The Inaugural Journey Westward with @CatBusAdventures
Embarking on a tiny home lifestyle means taking big adventures!
February 4, 2020
I drag myself out of bed at three am. I can't sleep. After struggling to peel myself out of my sleeping bag, I tug my freezing cold overalls back on. I slip my boots on my already-cooling toes, my breath visible as I make my way staggering up to the front of the parked bus. I force the door open and race across the street to the truck stop we're stopped outside of for the night. We are near Provo, UT, midway home in our new (twenty year-old) school bus, which we plan to convert into a mobile home.
As I wash my hands under the blessedly-warm water, I wonder whether we can really do all we are setting out to with this bus. Do we really have what it takes to convert it ourselves and live in it full-time? Can we even get it back to Oregon in one piece? We've made it so far: from the Roaring Fork Valley in Colorado, to Utah. But this was just the first day's drive, and it hadn't been entirely smooth sailing up to this point...
January 21, 2020
Chris and I decide that THIS bus looks like the one...it's 800 miles away, but quite near his parent's valley. Maybe it's a coincidence. They agree to inspect it on our behalf tomorrow: the day the auction ends! We hardly know what we're doing, we don't bid in online auctions! We don't drive school busses! Is this crazy?
January 22, 2020
We won the auction! Now we have to figure out how to pay for it and bring it home. I spend roughly three hours sorting out our travel as cheaply as possible. We have to remove the bus within ten business days. We'll be there next week!
January 24, 2020
We get the payment made--we own this bus, now! We spend the next several days planning and preparing for our trip and what work we'll need to do first. We find a cat-sitter and strategize about our tiny home. This is happening!
January 29, 2020
Susan, a friend from down the road, drops us off in downtown Roseburg to await our Greyhound. The bus winds up running an hour late, so we fill the time by making runs to Rite-Aid for snacks and bathrooms, and sunglasses we forgot at home.
The driver books it as soon as we have found seats, so I'm a bit flummoxed for the first few minutes. I drop my phone and lose it for a minute, but it's recovered and I regain composure. Soon, I'm knitting the start of a new hat, and Chris is watching a coding video. Things are good, the driver catches up some and we arrive in Portland just fine. We catch a Red line train to PDX, and take a redeye to Denver.
Our flight is smooth, and we land in the wee-est hours of
January 30, 2020
We have several hours to kill before our bus to Eagle, so we catch a very comfortable RTD light rail train. It's so comfortable, in fact, that I don't notice when we've stopped moving at the end of the line at Union Station. Transit Police are quick to usher us off the train.
We decide to walk to the Denver Diner, which is about a mile away. We're both carrying heavy packs, and it's around freezing, so the walk is more arduous and uncomfortable than I anticipate. But, we make it!
Upon walking into the Diner, we're told we can come in only if we leave our packs outside. We've got tools and camping gear with us for our trip home--we're not doing that. They don't back down on the policy, but suggest we try Tom's instead.
We call ahead and then take an Uber the eight-tenths of a mile to Tom's Diner. I devour a Belgian waffle and fall asleep fitfully for a few minutes.
Three hours later, Chris tells me that the employees have signaled a warning to anyone who is killing time in the restaurant--boss is on the way! Time to move on. All I know is, as I'm groggily awakened, it's "time to go!"
We walk a short ways and catch a city bus to the Denver Bus Center, the relatively-clean if very worn-down origin of the Bustang, a regional bus with multiple routes. Ours heads west from Denver all the way to Grand Junction.
Colorado, as it turns out, is fond of cleverly-named transit. Not only is there the Bustang (a comfortable ride I slept through, despite the lack of cabin heating), but the Roaring Fork Valley also heralds the Veloci-RFTA, complete with Dino-silhouette branding. I'm delighted anytime I see one of their busses or park-and-ride stops.
Chris's friend Stella, a bus driver herself, is waiting to pick us up in Eagle. We head straight to the bus barn and get everything taken care of within an hour. Stella teaches us a thorough pre-check of the bus' systems before starting and driving. She winds up teaching us a lot over the coming days--an invaluable friend, if ever we could use one!
By the end of the day, we've gotten the bus to its resting place for the night, and Stella drops us off at Chris' parents' home, with plans to reconvene the next day.
We have a lovely evening catching up with the folks. Before bed, we go outside for a few minutes to appreciate the stars.
January 31, 2020
We meet Stella at the bus the next morning, having failed to get it started. We spend nearly an hour working on jumping the dual batteries that are used to start the engine. Finally, Chris resorts to pushing the scary EMERGENCY ETHER START button.
It starts. We get the bus warmed us and take it down the road a way for some behind-the-wheel training.
By this point, it's become evident the bus may have a mechanical issue. It's vibrating hard sometimes over 55 MPH. Stella calls some friends, who are concerned it's a U-joint. I'm quickly lost in the mechanical woods, but try to follow what happens. The folks figure out it's the drag link. Can we replace it by tomorrow? The parts stores can't get it to us until Monday.
