Deep in the wilds of Alaska sits a broken-down, decommissioned Chilliwack school bus. And the group of young Chilliwack men who were forced to abandon it there this summer are now busy planning a rescue mission.
The Rowdy Bus, as they christened it, was outfitted for life on the road. The insides of the Ford E-350 are converted for comfort, with Greyhound-style seats and bunk beds in the back. There are hooks for hammocks, too, and shelves for food and gear.
A multipurpose platform spans the roof of the entire bus. By day, it’s a great tee-off spot for endless golfing action, and by night it’s a massive place to sleep under the stars.
And finally, under its orange hood hides one of several transmissions it took to get it there. But like its predecessors, it’s broken. The grease on the engine is likely mixed with the sweat and tears of Brenden Hills, the mechanic of the group who managed to nurse it that far. The route from home base in Chilliwack to Trapper Creek, Alaska, and a few detours along the way, adds up to about 5,500 km.
Hills was one of the eight adventurous men who bought the old bus off of a musician in Vancouver who wasn’t using it anymore. It was in need of repair, but they knew they could get it road worthy.
So Hills, along with Lucas Fast, Tyler Dyck, Jared Les, Mike Anderson, Noah Rempel, Ryan McKnight and RJ Bruni, decided to buy the bus and get started on their dream trip.
He wanted $900, and they talked him down to $500. Like everything else on the trip, they joke, when you split something eight ways, it’s “basically free.”
They left on June 28.
What happened along the way from Chilliwack to Alaska was documented in stunning video and photography by Bruni, who owns Inmist Productions with his cousin.
Hours and hours of content has now been whittled down to about 13 minutes, and the resulting video Rowdy Bus Goes North has been posted to Youtube. The film captures the beauty of the Alaskan Highway trip, and the wonder and excitement of the travellers. But it also has an underlying theme of friendship, as the guys face obstacle after obstacle in their journey.
Eventually, the Rowdy Bus makes a final stop on the side of a highway, on July 4. And that’s as far as she would go.
The Rowdy Bus eventually had to be towed to Trapper Creek, the closest town. Trapper Creek is just on the outskirts of Denali Park and almost within reach of Mt. McKinley, the tallest peak in North America. Before getting there, they sat at the side of the road for four days, running out of water on day two. They hitch hiked in small groups, because who would pick up a gaggle of eight guys?
But they did find a place to call home, at least temporarily. One of the women who picked them up mentioned her son, Levi, was starting a hostel.
The eight of them showed up at his front door, at about 11 p.m. at night.
He had hair down to his knees, they said, and a free spirit that they soon found common in the tiny hamlet of about 200 people.
“A lot of people helped us out,” Bruni says.
Because this is a town where “everyone just helps everyone,” Levi opened his home, where they stayed for the next two days. They eventually pulled themselves together, bought bus tickets to the nearest airport, and flew back home again.
But this isn’t a story of defeat. This is just the middle of the adventure. They are making plans to return to Levi’s house, fix that bus and drive it back to Chilliwack. They are starting an online campaign to raise money, in addition to what they can each contribute from their various jobs.
To say the bus has seen better days is an understatement. The Rowdy Bus has seen amazing days. Incredible days. Days of complete joy and adrenaline only experienced by young men traveling unseen roads. It has seen their tears, too, as it broke down time and again along those roads. But it’s adventures like this journey to Alaska that have helped forge their long-lasting friendships. All ages 19 and 20 now, they’ve been friends since grade school. They started hiking locally as young teens, and that grew into longer trips. Last year, they traveled together to California.
While the bus is sitting idle, the film is gaining traction online.
It’s received almost 200,000 views on Youtube, thanks in part to a Reddit post. They are thinking about submitted it to festivals, and Bruni may extend the film in the future. They’re hoping the film inspires others to live out their dreams and explore the world.
Their big dream is the Pan American Highway, from the northern tip of Alaska to the southern tip of South America.
Their best advice to other travelers is to be open with your plans, because you never really know where the road is going to take you. While they were ready for mosquitoes and bears, they didn’t see either. But they climbed mountains they didn’t knew existed, and met people they’ll remember for a lifetime.
To see Rowdy Bus Goes North, click the image above.