We’ve all seen the #vanlife posts on Insta and been jelly of those bohemian hipsters living the life we all want – waking up to views of the Pacific Ocean one day and mountains the next.
Living a simple life of wanderlust is high on the collective bucketlist. But there is another movement, one a little less romantic perhaps and a lot more practical. I’m talking the #skoolie movement. Yeah, that’s right – school bus turned RV. The difference is a little more than just a choice of vehicle. A converted school bus offers more of a living quarter for thriving in nomadland for long periods of time.
It’s a difference in attitude as well. I like to think of Skoolies as a little more punk rock, or at least the one I’m sitting down with is. Rogan Ramage is a self-proclaimed punk, vegan, tarot-card reading polyamorous with a refreshing view of life. She’s also a nurse and a mother, and now she’s a bonafide Skoolie.
After years living in Midland, Ramage returned home to Owen Sound to convert her school bus into a vehicle she could live in. “Really it’s just escaping from capitalist culture,” she says. “How much do I need? How much can I reduce my overhead so I don’t have to engage in selling my soul for monetary advancement.”
If you’re of the minimalist mind frame like Rogan, the first step in joining the Skoolie life is to sell or rent your current abode. You likely live in a place that provides all the comforts of modern Canadian living: both hot and cold water in steady supply, a nice bed, a TV, a dining room table, a backyard… you get the point. So, if you’re ready to give that all up in exchange for a simpler life, then step two would be to find a used school bus.
Ramage found hers in Cambridge and had it converted over a few months while she got the other details of her departure in order. Namely, quitting her job as a nurse.
You see Rogan recently came to a few realizations at 37 years young: one, that she was an empty nester with her 18 year old son off to school; two, that her nursing pension was about to change for the worse; three, that she didn’t want to be one of those people who were counting down the years until retirement.
“[My coworkers] were literally wishing their life away,” she says. “But no one is guaranteed those years.”
So, she gave her two weeks’ notice and began living her alternative life, collecting her pension to keep her going. “My coworkers were not shocked” she laughs. “Anyone else living in a school bus, they’d be shocked.”
And the conversion process? Well it took a little longer than expected. A diesel engine was a must for Ramage. “I wanted to be sure the motor was going to go for a million kilometers,” she says. The bus was quickly named Lilith after the Goddess of Chaos and she was soon headed East leaving her old sedentary life behind.
Living the Skoolie Life is certainly not all roses and sunshine; it’s not for the faint of heart. Sure, Instagram feeds might showcase a series of sunny morning oceanside pics and sunsets with guitars and drinks, but there is a lot that happens in between. What we don’t see are the nights boondocking in Wal Mart parking lots, rainy days in cramped quarters, and coifs of hair after weeks without a shower. But for those who can take the downs with the ups, it’s a rewarding lifestyle.
“Your living is more acute, so you appreciate when things are really blissful. And when it’s chaotic, you’re like ‘this too shall pass,’” she says. And she appreciates her fortune in being able to choose this lifestyle. “99% of the world can’t because they don’t have the money to do it – the privilege – or they’re too scared, have too much anxiety to jump off and do it. So, I’m always like ‘ground yourself, bitch!”
Life on the road is full of humbling experiences. Anyone who’s spent long stretches of time traveling knows this. Ramage’s first such experience came quickly when she was visiting her son in Ottawa before heading to the Maritimes. Hers was mechanical in nature and forced her to re-evaluate her plans. Luckily, a GoFundMe campaign got Lilith back up and running.
“I don’t do well asking for help, so this journey has helped me with that,” she admits. “It’s okay to ask people to lend a hand.” Her friends and family also pitched in, and the mechanical issues were fixed but not without a hefty bill. She’d also lost the use of her solar panel leaving her without A/C, which is a big problem when you’re traveling companion is a Husky Akedo.
One thing could be done, though: a name change. It was time to leave Lilith, Goddess of Chaos, behind, and adopt Marguerite, Goddess of the Meadow.
A bald eagle sighting was a comforting sign for her as Marguerite rolled East. Her adopted philosophy of relying on the kindness of strangers led her to meeting a string of memorable folks along her first adventure: first was a fellow polyamory who turned out to be a Couch Surfing Ambassador for the Ottawa region and had an empty place for her to crash for a week. Things were starting to align.
Second was a woman on the Cabot Trail, for whom she did a Tarot Card Reading for. “I stopped at a brewery as I do; as one does,” she laughs “And something urged me to bring in my tarot cards.” The woman invited her to Meat Cove, and “a vegan should definitely go to Meat Cove,” she laughs, and explains the impact of that side-trip.
Third was a friend of a friend in Halifax who interpreted a ‘recharge’ as a psychological recharge instead of an electrical one and offered her a place to stay for a week with all the luxuries of home. And so, naturally they became good friends. This is one of the dangers of living as a nomad: you find community and don’t want to leave.
“What I’m learning is the longer you stay in a place, the more likely you’re going to be able to meet folks and get an idea of the culture, so I’ve made it my travel mantra to not rush when I’m heading somewhere, to not put a moratorium on my stay,” she says. “Don’t put pressure on yourself to be somewhere.”
But she also feels obligated to keep moving because this trip was all about being solo. “I want to see what manifests when I’m in my own flow and nobody else’s,” she says. “When I’m 95% by myself, what does my flow look like?”
And the 5% of the time she’s not by herself, you’ll likely find her at a rave. This self-proclaimed ‘Queen of Dark Dubstep’ is back in Ontario to hit up a Toronto rave before her big adventure south. She’s off to North Carolina to surf the Outer Banks for a bit, and then to Mardi Gras. As you’re reading this article, she could be anywhere that’s navigable by bus.
“With school bus culture, it’s really funny, like there’s a lot of interesting Skoolie swarms that happen. You see like twenty school busses all getting together,” she says and smiles. I can tell she’s eager to get back on the road. She offers me a tour of Marguerite and I’m impressed by how well everything is organized. I’m sold on the lifestyle, and wonder how long I could do it for myself. It gets me to thinking: will there be an end to Rogan’s journey?
“I hope I find someplace that I fall in love with,” she says. “Ideally, an eco-village would be my place, with likeminded people.”
The words Glassworks Eco Village come to mind and I hope that maybe I’ll see Rogan and Marguerite back in this area one day to settle. I’ll make sure to throw a few epic dubstep nights at our Highfive space to make sure the Queen of Dark Dubstep gets to rave from time to time.
Check out Rogan’s Tarot, Reiki and Coaching business Route to Root and on IG at @rogan_shrill
Written by Jesse Wilkinson