On the upside, we have a good spot to park. Stella introduces us to Tim, who can lend us tools and space. He says it's alright to leave the seats, too. He'll dispose of them for us. Another fine friend we're grateful to make!
We get home to find that Chris' godfather is visiting, and so share a lively evening chatting about our plans. He grins widely and laughs loudly. His voice booms: "You'll write a great American novel about all this!"
February 1-3, 2020
The next few days blur together as we work on various projects in the bus. We spend the days wending around the Valley, from El Jabel to Carbondale to Glenwood Springs, back-and-forth between the bus, hardware stores, outfitters, and occasional places to eat.
We work on various projects, removing all the seats except one. We install Reflectix sheets over the windows for insulation (since we will be camping in the bus on the way back to Oregon). And we build a temporary composting toilet box (which winds up serving as temporary seating rather than its intended purpose, during the trip home).
We also take some time to socialize, always a welcome break from the work at hand. And occasionally, I find myself looking around, awestruck at the mountains looming, their snowy peaks drifting, blending into the colorful skies above.
By Monday, we are eagerly awaiting our new drag link. Throughout the day, snow falls and we pray nothing is delayed further.
The part arrives around seven pm. We drive to the fire department, where resident mechanic Liam is waiting to help us with the replacement. His fee is a bottle of local spirits. We're happy to pay for the excellent work.
Throughout the journey, we're finding this chain of helpful people. Great service and friendship from seemingly everyone we meet. My faith in humanity isn't restored, it's confirmed: good people are everywhere.
February 4, 2020
This is it.
We're dropped off at the bus one last time by Chris' dad, and then it's just us and our bus.
We trek westward, and the bus drives smoothly for awhile. But after thirty minutes, there's a rattle again, sometimes a strong vibration. We pull over for awhile and call ahead to a truck center in Grand Junction. They'll try to help us diagnose the problem. So we're back on the road to GJ.
We spend a couple of hours at the truck center after a ridealong. Is it the kingpins? Maybe. Then, maybe not.
After two attempts at diagnosing, we're told that all-in-all, the bus is completely sound. "I'd let my kids ride in this all day," says the mechanic.
"I assume you like your kids?" I ask.
He doesn't laugh. "Of course."
February 5, 2020
Our bed is made from the old bus seats, strapped together using bungee cords, attached to a roof rack Tim gave us before we headed out of the Valley. It's pretty comfortable, but it can't overcome the pitiful seven-degrees Fahrenheit outside. Utah has been hit by quite a bit of snow, and we are freezing. Sleep is hard to come by.
Today, we're going to visit Chris' brother in Salt Lake, before driving most of day towards home.
We manage to visit a Habitat ReStore, where we score flooring supplies for a bargain. Then we enjoy a lovely brunch with bro before getting back on the road. We find out later, more snow hits within a few hours of our departure.
The bus drives well. It shakes from time to time, but as we start to move onto smaller, slower roads, it smooths out some. Chris has become quickly adept at maneuvering our bigger rig, and we start to feel more comfortable.
We stop late in the evening at the muddy, mostly empty Givens Hot Springs resort. A kindly campground hostess helps us get parked and plugged in so the engine starts easily the next morning. We fix a freeze-dried camping meal (surprisingly tasty Indian food), and have a restful slumber.
February 6, 2020
We take a leisurely soak in the hot springs-fed indoor pool before hitting the road for our last leg of the inaugural journey in our "Bus-busss!" Chris and I create little songs out of almost anything. We start to sing and cheer the bus on, congratulating it for doing so well so far.
We're soon in Eastern Oregon's high desert, a place full of nuanced, unnoticed beauty. Like so much of America's countryside, it's vast and largely unoccupied by people. We love it.
Somewhere en route, we stop, and I snap this panorama, using my old iPhone 6. I give it a few tweaks when we get home, but leave it largely untouched--to me, it is already so beautiful.
As the wind picks up, we stare around at this amazing landscape, grinning. This is why we bought this bus! To share the world as it is and as it can be. To appreciate where we've come from, and where we're going. To appreciate where we are right now.
We get this amazing opportunity to breathe new life into a gorgeously-maintained piece of machinery, and to simultaneously share the whole experience with the world: one story, one photograph, one panorama, one painting at a time. We get to live our lives as doers and not just as dreamers.
We drove that bus right up into our driveway. And now, we're working on calling it home.
Can we do it? We've gotten this far, thanks to the kindness of friends, family, and strangers who could just as easily be friends and family. We've gotten here with some luck and a lot of gratitude.
And we're just going to keep going.
You can watch our progress on Facebook and Instagram. Search @catbusadventures.
Your contribution helps keep our big wheels turnin'. If you can, please send me a tip below! Thank you!!
About the Creator
Sarjé is a painter and writer living in Kalapuya ancestral territory. You can learn more about her at http://sarje.art.
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