And the bus rages on…

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      Los Angeles, California. We never planned on sticking around this town for very long. After our unexpected 6-month stint in San Diego, we were eager to move the bus North and enjoy the Pacific Northwest before the cold of the Winter sets in. But plots twist and plans fall through, so here we are in our third week in LA. Three weeks ago we made our first attempt at escaping the city, but we only made it as far as Bakersfield before a tow truck came and carried us kicking and screaming back to a repair facility in Southeast LA. PartsBoys here in Maywood has been a true blessing to us. I can’t even begin to express my gratitude to the amazing humans at this little shop situated in the heart of industrial USA. So far, Danny and Ernie have adjusted our fuel injectors, rebuilt our fuel pump, and cleaned up the air compressor. We are also in the midst of another fuel/filter change, just to be certain that we have the best possible chance at making it through the next leg of the journey.

     Finding mechanics that have heard of a “Cummins 470” are a rare and valuable treasure. Danny and Ernie have been blowing our minds with their knowledge base, and the love and support we get from Art Sr., Art Jr., and Ed has made us feel like we are in full bloom! No stone may go unturned when preparing Ol’ Bessie for an adventure. She is very insistent on having a complete physical exam before being released into the wild. Otherwise, she will not hesitate to go belly-up on a narrow shoulder just over the crest of a hill at 2am on a busy freeway. So we check the fluids and change the filters and tell her how much we love her and please please don’t make us call the tow truck at 2am again. 

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      Enough with the technicalities. While we wait for Bessie to give us the “green light” to point the ship North, we have been focusing our energies on cultivating the rare and valuable Cummins engines inside of ourselves. I’ve shifted my focus to studying up on what the heck we are doing and why we are doing it. It seems like an obvious question. I should know what I am doing and why I am doing it, right? But it goes deeper than that. Way deeper. I am not the first one to have this seemingly spontaneous desire to buy an old bus and travel across the country with a band of hippies. We must have a message, right? Positive vibrations and free love, RIGHT? What are we “RAGING” about anyways? So my fellow bus-mates and I sat down and scribbled out a “mission statement” for “RAGE in the name of LOVE”

If you haven’t had the chance to check it out, here it is:

“Radical Adventures for a Greener Earth is the manifestation of three sisters who envision a world where all beings coexist in a sustainability and equality oriented consciousness.

Since March 5th 2013, Jamie, Natalie and Caitlin have been building a foundation for change towards an overall more balanced way of existing in their own lives. Today’s culture is dominated by patriarchy, consumerism, wastefulness, and disconnect from each other and the Earth from which we came. By choosing an alternative lifestyle the RAGE women have invited the concepts of simplicity, internal growth, DIY culture, non-violent communication, feminine empowerment, radical consent, consensus-based decision making, water conservation, recycling/reclaiming, income equality, application of anti-oppressive language and locally sourcing/growing one’s own food into their daily lives and practices.

Their purpose is to aid in a worldwide cultural shift where these concepts are not the alternative, but the standard.

A decomposing 1966 LA transit bus sat stagnant in a pasture in Arkansas before RAGE took her home to Austin, Texas  and began the DIY process of converting her into their tiny house on wheels. “Bessie” features 95% repurposed materials, a pedal-pump powered sink, compost toilet, wood burning stove, solar powered charge station, homemade water purifying system with Berkey filter elements, vegetable and herb gardens, and an up-and-coming vermiculture compost bin. Besides representing sustainable living and equal rights concepts constantly when connecting with others, RAGE spreads this love culture via tours of “Bessie” the bus, distributing radical zines, non-violent resistance activism and community organizing as they travel the so-called United States. 

RAGE recognizes that driving a 10 mpg diesel bus around is far from sustainable. This lifestyle offers many advantages towards the long term goal, but is still a ways from being whole. When possible, “Bessie” runs on bio-diesel and will one day run primarily on waste veggie oil. The RAGE bus continues to evolve, as do the hearts and minds of her inhabitants.”

So there it is, for today. Tomorrow it may be different, so don’t get attached to it, or us.

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Jamie Rainbow’s RAGE On the Road Reading List: (ever evolving)
   — Into the Wild (by Jon Krakauer)
   —Brave New World (by Aldous Huxley)
   —My Name is Chellis and I am in Recovery from Western Civilization (by Chellis Glendinning)
   —Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (by Hunter S. Thompson) [*currently reading]
   —Women Who Run with the Wolves (by Clarissa Pinkola Estes)  [*currently reading]

Have a book recommendation? Leave a comment or e-mail us at ragebusproject@gmail.com!

Love & RAGE!
Jamie Rainbow

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Happy Birthday, RAGE!

It has been one year since the three of us traveled to Summers, Arkansas to embark upon the most magical adventure of our young lives. It took a lot of determination, communication, and imagination to pull this project together. Everywhere we turned, we were told “no!” and “don’t do it!” and “you are going to die if you do this!” But we pushed forward in spite of all of this, and now we have reached our first anniversary in our bus!
    Our bus is no ordinary bus conversion. Our conversion focuses on simplicity, sustainability, and creativity. We have chosen to do without the modern conveniences of RV life, shying away from pump systems, heating/cooling appliances and plumbing. We wanted to find more sustainable options, choosing instead to build our own water pump system out of a foot powered pedal mechanism, a homemade composting toilet and a DIY solar charge station as a power source. Roughly 80-90% of our conversion process was completed using reclaimed materials. 99% of the conversion was completed by the three of us, Natalie, Caitlin, and myself (Jamie).
The majority of our conversion took place from April-June of 2013. We literally stopped everything else that we were doing and focused 100% of our time to the RAGE Bus Project. With little to no experience in vintage buses, diesel engine repair or construction, the three of us immersed ourselves into our 1966 Flxible “New Look” and pulled out of Austin, Texas on September 1st, 2013. We have since traveled through 8 states, mentored with 7 different mechanics, and have made countless memories along the way. We can perform most routine bus maintenance ourselves without much oversight (changing belts, filters, fluids, and adjusting the air brakes), heck– we can even EZ-OUT bolts and heli-coil threads!
Over the past year, I have taken hundreds of pictures documenting our adventure. I am still trying to find the best way to project it out into the world so that everyone can be a part of this experience. The following pictures are some of the highlights of the conversion process.  So scroll down and watch our bus become awesome!
   

