Living in an Old School Bus and The Year of the Bears (Summer 2011)

This is what I lived in for the summer of 2011. It was perhaps the coolest place I’ve lived yet. (I mean in “Hey, cool dude,” not the air-conditioned type of cool). It didn’t run and didn’t have any water, electricity, heat etc. All but one row of seats had been removed, and it was just an empty vehicle.

I was actually living in my Subaru Outback that year, and as free camping spots are hard to find around Estes Park, CO, where I was working for the summer, I decided to pay for a campsite for the summer to ensure a place to go after work. I found this camp spot for just $25 a week and was pitching my tent right by this empty bus. It didn’t take me too long to convince the owner of the land to let me camp IN the bus, rather than outside it.

When I told people I lived in an abandoned school bus, they always said “Cool!” and then followed by “Hey, have you read Into the Wild? (Of course, I have, and I have the soundtrack to the movie too).

When I told people I lived in my tent, it didn’t impress people nearly as much, even though that was much tougher going. Go figure.

I loved living in the school bus, or The Bus, as I called it. I had some foam on the floor, topped with my Thermarest sleeping pad, and my feather quilt, which hung over the sides and made it possible to sprawl my arms and legs off the Thermarest pad and still be comfortable. I slept like a baby in The Bus. At night I could lock the rear door, by fastening a bungee cord around the handle, and it held tight. I felt safe from intruders and bears. I could cook inside The Bus when it rained, pee in my pee bucket in privacy, change clothes, spot bathe, stretch,  and sit in a chair to read, or watch lightning strike the rim of the canyon through the many windows I had to look out of.













I usually did dishes outside, as I had to get my water from a 5-gallon container, and it was a bit messy, and I would cook out there sometimes too. There was an old dilapidated flatbed trailer parked alongside The Bus, and it made a great worktop. I called it The Deck, as I would sometimes set my camp chair upon it, and sit and watch the stars. The Deck elevated me just enough to get my feet out of the biting bugs that lingered in the tall grass.












The Bus was parked on private property, and in a location that locals sometimes called Bear Alley. A river ran just a few feet away, and I think this was a big attractant to the bears, along with the many garbage cans that people left outside the many homes and hotels along this section of river and road.

I had a couple of experiences with bears. One night I was cooking dinner when I saw people on the other side of the river pointing to the canyon wall just above my camp spot. I walked towards the area they were pointing to see what the fuss was about and saw the biggest cinnamon-colored black bear I’ve ever seen. He was watching my camp and me! At the time I was cooking steak on the campfire, and he was only about 100 feet away. Whoa, thanks for letting me know people! By the time I got my camera from The Bus, he’d decided to leave. He was clearly a very smart bear. This is a shot of him as he walked away.










I call this The Year of the Bears because I saw several bears throughout the summer. Some in town, some near my camp, and sometimes just tracks in the dirt.

On another occasion, I was cooking on The Deck, when I sensed something moving behind me, and from the corner of my eye saw something black approaching. My first thought was a dog, as it wasn’t very big. When I turned fully, I was surprised to see a young black bear walking directly toward me. I quickly started making a lot of noise. I yelled, clapped my hands, waved my arms, and made enough racket to disturb another camper, and have him come running out of his tent in alarm, still pulling his pants on.


The bear got a shocked look on its face and scampered off up the canyon wall which was practically vertical, rising up from the side of The Bus. The young bear slipped and skidded around The Bus and came out on the other side, and fled the scene as though it had been stung in the butt by a rubber bullet. By the time the other campers scrambled out of their tents the bear was long gone. Some of the campers were disappointed that I scared it away because they wanted to see one (Yea, right!).

Well, I was hungry, and I didn’t want the bear getting my tuna dish because a fed bear is a dead bear, plus I was looking forward to it too much. Oh yes, there is a lesson to be learned here, don’t cook tuna outside while camping in bear country. I think the smell was just too much for that young bear to resist.














Anyhow, the whole time I lived in The Bus, was wonderful. I had the river, a campfire, a roof over my head, great views, wildlife all around me, and quite a bit of security. I couldn’t ask for more. There was even a toilet a short walk away located in another old school bus, so I didn’t have to carry my poop into town with me daily. What luxury!


Until next time…

Roxy ~ A Nomad for Nature


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