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On the Road with Our New Big Blue Bus

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.

What our bus looked like when we did the test drive from Tucson to Ensenada.

What our bus looked like when we did the test drive from Tucson to Ensenada.

I looked pretty happy then...

I looked pretty happy then…

So I think I can be even happier now!

So I think I can be even happier now!

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).

Put Bruno at a campsite in nature (like here, at the Grand Teton National Park) and he

Put Bruno at a campsite in nature (like here, at the Grand Teton National Park) and he’s stoked!

Ok, I

Ok, I’m pretty stoked by national parks, too!

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).

Cooking dinner our first night on the road with my new, awesome, giant kitchen!

Cooking dinner our first night on the road with my new, awesome, giant kitchen!

Bruno prepping breakfast inside on a chilly morning.

Bruno prepping breakfast inside on a chilly morning.

Check it out!  I can do YOGA in my bus!

Check it out! I can do YOGA in my bus!

Bruno enjoying the view and comfort up front even when we

Bruno enjoying the view and comfort up front even when we’re NOT driving!

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.

Our first national forest boondock.

Our first national forest boondock.

Here we are a couple nights later at another one.  Nice!

Here we are a couple nights later at another one. Nice!

And here, waking up after a quiet night at a trailhead off the highway.

And here, waking up after a quiet night at a trailhead off the highway.

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.

We rigged this up to keep the cabinets closed during a particularly windy section of road.  Permanent solution still needed.

We rigged this up to keep the cabinets closed during a particularly windy section of road. Permanent solution still needed.

So happy to be on the road together again, and in a beautiful, home-made home-on-wheels!

So happy to be on the road together again, and in a beautiful, home-made home-on-wheels!

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.

  • Nikos&Georgia - I was looking for an article about the Bus and here we are! So happy for you two 😉 Looks amazing. We think that this will be our next step as well. Not soon, but definitely one day.. Congratulations guys. Enjoy every moment. Your last pic smiles say everything ;-))))))ReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Thanks, friends! 6 weeks in, we are still really happy with our bus, especially when it’s cold or rainy (as it has been in Northern Ontario!). I highly recommend it for you once you are totally sick of being in a small van. But until then, enjoy it because small definitely has some advantages!

      We finally had a good wifi connection so watched your Crowdfunding video! It was so good to see your faces and hear you speak! Very nice!ReplyCancel

  • Ann - Hi!
    So glad to see you guys are finally back on the road. Have been following you for a while but since I cant remember, must ask: how do you guys fund your life? Some others I follow do contract tech work, or take seasonal jobs at parks and Amazon, and I was wondering about you guys. Also, re the engine shutoff: this happened to me driving through Nebraska one summer. Turned out I had a bad fuel pump, and during the extreme heat the engine got what is called “vapor lock”. It can be mitigated by avoiding gas with ethanol when driving in high heat.
    Happy travels :)ReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Hello Ann and thank you for the lovely message! I shared your mechanical knowledge with Bruno and he thought your advice was a true possibility that he will have to look further into! In the meantime, if we have any other problems, we’ll know who to contact! :)
      Regarding how we finance our trip, is it OK if I send you toward a post I wrote about it? It’s got the long and the short version! The link is right here: http://wanderingfootsteps.com/location-independent/this-overlanding-life-the-financial-question/
      Thanks so much for the well-wishes!
      Brittany and BrunoReplyCancel

  • Leslie Brown - Happy to catch up with you again, I’ve been neglecting my devices lately due to eye operation but should soon be good again. Nice to know you will soon be in Canada, eh! We were in southern Saskatchewan last summer and really enjoyed the big fields and blue skies. Seems like the bus is working out well. It will only get better as you find time to fine tune things. Leonie and I will have lunch tomorrow with Bettie and Randy so will get up to date with them as well.
    Love, Grampa and LeonieReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Eye operation?!? Do tell more!

      I thought of you and Leonie every single day that we were in the Prairies, wondering where you went and what you thought of the endless skies and fields. I loved the prairie dogs most of all, but discovered a few other surprises that I’ll be happy to write about fairly soon!

      Sending my love,

      BBReplyCancel

  • Jennifer Jones - Just LOVE the Blue bus! You guys did an amazing job!! I am super excited for you two! Enjoy and savor every moment and cheers to you for getting through this new life transition. xxx cousin JenniferReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Thanks Jenn! So I get the nod of approval from the best designer I know? :) Can’t wait to show her to you in person! xxReplyCancel

  • Freya Gnerre - My dear Niece and Bruno, You look so happy, I’m very envious. I love the area you are in as much as you do. It’s so nice to look up and see beautiful blue skys. And, the wide open spaces! Big Blue looks great and very comfortable – you’ll eventually get all your “bugs” taken care of. I’m still waiting for an email from you. And, I hope when you are in Canada, you will come down our way so we can meet up. Much love to you both. Auntie FreyaReplyCancel

    • Brittany Caumette - As always, it is wonderful to hear from you – thanks so much for taking the time to read our blog and especially to reply! :)

      We are now in Montana, but we had a GREAT 8 days in your home state – on the way out of Yellowstone we even drove the infamous Beartooth highway – GORGEOUS!!

      I don’t think NY is in our plans in the next few months, but then again, you never know!! :)

      Brittany and BrunoReplyCancel

  • Louise Jones-Takata - Congratulations B & B! Big Blue is real achievement and it looks very good, roomy and comfy. Nothing chaotic about it! As nothing is perfect, you are realizing certain decisions taken which you would if you could alter. You’ll live with these little inconveniences for now anyway! Best of all, you are living the life you both so much love!ReplyCancel

    • Brittany Caumette - You’re so right, Louise, and I expect most people who design their homes end up with a few small things they wish they could change. All in all, I’m almost perfectly happy with the design – and more importantly, we’re SUPER happy to be back on the road! Just had a fabulous week in the Tetons and Yellowstone, and now about to enter Saskatchewan for our cross-Canadian summer road trip! It’s good to be back on the road!

      xoxReplyCancel

  • Molly McCarron - Aah.. You both look so happy!ReplyCancel

    • Brittany Caumette - We SOOOOO are, Molly!! Just had a great week in the Tetons and Yellowstone, and are now about to enter Canada for a cross-Canadian road trip! It’s so good to be out discovering the world again, and we’re already starting to forget the pains of the last 4 months – like childbirth, I guess! :)ReplyCancel

  • Frank - Hadn’t seen photos of you two for a while – you are (both) looking well !ReplyCancel

    • Brittany Caumette - Thanks for saying hi, Frank! We feel as though we are re-emerging from hibernation – life is good!

      Where are you guys?ReplyCancel

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