As a Boy Scout growing up in Colorado, I had my fair share of camping adventures. But it was a transformative summer spent traveling the country with my aunt and uncle in our family camper that truly ignited my passion for life on the road. Holly wasn’t as lucky to experience such wanderlust during her upbringing. So, when we crossed paths in 2014, we both knew we wanted to hit the road together, embracing a nomadic lifestyle.
Naturally, our quest for the perfect camper began. We scoured dealerships and attended countless camping expos, hoping to find a gem among the sea of options. From modest $25,000 Starcraft travel trailers to extravagant $500,000 Entegra coaches, they all seemed to share one disappointing characteristic: a sense of cheapness.
It surprised me that over the past 25 years, nothing seemed to have changed within the RV industry. Sure, the half-million-dollar RVs boasted some desirable features that the more affordable trailers couldn’t match, but the exorbitant costs remained unjustifiable. Besides, owning a luxury RV of that caliber was never in our realm of possibility.
Disillusioned with the idea of purchasing a new RV, we turned our attention to the used market, hoping to find a gem that we could transform into our dream home. However, our quest for a pre-loved RV quickly unraveled as we encountered stained carpets, cracked fiberglass shower pans, and roofs on the verge of collapsing. It became clear that buying used was not the ideal route for us either.
Sometimes life has a way of making us wait for the right opportunity. So, we reluctantly put our travel plans on hold while I pursued my university education and Holly focused on her career.
The longing to hit the road persisted and in December 2016, when fate intervened. I stumbled upon a captivating camper build that turned out to be an old school bus. It sparked a long-forgotten memory of mine when I had shown Holly a converted bus during our early days together. It was in that moment that we realized bus life was calling our names.
“How hard could it be?” With an impulsive decision fueled by excitement, we placed a deposit on a bus in Florida and booked plane tickets for the following weekend. In a whirlwind of enthusiasm, we emptied our living room and taped out a scaled bus floor plan, yes inside our house.
We settled on a 2003 Thomas EF bus, equipped with a CAT3126 engine and an Allison 2000 automatic transmission. Its low mileage, decent tires, and compact size made it an appealing choice for us. We embarked on a two-day road trip, driving the bus all the way from Florida to Pennsylvania, bubbling with excitement to commence what we thought would be a six-month conversion.
However, our journey into bus life was not without its obstacles. As we began removing the seats and interior metal paneling, we encountered our first major roadblock: the recessed L-tracks holding the seats in place refused to budge.
Rust and wear had taken their toll on the nuts and bolts, rendering them nearly impossible to loosen. We resorted to using a circular saw to cut away the wooden flooring surrounding the tracks, granting us access from all angles. Yet, even with this unconventional approach, we were faced with the daunting task of trying to cut 480 stubborn bolts.
To expedite the process, we used a 4” Dewalt XP angle grinder with cut-off wheels, slicing through the tracks and bolt heads with swift precision. It was a relief to overcome this challenge, but it also served as a stark realization that our six-month timeline might have been overly optimistic.
Once we regained momentum, we encountered yet another hurdle—flooring. After careful consideration, we chose a Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) flooring with a real wood texture.
The winter of 2016 saw us diligently installing the flooring, only to discover in the summer of 2017 that the vinyl planks had begun to curl and warp due to the heat, which put the conversion on hold. When winter 2017 came around the planks had begun separating, leaving large gaps between each plank. A disappointing setback, but we were determined to find a solution.
After extensive research, we decided to remove the damaged vinyl planks and install commercial-grade LVP flooring throughout the bus. It was a time-consuming process, but the result was a durable and aesthetically pleasing flooring that could withstand the rigors of bus life.
Amidst the chaos of the flooring debacle, we found ourselves engrossed in multiple projects on the side. Our creative energy flowed as we designed an aluminum solar roof rack, constructed eye-catching pallet walls, and installed Lewmar yacht hatches to flood our compact 216 sq. ft. space with natural light. Unfortunately, the installation of these skylights proved as challenging as our previous undertakings, requiring multiple reconfigurations due to their shallow positioning after the solar rack was put in place.
In the spring of 2019, my university hosted an Earth Day celebration with a focus on water conservation. Word spread among my Geoenvironmental Science department about our bus conversion project, and we were invited to showcase our bus at the event.
Still sporting its bright yellow hue and the Earth Day event just weeks away, we had to tackle another task: painting the bus.
As novices in the realm of vehicle painting, we waded through the sea of online misinformation and settled for a paint roller application, which surprisingly yielded decent results.
