Our last stop on California was near Lake Tahoe, at Donner Memorial State Park. We really enjoyed this day visit, which we hadn't planned on. After we left the rest area outside of San Francisco and Sausalito, we planned to drive as far as we could get until we neared Yellowstone. But when we drove through the area amd stopped for gas, we saw the Donner Memorial on the map and decided to stop for lunch and enjoy the day after such a rough day and night in the city.
We paid $10 to get into the park and museum, which was pretty cheap compared to the national parks; one park in Monterey wanted to charge us $50 for the bus, even though it is now classified as an RV and only had 5 people in it. We turned around for that one! Anyway, Donner was inexpensive and turned out to be one of our favorite stops.
We spent the day hiking through the treesand playing in the lake. Donner Pass is a little above 7,000 ft elevation and has beautiful, breathtaking views. Many were kayaking or paddling in the lake, and others were camping or hiking, like us. I had a few calls to make for work; at the moment, in addition to teaching classes, I am also working remotely as a contractor for Outschool directly. My job is to call prospective teachers who have requested a call for more information on becoming an Outschool teacher, and help with the application process. It is an easy job for me, I like talking about my awesome job! Working for Outschool has definitely changed my life for the better, especially as it allows us to afford our roadschooling lifestyle.
After finishing my calls we visited the onsite museum, where the kids earned their Jr. Ranger badges. The museum focused on the tragic journey of the Donner party and others, who were stranded on the pass during the winter of 1846-47. Though it was a sad experience, the museum did a fantastic job of focusing on the strength of the survivors and victims, and especially on the courage of the men who rescued them. I was also impressed that there was a large section devoted to the building of the railroad, including much about the Chinese immigrants who were instrumental to the accomplishing of that task.
After we left the museum we were starving and found a little BBQ restaurant in Truckee. The food was good and we enjoyed walking around the small, quiet town. It was off-season there and perfect weather. We would like to plan a camping meet-up there with some of our CA friends sometime, as it was just so breathtakingly beautiful. We definitely could have spent more time there but were ready to press on. I said goodbye to the nostalgic smell of the pines; as a girl who grew up in the mountains of the Los Padres National Forest, I will always be fond of that smell!
Next, we left the Sierra Nevadas and drove on through Nevada and into Idaho. We stopped at another rest area for the night after a long drive. It was a quiet stop and we rested up and planned for the next two days, which would be spent at Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
Our plan for San Francisco was to visit some sites, like the pier and some parks, before meeting up with the staff at the Outschool home office. When we arrived in the city, we quickly found that parking was going to be a lot more challenging than we had anticipated. We definitely knew it would not be easy, but it was a warm day and by the time we found a spot to park, we had been driving around for over an hour! Once that was done, however, it was fun to walk around that side of San Francisco, as I had only been to the tourist spots. We had thought about doing the tourist areas the next morning, but after the parking nightmare, we decided to head out of town that night. The kids really did have a great time at the Outschool office, where the staff was so welcoming and invited us to their "happy hour". They even let our dog, Chewy, come up and socialize, and be in our group photo. Zhane played Mario Kart with some of the staff, and the girls preffered to draw on the large whiteboard wall in the office. They gave them sheets of Outschool stickers, and gifted me two beautiful custom-made Outschool mugs, which are absolutely beautiful!
Next up....one more stop for California: Donner State Park and Truckee, CA!
The Turners have been in CA for a couple of months now, and I wanted to update the blog on our travels. We left Arkansas at the end of July, driving mainly straight through and only stopping two nights because we needed to be there by a certain date. Nate was covering work for his brother, who was leaving for 3 weeks.
Before we left, I finished the paint job we had planned on doing last year but never had time. We had painted it white last year but my original design was white with an aqua blue wave going across both sides. I used a custom color I had mixed at Sherwin Williams, oil-based Rust-Oleum. It was easy to paint with a small paintbrush for the detailed lines, and a roller brush for the wider areas. We love it! Serenity looks much happier, and we get a LOT of compliments from random people on our "custom paint job". 😁
Once we got to California, we parked the bus at the family's house and for the most part it sat empty while we house-sat for my brother-in-law. After a month of house-sitting and visiting friends, we were ready to be back on the road!
