Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ruminations of a Road Rambler Milestone

Ruminations of a Road Rambler: One Year Anniversary


As of today, I’ve been living on a bus for exactly one year and two weeks. Many folks have been curious about my life as a nomad, so I thought I’d take a moment to share my experiences after this 12 month milestone. Click the link below for all the details.


First some stats on my rolling home: My home is a 1997 Prevost bus

which was manufactured in Canada as an standard bus and converted into

a motor home the same year by Liberty Coach in North Chicago, IL. The

bus has 340 square feet of interior space (40′ length x 102" wide)

along with a "basement" for storage (where your luggage would be stored

on a Greyhound bus). I get between 6 and 8 MPG depending on how fast

I’m driving and what type of terrain I’m covering. I also tow a Jeep

Liberty, which I can easily connect or disconnect in less than two

minutes.  In order to afford this lifestyle, I sold my house in the

mountains west of Boulder, CO and have a few things in storage (which

takes up less space than a one car garage). This allows me to have no

debt of any kind (no mortgage, car payments, or credit card debt).

You can take a video tour of the bus on Inside Digital Photo’s video podcast in iTunes.


Modifications I’ve Made:
The bus came with two sofas in the living

room. I’ve removed one of the sofas and replaced it with a lounge chair

and ottoman. I’ve made the dining room table my office by replacing one

chair with an Aeron office chair and the other with a table that holds

about a dozen hard drives and a color laser printer. I plan to add an

ink jet printer to the mix over the next six months (now that they’ve

gotten smaller).


Where I’ve Been During the Year:
I’ve traveled through 22 states over

the last 12 months and visited more state and national parks than I can

keep track of. I’ve also visited many friends and made new ones along

the way. I’ve put exactly 15,871 miles on the bus since I bought it

last year. I started and ended my first year at Liberty Coach’s sales

location in Stuart, FL. My favorite place so far would have to be Utah.

Specifically the Utah, Arizona border near Page, AZ. There is simply so

much to see and photograph around that area that I can’t wait to return.


Unusual Parking Spots:
You and I have a much different perspective on

parking. When I say "parking," what I really mean is "living." Whether

I’m in them for one night or several weeks, my parking/living spaces

have run the gamut from marvelous to mundane. I’ve parked everywhere

from the beach on the edge of Lake Powell to a spot marked "Bus

Parking" next to the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills (thanks to Jeff at POG for the parking suggestion). Some of the

most wonderfully unexpected parking places have come from people who

read this blog. For instance Marci found me a nice place to park near

Ocala, FL that had a view of a lake (I even got a haircut outside near

the edge of the lake). Kathey found me a free parking spot on Key West

in Florida and arranged kayaking and other outings with the locals of

Key West. Scott Sheppard from Inside Mac Radio even helped me find a

free parking spot within a few blocks of the Golden Gate Bridge. I want

to thank everyone who has taken the time to cheer me on through lending

a hand finding parking spots or suggesting little known places to

visit… you’ve made the journey much more interesting and rewarding. I

look for these unusual parking places because I rarely pay to park

since the bus has storage tanks and batteries that allow me to boondock

for over a week before I have to dump or fill my tanks. I’d also rather

be parked in an interesting location instead of looking out the window

at dozens of other RVs at a campground.


Before moving onto the bus, I had visited a Wal-Mart maybe twice. Now

it’s one of my most common places to go grocery shopping. That’s

because most Wal-Marts will allow you to park overnight in their lot

for free. I’ve met all sorts of interesting people in Wal-Mart parking

lots including a group of Germans who were returning from an RV

vacation that took them across the county and a guy who lives on a 1958

Crown bus.



What I love about my mobile lifestyle: I get to explore new places

almost every week… places I’d usually only get a chance to explore if

I were to take time off for vacation. I can stay at a National Park for

weeks on end. During that time, I usually wake up before sunrise and go

out shooting, come back to the bus and work a full day (nicely broken

up by a a mid-day hike) and then shoot again during the golden hour

before sunrise. While doing that, I can sleep in my own familiar bed

and have all my belongings with me. This is also my first winter where

I’m avoiding the cold weather (I’ve only lived in MN and CO before).

Life is much more interesting when you have something new to experience

every week.

I’m amazed at how many people I meet and friends I run into (unplanned

meetings). For instance, when I was exploring near Fort Bragg in

California, I hiked up a sand door while scouting for shooting

locations and noticed 15-20 people standing at the top of the dune. As

I got closer, I noticed cameras dangling from their necks and then

realized that Greg Gorman and Jeff Schewe were teaching a photography

class right in front of me. Had I waited five minutes more before

hiking up the dune, then I would have never seen them since they would

have been out of site in a more remote. I hung out with them for a day

and had a really good time.


I’ve even had friends like Jeff Limbok come knocking on the door when I

was parked in a remote location in Utah. He was sailing by doing 70MPH

when he caught a glimpse of the bus on  side road and stopped to visit

(we had no idea we were in the same area of the country). We explored

Lower Antelope Canyon and got together for dinner with hyper realistic

artist Bert Monroy who was also in the area. In fact, I see more

friends (and make more new ones) than I ever did when living at a fixed


Other friends have invited me into their homes on holidays. Like when I

spent Thanksgiving with Marv Miller and his family in Novato, CA. I’ve

also bumped into relatives that I haven’t seen in years, including my

cousins Jimmy and Sara.

