Pinterest and Instagram have a way of romanticizing things, skoolie life included. We love Oliver (our skoolie) and the life that we’ve built with and around him, but we also want to make sure we’re being transparent about the “other side” of living in a renovated school bus.
We love the social media influencers who are genuine enough to showcase the realities behind the things that make their lives look so amazing and fantastical – and we try to do the same. For example, sharing some of our less attractive, if not completely embarrassing moments.
The truth is, skoolie life has been amazing for us. We love the adventures we’ve been on, the people we’ve connected with (online and in-person), and the freedom granted to us. Nothing compares to the hum of the road as Oliver plows his way down highways and maneuvers himself as gracefully as possible through small towns.
But this life isn’t for everyone. There are uncertainties, setbacks, and hurdles that have to be jumped to make it work.
As with all things in life, these frustrating moments, annoying setbacks, and embarrassing mistakes can all be chalked up to “part of the experience.” Fortunately, when viewed through the right perspective, we can laugh at these things and count them among our long list of invaluable skoolie lessons.
Today we decided to share our top seven “real life” memorable skoolie life moments. Keep reading to learn about the not-so-glamorous side of bus life.
1. CONNECTING WITH THE POWER POLE
I (Mike), am many things – strong, compassionate, understanding, and so on. One thing I am not is a good bus driver.
I can drive Oliver down the interstate or highway well enough, but small towns with tightly packed streets are far removed from my wheelhouse. Unfortunately, we found this out by trial and error, mostly error.
The problem is I concern myself too much with how I am impacting the lives of other drivers.
I don’t want to be in the way, cause them to move, slow down, swerve, etc. The end result? I don’t always take my time and allow myself to be a selfish driver, which is a necessity when you drive a 40-foot long school bus that houses all of your possessions and family members. Such was the case in Cannon Beach, Oregon, a tiny beach town with equally tiny roads.
While executing a righthand turn at a four-way stop, I rushed to avoid being an annoyance to the driver across the intersection. I didn’t pull out into the middle of the road as I should have and cut the turn way too tightly, popping the rear wheel up on the curb.
“No big deal,” I thought, “happens all the time.”
WHAM! It felt like the bus had hit a brick wall.
I pulled off to the left to free us from the curb and whatever I collided with on top of it. I drove to the nearest appropriate parking place a couple of blocks down and jogged back to the intersection to see what I had done.
Fortunately, I hit a very large and sturdy power pole. There was a small chunk taken out of the massive wooden base where it looked like someone hit it with a single glancing blow of an ax. Whether or not the residents experienced flickering lights or a temporary loss of power, I’ll never know.
Based on the damage to Oliver, I had only grazed the pole right at the rear wheel, leaving some cosmetic damage. A blessing, no doubt, as all significant damage was contained to my pride.
After that, I handed the keys to Tawny, tail between my legs, and finished helping the kids clean up the destruction that occurred in the bus – broken plates, fallen decorations, a dog completely beside himself with anxiety, etc., etc.
Suffice it to say, Tawny does the driving now. She doesn’t mind holding people up to safely maneuver the bus. Interestingly, what I’ve noticed is that when people see her behind the wheel, this little woman driving a 40′ behemoth, they generally smile and wave and wait on her without a problem!
2. THE “LACK” OF WATER IN GOLD BEACH, OREGON
As a skoolie owner, you’ll learn that some people are more accepting of skoolie life than others, and some towns more accommodating.
In Gold Beach, we found the town to be somewhat disenchanted with Oliver. We were desperate to fill up our freshwater tanks, yet no place in Gold Beach seemed willing to accommodate us – not even the RV park!
We tried gas stations with signs that said “WATER” taunting us from above the spigot, only to be turned away. The attendant yelled across and said we couldn’t fill up there. I pointed to the sign and asked, “Then why do you advertise water?”
He replied, “That’s for me.”
We then moved on to the RV park, where we were told they couldn’t help us, even after we offered to pay for the fill-up. They said, “We just don’t have any spots available.” We left the maze masquerading as an RV park, passing at least 15 empty lots with water hook-ups.
Ultimately, we decided that perhaps Gold Beach isn’t for us. Apparently, water is very rare here and is consequently quite jealously guarded.
The take-away is that it isn’t always easy to find refills on your resources while traveling.
3. THE INDOOR CLOTHESLINE OBSTACLE COURSE
Unfortunately for us, as desperate as we were to get the heck out of Gold Beach, we still had wet laundry in the local laundromat. We’d decided to do one large load there while we explored instead of multiple loads on the bus.
“No problem, we’ve got a dryer,” we thought, “we can dry it while driving down the road.”