March 5, 2013
“Guess what, Mom! I just bought a bus!”

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Muldrow, Oklahoma

April 6, 2013|
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Pre-deconstruction

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Before we started the conversion, we loaded the bus up with all of our ‘excess’ and had a donation-based yard sale.

May 28, 2013
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Our first project inside the bus! We constructed our bunk beds out of the city grip handrails that we pulled out of the bus.

June 4, 2013
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Framing out the dresser while we were parked at a mechanic shop in Wimberley, Texas. The drawers are wine crate boxes from Costco.

June 22, 2013
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The kitchen is really starting to shape up! We found this sink on the side of the road! Unlike most bus conversions, we decided to put our kitchen in the back of the bus.

June 23, 2013
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It’s starting to feel like home! We started sleeping in the bus at this point.

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The solar charge station. Right next to the door, so plenty of air flow!

August 25, 2013
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We love colors!

November 30, 2013
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We purchased this little stove from a mechanic in New Mexico. It’s an old coal burning stove, either used to heat water for laundry or was used in the caboose of a train! $90. The platform is a wooden frame, covered with concrete backed boarding.

December 1, 2013
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We glued on the mosaic for our stove while camping at a hot springs in Boulder City, Nevada. The mosaic is full of rocks that we have collected along the way, and pieces of a mirror that broke.

February 11, 2014
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Building more overhead storage in the kitchen for bulk grains. One day, a vegetable garden will be in this back window!


February 25, 2014
And now, one year later, here is what our bus currently looks like.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to check out the RAGE Bus Project! Remember to stay connected with us via facebook (facebook.com/ragebusproject), twitter (@ragebusproject) and instagram (@jamierainbowwarrior). We also love getting e-mail (ragebusproject@gmail.com).

Home on the Wild Horse Range

Keeping up with this blog is proving to be a challenge! All three of us keep personal handwritten journals, and we rarely have access to wi-fi on the road, so this page doesn’t get much love. I am back in Austin for two weeks, so I am going to use this time to catch up on things that I have been putting off, like this here blog!

The RAGE Bus arrived in Grand Junction, Colorado sometime around November 20th (I don’t really keep up with dates very well). We were heading West in search of warmer weather when Caitlin received news of a friend’s passing. There was a sudden shift in energy and it seemed to swirl all around us in a chaotic whirlwind, and within hours Caitlin had hitchhiked back to Denver to catch a bus to Austin. Natalie and I found ourselves taking a moment to reassess our projected path, unsure about moving forward without Caitlin on board. We decided to camp outside of Grand Junction for a few days, since it seemed like a good spot for Caitlin to be able to return to us.

20 miles East of Grand Junction, just outside of Palisade, Colorado, there is protected land that is home to one of the last remaining wild horse herds, called Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range. It was dark when we left the interstate at exit 46. The only light to break up the darkness of the canyon was a glaring Halliburton power plant entrance sign next to the Colorado river. Our only option was to drive down an unmarked dirt road in search of the Wild Horse park. We cautiously drove the bus over a one lane bridge and into the vast nothingness. The road twisted and turned in the darkness until we finally stopped at a dry creek crossing. It was obvious that the bus would not make it across this point in the road, so I jumped out and stood behind the bus as Natalie slowly backed up to the last turn around spot. We did not observe any “no trespassing” signs or “private property” notices, so we decided to just park at the back of the turn around and explore the area in the morning. Finally! We were away from concrete. Away from florescent lights and billboards. It was just us and the stars- and the mysterious shadows of the canyon walls all around us.

Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range

We spent the next two days hiking and exploring the canyon with our dogs, who kept bringing us flesh covered deer bones. Pretty soon the dogs had recovered the remains of an entire deer carcass and were happily munching away on the bones in the middle of camp. In the distance, we heard a goat crying! We cried back and forth with the goat until we finally saw a tiny white dot pacing back and forth on a tiny ledge of the canyon wall. We had no idea if goats were native to the canyon, but the goat seemed alone and anxious on the ledge. But it was growing dark and the temperature was dropping, so we returned to the bus and bunkered down for the night.

The canyon wall where we first saw Cliff the goat! She is the tiny white dot near the top of the canyon wall.

The canyon wall where we first saw Cliff the goat! She is the tiny white dot near the top of the canyon wall.

The next morning, we woke up to the sound of a truck pulling up next to the bus. Natalie went outside to greet the man, who asked her if she lost her goat! Natalie told him that we didn’t have a goat, we lived on a bus! I heard the goat crying, so I got out of bed and joined them outside. I was introduced to Dana, who was untying the goat from the back of his truck. The goat had a rope loosely draped around her neck, and she immediately began snacking on the grass at her feet. Dana told us that the goat appeared on the canyon wall around the same time that we arrived in the canyon. She appeared to be a domesticated, friendly goat, perhaps abandoned by someone in the canyon. Dana rescued the goat by himself by tying a set of ropes to rocks and pulling the goat to safety.

Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range

Inspired by his act of kindness, we invited him into the bus for tea and breakfast. Dana is a native to the Palisade area, and he comes to the canyon every day to pray for peace and healing. He pointed to the great mountain on the horizon, “That’s Grand Mesa,” he said. “That’s the holy mountain. My face is on that mountain.” He opened up his laptop and started to show me his collection of pictures. “Here is a slain lamb, and here is a cross, but if you turn it this way, it is an angel.” One by one, we flipped through ariel photos from Google Earth, each one with a story. Dana warned us of the impending nuclear holocaust, and reminded us to do everything that we possibly could to prepare for catastrophic disaster. “You need to be able to survive underground for at least 45 days.” Dana spent time at a Hopi reservation in Arizona, where he was told that he was “the one who turns off the power.” Weighted by the gravity of fulfilling this prophecy, Dana has turned to writing passionate letters to the Human Rights Commission in hopes of reaching someone who will agree to switch to more sustainable energy sources. “No one will listen to me. I try to tell them what the cure is, but no one will listen.”

At some point during the conversation, we learned that Dana has worked as a mechanic for most of his life. Natalie asked him if he would mind listening to our bus to see if we had piston slap (someone in New Mexico mentioned that we may have a piston misfiring). Dana agreed, and we started the bus. Dana placed his ear up to his wrench and listened intently to the engine. “Nope! It sounds fine! But your harmonic balancer sure is wobbling.” Natalie turned the engine off. She explained to him that we have had problems with our harmonic balancer in the past, but it does seem to be getting worse. Natalie shut the engine off and Dana bent down to assess the balancer. “Well, here’s your problem…” Dana pulled out a broken bolt from the center of the balancer. Natalie walked over to me with a serious look on her face. “Jamie, it’s bad. But we are going to get through this and everything is going to be okay.” She opened her hand and showed me the broken bolt.

Panic. Panic is always my initial response. Is this really happening again? Oh my God, we are so far away from town. We are in the middle of nowhere! I felt my heart jump into my throat and I grabbed Natalie’s hands, “Oh God, no! No no no no no!” We joined Dana at the back of the bus. “Hey! This isn’t such a big deal. We’ll just take it off, take the bolts out, and put new ones in!” If only it was that simple. We have had an issue with our harmonic balancer since the day we bought Bessie. We spent a week in Muldrow, Oklahoma getting broken bolt pieces extracted from the crankshaft. The temporary fix lasted 11 miles and our belts flew off somewhere on the highway. We were towed to Atoka, Oklahoma where a family friend extracted broken bolts once again and replaced the belts. That fix lasted 250 miles, and the bolts snapped again. Finally, we were towed home to Austin and spent a month at a diesel repair shop in Wimberley, Texas getting the balancer fixed for real! The mechanics in Wimberley drilled out the bolt holes on the crankshaft and heli-coiled the threads. Our harmonic balancer is obsolete, so you can’t order a new one. Cummins searched a global database and turned up empty handed. The bolt holes in the balancer were damaged from the continuous wobbling, and were now oval shaped instead of perfect circles. Finally, we found a harmonic balancer that had the same bolt pattern, but a different pulley assembly. Jesse, the mechanic in Wimberley, was able to detach the pulley assembly and machine our pulley assembly to the new damper. I was certain that this would fix the problem! The balancer was placed onto the bus and locked down with the strongest bolts you can get, Grade 8, and sealed with red locktite for good measure. Even after all of this, the balancer still maintained a slight wobble. It was not completely “true”. Jesse warned us to not travel too far from home in the bus. He said, “It may last 50 miles, or it may last 5,000 miles, I just don’t know.”

So here we were, in western Colorado, with a handful of broken Grade 8 bolts. Dana began to take off the belts and disassemble the balancer. He began to pull a plethora of tools from his tiny truck. In a few minutes, he had the entire thing pulled apart and began to assess the threading with a caliper. He could tell I was worried. “Let’s take a break!” We went back inside and I began to focus on my breathing. I felt like I had not taken a breath since Natalie brought the bolt to me. It was all happening so fast! We began to make a list of the materials that we would need. An EZ-OUT screw extractor set, a set of heli-coils and a tap, 5 Grade-8 bolts, 5 lockwashers, 3 new belts and red locktite. I began to have deja vu. I had witnessed and participated in this process 3 times so far. Each time, it had taken hours to extract the bolts with a drill. Would our solar batteries support such an intense draw? Breathe. That’s all I could do. Natalie and Dana headed to town to retrieve the materials, and I was left to babysit Cliff the goat. Cliff was very anxious about being left alone, so I grabbed her rope and we took off walking. Cliff was happy to lead the way, and kept turning around to blink her creepy square eyes at me and smile. I’m not sure if she was smiling, or if that’s just how her face looks. Regardless, I felt a lot of reassurance from her. She seemed to be telling me that everything was going to be okay. We were all here together in this beautiful canyon at the base of the Grand Mesa. Where else could we possibly choose to be? Just a few hours ago, she was pacing back and forth on the ledge of a cliff, hungry and alone with no hope in sight, and Dana just appeared out of nowhere and extended the hand of mercy. Was I now the goat on the cliff? How do I surrender control and just stand witness to the magic of the Universe? Breathe.