During our stay, Nate had finished setting up the water heater and water pump, so the plumbing is all in place now! We have a shower and sink, but we decided to wait on installing an RV toilet for now, until we decide on the type of toilet we want, and find a black water tank. For now we are using a flushing camping toilet and it actually works well for what we need. We also finished the bunk beds for the kids, and a custom countertop that I stained and sealed. It's looking really nice! We are still working on the lighting and roof; Nate had installed can lights in the ceiling last year but he decided to put them on two different switches, so he took them out. They got put on the back burner while we complete the plumbing and heating, and for now we use a plug-in LED light, which works well.
As for our travels, since being in CA we were excited to visit Sequoia National Park, where we saw the world's largest tree and the kids earned their Jr. Ranger badges. It was a great day! If you have little ones, you definitely need to check out the Jr. Ranger program; just ask for the booklet at every visitors center and they will tell you what you need to do. I'll warm you, though, they really make those kids earn their badges!
Our plan was to leave Southern CA and head up north, to San Francisco. On the way we spent two nights at Rincon Parkway, which is a great place to park steps away from the ocean. We had a great time on the beach and our neighbors were very friendly, but unfortunately, on our last night, Nate accidentally forgot to pack the generator back into the bus. We woke up to find that someone had stolen it. 😔 We were crushed; it was a very expensive generator that he had found for a great deal (worth $1300 or so, bought for $250!), and we definitely don't have the budget to buy that one full price. Fortunately, we looked up some deals at Harbor Freight and they had a quieter model, Predator, on sale. We put part of it on credit and bit the bullet to buy it. We had discussed eventually switching out the generator for this brand, which runs very quiet, but we didn't planned to do that so soon! It was a blow but a good reminder to never let your guard down. This is easy to do in the skoolie, especially when you are surrounded by other fellow RVers and campers, who typically are so helpful and kind. Unfortunately, there are locals who take advantage of this and we learned that the hard way.
Once we left Ventura, we drove up to Monterey. We had to stop a couple of times to let me teach my classes on Outschool, and make some calls as part of my job with Outschool HQ, but that was easy enough. I did have one class in the late afternoon and we decided to stop at a park to let me teach it outdoors, since it was a dance class (flexibility and conditioning class), and there isn't much room in there to dance. We ended up on Paso Robles, CA, at a small park downtown, and I taught my class on the grass there. It was so nice, though I did feel a bit self-conscious about stretching while people walked by. 🤣
That night, we attempted to stay at an RV park in Monterey, but upon driving up to the booth, we found out that the max length for campsites is 25ft. This seems to be one of the more common hurdles in CA, especially. Our bus is 40ft. and although I always check their websites before we drive there, it is often not on the site, no one answers the phone, or it is hidden in the fine print. Many times we just end up finding a rest area, which is what we did this time once we left. It was disappointing, because we had hoped to explore Monterey a little more; it is one of my favorite places on the planet. I am a huge fan of John Steinbeck, and have visited before, but I wanted to share that with the kids. I know we will be back again eventually, I'm sure, but it does seem that the skoolie is more suited for open roads, open campgrounds and wide parking lots; not so much for crowded cities or tourist areas that don't often see RVs driving through the downtown streets. As much as I love the wild nature, I also love to see the culture of the area, explore the downtown areas and get a feel for what it's like to live there. I like to visit museums and tourist spots to understand the region better. I am a nostalgic person and enjoy taking pictures for memories and scrapbooks. It's a little challenging to take pictures from the window of a bumpy school bus!
Up next, I'll continue our trip to San Francisco and beyond!
Serenity is still a work in progress; we are far from being done...I'd guess we are at about 60% completion, because while we can definitely travel and comfortably sleep in it, we still need to get quite a bit done before we can say we are finished remodeling it. Here is a little back story and info on the conversion process...
