30 Below In A Bus

The snow was drifting across the road in an almost complete whiteout as we neared the top of the pass.  All of a sudden the rear tires began to lose traction and we slowly slide sideways towards the edge.

Near The Top Of Trutch Mt. Pass Alaska Highway

That winter day in 1976 the road conditions were less then ideal as we attempted to summit Trutch Mt in British Columbia. We were on our way north up the Alaska Highway in our newly converted 1958 school bus

Those kinds of adventures seemed normal back then and were a part of our lives that we often look back on and refer to as some of the most exciting days of our youth, a wing and a prayer, caution to the wind, free as a bird, no AAA.

Bus to AK-0033 2
Our Bus Towing Our VW Van Alaska Highway 1976

With todays exploding trends of off-grid living, boon docking and the nomadic movement, we thought it would fun to look back at the 17 wonderful years we spent traveling and living in a bus.

1960’s Bus Culture

In the 1960’s I had been inspired by the movement otherwise known as the counterculture revolution.

For me this rebellion was not so much a way to breakaway from the establishment but more of an  excuse to leave the stereotypical American lifestyle behind and head for the mountains. 

The Merry Pranksters And The Further Bus 1967

The seed was planted when I briefly attended the Human Be-In in San Fransisco in early 1967 and witnessed dozens of buses that people had converted into homes on wheels.

These wonderful old buses were painted wild colors and were perfect for the communal lifestyle that was quickly becoming common place.

Typical 1960’s Bus Family

There was one bus in particular that stood out. Ken Kesey had bought a retired yellow school bus and inside had built a kitchen, a bathroom, and homemade bunks for a dozen people. They had also cut a hole in the roof for access to an observation turret that was made from an old washing machine drum.

It was a time of free spirited people peacefully living together, listening to some very inspired music, protesting a War and living life on their own terms.

Easy Rider Premier 1969

Then in 1969 I waited in line for almost 12 hours to see the second premier showing of Easy Rider in Westwood California.  In line with us were hundreds of Hippies, chanting Hare Krishnas and other socially unconventional types of people. 

No movie since has effected and inspired me more than that of Easy Rider.  At 19 years old, it ignited a fire in me to hit the open road and find America.

Departure Day, See America Tour 1969

Later that summer my best friend and I jumped into his yellow 1957 VW van and hit the road. Between the two of us we had a total of $490 and no plans other than to discover new places, meet new people, climb mountains and go to Woodstock.

On that excursion we drove over 20,000 miles circumnavigating all four corners of the America but a failed flywheel seal stopped our attempt to attend one of the most famous music festivals of all time.  In retrospect, it probably worked out for the best.

Departing California For Alaska In Our New Home 1976

Then in 1973 my brother and I hitchhiked to Alaska where I met and married Denise and together our desire to see the world became acute.

We quickly realized there was no reason to purchase a permanent sticks and bricks home, the normal next step in those days.  So instead we decided to build a home on wheels.

Our New Bus With My Family In California
Installing Sky Light

We found an old 30′ bus in Southern California that at one point had been used as a fresh crab shack. After purchasing it for $2,800 we proceeded to gut the interior and build our first home.

Using lots of recycled lumber it became a warm and comfortable place. We installed an 8′ skylight that tilted open to let in fresh air and to better enjoy the night sky. 

Denise Happy At Home

Long before the internet and Amazon we would often use a couple of great sources for off-grid living supplies. The Whole Earth Catalog was an inspiration for the burgeoning do-it-yourself builder and Real Goods located in Hopland California was another great place to find solar panels and other remote living needs.

 

Visiting Friends In Humboldt, CA 1976

Having a home on wheels enabled us to move freely from one job to another during the summer months.

With the first snow in the fall (termination dust) we would store the bus and travel the world for 6 months.  In the spring we would return to Alaska from some remote part of the earth and again work for another 6 months, this cycle continued for many years…

This lifestyle was made easy because our home was on wheels.

Yosemite Vally 1976

Gearing Up For Another Climb, Yosemite Valley 1976

In the mid 70’s we got jobs on Kodiak Island and transported our bus on the Alaska Ferry where we spent the summer living on this lush green island.  We were lucky to find a place to park for the summer at Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site.  

Our campsite was perched on the edge of a 300′ cliff overlooking the Gulf of Alaska. We would wake in the morning and watch whales, puffins and sea otters frolic in the surf below.

Campsite Fort Abercrombie, Kodiak 1976

 

Lush Green Forest Behind The Bus
Denise Enjoys The View From Our Camp In Kodiak

In the late 70’s Denise got a job managing a large fruit stand at the junction of two major highways in the Matanuska Valley.  We parked the bus in a green field behind the fruit stand that had fantastic views of the Chugach Mountains.

For entertainment we set up a full-size volleyball court next to the bus and enjoyed all night games under the midnight sun. 

Camped Behind The Fruit Stand

In 1978 I got a full time job in Anchorage and we decided to spend the winter.  At the time our good friends Willie and Alice were building a new home in Palmer.

They allowed us to park our bus on their land that winter and it was a winter we will never forget with the temperature occasionally dipping to -30.  Installing New Engine In Palmer 1978

The 1979 Alaska Magazine Story We Wrote About The Winter We Spent In Our Bus
Denise’s First Garden Palmer 1979

In 1980 I returned to the seasonal lifestyle with the National Park Service in Denali National Park (at that time McKinley National Park).  Later we purchased land just outside the park, where we had found a permanent place to park our home on wheels.  

While I worked for the Park Service Denise started her own business and became locally know as the “The Fruit Lady”, another interesting story yet to be told.

Denali Spring Storm On Our Land 1984

We continued to travel the world in the winter months and worked in Denali in the summers.  We began construction of a new home right next to the bus in 1987.