It took every second of our three-week timeline to complete the painting endeavor, battling with the elements and direct sunlight. Nevertheless, we arrived at the event with a fully painted bus, resembling a nearly finished conversion. Shortly after, in the autumn of 2019, I graduated from the university, and we rewarded ourselves with a well-deserved break in the captivating Yucatán Peninsula.
Following our Mexican adventure, we re-engaged with the bus project, drawing inspiration from Holly’s culinary enthusiasm to mold the bus’s blueprint, placing the kitchen at the heart of the design, and fostering a space perfect for entertaining guests.
We sought practical solutions like soft-close drawers and hinges, pull-out shelving, and spice racks, eventually discovering the perfect products for our needs: Rev-A-Shelf. Collaborating with them to bring their products into the tiny home market proved highly satisfying, as their quality and functionality exceeded our expectations.
Our cabinet space was maximized with ingenious additions like a slide-out waste bin, tiered cutlery drawer, pantry pullout, base cabinet filler, and a tip-out tray hidden behind the sink cabinet’s false front. We also seized the opportunity to further optimize our space by adding toe kick drawers under each cabinet, neatly storing essentials like foil, wax paper, and reusable silicone bags.
Throughout the bus conversion process, we embarked on a journey of downsizing. We transitioned from a 1,312 sq. ft. house to an 875 sq. ft. apartment, shedding unnecessary belongings. However, being an avid collector of vintage toys, I couldn’t part with everything, so we secured a small storage unit to house the items that evaded sale or donation before our move.
Regrettably, our new apartment lacked sufficient driveway space for the bus, so we relocated it to Holly’s parents’ countryside abode, a 20-minute drive from town. This change brought its own set of challenges, as the nearest Lowe’s was now a 40-minute trek. Nevertheless, we persevered and continued working on the bus whenever possible, even as we faced the relentless winter of 2019 and our landlords’ dismissive attitude towards repairing our malfunctioning furnace. The heating predicament proved to be the tipping point that propelled us to complete the bus.
We dedicated ourselves wholeheartedly to wrapping up the lingering projects we had been endlessly tinkering with over the years. The question of whether to include an indoor shower had been a constant debate, but realizing we hadn’t allocated space for clothing storage settled the matter. We prioritized closet space over an indoor shower, knowing we already had an exterior shower installed. Finalizing this decision furthered our progress on the plumbing and electrical systems.
Amidst the incessant bleeding of pine knots, the white-painted semi-gloss surface of our ceiling reflected the verdant hue of the grass outside, casting a green tint on everything within the bus, we were determined to rectify this chromatic conundrum, so we tore it all out and replaced it with unpainted natural wood.
Not wanting to keep the original bus doors for security reasons, we endured an eight-week wait, while our specially ordered door with storm-resistant hurricane glass was manufactured.
As a local woodworker meticulously crafted our black walnut countertops, the fall of 2020 enveloped us. Eager to showcase our finished bus, we shared a photo of the interior on the woodworking subreddit. The response was heartening, to say the least.
A creative soul from California caught wind of our project and reached out, beckoning us to their land—a veritable maker’s paradise adorned with tiny houses. The proposition of building buses for others had never crossed our minds until then.
Despite the grueling labor of the preceding weeks, much remained to be done. Propane was absent, solar power untapped, and a plethora of touch-up work awaited our attention. The allure of California beckoned, and so we pressed on with our bus conversion. Holly had spent the past few weeks cooking outside on a modest camp grill, highlighting the urgency of installing the propane system.
Unfortunately, as fate would have it, the California dream fizzled when city authorities caught wind of the abundance of alternative dwelling units (ADUs) on the property. It was a crushing blow, dampening our spirits just as our solar power system yearned to be unleashed in the California sun. The anticipation of embarking on our grand adventure grew unbearable.
During the spring of 2021, a young couple on the cusp of parenthood sought our expertise in converting a bus. The timing was serendipitous, as we had begun entertaining the notion of converting buses full-time, transforming our passion into a means of sustenance. Though our own conversion had spanned three laborious years, I was confident that I could now complete a bus conversion within a mere eight weeks.
After ironing out the details, I packed my trusty tools and embarked on a journey to Philadelphia, where I spent the next six weeks weaving my craftsmanship into their bus. The experience served as a crucible, honing my skills with each passing day. While toiling in the City of Brotherly Love, fate intervened once more, as another couple from Las Vegas, inspired by our work, sought to sell their house and embrace a life of travel in a compact yet cozy short bus.
