January 22, 2022 1 Comment
Meet Nick and Jessica, owners of a larger than life tiny home rig @BlueBusAdventure. A school bus in it’s past life, this tiny house on wheels has taken them to the furthest tip of Baja, Mexico, and all the way up north to Whistler, Canada. They explored all along the West Coast and captured their journey along the way.
Enjoying the views while staying bundled up at 14,179ft on Mt. Shasta
We got a hold of these two in-between adventures and got the lowdown on how they do things their own way, “viewing each day as an opportunity to make it an adventure.”
Hey Nick and Jess, let’s jump right in!
Where are you currently located?
We are currently located in Donner Summit, Calif. Winters here are rad and full of snowy activities, but it also comes with its burden of snow removal on the bus. Have you heard of the infamous Donner Party Family in the 1840s who resorted to cannibalism to survive the winter? Well this town was named after them, so as you can imagine, life up here can be rough and snowfall is grand. We typically relocate the bus into storage at lower elevation during snowy months and take it out for warmer adventures.
The Blue Bus overlooking beautiful Emerald Bay in Nick and Jessica's home of Lake Tahoe.
When did you get the school bus and why did you choose it over the more popular Sprinter Van for travel?
We chose a school bus because it kind of fell into our lap. We weren’t exactly even looking for it, or a van, we were looking for some sort of pull-behind trailer for extended camping trips and Burning Man, with the overall goal of more comfort. We were heading to the local climbing gym in town and a friend was browsing Craigslist and knew our plans. He spun the computer screen around and said “What about a school bus?”
Neither of us were really into the immediate idea of a bus, but as endorphins were pumping during our work out, we both thought deeply about having a blank canvas to build our own rig. Nick is handy enough with mechanics and Jess was great with design, and we figured we could feed enough friends pizza and beer to entice them to lend a hand with our "skoolie" conversion project. A few google searches later, and we stumbled upon one of the only documented bus conversions at the time (www.hankboughtabus.com). It looked relatively simple: a few boxes, some slide-out drawers and beautiful hardwood floors. Hank’s bus is what literally convinced us we could do our own version of this.
Comfortable living with enough space to have friends along for the ride.
Tell us about the first trip to Mt. Shasta. Any unforeseen issues along the way?
We purchased the bus in January 2015 and Nick had been making an annual pilgrimage to Shasta, Calif. since 2011, so it was natural he’d take the bus. Nick’s two friends Paz and Alex joined for the adventure. They met up in Tahoe and hopped in the bus. We made a quick pit stop in Paradise, Calif. to have Jessica’s grandfather give the engine a once over. He was a well-known Corvette builder/mechanic and knew the Chevy 350 engine like the back of his hand. From there we got a few hugs, some cookies from Grandma - and we were on our way.
We thankfully didn't have any mechanical issues, but we somehow managed to shake something loose under the hood along the way, because right as we were pulling into Shasta in the middle of the night, every left turn we made would honk the horn until the steering wheel would go back to straight. If you’ve ever driven, or paid attention to a bus making a turn, that entire experience takes a solid chunk of time, and I don’t think any of us noticed it until we had 15 second honks all over the town of Mt. Shasta at 11pm. We can only imagine seeing a blue bus drive by and honking like that, and how bizarre that must have been.
Nick standing in front of Mt. Shasta in 2015.
Our bus is a 1988 Thomas Mighty Might and like everything as it ages (aside from fine wine), things tend to break for random reasons. We’ve certainly had our fair share of mechanical trouble, but with each mishap, our love and dedication to our bus only grew stronger.
Before moving into the bus we replaced the engine with a Chevy 6.0 fuel injected V8 gas engine with 4L80E transmission (which also happens to come in a Hummer H1) and transfer case, which still needs a front axle to complete the 4x4 beast-mode conversion. Since having upgraded our engine, for the most part, our rig troubles have been minor and manageable.
The Blue Bus isn’t your typical #vanlife travel rig, with the rooftop dance floor and expanded seating inside, it looks like the bus is geared for entertaining and having a good time with friends, a rad community vibe to it! Was this the goal? How do you balance it with having a space to live and work out of while on the road?
As Nick would like to call it, our bus definitely is a “neck breaker” and has little-to-no aspects of a “sleeper” flying under the radar. First off, it’s bright blue and is easily spottable. We aren’t as inconspicuous as a van that can blend in with other vehicles on a street… which is something we absolutely love about our bus. We’re one-of-a-kind on the road!