Little Books Cliff Wild Horse Range

Cliff and I walked back to the bus and took a nap until Natalie and Dana returned with the supplies. They even found a family that wanted a goat! By this time, the sun had made its way behind the mountain and the temperature was dropping. We decided to wait until the sun rose again before continuing our work. Dana stayed a bit longer and told us about the golden discs he made to read Bible codes. He said that he may have been Daniel the Prophet in a past life, and he has in his possession all of the Mormon artifacts. The golden discs, the shield, the sword, and the location of the true Zion. I tried to focus on his stories and not worry about the condition of our bus. Our house! Our only home. It could be gone in an instant. I reminded myself that the Universe put me here for a reason, and focused on being present and aware of my surroundings. Submit to the Universe. And right now my Universe was Dana, so I listened intently to the stories that he was telling me. “You see, it’s Eden that you girls are seeking, and you are well on your way. Right now, you are out of harmony and balance. But we are going to set you straight and fix your harmonic balancer. You will get to where you are going. And who knows, maybe you will end up right where you began.” Dana told us goodnight and drove away to take Cliff to her new home.

The next morning, Dana returned with several jugs of water. Water is a precious commodity on the road. Our 40-gallon water tank lasts us about 7 days. I was growing concerned with the amount of water that we had remaining in the tank, especially considering we had no idea how many more days we would be in the canyon, so we had switched to emergency power saving mode. All water was now reserved for drinking. Which meant we had a lot of dirty dishes and very dirty hands.  With Dana’s gift of 4 jugs of water, we cooked up a batch of potatoes, washed our faces, and sat down for tea before beginning our work.

Finally, it was time to assess the damage. Using a caliper, we measured the depth of each bolt hole in the crankshaft. Then we measured the depth of the holes in the harmonic balancer. We determined that the balancer must have developed a wobble because the lockwashers were not put on at the shop in Wimberley. This allowed for a very small gap (about 1/8th inch), which was just enough room for the centripetal force to get the balancer out of line and snap the bolts. I found a can of penetrating lube in our toolbox and sprayed the inside of the bolt holes. Dana managed to remove 4 of the bolts without the EZ-OUT. The last bolt was broken in half, so we would have to drill a hole in it to extract it. Luckily, our friend Ray from Wimberley had gifted us a really nice power inverter! The peak 2400 watt inverter handled the draw of the drill without a problem. Within 30 minutes, Dana had drilled through the center of the bolt and placed the extractor bit inside. Car mechanics reminds me of performing surgery. Like Bessie is someones grandmother who suffered a myocardial infarct, and we are in some post apocalyptic cath lab in the desert. We slowly reversed the bolt out, praying that it would all come out in one piece. Along with the bolt, we  pulled out a piece of a broken bolt from months ago! Hallelujah! The next step was to pull out the old heli-coils, drill out the bolt holes, and run a tap down the lumen to cut new threads. Cutting new threading into metal is quite the task. Dana, built like an ox, had no trouble rotating the T handle while keeping the tap nice and centered. When it was my turn to give it a go, I exhausted myself in less than 5 rotations! And Dana cut the threads to 4 of the bolt holes! My appreciation of his presence, his skill, his knowledge, and his patience swelled.

Little Books Cliff Wild Horse Range

After the heli-coils were finally in place, it was time to reassembly the pulley. Natalie and I took over from here, lining the bolt pattern up to the key on the crank. One by one, we secured the bolts with the red locktite and lockwashers. Dana retrieved a torque wrench from his magic toolbox and we torqued the bolts to 60. We said a little prayer and started the bus. The engine roared to life, and the harmonic balance flew into motion. For the first time since we have had Bessie, the harmonic balancer spun true. Which means, no wobble! She was as smooth as the day she was born. I couldn’t believe it! With no wobble, that means that the centripetal force should never spin the balancer into an imbalance ever again. (Unless there is an underlying unknown catalyst that we are completely unaware of!). Natalie and I danced like we have never danced before. Jubilant! We squeezed Dana tightly in a group hug, as if that could even come close to thanking him enough for his kindness.

The next day, Dana returned and took us on a ride in his truck through the wild horse canyon! We were not able to make it very far down the road in our bus because of the creek bed. We didn’t stand a chance of seeing the herd from our camp, so it was super cool that Dana took us for a ride! Along the way we saw 9 different wild horses, and we just stood with them and shared the silence. I felt a sad tug in my chest as I heard the humming of the Halliburton power lines running the length of the majestic canyon. Even here, in this reservation, they couldn’t leave the land alone. They fenced the horses into this canyon and call them wild. Land of the free. No one is free.

As if Dana had not shown us enough compassion, he offered to let us shower and refill our water tank at his home in Palisade. We decided to sleep in the canyon for one more night because it was starting to snow heavily in the canyon and we were worried about the condition of the road. The next day the sun was shining and the time felt right, so we drove out of the canyon and met Dana in town. We gifted him with a necklace that we made for him out of braided hemp and a wire-wrapped heart shaped stone that we found during our hike.

Dana taught me a lot of lessons during these past few days. He reminded me to surrender to the Universe and allow the magic to wash over me in a fit of glory. I am not in control of any of it, life just happens as it is going to happen. I am merely an observer. And once I learn to stop fighting it and just LET GO, then everything will fall into place the way it was meant to be. Dana also reminded me that we are on an important journey, and bestowed upon on us his blessings in our travels. Sometimes I feel like I am not quite sure where we are going, but I know that one day we will arrive.

