Year in Review, Part II: Quitting Our Jobs and Heading to Colorado.

When our lease ended, it didn't take long for us to begin making lists of places we wanted to move to. Our conversion at this point consisted of taking the furniture we owned and bungee cording it to the bus walls. We had a wooden dresser, a full book shelf, bikes, skis, and could only put the bed in the middle of the bus over the wheel wells. We donated what we considered all the non-essentials, but still had a mountain of things that needed to be organized an put away. But, we were elated with the freedom, and hope for the future in our new home! 

I frequently stood pondering where to put things that we didn't have room for. Overhead storage filled up quick. 

Adventure was scratching at our door, so just a month after moving into our new home, we quit our jobs, and headed for Colorado. Cody had no money, and I had a bit, but I don't recall that being a huge factor in our decision making. It was time to take advantage of this new "bus life" thing we had just entered into. 

The porcelain dishes rattled heinously, and the silver wear was so heavy that the drawers rolled out and slammed back around corners. In fact, all the drawers did that. The bed slid around, and items would topple out from the overhead storage. But, I would just get up from the bench and put them away - letting Cody know if something valuable broke or not. 

We left in late May, and as we got to Wyoming, we realized we didn't have air conditioning. I had an industrial sized floor fan that operated at such high power, it would drain our solar powered battery in about 2 hours. I figured we would only use it in emergencies. It's always good to be prepared. Drink water if you're hot. 

The town we had decided on moving to was Boulder, CO. All we knew about the town is that it was frequently featured in cycling magazines as a place to go. It took us two days to realize that what we had thought it to be was completely wrong. Wrong for us. Too many Teslas and Whole Foods Markets is all. Some dumb bitch cut me off three separate times in a grocery store. Now, that is just one example of the obliviousness of that town. I'm sure there are awesome people there too, but they must have been out of town that week. 

Sitting and having a beer, we discussed the issue. Do we try and make it work for a year? Are we being to quick to judge? And, if we do go, where would be go from here? It was $500 in gas to get here, and we can't afford to just go back. The further into the beer we got, the more we realized that we needed to leave in the morning. We decided to just head west, and see what we ran in to. 

Ah, yes. So, one of the preparations we did make for our new lifestyle was a portable toilet, so I could fulfill my neurotic tendency of peeing 3 times a night, without of having to squat in a parking lot. It consists of two separate chambers: the pee collecting bowl, and when you flush, you open a hatch for it to descend into the collection tank. It can be a bit teeter-y, but with practice I was able to get the job done as Cody drove.

Now, as we drove west from Boulder, we gained some great elevation, and the air got cold, and thin. We worried about the bus on the big hills, but he handled so well. It was somewhere outside Vail that I need a pee break, but Cody didn't want to stop again. It's an ongoing problem of mine. I would need to go as we drove, and as I opened the hatch to flush as usual, I was instead met with an explosion of piss in my face. 

It was an excellent lesson in elevation pressure. Like when you have a bag of chips, and drive up a mountain, and you're like, hey, look how puffy this bag is! Except it is an pressurized piss tank, with a full bowl of golden fluid on top. It's hard to feel normal after that. 

We stopped shortly after that, so I could take a second to gather myself. As we ate grocery store fried chicken, we decided that the next town we would try would be Grand Junction. It was the last stop in Colorado and we weren't ready to leave the state just yet. We googled any climbing gym in town, and hours later, pulled into the Grand Valley Climbing lot. 

Year in review, Part I: Our first year living in a converted bus.

We began converting an old Ford E-450 in March 2017 into a tiny house on wheels. 

If you are interested in living in a bus, or a van, or a tiny home, and you are reading this post, then you have already put more effort into researching the lifestyle than we did. In March 2017, we bought a 1999 Ford E-450 v10 shuttle bus. With little in savings, we had a week to move in before our lease was up. 

It came equipped with 16 passenger seats, a bench, and a wheelchair lift. Naturally, the seats were the first to go, selling them for under $100. The guy was over in fifteen minutes after we posted the ad on craigslist, and they were out that first day. Cody handled the seats, as I made dinner and continued packing. Later that evening, Cody came running in, distressed. He didn't have time to tell me the problem, as he ran back out with a roll of paper towels. I followed to find coolant all over the bus floor, and the passenger seat heater line cut. 

