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Cally Trandell
October 30, 2022
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Skoolie U.P. 2022

School buses, conversion vans, and an assortment of unique tiny homes on wheels all took over Michigan’s upper peninsula August 1st-8th 2022, for the 2nd Annual Skoolie U.P. event hosted in Gould City at Michihistrigan Bar and Campground

Jennifer Walenski and Family (photo credit: Jennifer Walenski).

The event was started by Jennifer Walenski and her family from A Bus Story, who have been nomadic living for seven years now. Jennifer and her family have been to other festivals around the country and decided they wanted to host a Skoolie gathering in their favorite summer location that included everything they love to do as a family. They wanted to show off the true beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and all of the hidden gems it has to offer. 

Robert Kramer’s Travel Trailer Conversion (photo credit: Cally Trandell).

The first Skoolie U.P event took place in 2021 and hosted 82 buses and 120 rigs. This year’s event brought in 78 school bus conversions and 144 travel rigs altogether, even including unique builds like Robert Kramer’s trailer build.

There were lots of activities throughout the week to pique everyone’s interest, adults and kids alike. Some of the activities that took place were movie nights, bonfires, trivia, bingo, crafts, game day, line dancing and hoedown, slip-n-slide kickball, a water balloon fight, and so much more. 

Attendees had a chance to explore Michigan’s upper peninsula and the beauty with two beach days and even a waterfall tour. Educational events like a last-minute bus maintenance and safety session, as well as an educational nature walk, provided great information for attendees not only about caring for your bus but natural remedies and caring for yourself on the road. 

Food was never in short supply as the pavilion was open daily for lunch, and Frank’s loaded fries were the talk of the festival. Fifteen chili entries were provided for the chili dog cookoff as hungry judges carefully sampled each pot and declared Lars Paulsen the grand prize winner. Pasta potluck night was a success with enough pasta to feed an army and a pulled pork roast donated and cooked by Jonnie and Kerry Thompson and family. 

2022 Chili dog cook-off champion Lars Paulsen (Photo credit: Jennifer Walenski).

One hands-on event even included a pasty making workshop where everyone got a chance to test their skills at making pasties and enjoy a true taste of the Upper Peninsula. 

Weekend warriors and full-timers alike had an opportunity to share their passions and crafts, selling homemade goods throughout the festival. The week was rounded out with an open house and craft fair for the public on Saturday, August 6th, giving locals and other nomads a chance to get a sneak peek inside everyone’s tiny homes. Each conversion was beautifully unique and reflected each owner’s personality. 

There were a few car campers in the mix, maximizing minimum space into ultimate comfort. 

Next up were the van lifers whose homes ranged from completely stealth vans to fully equipped off-road 4x4s.  Next up in size were the short 4-window buses like Willow and Where is Katie Doane proving that you can pack a ton of character into less than 100 square feet.

“Where is Willow?” Bus Conversion (Photo Credit: Carl Leipprandt).
“Where is Katie Doane” Bus Conversion (Photo Credit: Cally Trandell).
Little Backpack Big Dreams” Bus Conversion (Photo Credit: Cally Trandell).

Next up with a few more windows were buses like Skoolie of Fish and yours truly, Aurora the Bus, with a few more creature comforts. Personally, 6-window buses are our favorite, because it provides us with just enough room for two people plus a dog, but we are a little impartial to that opinion. 

No argument, however, that the full-sized buses in attendance not only offer more room but have the most creature comforts, if not more than a traditional home! The build ideas and innovations that everyone included on their rigs were more than impressive. Whatever your fancy, Skoolie U.P. offered the chance to tour all of your options for going tiny on the road.

“Skoolie of Fish” Bus Conversion (Photo Credit: Carl Leipprandt).

Personally, this was my first Skoolie event, and I couldn’t have imagined anything better. Having the opportunity to tour so many other conversions all in one space is a rare opportunity. We met so many amazing people, and now being on the road full time, we truly feel like a part of the Skoolie and nomad travel community. 

Rome Sweet Home” and “Les Stuphnbuz” Bus Conversion (photo credit: Cally Trandell).

Festivals like this are a great way to get together with other like-minded people and get ideas for builds and upgrades, travel destinations, or just to feel like a part of a community. Next year’s event dates are already set for July 31st - August 7th, 2023, and I think I speak for everyone when I say we can’t wait for next year’s Skoolie U.P.

Article written by Cally Trandell

Cally and Ron have always been nomads at heart. Their adventures have included backpacking through Europe, and Southeast Asia, and completing the Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu.

Their latest adventure was building out a short school bus to travel the country with their dog Meeka.

Cally is a freelance writer and creates Hiker Trash Sea Glass Jewelry, while Ron does seasonal HVAC work.

You can follow Little Backpack Big Dreams and Aurora the Bus on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, or send writing inquiries to
littlebackpackbigdreams@gmail.com.

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