The bus called “Summit”

All along I thought we were bringing home a Sprinter van to fix up, to travel in.. so, how the heck did I come to own a bus?

Not long after my adventure partner, her two pups and I returned from our cross-country road trip – departing from Upstate New York and travelling in a counter-clockwise direction, zigging and zagging around the perimeter of the USA, visiting National Parks in her CR-V and sleeping each night (over the course of 3 months or so) in my 3-person Eureka tent, we decided something a wee bit bigger would be a nice treat for our next trip, whenever that might be!

I always assumed we would be finely paired up with a sort of Sprinter van, nothing too tricky to drive in tight spaces, easy to park and would allow us to stand and move around in case we got stuck indoors on a rainy day.

If my memory serves us right, it was around May 2018 when she perked up from her lap top; we were living together in New Hampshire (long story, we moved here and both found jobs after hiking Mt Moosilauke and falling madly in love with the town of Lincoln, NH) when she suggested we ‘just for the heck of it’ go look at this flat-nose school bus that she found on Craigs List.

I casually agreed, thinking it would be a good first stop on just another day of road-tripping, adventuring around and seeing what natural wonders our new state had to offer!

At the time, I was all about “van life” and didn’t have much exposure into the “bus life” side of the coin. Well, the instant I stepped foot onto that 2005 IC school bus, that all changed!

A bus.. for us?!

A little unprepared, I didn’t know what the heck I was looking at: Yes, it was a big, big yellow school bus. Yes, it had a flat-nose and was cute as hell. Yes, admittedly this bus was very clean and 99% rust free for what I could see in, on, and under it. And then comes the final Yes, I could actually see us converting this into our space and living in it, wherever it would take us!

Together we looked it all over, climbing in the grass to get a good look underneath – we threw each other excited glances behind the owners back to show just how excited each of us was.

Luck had fallen into our laps that day because for a modest fee we were standing in a blank canvas! The previous owner had bought the bus from where it had been professionally maintained during its’ earlier life among a fleet of fellow buses and drove it from Delaware to New Hampshire with the intent of fixing it so his wife could meet him daily as he hiked the entirety of the Appalachian Trail. It would serve essentially as a base camp and warm shelter each night. Seemed like a grand idea until his occupation relocated to Florida and now everything had to go, including his actual home!

The day we looked at Summit, he had already done all of the hard work!

The seats and all of their bracketry had been removed and scrapped, the floor had been fixed up, painted with a heat resistant coating, a fine wood floor had been laid down with a layer of foam insulation sandwiched in the middle. It seemed to be surprisingly legit work!

Then came the question, or perhaps it was more like a statement from behind his can of Coors Light at 10-o’clock in the morning: “Let’s take it for a spin!“.

Up to that morning, I had never driven a diesel quite that large with such a tight turning radius, especially anything with air brakes!

Without hesitation the 7.6 liter DT466 broke any hint of silence and I was swooped back to my childhood – early springtime mornings standing at the bus stop, waiting to climb aboard as the crisp morning air hung low with the lingering scent of burnt diesel fuel.

The doors swung shut at the flick of a button, hissing with the classic sound of air power – this was luxury!

All five hundred and twenty foot-pounds of torque sprang into action as I released the air brakes and gently toed the right-most pedal. Our bus hosts the motor as my co-pilot so any time a bit of gas is given, I can get a blast of breeze off of the fan blades – quite exhilarating actually, I still get a huge child-like grin when I drive my bus!

We both took turns ripping the eight-thousand pound behemoth up the road, at the time the old school bus was completely empty, aside from the wood floor which was secure in its place – the thumping of the motor still rings in my head!

Needless to say, I was feeling a bit heart-broken, as if we drove away from something I was beginning to fall in love with when we shook hands, climbed back in the CR-V and drove away from that big yellow box on wheels.

All I could do was stare some more at what I we had just spend the past two hours staring at as we turned the corner and Summit faded out of view. I had that empty pit in my soul like something very important was now gone. Ironic that, when I awoke that morning I’d call you crazy if you said in a few hours I’d want to own a school bus!

We decided to stop a few miles down the road to let the doggies stretch their legs by a stream; our walk began in silence, followed by “you really liked it, huh?”. We both liked it, we could both see ourselves working on this project, living in the 250 square feet very comfortably and taking it to Oregon or Alaska, heck – even Mexico if we wanted to venture in that direction!

Our walk along the water ended in more-or-less a fast-paced hustle back to her car to make the much needed phone call: we were coming back for the bus!

We were told that he had another couple on their way to look at it, and were very interested. Sorry bud, but we were way MORE interested.. and just down the road with cash in hand!!