Wrong. Our dryer only works when we’re plugged in, as it turned out. Even with the power converting from the running engine, charging our batteries, the wattage was too much for our system. While driving down the road, we suddenly lost power to the entire bus (the home part, not the engine or anything mechanical).
We flipped the breaker on the inverter and power was restored, no problem, except for our still very wet clothes.
“Okay, the dryer is a no-go. Now what?” We were too far away from any RV parks/didn’t want to pay for any of them and decided we would glamp it overnight in a Walmart parking lot.
However, you can’t exactly string your laundry up outside while boondocking at Walmart, so we did it inside (our bus, not Walmart). Our home turned into a tightly packed obstacle course of fresh, wet laundry hanging on every surface.
Don’t get me wrong, it smelled amazing but it was completely obnoxious to get around. Also, it did not dry quickly. The next morning, the clothes were still wet.
4. THE PLASTIC, REVERSE-THREADED (AND IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND) VITAL COMPONENT TO OUR AIR PRESSURE REGULATOR
We learned that night that luck was with us, despite everything else, and it was actually very fortunate that we decided to park at Walmart.
During this pit stop, we checked the pressure regulator of our air system. It was full of moisture, not an uncommon event for air systems. You just have to turn a small screw at the regulator and release the moisture, letting it drip out.
Unfortunately for us, it was made of plastic. Why it was made of plastic, I’ll never know. More unfortunately for us, the last time I drained the valve, I “Miked it” back on.
“Miking something” is a term of endearment commonly used in our family when someone (usually me) overtightens, breaks, crushes, snaps, bends, or otherwise destroys an object due to using caveman-like strength (and intelligence) when regular strength (and intelligence) is all that’s required.
Tawny had to use plyers to loosen the dang thing which resulted in it snapping, becoming singularly useless, dragging our entire air system down with it.
Good thing we were at Walmart. We figured we could find a comparable bolt that could screw right in there and solve all our problems.
Incorrect again. The vital component of our ever-important air system was not only cheap plastic but also reverse-threaded. If we wanted to find a replacement bolt, we were looking in the wrong country.
We had to get pretty creative. In the end, a mixture of Butyl tape (works as a sealant), duct tape, super glue, and the closest fitting screw we could find paired with some red-necking got the job was done. And surprisingly, it was actually functional, which is incredibly lucky since most of our drive back was on the mountainous Highway 101 with endless ups, downs, wild bends, and perilous drop-offs.
5. THE 3 AM SMOKEOUT
Fast-forward a few months and you’ll find us staked out in Montana, surviving skoolie life in the winter. Some nights are bitterly cold, with temperatures dropping well below zero.
On these nights, with our tiny wood stove, we learned that I have to wake up every one to two hours to feed the fire. On super cold nights, if I fail to get up every hour, the bus temperature quickly falls from the high 60s to the low 50s. In our blankets, we hardly mind the cold, but we also have our dog to think about who sleeps upfront in his king-sized bed and valiantly guards the front door.
On one particularly cold night, all we had for firewood was used up ax-throwing targets made of pine 2×8 lumber. We normally love this wood for multiple reasons – we get it for free, it lights easily, and it burns hot.
However, there are also some drawbacks. For one, it doesn’t last long. The wood is so dry and treated that it burns to ash very quickly. It also creates a lot of creosote build-up in your chimney and stove.
Tawny grew up with a wood stove, so she’s used to them. But I don’t like the idea of her getting up every hour, so I took on that duty.
Being new to using a wood stove, I thought I would just stack a ton of wood in there – get it real hot and give myself more than an hour to sleep before waking up to re-feed the stove.
What I accomplished, however, was something altogether unintended. I “Miked it.”
I over-stuffed the stove, creating too much smoke and a small chimney fire. Luckily, Tawny and I were both half-awake and realized things didn’t smell right. I jumped out of bed just as things went from bad to worse. The bus started filling with smoke, the smoke alarm was blazing and Apollo (our Great Dane) starting losing his anxiety-riddled mind.
We opened all the doors and hatches and gladly welcomed the freezing cold air onto the bus, as it was much better than dying from smoke inhalation. Since then we’ve made sure to take extra safety precautions, like installing the AFG Fireball automatic fire extinguisher in a few places through the bus. Lesson learned.
6. FROZEN PIPES
Montana winters, mild like this year or not, are no joke.
Tawny and I took several precautions against frozen water lines this winter. The last thing we wanted was to deal with a burst line. A leaky pipe would mean tearing into the walls and floors to fix the problem and dry everything out. Not to mention all of the repair work.