By this juncture, we had amassed sufficient funds to venture beyond the confines of our home state. However, our altruistic endeavors in aiding fellow wanderers had momentarily eclipsed progress on our own bus. Nevertheless, we embraced the opportunity in Las Vegas, realizing that time was of the essence as the countdown to the completion of our bus officially commenced.
Yet, an obstacle of considerable magnitude loomed before us—the absence of fabrication shops capable of designing and crafting underbelly storage boxes. The smaller local shops proved inadequate for the mammoth task at hand, while the larger facilities were booked solid, with their schedules extending well into our desired departure time frame in the fall of 2021.
Thus, while I focused on completing the bus in Philadelphia, Holly diligently scoured Pennsylvania for a metal fabrication shop willing to undertake the job. After numerous calls, a glimmer of hope emerged—a shop willing to undertake the task, albeit with a 12-week turnaround time. This respite would grant us the opportunity to conclude the remaining work required before embarking on our long-awaited journey.
As the sweat trickled down our brows and the rhythmic hum of power tools filled the air, we found ourselves facing a crucial decision during our build—a need for alternative transportation.
We craved the freedom to explore the open roads, venture into the unknown, and conquer grocery runs with ease. That’s when the idea of dirt bikes revved into our minds, offering an obvious solution. The VersaHaul double motorcycle carrier promising to transport our adventurous steeds on its sturdy frame. And so, we had a class 5 hitch installed, sealing the deal.
But our journey didn’t stop there. With unwavering determination, we wired in our Victron solar equipment and BattleBorn battery bank, a symphony of clean energy orchestrating our power needs. The Wostman composting toilet made way for the Separette Tiny model. And when the long-awaited call came, informing us that our toolboxes were ready for pickup, excitement coursed through our veins.
The week that followed marked our final days in Pennsylvania, as we carefully organized our gear, ensuring every tool found its rightful place within the newly fabricated boxes, relishing in the harmonious alignment of our build. Yet, amidst the joy, a tinge of sorrow lingered. Our time had come to bid farewell to Holly’s supportive family, who had stood by our side throughout our arduous three-and-a-half-year journey.
After five days of traversing the vast landscapes, savoring the aromas and flavors of various mouthwatering BBQ joints along the way, and burning $1,200 worth of diesel fuel, we arrived in the glittering oasis known as Las Vegas.
Here, in the city of dreams, our business venture, Nomad Nooks, was set to bloom. Winter 2021 unfurled its chilly embrace, and with meticulous dedication, we poured our hearts into completing the conversion for our first official clients. But amidst the hustle and bustle, we made sure to partake in the city’s offerings, seizing every opportunity to experience the magic of Las Vegas.
We hiked through the majestic Red Rocks, conquered the peaks of Mount Charleston, and delved into the fiery embrace of Valley of Fire. Our adventurous spirits led us to Arizona Hot Springs, where we immersed ourselves in nature’s soothing thermal waters.
We chased the allure of Gold Strike Hot Springs and basked in the serenity of Lovell Canyon. And as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, we pedaled through the neon-lit streets, witnessing the grand spectacle of The Vegas Strip’s legendary fireworks display.
Las Vegas left an indelible mark on our journey, introducing us to remarkable individuals who would become lifelong friends. The tapestry of our memories is woven with encounters and shared stories. As February 2022 drew near, we set our sights on Utah, aiming to explore before embarking on our upcoming project. We set foot in Virgin, a small haven nestled against the mountains, parking our bus in a secluded spot on Sheep’s Bridge Rd.
As we prepared to settle in for a couple of weeks, fate intervened with a muddy twist. The rear tires of our bus spun helplessly, trapping us in the unforgiving embrace of mud. The unsettling feeling of being stuck washed over us, but salvation arrived in an unexpected form.
A local hero, known for his YouTube channel, offered a helping hand. The rumble of a heavily modified Corvair, affectionately called MORRvair, heralded his arrival. Together, we orchestrated a triumphant escape, capturing the entire adventure on video.
Free from the muddy entanglement, we sought solace on the drier side of the camping site, unloading our trusty dirt bikes, and venturing into the pristine wilderness of Zion National Park. Over the next two weeks, we surrendered ourselves to the majesty of Zion, conquering its trails and scaling its lofty heights. Angel’s Landing and The Narrows etched themselves into our souls, leaving an everlasting impression of awe and adoration.
Returning from one of our shorter hikes, we found ourselves greeted by a sight that marked a novel experience in our journey—a neighboring bus! A wave from a distance ignited an immediate connection, compelling us to approach their campsite.