He was trying to remove the under-seat heater from the back of the bus. Taking his knife, he sliced down the side of the tubing, releasing the liquid from its sealed compartment. New rule: don't cut any lines until you are sure what they are. Panicking, I called a Ford dealership, asking them how concerned I should have been. They informed me that the passenger heater was attached to the engine, meaning if we decided to drive it, the coolant would bubble out and destroy the bus.

Next question, how do you get a bus to a dealership with a coolant leak?

You don't. We hopped on our bikes, grabbed a pipe/tube clamp, and fixed it the best we could. We cut back the line, re-affixed the heater, and googled the shit out of acceptable coolant levels, and coolant types, and bus manuals. We walked away from a possible $5,000 problem with only a $5 charge at Home Depot. Week one. 

Feeling like hot shit for fixing our mistake, we got to work on the wheelchair ramp. I figured the Ford dealership guy was pretty nice, so I'd just schedule an appointment and get it done in a couple of days. He ended the call laughing, wishing me luck. Forget a quote, he couldn't even come up with a recommendation for me. Calling two more dealerships, they both spoke with their managers, returning to the phone with an apology. Not a fucking chance. 

Wracking my brain, I tried to come up with places that frequently had wheelchairs, or accessibility vans. We called Trimet, Goodwill, several churches, and metal recycling joints. I put the pressure on, attempting the not-take-no technique. When that didn't work, I tried to evoke pity. It was more effective, and one person went to speak with their boss again, but it always ended in a no. 

Cody came up with the idea to look at less reputable auto shops - the two star-ers that have hand painted signage, rows of dilapidated cars, and negotiable pricing.

The first place we called said to come by tomorrow around noon. They'd do it for a hundred bucks, and it would only take an hour. Elated and with only a day left before move in, we piled in everything, leaving access to the ramp in the back. Less than 24 hours later, we pulled away with our open rectangle - thus beginning our ongoing game of Tetris. As Cody drove, I propped myself up against all our shit, so as to keep everything from crashing or falling. Watching the road, I predicted the turns, and held that in which I thought would be affected by the force. Dresser drawers became my highest priority, followed by the free standing bikes that were gently propped against the wall. Tensions grew as Cody misread a corner, riding the rear tire up on the curb. This tilted my world, followed by a cataclysmic earthquake. Jars of pasta sauce and shoes went flying, as drawers were opened and slammed shut. Standing, I'd stagger like a drunkard, shouting obscenities, protecting my head from anything that would fall from the overhead storage.

We had borrowed $15,000 from a credit union. That was what we had needed to buy the rig, nothing more. As we pulled into Home Depot, we set out to convert this rig to an accommodating living environment for as little as possible. All we needed were bungee cords, and gorilla glue. Converting a bus is so easy! Oh wait, we need storage, organization, safety. We can't just drill into the floor, we have to look for wiring, so we need a plan. Ah, fuck it. We can figure it out as we go. So, that's what we did. If something was an issue, we'd fix it, we thought. Looking back, we had no idea just how many problems we would face. 

- Candi

The simplicity of living in a tiny home

We are just about to begin the first winter in our bus tiny house, and we still have so much work to do. 

When I wake up, my breath is the first thing I see. My nose is impossibly cold, and I cup my hand to make a small fist igloo to warm it up. We have lived in this bus since May, and each day that goes by is the coldest day we have had. This time last year, I remember looking at the thermostat in the apartment, thinking “65 degrees?! I can’t take it anymore! Who cares about the energy bill?” These days, I would sleep in a t-shirt on top of the sheets in 65 degrees. We don’t have heat anymore. Not a single source to take the bite off the cold.

We have jobs though, contrary to what you may be thinking. And by we, I am referring to my boyfriend, our cat, and myself. Yes, we keep regular jobs, and have been since the day I pulled up the craigslist ad for a 1998 E-450, and casually suggested we take a look. We bought it that day.

Driving the short bus out of the lot, we had three weeks to convert it to a livable space. Going from nothing to something in that amount of time left many holes. We tore out the sixteen passenger seats, crudely taped silver puff insulation to the windows, and built a bike rack out of wood in a day.

Moving into the bus wasn’t difficult, it was thinning out what we had before we piled it in that took time. If you have never experienced the catharsis of donating half of your stuff, I highly recommend it. Even after we moved in, we filtered our items like crabs intricately piecing apart a fish carcass. Only the vital was taken, allowing the remains to sink back into the earth.