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The Land of Enchantment

I woke up this morning and stared up at the canvas cot that holds Caitlin’s sleeping body a few feet above my bed. Jade rubbed her wet nose against my face and burrowed down further underneath the warm blankets, begging me to go back to sleep. I opened my window to let some of the fresh mountain air into the bus. A man was walking down the sidewalk, pausing for a moment when he saw Jade and I peeking out of the window. I wondered what he was thinking. I can only imagine what we must look like to people passing by. Are we in two different worlds entirely?
With each passing day, I feel more and more connected to the real world. The movement of the trees, the glowing sun, the songs that the birds sing and the distant reverberation of the hazy purple mountains. I feel the wind moving with me, and in me, passing through me and leaving goosebumps in it’s wake. My body feels so open and relaxed, happy to have been released from a prison of office chairs and computer keyboards.
As I pull myself from my warm little cave, I stretch my arms up to the pull bar between the bunk beds and hang for awhile. The bear in the cave stretches as well, and jumps out of bed. We walk outside and head down the residential neighborhood, looking for a place to pee in the landscaped yards. We finish our business and head back to the bus, where Natalie is making eggs and vegetables for breakfast.
During breakfast, I focus on my intentions for the day. Breathe. Appreciate. Love love. Rest. Be.
We are spending a few more days in the Land of Enchantment, and then we will point our spaceship North towards Colorado. This life is so full of magic and wonder! It’s an adventure to be had, should you be wise enough to leave behind the comforts and security that are enslaving your spirit. In the words of Alexander Supertramp himself, “nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.”
The wild is calling.
Jamie.

Less than a month until take off!!

I keep listing off all of the “to do’s” in my head, and then I start freaking out and I have to stop. It goes like this, “Okay, I have to get the bus registered. But to do that, I need to get it inspected. But to get it inspected I need to get the windshield wipers fixed. And maybe new tires. I need to get someone else to look at those tires. Oh, and get the brakes fixed. Shit, I need money. Okay, I’ll just sell my car. But first I have to put the car in the shop. And take pictures. And advertise it. I need to “stage” the bus as an RV and take pictures too. And if I have to drive the bus during all of this, try not to get pulled over or the bus will get impounded.” And that’s when I start freaking out.

The R.A.G.E. Bus Project is scheduled to set sail on June 3rd, 2013. On the 3rd, I plan on getting into the Captains seat and pointing Bessie North, no matter how prepared any of us are. I feel like if we don’t just DO IT, then we will never do it. I’m holding hands with both Caitlin and Natalie, and we are all going to jump off of this big cliff together, on June 3rd. It’s happening!!!

Right now the bus is at a shop in the cutest small town in Texas called Wimberley. Jesse the Mechanic is going to work his self-proclaimed “superman” magic and fix the windshield wiper and the brakes (including new air tanks). I feel a sense of relief with the bus being in the shop. I have handed over the bus to someone else, and it is out of my hands now. Not having the bus sitting in the driveway crying for me to come play with her has freed me up to focus on other things, like selling my car!

Today I made an attempt to get the bus title put into my name. The DMV office refused, saying that the VIN on the bus is already being used on an old farm trailer somewhere else in Texas. So one of us must be lying. I have to go back to the office with a picture of the VIN on the bus to verify the number. Little road bumps along the way just make the ride more fun, right?

The progress seems slow, but every day I am checking something off of that list in my head. If I keep this up, I think we will be ready in three weeks. But it doesn’t matter, because we are leaving whether we are ready or not!

We just finished the hardest part of this entire project, the thing I have been dreading from the very beginning; moving out of R.O.O.T.S. EcoVillage. Leaving our collective behind is the hardest thing I have done in a long time. R.O.O.T.S. is forever my home in my heart. Yesterday, we shoved everything that we own into the bus and pulled out of the driveway, all of us crying and touching everything we could as we left. Now we are stationed out at Natalie’s parents house outside of Austin so we can focus on the bus without having to worry about bills or chores or drama taking our energy. So our home right now is a little room in the back of Natalie’s dads shop. Most people would probably consider this room to be a large closet, too small to really call it a bedroom. Maybe I am just used to my 500 sq ft efficiency at R.O.O.T.S., which was small for three girls! Now our room is maybe 1/5th of that size. We are sharing a pair of mattresses on the floor (3 girls, 2 dogs, and a cat). It’s very cuddly. A big cuddle fest every single night. All of our clothes are hanging on a pole between a ladder and a shelf, just inches above our faces. If I roll over in my sleep, the ends of belts and dresses tickle my face.

I can feel the energy building as we get closer to the beginning. My anticipation is growing. I keep meeting people that tell me that we are “special people” and we are doing “great things” and while I believe them, I feel very bewildered by it, and worried about trying to meet an expectation that others might be setting for me. I keep reminding myself to let go of it, and just focus on the love. I breathe it in, and I absorb it all into my lungs and my bones and let it vibrate through me, and then I give it back.

Keep spreading the love,

Jamie.

The Big Bessie Adventure Starts Now!!!

We bought a bus!! I can’t believe it! I could write an entire book about our adventures this past week, but I will try to condense it down to one huge blog entry. First of all, I guess I should introduce myself. I have a human name, but for the purposes of this project, you will see me as Rainbow Warrior. My fellow adventure warriors are Sun Warrior and Moon Warrior, and together we are R.A.G.E., or Radical Adventures for a Greener Earth.

A few months ago, my fellow warriors and I decided to embark upon a wonderful adventure together and live a “low impact” lifestyle while traveling around the country with the intention of sharing that experience with others along the way. We began searching online for an old school bus to convert into our living space in January, and after just a few weeks we found “Bessie”. Bessie is a 1966 Flxible “New Look” bus, a city transit bus from Los Angeles, California. The owners, Keith and Lois, had purchased the bus in the mid-1980s from the Southern California Transit System and used the bus to move all of their belongings to Arkansas in 1998. The bus had been sitting in a pasture since 1998, having only been moved once every six months or so to keep the rust away.

