After their Roam Bike Festival East, Ash Bocast and Andi Zolton relax together on the front of “Nancy”, their “shmedium” school bus and home. Katie Cooney Photo.
As I load my mountain bike into the back of our truck I hear the sound of dirt crunching from a car approaching nearby. Looking up I discover the source of the commotion: a small teal school bus. The vehicle—barreling down the bumpy dirt road unfazed—suddenly halts to a stop near two other riders. The door opens and I’m greeted with the smile of Andi Zolton who’s at the wheel. Zolton co-manages Roam Events with girlfriend Ash Bocast, and the two also own “Nancy” the school bus. Today, for the last day of their all women’s mountain biking festival in Brevard, North Carolina, she plays the role of shuttle driver.
She motions me over with a wave, “Do you want to ride,” she asks beaming. They were on route to the nearby Pisgah trail system. Sadly, having prior commitments I’m forced to decline Zolton’s generous offer. Instead, I wave Nancy goodbye with the stupidest grin on my face. How could you not smile watching a teal bus towing a trailer full of mountain bikes? It’s so absurd that it’s endearing.
Nancy in her original golden glory. Since acquiring her, the couple has given her a fresh coat of teal paint and intends to add a custom vinyl decal. Brenda Ernst photography.
Origins of Nancy
Bocast and Zolton reached a breaking point after calling a Tacoma truck home last year. While it functioned as a humble abode, it was not conducive for running a small business. In 2015, Bocast had founded a women’s mountain biking retreat company—Roam Events—in which she, Zolton, and Mel Bowen facilitate women’s retreats in world class riding destinations across the country.
After successfully hosting their largest event yet—the first all-female mountain biking festival in Sedona, Arizona—they started to get weary.
Being crammed in the back of a 30-inch wide truck bed wasn’t going to be sustainable, plus a 12-inch by 18-inch corner didn’t cut it for their dog Ryder. They needed to scale up.
“We decided that space was definitely something we needed to upgrade to, which directed us towards a skoolie,” explained Bocast. That term she used, Skoolie, it’s the phrase adopted by the community of individuals who convert school buses into livable spaces. Nipping at the heels of the van life craze, #skoolie represents a lesser known but vibrant alternative to tiny home living.
Why a bus?
Having already worked as a demo driver for the past few years, Bocast knew a van wasn’t going to provide the ample amount of storage they wanted.
“Space-wise you really can’t beat a bus, and I think we liked the idea of it being a little more funky,” said Bocast “I come from a background in the bike industry where everyone has some sort of cargo van. Whether it’s a sprinter or promaster—so having something unique is fun.”
Instead, they found inspiration from friend and bus life connoisseur, Brock Broomfield. In addition to being a professional snowboarder, Broomfield has made a name for himself through his website, buslifeadventure.com
“When I lived in Oakridge I connected with Brock and he was constantly hounding us to get a bus. He actually found us this really rad skoolie and we almost pulled the trigger and last minute backed out,” Bocast said.
Their hesitation was Broomfield’s opportunity, and he snatched up the find. But their decision to wait ended up being a blessing in disguise. Their patience allowed for something even more magnificent: Nancy.
Before and after of the interior demo. Once they removed the pre-existing floor they had to deal with the rust they found underneath—a process that took a laborious two weeks. Roam Events photo.
Finding Nancy and bringing her home
The duo’s must haves—a “shmedium” sized bus with a wheelchair lift access side door—made locating her a bit more difficult than they imagined. Six months later stars aligned through one fateful eBay search.
“The plan was originally for Andi and our business partner, Mel, to fly out to Florida to get it and quickly bring it back to Colorado,” explained Bocast. Except what was supposed to be a three-day trip turned into a 10-day ordeal.
“We got sick, Nancy got sick, we were stuck in Nashville at one point—the moral of the story is not to road trip a school bus with 172,000 miles on it,” Zolton laughed.
Once home, the next step was to begin the renovation—not a small task. When the duo initially acquired Nancy she laid dormant in their driveway for a few months. Then three weeks before their next big event—Roam Bike Festival East—they realized it would be lacking their biggest star. The bus needed to make a grand appearance.
So Bocast and Zolton grabbed some ear plugs, angle grinders, and a few wrenches to go full-throttle bus conversion mode. It was insanity.