THEN WE SEVERED OURSELVES FROM STABILITY. SHOWERS AND WATER BECAME POINTS OF INTEREST. AS DID SHADE.

Sun slowly became a nuisance and a necessity, as it powered our small world, but also baked it. Power won in the end, so in the sun we went. It is easy to hate the cold. The dark, wet, icy, depressed season. Lose sight of the heat. Crave the summer. You discuss with your co-workers how you would much rather bake in the hot sun, on a hundred degree day than face another cold, dark morning, scraping the ice off your windshield with your employee badge.

One of the many layouts that we came up with when converting the bus to a livable space. Looking back, we were so cluttered.

Heat changes you when you can’t escape it. The length of the summer day is a curse just as the brevity of a winter day is. With the bus baking in the hot sun, I would be up well into morning before it was cool enough to rest. And just as you drifted off out of your sticky body, the sun would be coming up again to keep you going. Lots to be done in the summer.
We adapted. Work during the heat of the day, and what better motivation to go to the gym after work than a bus with an internal temperature of over 100 degrees? So workout we did. The bus became an intolerable nook in which you store everything you hold dear. It became a movable wall. We would park it horizontal to the sun, and layout a blanket on the concrete in the shade it provided.

My body knows what to do in the cold. Freezing temperatures surpass Nyquil in its effectiveness to put you down. I institutionally cocoon. Don’t move much, the cold sheets remind you. Going to bed is a choreographed affair. One forgotten ritual results in a loss of warmth. I cherish the heat spot I’ve made.

When you are subject to the elements, the joys in life are not overlooked. Hot tea becomes a slow, meditative event. With our options, it may be the only way to get feeling back into your fingers.

A COOL BREEZE AS THE HEAT RADIATES AROUND YOU REMINDS YOU TO BREATHE.

Each day we make the decision not to walk away. We can afford to live in an apartment, with power, and running water. But, we have only spent brief moments considering it.

As a kid, I would make survival backpacks. I liked lizards, and would build miniature forests for them. I walked to school every day, waving parents on as they stopped to give me a ride out of the snow. I ate veggies and tried to fit in, often not knowing if I was getting it right. After school, as I walked the three miles home alone, I was able to relax. If it was summer, I had a water bottle, if it was winter, I had an extra jacket.

The day we moved into the bus, I relaxed. My fate was no longer tied to a lease, or dependent on a roomie. No selling of property, no delay in departure. My chaotic brain eased with the unknown of each day. The carpet could be destroyed without recourse. The bus is safe. Non-judgmental, accepting.

We carry our water in by the gallon. Our food is kept in a cooler, and requires us to buy only what we need. Purchases must serve a purpose. What is considered necessity to one may be superfluous to another, even in the same small living space. Life in a bus must be organized and clean. You discover what you truly value.

Simple.

Grand tour of our bus conversion
I have finally gotten around to giving you a grand tour of our tiny home - Seymour bus. I hope you enjoy.

There have been many iterations in the design and remodel of our bus conversion. This happens to be the latest, and it will change again soon. We're experimenting with layouts, finding what works, and what is inconvenient. We've loved the changes to our tiny home, and enjoy the small improvments. 

Asked to move. Again.
 Home is where you park it - unless they tell you to move. Finding a place to camp is always a bit of a challenge in a converted bus. 

Home is where you park it - unless they tell you to move. Finding a place to camp is always a bit of a challenge in a converted bus. 

Last night, we lit incense and closed the windows. Then, began watching some unmemorable show. It was nearing bedtime, so approximately 8pm. We both had beers that evening, and then a knock came to our doors. I say doors because when we push the button on the dash, the two rotating doors open outward. At that moment, a bit of incense smoke came out into the street light and I saw the security guard whom had knocked. My consciousness at this moment had been reduced to ten second intervals due to my level of intoxication, on an average work night. These brief ten second bursts made it difficult to follow extensive or multi dimensional conversations. Then the security guard began talking, and I had to grab hold of that dump truck as it passed, or it would leave me on the curb and nothing says drunk like a delay in reply.