An hour later, we were again driving away from the big yellow school bus, but this time we had shook hands in more of an agreement, one that said “Yes, your bus is now my bus, thank you for your bus.

Week by week, once we were able to drive the bus to our home (we had a field with plenty of space, and permission from the current landlords to park it, thank goodness!) we worked on transforming this into our space.

Neither of us knew what we were doing, I was hesitant to use power tools (silly because I grew up using saws and drills and such!), we had no electrical outlets and no extension cords, we both did a ridiculous amount of sawing 2x3s by hand to frame out the windows – looking at my old cuts is actually kind of laughable – not a single cut was square, but it was work getting done after all!

Before long we had a rough idea of where we wanted to go with our construction: where the bed would go, the bathroom size, pull out couch, kitchen. We had a plan, but I’d be lying so hard if I said we didn’t switch something around every day that we stepped foot onto that bus.

Summit gets a name

Up to this point, we didn’t know what to call our bus. The names flew around but nothing stuck, we even employed Ciara’s witty mother who never seemed to let us down when it came to clever names in the past! We wanted something maybe mountain or nature related, since that’s what we were all about, after all!

Eventually someone came up with Summit Shenanigans, it had a nice ring to it and over the course of several days, it stuck!

Without hesitation, our bus now had its own instagram page to document the build.. as if we actually knew what we were doing!

We found ourselves perusing the paint swatch aisle at Home Depot, tossing ideas of “what if this” and “how about we..” back and forth until we had several cans of paint in our cart, some rollers and all the gear needed for the big day that we would slather Summit in a fresh coat.

As winter came and went we built on and off, it seemed as if we would go weeks without stepping foot in the bus, saying we would get out on Sunday to put in work but when Sunday rolled around the good weather kept us in the mountains, then always followed with finger-pointing that we never work on the bus anymore.

Time passed, we moved again which meant I had the privilege of driving the un-registered and un-inspected bus 15 miles or so back to a cabin that we were now calling home. What a thrill to once again feel the bus scream down the highway at 62 miles per hour, it will gladly exceed 65-mph but with all of the tools, plywood, spare parts rattling around, I didn’t push it!

Once again, working on the bus was extremely sporadic once we moved to our lovely cabin in the woods, we had over 50-miles of beautiful trails right outside our door which kept us busy, plus we were even closer still to the White Mountains.

An uncertain future for Summit

The inevitable grim day came when I was confronted with “we should sell the bus, you want to sell the bus too, right?”.

Actually at the same time those words were spoken, I also was slapped in the face with “I need my space”. And just like that, it was as if any bit of secure footing I was standing on had been ripped out from beneath me and I was now free-falling with nothing to hold onto and no end in sight.

I spent the next few weeks trying to figure out what I would do; I tossed around the idea of living in my Subaru Impreza and traveling – too cramped! Upgrade to a Forester? My car had been paid off for years, so that was silly. I emailed several people who had vans to see if I could include my Subaru as trade-value, deep down I wanted to keep my Impreza – I was its sole owner and still kicked myself when I traded my Honda Civic for nearly nothing!

One day on a morning run/quest-to-find-my-calling, I was rounding the corner by the local lake when the sun rays slapped me right across the face – I knew then that I wanted to .. or needed to get back into art and I needed a place to live.. oh – wait a minute! We still owned Summit!

And just like that, as I ran that morning my grin grew ten-fold! I began seeing myself in Summit and it being my art studio and place of residence. I was convinced I could make it work! I was determined to make it work – deep down, I knew I loved that bus from the moment we stepped foot onto it and did not have the heart to throw away all of our work, no matter how wonky it was!

As you read this, Summit is still being built, and likely always will be – as I change, I’m sure my home will too!

Something clicked in my heart and mind that morning, I wanted to build more than ever! 

By the time you read this, likely the solar will be fully operational, roof will have a sweet coating of Elastomeric to keep the inside cool on those toasty summer days, I will have a tiny wood stove for those chilly northeast winter nights, heck – it might not even be yellow anymore! Summit is coming along, previous ideas got scrapped and it feels incredible to make this space all mine – if I want a shelf here or there, then I’m going to build that dang shelf, here or there!

I’ll post updates often, but this is the story of how my Summit came to be!

Who knows.. perhaps if those two crazy adventurists never shook hands that May afternoon in 2018, maybe no one would have.. maybe we saved another retired steel box on wheels from the cutting torch!

All of the build up to this point (framing, construction, detail-work, paint, design and layout) has been done by myself, I’ll naturally be contracting out some of the electrical work and gas as needed to the professionals – but if you have any questions, or would like quotes on getting work done or help on your own project, please don’t hesitate to email or drop a line!

Thanks for following along and check back often for updates on my build and the crazy bus life!

– Erik, proud owner of Summit Studios!