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In February, we drove to Siloam Springs, Arkansas to check out the bus. I fell in love at first sight and wanted to drive away into the sunset and live happily ever after. But Bessie had a leak in the air brakes and wasn’t moving anytime soon. So we drove back to Texas and left Bessie sitting in her pasture. After a few more days of late-night brainstorming sessions with the warriors, we decided that we wanted to go back for Bessie. The question was never “Can we do this?” the question was always “How do we do this?” After two weeks of talking to local mechanics in Arkansas and working out details with Keith and Lois, we decided that the only way that this was going to happen was to just go for it. We could spend our entire lives writing to-do lists and back up plans and saving our money, but the only way to really make something happen is to just do it!

Before the sun came up on a Monday morning in March, we were driving to Dallas to catch the Megabus to Oklahoma. Our first ride, from Austin to Dallas, was provided by a friend of mine that was on his way to visit family. My friend dropped us off at the bus station and wished us good luck on our adventure. As we stood alone at the bus stop I started to get a nervous feeling, aware that we had reached the point of no return. I realized how emotionally dependent I have become on the freedom that having a vehicle provides, and the security that I feel knowing that I can get in my car and go anywhere I want, whenever I want. On the bus I was able to stretch out across the seats and close my eyes, something that I can’t do when I am driving. I put in my headphones and thought about our next leg of the trip, which was trying to get to Tulsa, Oklahoma before dark. We didn’t really secure any plans for this part of the trip. A mechanic from Siloam Springs had agreed to pick us up in Tulsa in the early evening, but his phone was going straight to voicemail. I wasn’t too worried about it; I knew that we would make it to the bus one way or another.

We were almost to Oklahoma City when another passenger told us that the bus we were on was going to St. Louis after our stop. That meant that the bus was going to go straight through Tulsa, but it wouldn’t be stopping. The bus did, however, make frequent stops at gas stations to give the driver a break, so we decided to stay on the bus and see how close we could get to Tulsa. Half an hour outside of Tulsa, the bus made a stop at a gas station along I-44. The sun was sinking lower in the sky, and we made the decision to grab our bags and ditch the bus. The gas station was full of 18-wheelers, RVs and cars that had pulled off for a quick break, and after twenty minutes of holding up a cardboard sign that read ‘Tulsa’, we were offered a ride.

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Doug and Carol, the owners of a small, grey-colored SUV, were driving home to Tulsa after a day of gambling in Oklahoma City. The three of us piled into the backseat and introduced ourselves. It wasn’t long before we were deep in conversation about the dangers of tar sands pipelines and hydraulic fracturing. Doug and Carol were in the middle of a class action lawsuit against an oil company after a pipeline spilled onto their property and contaminated the water supply. Two of their neighbor’s grandchildren had recently passed away after a losing battle with leukemia, probably linked to the water contamination that had made several people in their community sick. We fell silent in the backseat as we absorbed the gravity of their words. “We drank that water too,” Doug said. “Our children drank that water. We all got sick- that’s how we found out that the pipeline had leaked. They weren’t even going to tell us. They don’t care about us.” After losing their home to foreclosure in 2007, they moved to Tulsa with their son Brennan. “Where are you girls sleeping tonight?” Doug asked us. “We are camping! You can just drop us off wherever. We will try to go the rest of the way tomorrow.” Doug and Carol spent a few seconds making various facial expressions at each other in the front seat. “How would you girls feel about spending the night at our house? We will cook you dinner and give you a warm place to sleep, and then Brennan and I will take you to your bus in the morning!” We graciously accepted the invitation, overwhelmed by their generosity. I felt myself relax, now more confident than ever that the universe would find a way to take care of things.

In Doug and Carol’s living room, we were given a crash course in survivalism by our eager teacher, Doug. Doug pulled out his “grab and go” backpack, which was full of various fishing equipment and knives. “Do you girls have knives?” Moon Warrior and I bashfully admitted that we didn’t. “Well, you need knives!! Take these!” Doug handed us each a pocket knife, freshly sharpened by his stone. My knife was adorned with native influenced rainbow stripes on the handle, and was so sharp that I immediately nicked my finger. “How do you girls feel about guns?” Doug asked. “We definitely want to keep one on the bus.” We told him. Doug went to his room and returned with a rifle, which he handed to me to inspect. “You girls need to learn how to shoot- and shoot well.” We agreed. Doug went on to teach us how to set up a trot line, and gave us a package of line to get us started. Carol gathered up two bags full of white rice to add to our food stock, along with another bag of loose leaf tea.

After dinner, Sun Warrior brought out the ukulele and we sang songs until it was time to go to sleep. We made a pallet on the floor and crawled inside of our sleeping bag. The temperature outside was below freezing, and the wind was howling outside of the window. We fell asleep happy and warm, thankful for our good fortune. In the morning, we presented Doug and Carol with our own gifts that we had brought in our packs. We had packed several small things in our bags for the trip, including local honey, organic tea, coffee beans, and small soaps and candles. We said our goodbyes to Carol and climbed into the SUV with Doug and their son Brennan.

Doug drove us 100 miles to our destination, despite our offers to be dropped off along the road at any point. As we pulled into the driveway in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, we noticed the bus sitting in the driveway. The bright orange and white striped bus made for a stark contrast against the farmland, and with her fishbowl-shaped windshield and flat nose she looks like a cartoon character. We jumped out of the car and greeted Keith and Lois with huge smiles and lots of hugs. Keith was anxious about us wasting another trip to Arkansas, and we sat down to talk about the issues that the bus was having. “She has a leak in the air tank. I can’t stop the air from coming out, and she won’t build up enough pressure” Keith told us. The bus has an air brake system with four air tanks, and the brakes won’t release if the pressure is below 80psi. Doug crawled underneath the bus with us to check out the leak. We found three different sites where air was pouring out, and it became clear that we were not going to be able to fix it in Keith’s driveway.  We said goodbye to Doug and Brennan and went inside the house to make our decision. If we decided to not buy the bus, we were going to have a long walk ahead of us. If we bought the bus, we had to figure out how to move it 500 miles back to Austin, Texas over the next four days.