I’ve also e-mailed people that I don’t know to ask if they’d like to

get together for dinner and, so far, have never been turned down. This

has included some of the people who have inspired me over the years

like famous darkroom photo compositor Jerry Uelsemann and his wife and

digital artist Maggie Taylor, who had me as their guest for a day. The

shear number of people I’ve run into over the last year is staggering.


The bus is a very popular place during conferences and trade shows. I’ve had quite a few parties on the bus. Having a dozen friends on the bus makes for a comfortable gathering… but when over 30 people show up it gets to be a little crowded.



Unexpected Places to Meet New Friends: The Prevost Owners Group is a

great bunch of people who created an on-line community of bus owners

right around the time I bought my bus. They have a yearly rally where

everyone gets together to swap stories and share maintenance tips (the

next one will have over 60 buses together in one place). I attending

their first rally right after purchasing the bus and met a great group

of people who have become good friends. I regularly visit these guys as

I travel through their home states and they help me anytime I have a

question about one of the systems on my bus or where I should explore.

Jeff, Jerry, Mango, Jon, Lew and the others are great on-line buddies and

even better in person.

What I don’t like about this lifestyle:
Having to find a new doctor,

dentist, hairstylist, etc, whenever you need them. It’s not that big of

a deal, but it’s one thing that takes time to adjust to. Also, having

to always think about where you’ll end up parking. I’m quite used to

finding places to park and it doesn’t take much energy to do so, but it

is something I have to think of on a daily basis. I’d like to

eventually find a companion who can share in my adventure, but it’s not

easy to start a relationship when you’re always on the move (not that it’s all that different of a situation than when I lived in a remote area in the mountains of Colorado). Don’t get

me wrong, I have zero desire to live in a fixed location and absolutely

love my lifestyle.



Problems I’ve Encountered Along the Way: The first month I owned the

bus, I had to replace a $700 tire. That happened because my mirrors

weren’t adjusted properly, which caused a large blind spot. I’ve also

gotten stuck in sand (twice!). Verizon cut off my wireless internet

access claiming that I violated my contract (but were unable to show me

exactly which clause I violated). I went through a big sand storm,

which blew sand into every crevice of my jeep, which caused sand to be

expelled into the interior every time I turned on the air conditioning.

Many more things have happened, but none of them have forced me to stop

moving on. With one exception that is… my Jeep was broken into when I

was parked across the street from my publisher’s office in Berkeley, CA

and one of the things that was stolen was the clips that I need to

connect the Jeep to the back of the bus. It took a full day to find

replacements and then I was on the road once again.



What Most People Don’t Understand About My Lifestyle: 1) I have a

"normal" bed and shower, so there’s no need to offer me to take a "real

shower" when I stop by to visit. In fact, my shower is nicer than 99%

of the ones I see in most homes. I’ve only set the temperature on my

shower once and just have to turn it on and count to five before

entering the shower. Because it’s thermostatically controlled, it will

return to the exact temperature I last had it set to the next time I

want to shower. The one thing I really appreciate is when I’m offered

to use someone’s laundry facilities since the bus only has a tiny

combination washer/dryer, which isn’t sufficient for normal loads of

laundry. 2) I feel just as secure in the bus as I did in any house I’ve

ever lived in. People are always asking if I’m scared about this or

that. I’m not. The bus locks up tight and you’d have to use a ladder

and have something pretty huge to throw through a window to get into

the bus. 3) Yes, diesel prices are high, but I charge clients for

flight and hotel when I show up to speak even though I drove and that

helps make the cost of fuel more bearable. Also, most expenses go

through my company, which makes them pre-tax expenses. 4) Driving a big

bus grows on you. It takes about a month, after which time you might

actually prefer to drive the bus over a car. The drive is smooth, the

driver’s seat has its own air suspension and you can see over

everything except for semi-trucks. When you signal and start to move

into another lane, people move out of your way. 5) I have no plan for

exactly how long I want to live this way, so please stop asking me

about that. To me, it’s like asking you how long you plan to live in

your current home. I find that most people don’t have an answer to that

question. Same here. I’ll keep living this way until I find something

that is more compelling and I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

There is so much to see in this country that I could easily see me

living this way for the next ten years.



How Has It Changed My Life: 1) I no longer watch any television because

I have enough going on in my life that I don’t need to be entertained

by looking into a box for hours on end. I also don’t care which movies

are in theaters for the same reason. I’m currently trying to cut back

on the amount of time I spend on-line to make more time to exploring

the country. 2) I no longer buy crap that I don’t really need. When you

only have 340 square feet to live in, you automatically get rid of

anything that is not essential for daily life and stop having any

desire to buy something you don’t already have an active need for. 3)

Retirement has always been a vague concept that would happen someday

decades into the future. I now have daily motivation to get to

retirement as soon as possible because I want to spend more time

exploring and less time having to be in any pre-determined location

that is dictated by work. 4) The way I approach life has shifted from

working like crazy in the hope that some day in the future I’ll be able

to have the freedom to do what I’d enjoy each day, to actively enjoying

every day and feeling much more fulfilled in the process.



Future Plans: I plan to keep the bus in Florida until I get back from

my trip to Russia on April 19th. I’m thinking about driving up the East

coast all the way to Canada, but the beauty of this lifestyle is that I

can be very flexible, so I might end up with a different plan as the

year progresses.

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