Matt and Ariel, the charismatic duo behind OurZooPlusTwo, welcomed us into their home. We dined together, engaged in lively board game sessions, and forged bonds that felt like they had weathered the passage of time. We found comfort in the presence of kindred spirits, bridging the gap created by our absence of family during the holiday season.
Our time with OurZooPlusTwo left an indelible mark on our hearts, a testament to the transformative power of human connections. Tempting as it was to prolong our stay in Virgin, the calling of our next build rang, urging us to embark on a new chapter… And so, with bittersweet goodbyes, we veered towards Arizona, ready to embrace further adventure.
Amidst the arid beauty of Arizona, a golden opportunity came knocking. A&E, the esteemed television network, reached out to feature our bus on their new show, Living Smaller.
The prospect of being on television rekindled our enthusiasm for working on the bus, urging us to undertake an essential task before the nation’s cameras graced our modest dwelling—a bathroom door. For months, a mere curtain had separated the sacred space, but with the deadline looming, we found ourselves at Lowes, procuring pine boards destined for transformation.
Setting up our mobile workshop on the expansive lands of Marble Canyon, we embarked on a race against time, crafting our new door with the utmost dedication. As the final touches were added, the door stood as a testament to our resilience, a tangible symbol of progress.
But before the cameras rolled, we sought solace in the grandeur of nature. Our feet led us to Horseshoe Bend, where we marveled at the awe-inspiring beauty etched into the contours of the land. Soon, we found ourselves on the outskirts of the majestic Grand Canyon, immersing ourselves in its enchanting trails. Bright Angel to Three Mile Resthouse and South Kaibab to Cedar Ridge bestowed upon us vistas that surpassed our wildest dreams, sweeping us into a realm of profound appreciation for the Earth’s raw magnificence.
In a delightful twist of fate, our paths intertwined once more with the charismatic duo, Devin and Breanna, affectionately dubbed Basically Nomads. Roaming the awe-inspiring vistas encircling the Grand Canyon, we were destined to converge. Rekindling the friendship that had ignited months prior in Pennsylvania we once again enjoyed each other’s company, sharing stories and creating cherished memories during our wild but brief reunion.
Nestled in the midst of this idyllic wilderness, we had the great fortune to meet up with Brian Bear Butler the amiable virtuoso behind Tiny Home Tours. Together, we set out on a creative journey, capturing the true spirit of our nomadic haven, soon to be appreciated on their channel.
Brian’s infectious enthusiasm and effortless energy worked wonders, soothing Holly’s qualms and imbuing a tranquil confidence as we readied ourselves for the imminent limelight of our forthcoming tour video, set to air on A&E.
After bidding farewell to Devin, Breanna, and Brian, we headed to Valle, Arizona. The road that led to the HipCamp location chosen by the producers of Living Smaller proved to be a challenging drive.
It was amidst this tumultuous journey down the washboard road that we faced a moment of panic—Holly’s dirt bike appeared to be gone. However, upon closer inspection, we discovered that the straps had come loose from the VersaHaul carrier, and the bike was wedged between the two ramps. The rain started to fall, compounding our concerns.
Fortunately, a kind local man noticed our predicament and came to our aid. With his assistance, we managed to dislodge the 320lb bike and safely reposition it on the ramp just as the rain intensified. Relieved, we resumed our journey, shortly reaching the HipCamp location where we would be filming the next day.
But Mother Nature had one more surprise in store for us—rain turned to snow overnight, blanketing the area with an inch of fresh powder that melted at dawn, transforming the terrain into a mud pit.
Despite the muddy conditions, the film crew arrived, and we dedicated a long, eventful day to the filming process. Towels became our allies as we tried to contain the mud, and despite the challenging circumstances, the day was filled with laughter and camaraderie. After 10 hours of filming, we wrapped up the segment and prepared for our next adventure.
Before heading east, our yearning to explore one more national park drew us southward to Saguaro. While I encountered Saguaro cacti in Lake Havasu during my childhood, the grandeur of Saguaro National Park in southeastern Arizona left me awe-struck.
We embraced the opportunity to hike among these magnificent, century-old giants, capturing their splendor through our photographs and video. Although our time in Saguaro was brief, it left an indelible impression on our hearts.
As our journey continued, we set our sights on the eastern horizon, ready to embark on our next conversion. Our seven-month adventure had been nothing short of extraordinary, filled with remarkable experiences and encounters within the vibrant community of nomads. While we relished the warmth of family gatherings and summer activities upon our return, our wanderlust burned bright, eagerly anticipating the day we would venture out once again to explore and discover more of this wondrous world.
~ In loving memory of Helen & Duane McCorkle ~