“For those three weeks we would wake up at 6 a.m. and work till midnight. It was a fully functional school bus when we got it—think back to when you were in first grade—but it had everything,” laughed Bocast. “The floor was disgusting, it had fourteen years worth of boogers and starburst wrappers in it.”
So they ripped it all out.
Home sweet home, or as they like to say “home sweet Roam.” Even Ryder has own spacious little nook in their new humble abode. Roam Events photo.
“Advice for anyone wanting to do a conversion of any sort: Invest in angle grinders. We started with one battery operated grinder—which was great for about three minutes—and then it crapped out,” said Bocast. They eventually ended up with three grinders to cut down to the base of the bus, which they discovered to be filled with rust.
“We spent a ton of time demoing the inside and building it up back from scratch. There were a lot of random holes we had to patch,” explained Bocast. They would have never thought that something so simple as a floor, would consume two weeks of their life.
“We probably lost 10 years of our hearing even though we used all of the protective safety gear,” they both laughed.
Nancy joins the buzzing crowd at Roam Bike Festival East in Brevard, North Carolina. The festival was her big debut, in which she acted as the primary shuttle rig. Katie Lozancich photo.
Nancy joins the Roam Fest crew
While Nancy is now in use—she’ll make stops in 23 different states—the work is far from over. As with any conversion project, it never really ends.
“There’s so much more we’d like to do, but we’d like to keep her as spacious as possible,” Zolton said. “While this serves as our home, it’s also a shuttle vehicle for our events. We want make sure we can still fit riders and their bikes.”
As result, there are few permanent structures within the bus. They had to sacrifice things like a sink or additional storage so they can fit 10-plus bikes without a worry. It makes Nancy unique, because most skoolies you see are decked out to the gills .
“Canyon coolers have surprisingly become one of our greatest tools. We can use them as storage, seats, and also a refrigerator. Ultimately, things like this give us a lot flexibility to transform a space,” Bocast explained.
Legally they can fit 35 into the bus, but with bikes that number drops to 14. But they just added a bike rack, meaning they can now transport about 16 bikes.
Plus, a bright teal bus is quite the loud statement—and Bocast and Zolton love that.
“You meet really interesting people when you live out of a bus. So many times we’ve pulled into a parking lot and people have wanted to check out the inside—we’re charging for tours now,” said Bocast.
“There’s even a skoolie community online, especially on Instagram. It’s like having a dog or riding your bike across the country: You would never really just walk up and talk to somebody—but those things serve as a conversation starter. Nancy is no different.”
It’s this kind of lovable charm that melds well with Roam’s business and Nancy has dramatically changed how Bocast and Zolton operate. Before, they didn’t have a solid shuttle vehicle to transport their guests, now with the bus they don’t have to pay $1,000 a day to rent one out.
Nancy’s best feature is her versatility. She’s both a home and a shuttle rig, ultimately making it most cost effective for the duo to run their events. Brenda Ernst photography.
It’s always an adventure with a bus
Considering that they’ve only had her since February, Bocast and Zolton already had their fair share of adventures and mishaps with the bus.
Driving in Kansas is a stand-out memory. A big rig with an oversized load passed too close for comfort which forced Bocast to swerve into the nearby shoulder.
“It was a little embarrassing being passed by a huge tractor trailer—Nancy doesn’t go really fast—but I inadvertently ended up hitting some roadkill,” Bocast said. “We didn’t think anything of it, but the next time we found out that roadkill hitched a ride with us.”
But they’re not sure if that tops the one time Zolton accidentally loaded Nancy’s tow-behind trailer, “Bob,” incorrectly. Bob wasn’t weighted right, and it ended up being a roller coaster ride from Colorado to North Carolina.
“Something was thrown off on the suspension, no joke the trailer was bouncing like a bucking bronco,” Zolton laughed. They couldn’t determine what went wrong originally, but they haven’t gotten airborne with Bob since.
But perhaps the most interesting story about Nancy is how she got her name.
“Well there’s two parts to this story. First we wanted to take back the insult ‘Nancy,’” Bocast explained. “That name has been associated with being weak or demure, and Nancy is the opposite of that. She gets shit done.”
“Plus, we like the idea of Nancy and Bob being this quaint Midwestern couple—it’s endearing,” Zolton laughed.
Ash, Andi, Ryder, Bob, and Nancy: all together they make one quirky—but lovable family.
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