the case. They sold off all of their belongings, except their four-bedroom suburban house. They manage to fund their lifestyle by renting the house and occasionally working on member farms of the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) movement (often referred to as “Willing Workers on Organic Farms”). They live simply and avoid spending money needlessly.

The Browns arrived in the Northwest Territories at the beginning of June, making their way to Hay River and then east to Fort Smith and the national park. They planned to see where the ice road begins, even though they will likely never see it frozen over. Alan admitted the two of them are not much for cold weather. In spite of that, seeing the northern lights is on Bev’s bucket list, so they say they may brave the North’s freezing temperatures on a future visit.

This is not the first time the Browns have visited the North. In 2008, they travelled to Alaska before circling back to the Yukon and driving up the Dempster Highway to Inuvik.

To keep from becoming too cluttered in their small living space, the couple relies heavily on technology. They shoot a lot of photos and store them on a laptop. They keep in touch with friends and family by email. Instead of hardcover or paperback books, they read digital books.

Pictures and a private blog that they share with family and friends act as the permanent record of their endless journey. Alan noted it is not like being on holiday all the time. Instead, it is a lifestyle in which they have to make good financial decisions.

There are a couple of sayings they have heard along the way that they have adopted as their own. The first is: “Aren’t we lucky?” The second: “People like us don’t do things like this.”

“We will do this forever now. We love it. We don’t want to change,” Bev said.

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