Drinian the Big White Dog with Moonshine the Bus
I admit it. I like ’em big, strong as steel, rugged and trustworthy, and ready to take off on an adventure at any time. No, I am not talking about men! I mean my cars. Somehow over the years, I have owned over 30 vehicles. I often say “I am a car guy in a chick’s body.” Most of the cars, trucks, trailers, and now, school buses that I have either owned or been responsible for fixing up and maintaining have all been gifted or just somehow ended up in my care. I like to say “driving is my super power.” Any given week, I drive up to 4 different cars, not all of them mine, because I often drive friends’ cars when we go out for the evening, or have a spare car or two belonging to someone else in my care. I have only made three vehicle purchases in my entire life: 2 old station wagons and 1 tent trailer way back in the day when my now-grown children were babies. The rest of my vehicles were ‘donated’ by thoughtful individuals to my car-passionate cause, probably because most people who know me recognize that I have stupid optimism, a great mechanic, I understand how to care for cars to keep them running for a freakishly long time, and even though I am not overly fastidious about maintenance, my cars have always sort of ‘magically’ kept on going year after year, against all odds. I am known as the woman who keeps other people’s beloved older cars from going into the dump or from permanently leaving the family.
The car I drive daily, The Phoenix: 1976 Eldorado Cadillac convertible. I call her The Phoenix because she will rise again!
Take my love of cars, especially school buses, and pair it with the fact that I have always loved small spaces and road trips, and you have a ‘skoolie girl.’ My small space obsession has been lifelong. Years ago I commandeered my kids’ petite playhouse that their dad built for them as tots as my home office (once they outgrew it). It measures only 8 feet by 5 feet. At first, I used it as my gardening shed, and then I realized if I could wire it for Internet and electricity, it would be the perfect work area and writing studio. Once the unit was wired, I wrote my fantasy novel The Fairies of Feyllan in that small quaint space. Taking it a step further, I have envisioned my office as a potential outdoor living quarters. I can just see it decked out with a bed, a side table, and hanging storage. Though it is way too drafty and buggy, someday, who knows? It is portable, built on blocks, and all of the problems that prevent it from being a living space instead of an office are easy to fix.
I have always enjoyed an outdoorsy lifestyle, and have stayed close to nature living in a cabin the redwoods, in a tent on an island, and by traveling in cars, tent trailers, and school bus RVs. When I was a kid, my friends and I used to carve out spaces under the shrubby trees overlooking the backyard horse corral. We would arrange rocks to create a path to a leafy doorway we created by cutting and breaking off limbs. We pretended to live in an earthy commune as we would make fake berry stew and have parties and invite other neighborhood kids over to our leafy fort. In a way, our childhood hangout was my first experience at tiny home living.
As an environmentally conscious adult, these humble beginnings are re-emerging as a pattern in my life. I have come to believe that tiny home living, whether it is in a traveling vehicle like a converted van, RV, or school bus, or any tiny home such as a treehouse or storage container conversion, is the answer to many of our world’s woes. Small, affordable housing, less ownership of stuff, having no mortgage, and gaining more freedom to live life to the fullest as opposed to being bogged down by huge monthly overhead expenses for rent or a mortgage, are excellent reasons to embrace the tiny home movement.
School buses are my newest fascination, especially tiny home school bus conversions, or ‘skoolies’. It makes sense, if you add the car chick scenario to the fact that I also have a passion for tiny spaces. I may be one of the few skoolies who has an actual specific need for a school bus. As an animal handler, my rescue peacock, Rad, is my biggest (literally) reason for embracing the skoolie lifestyle. I love to travel. Rad loves to travel. Rad, aka ‘Radagast the Peacock Ambassador of Palos Verdes,’ is an education bird who goes to schools, Boys an Girls’ Clubs, libraries, and other venues to meet kids and adults alike. Rad grows to be about 9 feet long for several months of the year, until molting season, when he loses his tail, but it starts growing in again right away. Rad is only 3 years old. He could live to be 30. Every year, his tail will grow a bit longer. I need an XL rugged vehicle that can withstand our unusual circumstance of traveling with a peacock. Rad has critter siblings too. Also on board is Rad’s 135 pound polar-bear-looking ‘dog brother’ Drinian, and Rad’s ‘kitten sister’ Athena. We have skoolie pets in close quarters when we travel. School buses are industrial, easy to clean, reliable, can handle all kinds of abuse that regular RVs cannot, and are the perfect solution to my out-of-the-ordinary frequent travel complications due to my other species travel companions.
Dog/peacock pile up on the bus couch
Skoolie pet Athena the Kitten on Moonshine the Bus
#radthepeacock #drinianthebigwhitedog #athenathekitten
In the past year and a half, I have embraced and come to love the skoolie experience. My partner and I have cared for two skoolies, Sunshine the Bus and Moonshine the Bus.