Because we traveled each winter it took about 7 years to finish our new home.  During this period we purchased a wood fired Hot Tub and kept it fired with construction scraps.

Wood Fired Hot Tub 1987
My Mom Makes A Call Inside The bus
Good Friend Brad Ebel Drops By To Help Dig An 8 Foot Deep Hole For The New Root Cellar

Today our bus still resides next to our home in Denali.  Since it was parked in 1983 it has endured many harsh winters.  It currently looks a little worn on the exterior but it continues to serve as a guest house for many of our friends and family.

Denise Paints The Roof 1979
Winter 1977

In retrospect we have been very lucky people.  Not only were we born in a country that allowed us to travel freely and live the lifestyle we desired, but we were also lucky enough to have spent our youth in a time when life was simpler, before the internet, before cell phones, before instant access.

To top it all off, we may have never had the chance to see the world if it had not been for the seasonal Alaskan lifestyle and having a house on wheels. 

“Real adventure is defined best as a journey from which you may not come back alive, and certainly not as the same person.” – Yvon Chouinard

Kodiak Sunset Taken From Our Monashka Bay Campsite 1976

Live Update: I will be picking up our 4×4 expedition truck in Billings, MT soon. The plan is to drive it to SoCal and then back to Alaska sometime this fall. Yes it looks as though we will be spending the winter in Denali.  Should be fun…

Keep you posted

28 thoughts on “30 Below In A Bus

  1. Tim, I met/helped you in Billings at Motor Power Equipment. I just wanted to say that my short conversation with you was intriguing, I got on your website and have told family and friends about it also some because of “the dogs “ as we have a rescue dog named Max, that is a Rottweiler/Bernese cross. I am excited/envious for you to complete your project and put it to use, we will be following your progress. If you come through Billings I would love to see the final product, take car and Good Luck to you. Rick

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    1. Hi Rick, I am on my way back to Alaska and am currently back in Billings for some trans work at Interstate. Max sounds like a cool dog. If your working on Monday I will see you again as I need more International truck parts. Its going to be a challenging project thats for sure! Glad your following the big dogs!
      Tim

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  2. I remember visiting you guys and sleeping in the bus back when I was 15. I was charmed by your beautiful bus and the vivid memory has stayed with me for over 20 years. I look forward to bringing my family to Alaska soon and introducing them to you guys and the beauty of Denali.

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    1. Hi Nerissa its great to hear from you. Those were fun days for sure I can’t believe its been over 20 years! You and your family are welcome at our home anytime, we still use the bus as a guest room and you cam sleep in it again if you want. Hi to your dad and mom and brother for us!
      Tim and Denise

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  3. You two have lead such an amazing life! I learn something new about you guys after each history lesson of your past. The photos are a hoot, ah to be young again!

    Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks Mark, it was a time in our lives when life seemed easier and less stressful. But of course as we age we have experienced and learned more in life which may account for the rise in those emotions.
      Maybe you guys should start the “Motsko Chronicles” and document all the crazy and wonderful things you have done…………..it would be a wonderful read!

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  4. When I graduated from high school (in 1971) I wanted more than anything to travel the country and live in a hippie bus. 🙂 I was too afraid to do it alone—and I had the disadvantage of growing up in Florida, and not knowing anyone else who would take off on such a grand adventure.
    Love reading your story and seeing your photos from back in the day—what a life!

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      1. Haha, yeah we’re in our hippie bus now—but it looks like a small Arctic Fox pulled by a Toyota Tundra. Five years on the road, and still going strong! About 20 years ago I traveled the country in an old Mercedes living out of a backpacking tent for a year—followed by a year in Europe traveling. I didn’t let the dream slip away. :-))
        Keep on trucking, you two! Love your spirit and your adventures.

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  5. LOVED this post. Even though we’ve seen the bus next to your house and have heard part of the story, this was a great post. David and I both enjoyed reading about your days in the bus and the lifestyle it afforded. 🙂

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  6. We love your stories of reminiscing of “back when”….over 40 years and your memories are still quite vivid. Your photos are well preserved and bring your tales alive. Imke and I could sit without a peep or fart for hours listening to the tales of your youth. Wonderful post, magical pics. We will miss you both this summer…but keep up hopes that the Denali winter will entice you toward a Pacific Ocean respite. Keep us posted.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Its folks like you two that inspire us to reminisce but at the same time we hope the stories of our youth don’t cause any changes in your daily functions. We will miss you to but I suspect you will see us sooner then you think.

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  7. Always fun to read your blog – and envious of the adventurous lives you lead! Look forward to seeing the work on the “new” RV progress thru the winter. Swing by and say hi when you can – we’ll do the same.

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    1. Thank for the nice words you guys! Its going to be a busy winter but of course that will help it pass a little quicker. Cant wait to see your new digs its looks SPECTACULAR! but not sure when we next head south. Will you be in AK all winter?

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    1. Thanks Mary Ann, yes in those days we were mostly weird but every once in a while we felt cool, mostly in the winter :-). Hope your enjoying summer! If you ever want to experience winter in Alaska come on up……

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  8. Wow! Great read. You guys have an amazing lifestyle. What an inspiration. When did the dogs become part of the caravan? I rented a motorcycle and rode from Homer to Goodliven (roundabout) over the summer. I remembered our meeting at Franklin BBQ in Austin and talking about Denali. Safe travels.

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    1. Thank for the kind words Christopher! We got our first big dog in 1999 before that we had seen our first Bernese Mt. dog in 1979 New Zealand and new immediately someday we must find one. Yes we also remember Franklins and meeting you, sounds like you had a fun ride up the haul road.

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