Ten Lessons Learned on my Cross-Country Journey by Vintage Bus

Yea, that title’s a little ridiculous, but it’s true.  Actually, I learned quite a bit more, but here’s the top ten lessons.

Ladybug spent many hours in the bus while we packed. She sat in the driver's seat and figured that we couldn't leave her behind if she sat there for hours.

A Quick Background

As some of you may already know, I recently decided to move cross-country to a tiny little rocky mountain town on a whim.  That’s usually how I make major decision, so it’s not truly surprising.  But, this go round, I brought my little furry companion, Ladybug and was part of the “Powder Hound Caravan”.


Myself and a dear friend loaded up two of his vehicles, a vintage 1977 FJ40 and another vintage vehicle, a 1984 Vanagon with our gear and headed West.  Being a minimalist, my belonging were pretty sparse and fit neatly in a section of the van.  My fellow powder hound does not favor the minimalism, so every inch of space in both vehicles was filled, including the roofs.  I was ‘fortunate’ enough to have the 17 foot aluminum canoe on top of the bus, which would later become a sail when driving through multiple weather patterns.

So, last week, we left Pennsylvania, loaded down and ready to tackle a new town and find a little slice of simplicity and normalcy for our lives.

The Caravan, loaded and ready to hit the road.

And, here’s what I learned.

1. CBs Rock. Yep, I thought they were just for fun at first, but each of us had an ass-kicking trucker set-up in our vehicles so we could keep in touch while driving.  Came in very handy when the bus was getting blown off the road in a thunderstorm and when my furry friend needed to stretch her legs.

2.  Learn the proper CB Lingo
.  And don’t become a CB Chatty Kathy.  I learned that the terminology, “Come Again” when asking someone to repeat themselves is considered dirty language from a group of people who talk about sex, alcohol and women as though they were channeling an inner Howard Stern. I was told to watch my mouth when using this phrase.  I also learned that a few truckers in St. Louis have some pink silk thongs they like to hang from their mirrors and some of them secretly want to start shaving their legs.  I won’t even repeat what I heard about politics and racism.  Scary.

Ladybug watches while Grover installs a new CB unit at a truck stop in Missouri after the original one died.

3.  Pack Scooby snacks.  Lots of them.  For you and your furry travel partner.  And keep them handy and accessible when driving.  Be sure to stock up on the natural organic snacks, if you, like myself, can not stand the thought of fast food for any meal.  After driving for 10 hours and not eating a solid meal, a chicken nugget takes on a new persona.  I managed to avoid the fast food train-wreck, but I did have to concede and eat Subway. Twice.

4.  Watch the Weather Channel- often. The Weather Channel is your friend.  We did check the weather in the mornings, and really didn’t have many options for altering our routes due to our timetable. But we managed to hit two big weather systems.  The first one sucked.  Badly.  The second wasn’t quite as bad, but hitting St. Louis at rush hour and the start of a rain storm sucks.  Making the long trek across Kansas in high winds also sucks.  Which takes us to number 5…

5.  Don’t strap a 17 foot canoe to the roof of a VW Bus.
Not the best move, in my opinion.  Though my fellow powder hound may disagree, driving that bus with a canoe on top was similar to sailing a boat through a tropical storm.  The bus is already light and bullied by the wind on a good day, with nothing inside her or strapped to her extremities.  But add an aluminum sail on top and you get one stressed out driver.

The Grammen canoe, me nemisis for this journey. Though she is quite beautiful.

6.  Learn to anticipate the Trucker’s draft. That draft can be your friend or your enemy.  The draft was my enemy to start.  I was still getting used to driving this rig when we hit a nasty low-pressure system in Ohio.  Crosswinds gusting up to 50 mph and driving rain were pushing the bus off the road and every-time a trucker would pass me, the bus was sucked into the truck, then pushed back out as the draft passed.  At that moment, in between leaving the truck’s draft and hitting the crosswinds, the bus seemed to float about on her own, not touching the road or staying in a straight line.  We stopped shortly after this little train-wreck started.