From that moment, all I can remember is seeing all the smoke land in his face, and later down the conversational line, him asking, “Is there a baby in there?!” To which I believe I stomped, flung my hair and shouted back, “What?! Is that a factor in you deciding we can stay?” See, he was attempting to kick us out of the parking spot we had been claiming for the past week. Something we had done for several weeks only a few months prior, without any confrontation.

I then became combative in my tone, as my much loved bathroom stall and water source were in the process of being repossessed.

At this point in the conversation, I had already accepted defeat. Once you get the notification that they want you out, it is only a matter of time. But, defeat did not mean that I wasn’t going to take my week out on this guy. He in that moment became each guy who came before him to either kick us out, make us re-park, or assume too familiar or dominant a position in the conversation so as to show us that he owns us and is the sole decider of our fate with the parking space in question. So I showed this current guy I didn’t like him or respect him. Yeah, he had a job to do, but how many times is history going to teach us that terrible people are just fulfilling their job requirements?

At this point, he recedes. Both of his hands went in the air and he said, “Eh! I’m not trying to be an asshole!” But still, leave now. We stayed another night, to spite him. And, then I spent the evening paranoid that he assumed the smoke was weed, that I appeared too intoxicated, that we can’t smoke in the parking lot at work, and that I would lose my job. Nothing happened. Then, we move

Cold for the Homeless: Heading to our First Winter in the Bus

I have such a long way to go. It has taken me 28 years to earnestly feel happy for another persons accomplishments, but I did make it. That isn't to say that I don't see what other people are accomplishing and think, "how much money does it take to be you?" or "I could do so much more if i had what you had," but today I thought about how someone I knew had been doing well in triathalons, and felt "that's so awesome. She is kicking ass." That is progress. I'll categorize this under the progress category of this blog, and hopefully it doesn't just sit there alone. 

Soon the trails will be covered in snow. Until then, we hope to get out as much as we can!

Today, after several hours in the gym, we are going to install more insulation in the bus. The two solar panels really helped, but the other night was a good indicator of just how cold it is going to be this winter in this thing. We've made it work since April - about half a year now. Luckily, we are both very committed to experiencing what this is like year around. I told myself that I would never use names, so I'll say that my boyfriend had a very astute observation about the way in which we live, and how people respond. He said that people treat us like criminals. I don't disagree. We have been run off, confronted in force, had people bang on our windows in the middle of the night, and tell us that we can't stay - in many different locations. Now, I want to emphasize that we are quiet, and generally get to bed by 9pm, often getting up early to ride or workout. We have jobs, pay our taxes, vote, have health insurance, and donate often. We are contributing members of society, more so than others who live in traditional homes. And yet, we are still treated as criminals.

Before I continue, I want to say that my perspective on homelessness has evolved much over the years. My ignorance when I was younger resulted in a sort of disgust with homelessness. Disgust with laziness, and only the lazy would end up homeless. In no way would we have anything in common. I work too hard, and prefer wholesome activities to drugs. Pretentious little shit. That isn't to say that many adults without perspective continue to view homelessness this way. Later, as I had family members rely on the very institutions that I saw as detestable, my feeling of resentments and separation only deepened. For a time. For the sake of keeping this post on point, I will fast forward through the difficult years of realizing that I too am human, and as such, am not perfect. That was and is not an easy lesson. Now, back to being a criminal. Those individuals that we would normally have identified with - neighbors with porches, mail, children, jobs they hate, drunks - no longer identify with us. We are the insiders with an outsiders lifestyle, but no one can see that we still exist as insiders.

NO ONE CAN SEE WHAT WE DO, JUST HOW WE LIVE. AND THEY DO NOT LIKE US BECAUSE OF IT. THEY FEEL THREATENED, THOUGH WE HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG.

And yes, maybe they have had bad experiences with people who live in vans or alternative means of living, but I would argue that most have not. I would also argue that they are conditioned that way, as I was conditioned that way. They dispute us and confront us because they were told for years that people who live like we do are not to be trusted. And all I want to do is shout that we are normal! And I finally saw that perhaps homeless people would want to shout the same thing.

I am not presuming to say that I understand, but my perspective has shifted. What I will also say is that not every lesson we are taught is made to keep us safe - instead some are made to keep us controlled. Some are made to make sure that we adhere. And those lessons are so ingrained, that people will go out of their way to protect themselves from others whom did not intend to do them any harm. "I'll shoot you before you shoot me - even though I have not seen your gun, I know you have one. I know I am right."