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Matt – All About #TheGreatBusTrip

I don’t know too many people who are fortunate enough to work for a place that buys its employees a bus and allows them to play, tinker and modify it to their liking, but I do know that we are those fortunate employees. A road trip from Ellijay, Georgia to Boulder Colorado with 6 friends in a bus for 9 days… all for business of course. After all we were on the clock. Anyway, this trip is completely real and it was the greatest adventure we had all experienced together. To think something that holds so much weight in my mind started with the simplicity of looking up a bus on craigslist is pretty weird to grasp. But that’s how it started. Danny found it, emailed it to Bill and next thing we knew there was a new-old bus out front at Camp for all of us to see. We had a month before we were to leave. We set to work immediately…

At this point it is probably proactive for me to mention WHY we were doing this. The idea was to find an RV or converted bus to drive our entire staff to Boulder Colorado where a conference was being held that we were going to attend. We wanted to promote Camp Highland and hopefully raise some money for scholarships for Camp along the way, and with 2,400 miles round trip there was time to advertise.

Pat did most of the work; demolition, couches, chairs, desks and surfaces, beds, places to hang enos, a place to mount the T.V., cabinet space for food, a place for the cooler, any and all wood work, oh and the installation of the carpet. If it required a power tool to be finished then Pat was the one to thank for its completion and installation.

Nick handled the problem of supplying enough power for 9 days for 6-9 people throughout the entire Freedom Stallion. The solution had something to do with additional batteries which handled the inverter he installed and then connecting wires to other wires or something and then magical things happened. Or at least that was as forth coming he was with me, I’m not complaining seeing as we had power for the whole trip.

I thought of myself as the assistant to the first two. Anything they needed I was mostly willing to help, but more so I wanted to learn how we were going about turning a bus into a livable RV for 9 days. For instance; I almost never use power tools or have to worry about sanding furniture, but luckily they MAKE power tools to sand the things Pat needed so I knocked out two birds with one stone.

The rest of us: Caitlin, Rachel and Daniel, were all responsible for the image and look of the Freedom Stallion. Rachel repainted some of the more antiquated parts of the bus in addition to some pretty epic eagles on the front and sides. She and Daniel also brought cameras to capture the coming shenanigans. Which we had plenty coming our way.

The Freedom Stallion was looking great, and it was ready to hit the open road. The inside looked like a bachelor’s pad designed to fit in a hallway. Two hammocks in the back just above two bed’s right next to our cooler of food, a table for work and food, two couches facing a beautiful 55 inch T.V. and (when the novelty of Kansas inevitably faded) a Playstation 3. Additionally, a surface for our microwave, our various snacks underneath all of that, and a warm carpet underneath it all so we could sleep on the floor, if we were so tempted.

We were, in fact, extremely tempted to sleep on the carpet which in hindsight was one of our greatest investments, and I mean that seriously. The beds and hammocks were in the back of the bus which seemed smart and it saved space, however by the time we had made it to the first stretch of highway we realized there was a problem; we didn’t compensate for how bumpy the bus was. It was so bumpy that at one point we all turned our attention to the back where Rachel was being unceremoniously tossed into the air repeatedly and without mercy in all sorts of directions just from sitting on the bed. The unfortunate reality of the Freedom Stallion converting its beds and hammocks into trampolines and sling shots respectively was that sleep would be no guarantee. We soon figured out that if we wanted sleep during this trip we just needed to lay down in the middle on the comfy carpet and made a little nest with all the blankets and pillows. Contrarily if we needed to wake up we simply hopped in bed while the Freedom Stallion was moving and let it ricochet us off of the walls and windows until we were awake.

So we had sleeping down and waking up was even easier, but what did we do in the mean time? Well we drove. In shifts carefully calculated out to be “whenever you get too tired” for each person. Which for most of us meant 5-6 hours straight. The driving wasn’t all that bad. It went pretty smooth minus not being able to exceed 59 miles per hour, that was actually pretty brutal. And if at anytime we hit an incline of any type, we had the hazards on and were patting and encouraged the Freedom Stallion while it was struggling to maintain acceleration, regularly falling below 30 miles per hour. I was particularly uneasy while listening to the engine trying to take on the slight hills Kansas threw at us, knowing that Colorado could only be much much worse. Whoever was driving was also subject to the unfortunate lack of cruise control; meaning that the driver had to pull the chair up as close to the gas pedal as possible so that their entire leg didn’t fall asleep from the force it took to keep it pressed to the floor. We mixed things up and stayed optimistic though. We stopped fairly frequently during the day to take pictures and document the bus and the scenery it was in. I’ll never forget how empty and clear the state and sky of Kansas is. Or when we pulled over to long board alongside the bus for an hour or so. Or whenever we all hopped on top of the bus to take a picture (we actually did that pretty much any time we stopped the bus).

