Traveling in a Prison Bus - Part 2 - The Festival

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Driving 600 Miles To A Music Festival In An Old School Bus

Traveling in a Prison Bus - Our way to the Music Festival

In case you missed Jackie’s last post, she bought a used school bus to transport herself, her three young children, and their nanny almost 600 miles, or 965 kilometers, to a music festival. Her previous post explained the process of picking up the bus. Now, she tells all about the journey to the festival.

As we started our journey from California to Oregon, I had no idea how many things I’d learn along the way. Things like, for example, school buses can’t drive many more than 65 miles per hour. Or, the fact that the speed dropped to 40 miles per hour when driving over mountains. Or the fact that there are a lot of mountains between California and Oregon (duh). Or the fun fact that other motorists drive like total psychos after being stuck behind a bus doing 40 miles per hour up a mountain. Or that going down a mountain is considerably more scary than going up one. Or lastly, that Google Maps’ estimation of travel time will be a gross underestimation when you’re traveling in a prison bus.

The smaller and not so small problems when driving a bus


Driving a bus is not the easiest thing in the world. Unlike a car, where you can make steering adjustments with little to no consequence and almost immediate response, a bus basically always feels like it could tip over at any minute. You can feel small steering corrections as they travel all the way from the front to the back. None of your inputs can be sudden or drastic. Everything has to be a gradual shift. When you hit that little rumble strip on the side of the highway, you can’t just jerk the wheel and get back into the highway’s good graces. You have to eeeeease yourself back into the lane and pretend no one noticed your 40 foot prison bus off-roading.

There’s also this thing in a bus called the “tail swing” which, to this day, is still the death of me. As if the fact that you sit in front of the front tires in a flat front bus isn’t weird enough already, there’s a good 12-15 feet of bus behind your rear tires, which makes it kind of like driving a car backwards. If you turn the wheel to the left, the back of the bus actually swings to the right, and vice versa. This can mean that you might straight up hit something with the back of the bus - like a sign, a tree, a post - while you’re trying to pull away from the curb, so you have to very gradually pull away. It’s a process.

There’s also that little matter of the bus weighing sixteen thousand pounds, or roughly 72,57 kilograms. When you’re headed downhill, the momentum happens fast. 65 miles per hour goes from being a suffocatingly slow crawl to a terrifyingly fast descent. Every time you move the steering wheel even slightly, the whole bus shifts. The air brakes make all kinds of different noises, and you’re pretty perpetually afraid to lock them up. The first few times I went down steep mountains, I almost ruined a pair of clean underwear.

Also, being passed by an 18 wheeler while you’re in a bus will put hair on your knuckles. They produce a ton of wind and air pressure that pushes you around, as well as being very uncomfortably close to you, since you both take up pretty much the entire lane you’re in. Some of them can climb hills much faster than you can, and some of them grind to a halt in front of you so fast that you either have to swerve around or hit the brakes.

The kids enjoyed the ride in their first “school bus”


Despite all this, aside from a small incident involving a concrete post in a Starbucks parking lot, our trip was going well, and I was getting more comfortable driving the bus. The kids were enjoying riding in their first-ever school bus, Loris was doing a great job of keeping them occupied, and the portable toilet (basically a bucket with a seat on it) that I picked up was crucial in keeping me from having to pull over every 45 minutes when one of them had to go to the bathroom.

We hadn’t been in much of a rush to get to the festival. The music and festivities didn’t start until a Thursday afternoon, so that Wednesday, we stopped in Bend, Oregon, about a two-hour drive from the festival, to grab food and a monster sized battery for power (shout out to Sportsman’s Warehouse for charging it up for me after I called to verify they had it in stock). Excited that we were on schedule, we headed down the final 20 mile (32 km) stretch of country road to get to the venue and about a mile in, came to a long line of cars that was stopped.

At first, I thought nothing of it. It’s normal to have to deal with traffic while heading into a festival, and it usually moves at a slow but steady pace. We didn’t move, though. We sat… and sat… and sat. My kids, freshly energized from lunch, began to get restless. To their credit, they had taken the 15 hour drive thus far like champs, despite it being fairly hot and not having air conditioning. Once we slowed down and there was no air flow in the windows, it was stifling.

Unfortunately, sitting in traffic in a bus is not nearly as entertaining to young children as driving down unfamiliar roads and seeing new things. They wanted to get off the bus and explore, but we were next to a field of dry grass so tall that I wouldn’t be able to see them if they went into it. I also had no idea at the time how long we would be sitting. I was sure that if I let them out, we’d start moving right away. After 2 hours without movement, I relented and let them off the bus.

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They passed the time by charming the people in the vehicles in front of and behind us. My kids are the kind of kids that people who don’t like kids tend to get along with. They are smart, friendly, and have a mother that knows when to tell them to leave people alone (typically after the 12th or so question).

6 hours of traffic jam


By this point, almost everyone was out of their vehicles, socializing and hypothesizing as to what could be causing the delay. We had spotty cell signal (at best), so no one knew what was going on, or why we weren’t moving. It wasn’t until much later in the evening when we crept by the RV dangling off the side off the road, propped up against a tree with 2 wheels in the air,  that I understood the reason for the backup.

After 6 hours of standing still in traffic, everyone sitting in line was exhausted and anxious. When the line finally started moving, traffic was creeping along at such a slow pace that most drivers were sleeping for 15 minute stretches.

When the line would begin to move, everyone would honk their horns to wake each other up and we’d all creep forward another quarter mile, stop, then sleep again. This cycle went on for nearly 12 hours. Rather than arriving around 2 p.m. on Wednesday as we’d planned, we ended up pulling into Big Summit Prairie as the sun was coming up the next day around 5 in the morning.

My next challenge was finding a camping spot where I could park a 40 foot bus, which I can confess was not the first time thus far in the trip that it occurred to me I may not have fully thought through the whole “ridiculously large school bus” thing.

Miraculously, I spotted a long, but narrow strip of real estate right next to some tents, and a small SUV and went to working doing a 20-point-turn parking job that was nearly impossible.

This is probably a good time to remind you that it’s 5 a.m. I should also probably mention that a 24 valve diesel engine is loud. Like, really loud.

I will never forget the look on the face of the man who poked his head out of his tent to see the front of my beloved prison bus about three feet away, engine roaring. It was a mix of anger, astonishment and confusion that I spent the next 5 days being exceedingly friendly and neighborly to try to overcome.

As it turns out, our camping spot was right next to an entrance, which cut down our walking and made pulling the kids back and forth in the wagon much easier. Our bewildered neighbor had snagged his spot to set up a small table in order to sell camping gear, so he ended up not minding the attention our prison bus drew, as it brought him a fairly steady stream of customers.

Incidentally, or maybe serendipitously, his small store gave me the idea for a business I would end up setting up a few months later, sending me all over North America to work at some of the largest music festivals in the country. Those stories, as well as the story of my experiences at the festival itself are better saved for another day.

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When  Jackie McGuire  is not traveling North America in her prison bus or writing about those adventures, Jackie spends her time chasing three kids and two dogs. She's also a CEO, consultant and mentor for startup companies and attends dozens of music festivals every year.

When Jackie McGuire is not traveling North America in her prison bus or writing about those adventures, Jackie spends her time chasing three kids and two dogs. She's also a CEO, consultant and mentor for startup companies and attends dozens of music festivals every year.

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