When we bought the bus from a friend, the seats were already removed by him. He had intended to convert it himself but fell ill and was unable to complete it. We drove it off his property with only 2 benches that we kept to use. Nate got straight to work removing the flooring and the wall and ceiling panels, which took a very long time because they were riveted. He and Zhane (our oldest son) then removed all of the old insulation. From there, the girls and I got to work scrubbing as much of the rust we could remove from the floor, using vinegar and metal scrubbers. After we prepped the floor, we installed laminate flooring. We wanted wall-to-wall floors that covered the entire bus in case we decided to move furniture and plumbing, so the entire floor is covered up to the driver's seat. After that, we installed the walls and insulated the ceiling, put in the benches and installed seat belts (see below for details)*.
We were getting close to our set departure date. Although our schedule is usually pretty flexible, this time we actually had a plan to be in CA to meet up with family, so we tried to hustle as fast as we could to have the bus ready in time. This meant more than a few nights of working at 1am, finishing the ceiling and attaching the small trailer that we meant to carry the generator on.
When we finally left Arkansas, Serenity was in good shape for a road trip, freshly painted and prepared with beds and a hammock, a counter top and sink with food pantry, benches and a table, and our generator. We also brought along our work tools, paint and materials, thinking that we might have time to work on the bus while we were in CA. As it turned out, we did not have much room or time for any remodeling, other than a simple bed frame for the queen-sized RV mattress, and some minor repairs to the back trailer that held the generator (we had some bolts come loose on the road, resulting in having to carry the generator indoors for half of the trip. Thankfully we still had plenty of room for it!).
For this next trip, Nate and I are working on staining the ceiling and finishing up the plumbing. The lack of toilet on last year's trip made traveling a little more challenging, especially with 3 kids with small bladders! There were a lot of truck stops made, but often the kids had to "rough it" in the woods. Thankfully, they are familiar with that, as we go camping often, and know what to do. Still, our 3 year-old needed a lot more assistance, which was often inconvenient. This time we will have an RV toilet installed, with tanks. (We considered a composting toilet but this one was free and those are $1k!)
I will be recording some videos of the process and uploading them to our new YouTube channel, The Turner Traveler. Be patient with me, I haven't uploaded any videos other than a "test" upload, but there will be many more to come as we continue to work on Serenity within the next few weeks before we head out back to California!
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*A note on the benches and seats: We did install our own seat belts. They are bolted to the frame. We read that some states do require passengers to be seated and restrained in RVs and motorhomes, but were unable to confirm that this is a requirement on school buses, since they don't come with seat belts anyway. However, since one of our kids is still in a harnessed car seat, we decided to go ahead just in case. We bought the seat belts online here, and then bolted them into the frame, using the original bench seats that come with the bus. I made custom covers out of a sturdy canvas fabric to make them more comfortable and match our decor. We could find no instructions or guidance on how to safely install seat belts, other than various Facebook groups with skoolie owners who mentioned installing it themselves, so we did the same. We have not had any issues with them coming loose or fraying, etc., and they work great to keep us all in our seats on the bumpy road (the bus has no suspension, so it is always a crazy ride!).
Welcome to the Turner Traveler blog! This is a brand new site, so there isn't much to read yet, but my hope is to update our friends and followers frequently on our travels and skoolie conversion.
As for me, I am Astrid, the mom/wife, and will be writing this blog for my family. We get so many questions about how we converted the bus, how we support ourselves on the road, how the kids get schooling done and how we manage living in a bus with 3 kids. My hopes are that we can answer all of that through our blog and videos that I plan to upload to a brand-new YouTube channel as well!
For now, feel free to follow our blog and sign up for updates. Our next trip begins in about 2 weeks and we will be on the road for about 3 months or so (who knows??!). Our travels so far will begin in Arkansas and include several states: Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Iowa, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and possibly more! We like to change plans while we are traveling, depending on what comes up and what we find, so every day is an adventure!
Thanks for following our travels!