Sunshine the Bus was a tiny home in the redwoods, and converting her to a reliable vehicle proved challenging, as she was not too happy about being moved from what many believed was her final resting place. We unearthed Sunshine, a graffiti-covered but comfortable tiny home nestled under the redwoods in Mendocino County, though many repairs were needed to get her running smoothly. We persevered and turned her into a community painting and restoration project with the help of some friends that left her as a cute, functioning tiny home RV. Once all the mechanical issues were worked out, she was a gem of a bus that took us on many adventures, and her final week’s adventure involved taking a pygmy goat to Dodger stadium to break the Cubs’s Curse (more on that in another blog someday!). Unfortunately, Sunshine was totaled by a semi truck crash when she was struck from behind in October 2016. It was a sad day for us all…my partner permanently injured his back in that crash (he was driving alone and was lucky to survive). All of our hard work on Sunshine was destroyed, and our ability to travel with the Pixie Dust Ranch animals vanished in an instant.
Sunshine the Bus from June to October 2016
It took awhile to find our next replacement schoolbus that we referred to as “Moonshine” during our skoolie hunt. In the meantime, we traveled in our 4 Runner and The Phoenix, the classic red 1976 Cadillac, both tight-fitting travel cars. In May, we finally met her: The Next School Bus. Moonshine! Known by her previous owners as ‘Arty Bus’, this 1987 Blue Bird had been to Burning Man the previous year as an art project representing the Filipino Eagle. It was love at first glimpse of the Craigslist ad, and when we went to pick her up, I knew that Moonshine the Bus was going to find a special place in my heart. Her psychedelic arty paint job was obviously created by a group of people who loved her; the charming couple who sold her to us and their friends, and after a few tweaks of her innards, Moonshine was in sound running condition. We bought her, with plans to register her in both of our names. I finally had a skoolie! I couldn’t be more excited.
Because of her ‘loud’ paint job and my uptight neighbors, within hours of bringing Moonshine home, we rattle-can sprayed her back to black, with plans for a more professional paint job later. Moonshine has taken us on several amazing trips since we picked her up in May 2017, and we just returned from our most recent travel adventure to a music festival in the Mammoth, CA area. But we have discovered there is a glitch in our plan. In July and August, my partner ended up taking a job in New Mexico and was gone in Moonshine for several weeks. I had no way of traveling with Rad: though he was losing his tail feathers for his first molt, he was still was too big for a long distance trip in our other vehicles. I realized with a heavy heart that Moonshine was not meant to be my bus, because when you own a 9-foot bird full time, you can’t own the travel vehicle for said bird part-time. I came to the conclusion that I am going to need my own vehicle. My partner and I have always had a long-distance relationship, and when two people travel to different destinations for lengthy periods of time, it is impossible to share one tiny home. Moonshine has proven herself to be his vehicle, not mine. Though I am disappointed, I know my very own skoolie is out there, somewhere. I just have to find her. Or she has to find me!
I am not deterred, but I am realizing, now I have experience. I can do this. I may have even been closer to my goal of owning my own travel home than I thought. After Sunshine’s crash and before we found Moonshine, my partner picked up a retired ambulance as a potential substitute for Sunshine, but that vehicle, that we named The BAMbulance, was too short and too small to accommodate our needs. For awhile, its fate hung in the balance…my partner would either quickly sell it (at a financial loss) since it has been sitting in storage for months, or if he couldn’t find a buyer, he offered to give it to me as a personal project. He promised to make sure it would be in good mechanical shape. Me? I would then turn it into a van conversion gypsy-inspired RV I would name “Lady Bug” (short for “Lady Bug Out Vehicle”). Because I am tall, I would not keep Lady Bug, but flip her to buy myself, yes, yet another schoolbus. A shorter one than Moonshine, and one that I could decorate and maintain however I want. (I am sure there will be pink or purple and glitter paint involved!) As it turned out, I for the first time in my entire life turned down a ‘free’ vehicle, and he sold the BAMbulance. I watched as my potential “Lady Bug” drove off, wondering if I had made a mistake. I decided I didn’t. I will wait for the right schoolbus. I trust that this new skoolie is on my horizon, one I have already named in my mind “Soulshine the Bus.” Then Rad the Peacock will have a travel vehicle so we can keep on roadtripping no matter what, as you now know peacocks love to do.
Since I decided that I would save myself for Soulshine the Bus, I have no regrets. I am still on the hunt, and now that Rad’s tail is short and he is compact enough to fit in our smaller cars, at least for now, I am still traveling and enjoying the process of looking at different buses. I know Soulshine is out there. I go online every day and learn about potential skoolies for sale. I am studying about ‘boondocking’ (RV camping in free areas), and learning a myriad of hints and tips on the RV/skoolie/van lifestyle. I am a true student of the nomadic gurus that share this wealth of information online. I am not there yet, but I am gearing up for this next great phase of hitting the open road, sometimes–gulp–alone, with three trusty critter companions. It is an unusual life option, but no great quest has ever occurred without a battle to get there. I’m ready for whatever comes my way until I have my “Lady Bug”…my skoolie ‘Lady Bug Out Vehicle’, aka Soulshine the Bus, whatever she will end up looking like. Only time will tell.
You can follow my adventurous quest for my very own ‘lady bug skoolie’ on Instagram:
Other links of interest:
Find Rad the Peacock on Twitter, too! (Cuz he likes to tweet!)