Driving took up only a fourth of one person’s time since we split it up between all the guys. So the rest of our time we could: nap (mostly this happened in the carpet but we would have to be careful not to trod on anyones face), work (Gavin got us a pre loaded hotspot to connect our laptops to so that we could still check emails and take care of anything outside The Stallion), hang out (the best thing about the bus was watching anyone trying to walk without falling over when the bus was moving, or when it slowed or changed gears suddenly and witnessing friends fly into counter tops or into other friends and at one point a television) , eat (microwavable ravioli was our specialty), play video games (Nick and I went ham on some FIFA) and make videos documenting our trip (we all had some skits that we did, like fake interviews and tours throughout the Freedom Stallion, time-lapsing some of our more favorite parts of the drive, and videos just being goofy like when Daniel was catching the eye of drivers out the window of the Stallion and then racing them on foot as they passed the us). Unfortunately the bus didn’t have running water for showers or bathrooms so we were all a little more grimy than we enjoyed being.

But the only real reason I mention bathrooms at all is that if you’re traveling with Caitlin and see a Starbucks THEN JUST KEEP DRIVING. If she somehow manages to get a hold of coffee then don’t be afraid to smack that Venti Vanilla Latte right out of her hands. It’s for the good of the group. All that to say, while Caitlin brings joy and happiness and can brighten up any one’s day by just being present, bathroom breaks are really her strong suit.

All of that (minus the dedication Caitlin, seeing how she had the luxury of flying out to CO and was only with us on the way home) accumulated into 2 days and 2 nights of traveling. Not too bad especially considering we thought the bus was destined to break down any minute. It had spectacularly shattered Gavin’s expectations by arriving in Boulder on time. I think the biggest smile I can remember having on the whole trip was when we arrived at the hotel, watching Gavin watching us drive by as he began leaping up and down flopping around like those inflatable tube things you see at car dealerships. We had made it to Colorado. (I should mention at this point that Caitlin, Gavin and Miriam had flown in just a few hours before us just in case plan A broke down before getting to Colorado).

I always hear people saying how the destination isn’t as important as the journey but in this case Colorado was pretty much the sweetest part of the trip. We went to a concert with a lot of dancing (this is my second favorite memory from the trip because the band playing was incredible in addition to watching people I don’t normally see dance, like Gavin and Daniel, dance their hearts out), we all went skiing and snowboarding (this was amazing, Pat and I stuck together both being beginners at snowboarding. We took heavy falls together but in the end we were flossing hills and carving passed tiny kids without hesitation or remorse), and explored the Rocky Mountain National Park (this was our heaviest day for documenting. Everything was picturesque and every hike was something out of Narnia. We also watched the sunset and received news that our Falcons were going to the SuperBowl. Not a bad day. Except when I hit Miriam in the neck with a snowball and it melted all down her back. Thats on me my bad Mir). However, we hadn’t forgotten the reason we were in Colorado and a good number of us (with the exception of Me, Daniel, and Rachel), went to the conference to learn up on some good internet things about how to maximize this and make that more efficient. I actually have no idea what it entailed so clearly my summation can be excused. Anyway, myself, Daniel and Rachel had the day to ourselves. We also had The Stallion.

So we made good on our freedom and we drove the Stallion through the roughest terrain Colorado had to offer and Colorado had no chance. The Freedom Stallion conquered all. It was too nimble for the icy roads in the snowy valleys, and too sturdy for all the loose gravel and slush attempting to bring it down, and far, far too powerful for the Flat Irons (a mountain range) which we drove straight up to the tip top where we could see tiny white and red dots of the traffic in between cities. (Consequently, I thought that people had to be moving incredibly fast for an adrenaline rush to take place, but I can say for a fact that the biggest rush I’ve ever experienced is driving that 45-foot bus up and DOWN the Flat Irons averaging a speed less than 5 miles per hour).

In my mind this immortalized the Freedom Stallion. And even with its inevitable breakdown in Nashville (a measly 3 hours before the trip’s end), the beast remains an Ebenezer to an amazing and extremely unrefined time. The Stallion shoulders all of my memories of the midwest and it is responsible for all of our safe transport across the majority of the United States. This could not have been possible without Bill (who was our chief backer and supplier of the bus itself), Danny (whose quick browsing found us the perfect bus), Gavin (who was not so secretly trying to make the entire trip a reality for a long time) and I’m pretty sure Christian Cook has claims to coming up with the idea for the trip itself, and he definitely has claim over naming the bus The Freedom Stallion.

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