Inside the house, Keith presented me with a piece of paper that he had just typed up on the computer. It was a contract that he wanted me to sign; stating that he “strongly discouraged” the three of us from purchasing the bus, due to its ongoing and growing list of problems. I looked to the warriors for affirmation and received it, so I signed my name. We handed over the cash and shook hands. “You girls are very brave,” Keith said. “I wish you the best of luck.” Lois gave us hugs, and we promised to send them postcards when we got home. We pulled out more gifts from our packs; more soaps, candles, coffee, and tea. After more hugs and a few group pictures, we were ready to get going.

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We climbed onto the bus with our backpacks and closed the door. We were alone on the bus, for the first time. After a celebration warrior dance, we decided to call AAA to tow us to the next city.  AAA was one of our back up plans. We signed up for RV coverage with AAA just days before we left, so we knew that we could be towed five times for 100 miles over the next few days if we had to. As we waited for the tow truck, a farm truck pulled into the driveway and two mechanics climbed out. “Hey! We are here to help you girls out!” one said. “What are you talking about?? Where did you come from?” We were so excited and confused at the same time! Apparently, the mechanic that was supposed to pick us up in Tulsa, but would not return our phone calls, sent his friends out to check on us. One of the mechanics crawled under the bus and started turning valves and kinking off hoses. “Okay, start her up! Let’s try to drive her!” Silence. “Umm… can you show us how to do this?” The mechanics shook their heads and laughed at us. After a quick tutorial, we figured out how to turn the bus on and off, and how to apply and release the air brakes. Soon we were rolling down the driveway and made our first turn. Sun Warrior pressed on the brakes to test them out and the brakes refused to release! Stuck in the middle of a one-lane red dirt road, we turned the bus off and let the pressure drop. We started the bus up again and let the pressure in the brakes build back up. The mechanics had to leave us, so we thanked them and gave them big hugs and said goodbye.

Once again we were on our own, this time ready to drive her away for real. The tow truck was still on its way, but we wanted to see how far we could get on our own. We drove down the red dirt road towards the main farm road, careful to not press on the brakes. Instead, we just down shifted to slow down. As long as we didn’t use the brakes, we were golden. We made it to Cincinnati Tire Repair, the shop where the mechanic that was originally going to fix the bus and pick us up in Tulsa works. We greeted Chris inside his shop, who seemed kind of impressed that we had made it to Siloam Springs without his help. Chris had given us a warning earlier that morning that maybe we should just go back home and buy a dependable school bus for our travels. We sat in the parking lot of the shop for close to an hour when Chris came outside to look at the bus. I think he realized that we weren’t going to go away. Chris was not able to fix the sticky brakes, but he did tighten some loose belts around the crankshaft pulley.

The tow truck company called to let us know that the tow truck would be there soon, and he could only carry two riders. When we explained that there were three of us, they told us to call a taxi. In the middle of nowhere, Arkansas. I told him that we were all small girls, so maybe we could all fit, and we couldn’t just leave one behind. They cited policy issues, or something. So it was then decided that Sun Warrior would hide inside of the bus during the tow. We crammed the sleeping bag behind the seats and piled random junk around her after she crawled into the tiny space behind the seat. A few minutes later the tow truck arrived. The driver was a really nice guy in his late-40s probably, and kept Moon Warrior and I laughing the entire time. As we drove south, with Bessie holding on for dear life behind us, we took notice of the chicken farms that stretched for miles and miles. Every ‘farm’ that we passed had a row of grey buildings in the middle of an empty field. It’s not quite how I imagined a farm when I was growing up, with pigs rolling around in the mud, the cows munching on fresh hay, and hens prancing around with a row of chicks following close behind. No, these farms were not full of happy chickens. These chickens were pumped full of growth hormones and set on light timers. I asked the driver, “Theoretically, what would happen if we just went and gave the chickens some fresh air?” He responded with a nervous laugh and said, “Oh well, if you are going to do something like that, you gotta do it at night, okay?” I nodded and told him “I just want them to see the sun before they die, that’s all.” He agreed, but told me that the chickens would probably die if they got out. They are going to die anyways.

Moon Warrior had to use the bathroom, so the tow truck pulled over and let her run into the woods. The driver took a piss on Bessie’s nose, which maybe gave her a quick nitrogen boost. Finally, we got back into the truck and continued driving south.

We pulled in to Muldrow, Oklahoma around 8:30pm and unloaded at a diesel repair shop off of the interstate. A mechanic that had been expecting us pulled up to the bus to say hello. The tow truck driver spoke to Randy, the mechanic, privately for a few minutes. I have a feeling that he was telling Randy about our ‘situation’. Our situation being that we were three young girls camping in a piece-of-shit broken down bus without much money 420 miles from home. We said goodbye to the driver and the mechanic and closed ourselves up inside of the bus. It was close to 40 degrees outside, so we lit a bunch of candles on the empty floor to keep ourselves warm. We had one big sleeping bag between the three of us, so we put on all of the clothes that we packed and huddled together.