We invested in heat tape and ran it along all of the exposed pipes in the under storage. Then we insulated the pipes over the heat tape and sealed it with a vapor barrier.
Despite our efforts, the lines have soft frozen twice – meaning not freezing all the way through, but enough that it caused ice to slow and jam the system.
After the first time, we made sure we were plugged in so we could simultaneously run a heater in the under storage compartments where the water tanks reside. Problem solved…or so we thought.
One particular morning, I woke to the sounds of our water pump fighting against all hope to pull water into the bus from the water tank underneath. It wasn’t happening. The night had dropped to -19 degrees and I’m relatively certain our heat tape stopped working entirely.
We spent a day and a half without water but didn’t burst any lines. We’ve been fortunate in the weather ever since, but we’re not out of the woods quite yet.
7. THE BROKEN DOOR
You might be coming here today via the incident that spurred this article being posted – the day the door ripped off the hinges.
Yesterday (leap day, 2020), we took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to take Apollo for a walk. As we walked we started discussing our imminent departure to the SW United States and our excitement to leave the end of winter here in Montana.
We were heading back to the bus when the weather, as it often does here, changed suddenly. One moment we were walking under bright blue skies and the next we were running against the wind whipping our faces and skies darkening with heavy clouds. We ran straight into the bus, laughing as the gale blew outside, rocking the bus side to side.
Our son decided to go grab something from inside his father’s house, where we are currently parked. As he opened the door, although he kept a tight hold on it, a gust of wind whipped by and tore the door from his hands, almost taking him with it.
In fact, it swung open so hard it ripped the bottom two hinges completely off the frame, shattering one of the windows when it snapped against the bus. Luckily it didn’t take out the camera mounted there, and Aidyn was able to catch himself before falling into the huge puddle of glass.
We worked quickly to get the hinges screwed back in and cardboard over the hole that used to be a window while the wind continued to roar around us. The door frame will need to be replaced to be able to properly and securely remount the door, and the door itself needs a new window.
8. THE HATERS
Finally, let’s talk about the haters out there.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever heard is “No matter who you are or what you do, you will always be the villain in someone else’s story.” While this may be a tough pill to swallow for those of us who cringe at the idea of someone disliking us, it’s the truth.
Some people just aren’t going to like you. It could be because they make a snap judgment of you based on some irrelevant thing or because they’ve genuinely gotten to know you and don’t care for you as a human being.
Regardless, when you decide to live in a renovated school bus, you paint a target on your back.
By stepping out of mainstream society and choosing to go against the grain, you’re going to ruffle a few feathers. While we could talk at lengths about how fear of the unknown drives people toward hatred, we’ll keep it simple.
Skoolie life challenges society’s ideals, which can lead to disapproval and utter resentment. As we’ve grown on Instagram and had small moments in the spotlight, we’ve learned that people can be quite awful.
Even us, in our little bubble, are not immune to the hatred and vitriol found on social media. We’ve been called everything from ugly and annoying to terrible dog owners. The hardest criticism to face, especially for Tawny, was being told that we’re selfish, horrible parents who obviously don’t care about our kids.
Any high we were feeling from our moment in the spotlight was quickly crushed. Our light of joy was snubbed out by toxic comments which led to self-doubt. “Are we doing the right thing? Are we being selfish? Hell, are we bad parents?”
But then we started talking to people, the people whose opinions we actually care about. Our immediate friends and family as well as all of those we’ve met through our Instagram. We heard a different story. It was incredibly reaffirming. While we knew better than to doubt ourselves or listen to random internet trolls who have nothing better to do than try to hurt other people, it was hard to turn a blind eye to some of the awful things people said.
Since then, we’ve learned to laugh at the haters.
Why waste our time, energy, and emotions stressing out about what some random person who we’ll never meet thinks about our lifestyle? Why worry about some woman telling us we’re bad parents when she doesn’t know anything about us or our parenting? Truth be told, it’s easier just to avoid the comment section when we’re not posting directly to our audience on Instagram or on our blog.
SO, IS SKOOLIE LIFE WORTH IT?
Well for us, absolutely. Even with the setbacks and these frustrating moments, skoolie life is worth it!
We’ve been living in our bus for almost a year now and we are still learning new things. As winter is wrapping up, we find ourselves thinking about hitting our favorite camping spots in the spring and figuring out how to stay cool in the summer. We’re brainstorming new road trips and even thinking about buying land to park the bus on while it’s not on the road. That’s one of the best things about skoolie life – by design, it’s always changing.
If you have any questions about some of the problems we’ve overcome or issues we’ve faced, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be more than happy to provide answers!