And I have to give a shout out to B-Rad, a future powder hound.  He graciously gave me a bottle of Jack Daniels for the ride, which I bonded with after that driving debacle.

7.  Don’t give the dog spicy mustard while driving.  I know, that seems obvious.  But, Ladybug was looking a little worn and tired and was drooling over my sandwich, so I gave her a little treat when I was finished.  And, my little piece had spicy mustard on it.  Let’s just say that Kansas takes even longer to drive through when your furry friend is stinking up the bus every 20 minutes.

Spicy mustard plus dog equals a long afternoon.

8.  Don’t put total shit gas in the vintage bus. When we hit eastern Colorado, we were filling up the tanks and I noticed they sold 85 octane, even cheaper than the 87 I’d been told to use all trip.  After a brief consultation, we decided that 85 falls under the shit gas category and filled her up.  After Denver, there is a very long, very steep journey into the Rockies and a never-ending tunnel at the end of the incline.

The bus began to sputter and jolt as we hit the first major incline and we limped off the road to see what the problem was. Luckily, my fellow powder hound is mechanically inclined (a necessity for driving vintage vehicles) and figured out that the problem was the shit gas.  After a phone consultation with a mechanic back east who originally worked on the bus, he was able to do some McGuyver moves and got her running again.  So, we limped up the hills (thanks to a trucker’s draft) and I held my breath and prayed through the tunnel.  She started to balk just as we hit the long-ass Eisenhower Tunnel and I just floored it (all of 30 mph) and muddled through.  Worst case scenario, the FJ 40 would push me through the tunnel.  She made it.  And we stopped at the bar shortly after so I could consult with Jack again.

The truck that helped pull me into the Rockies.

9.  Arrive at your destination in the day light hours. We planned this properly and were able to arrive at our new home just at sunset.  Hitting the Rockies during the day is quite a sight.  After the long, long hours of flat driving, the first glimpse of those tall peaks on the horizon are a sight to behold.  Well worth the extra hotel room instead of the 14 hour haul to make the final leg in one day.

We made it!

10.  Drink lots of water when going to altitude. When you go from sea level (literally) to a town of 10K plus feet in elevation, drink an ass-load of water.  All the time, for days.  Lots and lots of water.  And don’t expect to catch your breath for a week or two.

Bonus lesson: Don’t leave your oatmeal cookie unattended while you run into the mother-ship for espresso.  Even with her overwhelming separation anxiety, Ladybug managed to gun my cookie in just a few minutes.

The cookie bandit.

In all, the cross-country trek went well, we made it in one piece and no major break-downs or train-wrecks.  I am rather spoiled in the way I normally travel, a bag or two and the train or plane, so for this minimalist the journey seemed to take a very long time.  The last time I drove to Colorado from the East Coast, I made the trek with a friend in 24 hours and we never stopped driving.  I was 24.  And I’m not anymore.  That much was evident.

But the new town is amazing, and I feel as though I may have found a place that gets me.  When the majority of the people you meet are your own age and said they moved here for the same reasons, that’s a good sign.

And, there’s a fabulous coffee-shop next to an amazing pizza joint.  What more could this nomad need.  Her two mother-ships are next door to each other and a 5 minute walk from her house.  Perfect.


    • says

      Thanks, Jenneil!! Never a dull moment- and you’ll be saying the same thing in just a few months! Good luck planning your adventure! Can’t wait to see where it all takes you!

  1. says

    Great story, well-told. I love road trips and have gone cross country many times. You are so right about the first sight of the Rockies when heading west. Not only are they stunning, but they always give me a feeling of adventure ahead.

    • says

      Thanks Cathy!

      There’s something to be said for a road trip! And I agree completely about that sense of adventure from seeing those jagged peaks rising up out of nowhere! Hope you’re heading out on a trip soon as well!