The next morning, we drove the bus to an auto parts store in town to stock up on fluids and filters. We met a lot of really nice people while we were gathering supplies. One of those people was named Beau. Beau used to live in Austin, but moved back home to Muldrow last year. Beau saw us looking into Bessie’s guts in the parking lot of the NAPA auto parts store, and asked if we needed help. Soon we had a crowd of curious onlookers gathered around the engine compartment, trying to locate the oil filter and figure out belt sizes. We were saved by Clay, a mechanic from across the street who showed us how to measure the distance between the pulleys to figure out the size of the belts, and pointed out the oil filter underneath the bus. We spent the day in the auto store parking lot, studying our bus parts book and trying to figure out how we were going to get two bolts extracted from our harmonic balancer that broke off inside of the pulley. Clay came back later in the day to check on our progress. After a long conversation with Clay and Randy (the first mechanic), we decided to take the bus to Clay the next morning to get us all sorted out. Beau was also checking up on us throughout the day, and invited us to stay at his house that night so we could shower, eat, and be warm.

We woke up the next day feeling so good and clean and ready to continue our adventure. Clay started working on the bus at 8am sharp, and worked non-stop on the bus for his entire shift. While he worked to extract the broken bolts, Sun Warrior changed out the radiator belts, and Moon Warrior and I changed out the fuel filter. Clay also temporarily fixed a coolant leak, and patch welded two leaks in our air tanks. As the sun started to sink late in the day, Clay announced that we were ready to go! With Clay behind the wheel, we took the bus on a test drive down the road. We did a victory dance up and down the aisle in the bus, unable to contain our excitement. Back at the mechanic shop, we surrounded Clay with a group hug and thanked him a million times for fixing us up.

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Finally, we were on our way! We said goodbye to everyone that we met in Muldrow and promised to send postcards. We found the interstate out of town and drove away into the sunset.

11 miles later we pulled over at a truck stop to inspect a soft banging sound in the engine compartment. I climbed out and opened the engine compartment. All of our belts were gone!!! All three belts that spin the crankshaft and the alternator were completely gone, and the harmonic balancer was wobbling again. I reached inside to feel for the bolts. Another bolt had broken in half. I shined my flashlight underneath the frame and found a partially shredded belt hanging down under the bus. This bus was really testing my patience.

I called my brother-in-law for advice. My brother made a few phone calls and told us to get to Atoka, Oklahoma, where his best friend has a diesel repair shop. Atoka was 130 miles south. It was close to midnight, and we were at an empty truck stop in the middle of nowhere (actually, I think all of Oklahoma is in the middle of nowhere). We decided to call up AAA again and get our second tow. Our limit is a 100 miles per tow, and $3 a mile after that. Our options were to pay $100 to go the rest of the way, or make the tow truck driver drop us off after 100 miles and try to limp the remaining 30 miles to Atoka. We agreed to pay the $100, and the other warriors climbed into the back of the tow truck and fell asleep. A few miles into the trip, the tow truck driver told me that since our bus required a heavy duty tow, it’s actually $6 a mile, so it’s going to be $200. I told him that we couldn’t afford it, and to just drop us off at a truck stop as close to the 100 mile mark as possible. It was almost 5 in the morning at this point, and I’m wide awake trying to make sure the tow truck driver stays awake too. He tells me about his history with methamphetamine’s  and how he has turned his life around. He has two little girls now, and he has been sober for four months. Amazingly, we discover we lived in the same apartment complex in Austin, decades apart! We are nearing the 100 mile mark, and he asks me if it’s only $100, would I want to go the rest of the 30 miles to Atoka? Yes!!! I was so thankful! It was nearly 6am, and I could barely keep my eyes open.

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 We unloaded at a Love’s truck stop in Atoka. Bessie was wedged between two 18-wheelers behind the store. We stood out like a circus tent in the morning fog, with our bright orange and white stripes. By 8am, we were pulling into Harold’s diesel repair shop. We met Harold, a tall stout guy that reminded me of my brother-in-law. Harold told us that we were brave girls for buying this bus. As a mechanic, he wasn’t sure that he would have taken on such a project. “Or maybe I would…” he said, half-jokingly.

By late afternoon, Harold and his team had extracted one of the bolts (the other one is really stuck), put on three new belts, re-welded the holes in the air tanks that had reopened, re-fixed a coolant leak that was leaking again, and welded a crack in the oil pan caused by the last tow truck. We group-hugged Harold and his sons good-bye and drove off into the sunset.
A few miles down the road and we were still driving! We tried to hold off on any victory dances. By dark we were crossing the Red River into Texas, and celebrated by screaming out the window. Sun Warrior perched herself on the dash and we sang songs while she played the ukulele. The bus was already feeling like home!

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We made it to Temple, Texas before we began hearing a faint noise in the engine. Once again, we pulled off to check it out. Another broken bolt! The harmonic balancer seemed firm and stable, but we made the decision to call the tow truck for the remaining 73 miles home. We knew it was only a matter of time before the belts flew off again.

So now the bus is sitting in our driveway at R.O.O.T.S. EcoVillage in Austin. There is an ever growing list of “to-do’s” before we can get Bessie on the road.

Bessie’s Maintenance List:
a. extract broken bolts from the harmonic balancer
b. New vibration damper (harmonic balancer)
c. (2) new air tanks
d. finish welding the crack in the oil pan
e. fix the blinkers
f. fix the windshield wipers
g. install a horn
h. (6) new tires
i. repair or replace driver side brake biscuit

R.A.G.E. Project List:
a. (2) solar panels
b. composting toilet
c. DIY wood burning stove
d. insulate floors, walls, ceiling
e. design/build garden box in the dash
f. LED lighting on ceiling
g. WVO (waste veggie oil) conversion

Would you like to get involved? Send us an email! ragebusproject@gmail.com