Our bus is 100 sq. ft. which is always a pleasant shock to folks who visit the bus in real-life, because it feels much larger thanks to our design plan. We spent a lot of time considering where to place the couch, kitchen and bed area - while maintaining a natural flow for movement and daily life activities. We encouraged friends to share their design ideas with us, so we printed floor plans with actual measurements and building constraints of the bus. It was fun to collaborate with everyone and talk through each design and it’s benefits (and flaws). This also gave us more confidence in our final design plans before we even hammered a single nail into the bus.
Jess's Natural Hoodie and Yahtzee are necessities for bus livin'.
When we were designing the interior of the bus we both had a list of “must-have” items. We agreed that each of us could have one major item from our lists incorporated into the bus: and that’s where the roof top dance floor came from. Jessica wanted to be able to host DJs and throw dance parties from above the crowd on the roof, plus it provides additional storage. Nick’s must-have item was a wood burning stove, which we eventually both agreed didn’t make sense for our needs. The whimsical aesthetic of having a small pot belly stove sounded dreamy, but the reality of having to store little sticks in our bus wasn’t ideal. We ended up installing an RV propane furnace into our rig, which is way more efficient and convenient for us.
You recently spent a month traveling up the Cascade Range to splitboard 11 volcanoes, that's a lot of time spent on the bus - What would you say are your top three must have items for a more enjoyable experience on the road.
Nick (in order of priority):
~Emergency liquor of choice (whiskey)
~Toilet paper and shovel
~Hydroflask canteen - for hydration at all times
~My Ridge Natural Joggers & Hoodie (which are great for multi-outfit options: comfy sleep outfit, stylish running around town outfit, fashionable gym clothing outfit - great for layering too!)
~Wifi Jetpack so we have service even in remote areas - allowing us to run our business from anywhere
How do you stay warm and comfortable on the bus in cold weather?
Our bus came well equipped with a large heater that originally blasted students on the bus - even in the back row - with heat; however, that requires the bus engine to be running so it’s not super helpful when we’re parked for the evening. We have a propane heater which is hooked up to a thermostat that we leave at 40F at night. It helps keep us from literally freezing while we sleep under three down blankets, (two of which are usually wrapped around Jess like a burrito). Even though we have a heater and furnace, whatever temp it is outside of the bus, is usually what it is inside the bus when neither of those heaters are running. We have super thin single-pane windows and our walls are aluminum - so cold air is surrounding us all the time with little insulation protecting us - hence why we prefer to travel in the Spring-Fall seasons.
However, we’ve learned to layer strategically. Having Merino Wool is key to our success to building body heat: first starting with our Ridge Inversion top and bottom Baselayer. We’ve learned through trial-and-error that Merino is the softest and most pleasant on our delicate skin, especially the 100% Merino layers (we love)! When all else fails to keep us warm, Jess will light a candle to help trick our minds that we’re by a fire, and the true heat comes from the emergency whiskey bottle we have stashed away.
Jess putting away the Ridge 100% Merino Inversion bottom from the evening to swap out for the silky smooth feeling of the Ridge Natural kit for day time.
What would you tell Nick and Jessica on day one with the bus, now that you have six years under your belts and have figured out ways to make bus travel more comfortable?
Nick: Replace the engine, it’s not going to last very long.
Jessica: Do it now because you won’t get anywhere waiting for the “perfect time” to leave your traditional life behind. Trust that it will all work out. Whether on the smoothest or bumpiest of roads, each day in the bus will gift you an adventure and connect you to people in unexpected ways ~ like magic! Oh, and be careful of the steel support beams that will hold your bed up - they will someday bruise your right foot terribly after having been dropped by mistake.
Any other tips for aspiring bus-lifers?
Educate yourself on Leave no Trace. With more and more people being in the outdoors in general, it's all of our responsibility to keep it as pristine as possible. Pick up trash when you go to campsites, and bury your sh*t. Pack it out.
What's next for you guys. Any upcoming travel plans, with or without the bus?
This spring we are planning something kind of “out of this world” and are heading to Egypt for some very unique opportunities. We will be skydiving over the Giza Pyramids - which is an opportunity of a lifetime that we simply couldn't pass up. Nick has over 300 skydives so he’s very experienced, however it will be my first time ever jumping from a plane so I’m full of emotions thinking about it.
Follow Nick and Jessica on their adventures:
Nick enjoying the view/scoping out skiable winter lines in The Eastern Sierra.
"Whether on the smoothest or bumpiest of roads, each day in the bus will gift you an adventure and connect you to people in unexpected ways." - Jessica
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May 31, 2022
I appreciated the tip you shared about replacing the engine regularly since they don’t last very long. My husband and I are looking to do bus life this summer, and we couldn’t be more excited. I’d love to buy an old used bus and convert it into a sensible living space soon. https://sawyersbussales.com/sawyers-bus-sales-conversions/temsa/