I’m writing this from my dining room seat in my new big blue home-on-wheels. I’ve just finished the dishes after a meal of sweet potatoes and fixings baked in my new oven. The heater is on and it’s toasty warm – respite from the already chilly night here in Wyoming. Bruno is sat opposite me, reading a book by candlelight.
It’s hard to believe that two weeks have gone by since we officially moved into Big Blue and hit the road. We’ve driven, experienced, and seen so much that it feels both much longer and much shorter.
Two weeks, though, is probably the perfect time for me to sit down and evaluate how our Big Blue Bus is performing. After almost four months of full-time conversion work, I’m thinking our readers might be curious to see just how things are going.
I had anticipated our big departure with such fervour that it was almost all I thought or dreamed about as the challenging weeks of bus conversion dragged on. It was surprising, then, when I didn’t feel the sense of elation I’d felt at the thought of our grand departure when we actually hit the road – in fact, it was really difficult to quiet my mind. Those first few days, driving through the Sonoran Desert, my thoughts were focused more on all the things we still needed to do to our bus before it would be done.
Then there came the realization that, with the pace we would need to keep in order to make it to Eastern Canada this summer, most of things on my bus to-do list would not get done anytime soon. I thus experienced a short period of letdown and subsequent discomfort that our temporary semi-chaotic space would be a more long-term living situation.
It took a few days, but finally, I relearned to slow down, decompress, and get into the rhythm of the road. And I’ve come to accept that, as long as we can manage a few essential tweaks this summer, I can wait a while for the rest.
Besides, this acceptance has been a small price to pay for the rewards of being back on the road in a new, beautiful, big bus with Bruno.
First and foremost, I’m rediscovering my husband. Every day Bruno is a bit sillier, a bit more loving, a bit less grumpy. . I had almost forgotten this – the true – Bruno – the one who is excited about the day at hand.
In fact, Bruno is so excited that he has driven a record distance (besides our 3-day transit in Saudi Arabia) – almost 2,000km in four days! I think it’s because we were driving toward two new national parks – Grand Teton and Yellowstone – on our way to Canada, and Bruno couldn’t wait to camp in nature and be surrounded by wildlife. This is what makes Bruno his happiest.
And seeing me happy in our bus. Which I am (despite the slightly longer emotional process to get to this point than I anticipated).
There are so many things that are making me super happy with our bus conversion – and they pretty much all come down to comfort and autonomy.
Check out all the ways in which I am digging Big Blue’s comfort:
1) We have a roomy driving area with great big windows, so it’s fun to sit up front and watch the world pass by as we drive. We’re finding it very convenient, too, to be able to pass from the cab to the living space without having to stop the vehicle or go outside.
2) The kitchen size and layout are working perfectly for our (my) uses. I have a massive countertop, easy access to everything, a large enough fridge to keep us stocked for days, a big deep sink, and a three-burner stovetop with oven. I finally feel like I can cook just about anything!
3) The living space has proved to be perfectly workable. We haven’t felt on top of one another at all, even when we are both inside doing different things. I love that Bruno can read without me needing him to get up so I can fetch things under the bed, or that I can stay up once he’s in bed without disturbing him. I especially love being able to put a yoga mat down in the morning and do some stretches while Bruno simultaneously prepares breakfast!
4) Our bedroom is luxuriously spacious. We finally have a double (full) bed! We each have a reading lamp and a bedside table (wow!). Bruno doesn’t have to climb over me to get in or out of bed. I have six small drawers and a mini-closet for my clothing – so much more practical than having my clothes stored in cardboard boxes over the bed!
5) The bus is surprisingly well-insulated. We’re able to keep it fairly temperature (even in extreme temperatures, which we’ve had), and we barely hear annoying outdoor sounds when we’re inside (this has been great for the few times we’ve slept in a truck parking or near a road).
And here are the great ways Big Blue is allowing us to be autonomous:
1) Our energy installation is fabulous. We have two big deep-cell solar batteries now so Bruno is being less obsessive about preserving our solar energy. We have a 200L water tank, and even a grey water tank (woo woo!) so we don’t have to worry about filling up water every day or using our sink in a public parking lot. We have two big propane tanks which we use to cook and to heat shower water.
2) Yes, we have a shower! In fact, I just washed my hair for the first time in it tonight. It was much better than paying $5 for a public shower at the national park campground. We have a toilet, too. Because of these two gems, Bruno and I no longer need to sleep in campgrounds. This is my favourite thing of all. I feel so free! Before, I always did online research to find overnight spots that provided toilet access, and every few days we would need a campground so we could get a good shower. Even when we’d arrive at a boondocking site, the first thing we did was scope out the place for a peaceful spot to potty. Now, though, I know that I have those things no matter where we pull up! We keep driving pass RV parks and shouting we don’t need you anymore! It’s amazing. Instead, the US’ National Forests have become our best friends, which is sort of how I’d rather camp, anyway.
Each thing I listed is something I hoped and expected I’d love with our bus conversion. They are the very reasons we traded our beloved Totoyaya for something bigger. We knew we’d be giving up certain things – the ability to go off-road, the parking benefits of a smaller vehicle, the reliability of a 1988 Land Cruiser.
When our engine shut off (for just a moment) twice in a row while driving on the highway north of Phoenix, our hearts both sunk. If Big Blue could give us such a serious problem this early, no amount of comfort or autonomy would be worth an unreliable vehicle.
Thankfully, since then, all has gone well (knock on wood!). We think the transmission got overheated because it was about 40 degrees celcius in Phoenix that day and the vehicle simply couldn’t handle highway speeds in that weather. Slowly, Bruno’s gained faith in the quality and durability of our 5.9 Cummins engine, and he’s becoming really good at managing our fuel consumption. After averaging a disappointing 22L/100km from Ensenada to Phoenix, he’s been able to get our fuel economy down to almost 16L/100km, and this including fast highways (man, do they drive fast in the west!) and mountain driving!
Ok, so we did get pulled over once by an angry cop for driving too slowly, but on the whole, Bruno has been using his manual transmissions, coasting his way into full stops (and avoiding them when he can), and driving at a leisurely pace, and we are surprised and happy with our fuel economy.
Yes, there are a few things I would change about our Big Blue Bus. I would redesign the space allotted for our dry toilet – it truly is too small to be functional (but more on that, probably, in a future post). I would replace the square flat sink with a regular one (this one is hard to clean) and the dark wood floors with lighter ones (these show dirt). I would redo my window curtains (I totally messed them up).
And there is still a lot to do to our bus before she is really and truly finished. We need to figure out a solution for our windows (so that they all open and have bug screens). We still need to install locks for the kitchen cabinets, the shoe racks we built, and the shower nozzle into the wall. We need to finish our book shelf and build a medicine cabinet. Bruno needs to figure out the heating/AC system up front (right now we need to open the engine and turn a nozzle on or off to change from heat to AC and back). We need to do a lot of little finishing work.
But on the whole, we’re taking to Big Blue very well. We think about Totoyaya all the time – and admittedly compare Big Blue to her when our new vehicle doesn’t match up.
The house-on-wheels Bruno built me is quickly feeling more like a home-on-wheels.