Traveling in a Prison Bus - Part 1
I Bought A Prison Bus
And Drove It To A Music Festival
Traveling in a Prison Bus to Eclipse Festival
In the summer of 2017, I decided I wanted to buy an RV. It seemed, at the time, like the logical thing to do. I was fresh off of a life-changing ayahuasca retreat and was just about to quit my job in Silicon Valley, California to ‘find myself.’ The first stop on that journey was Oregon Eclipse Festival - traveling in a prison bus.
Unlike most music festivals, Oregon Eclipse Festival is a collaboration of several different music festivals. It takes place during the total solar eclipse at Big Summit Prairie in Oregon, one of the best eclipse viewing spots in the country.
As a bonafide music festival veteran, I had attended dozens of festivals in the two years leading up to Eclipse Festival, including many that were also camping festivals.
I had even been adventurous enough (read: insane) to bring my kids, who were two, three and five years old at the time, to camp at the California music festival Lightning in a Bottle just a few months prior. I had managed not to lose or maim one of them, so I decided to bring them along to Oregon as well.
We had rented a Jucy, those minivan-RV hybrids, for Lightning in a Bottle. It had been nice, but not quite big enough for the whole family. I’d made up my mind that an RV would be the way to go, and spent weeks looking through Craigslist to find the perfect one.
One day, something that was decidedly NOT an RV caught my eye:
The ad said it was a 2001 BluBird school bus with just over 80k miles on it. Something about the bus instantly spoke to me, and I emailed the owner. The next day, I found myself driving 60 miles into the winding reservoir roads south of San Jose, California to go take a look at it.
When I got there, I saw that the thing was HUGE. The ad had said it was 40 feet, or 12 meters, but it still looked much bigger than I expected. It turns out that at least in California, 40 feet is the longest RV that can be driven without a commercial driver’s license.
The owners were two brothers who, in addition to living at the top of a mountain that had one of the steepest dirt roads I’ve ever driven, had a habit of purchasing military surplus vehicles. It looked decidedly like a prison bus, but they told me it had actually been used to transport troops at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base camp. I, and many strangers, have still always affectionately called it ‘the prison bus.’
After browsing a handful of other school buses listed in the RV section on Craigslist and talking to a few mechanics, I knew that the 24 valve diesel engine could easily go 500k to literally a million miles, which I’d seen a few city buses surpass.
The price seemed fair, so 48 hours later, I drove back up the mountain to buy my prison bus.
I had never driven anything larger than a moving truck. Even then, I’d only driven it on the highway to give my husband a break when we’d moved from California to Arizona. I was absolutely terrified to drive the prison bus, so I was grateful when one of the brothers offered to drive the bus down the mountain for me. All that was left for me to do was to get it back to the highway, conveniently located on the other side of this road:
The way back to the highway was winding and full of 25 MPH, 90 degree turns, soft shoulders and drop-offs. It was what I could only describe as a white-knuckled baptism by fire. Nevertheless, I got the bus home without incident.
Conveniently, all of the seats had already been removed in the very back of the bus, so there was enough room for me to put in a spare king sized-mattress I had at my house. In the middle, some of the seats had been flipped backwards and positioned to face each other. I also happened to have two twin mattresses, so I put them between these seats.
Once the van was equipped for sleeping, I swooped up my kids and hit the road - armed with my newfound respect and appreciation for drivers of large vehicles, supplies, and the world’s most understanding and adventurous nanny, a mid-50s Honduran saint named Loris.
Stay tuned for what happened next.