Day 6: Tim, Jimmy and Jillian

When I laid out the route and dates for our journey, I originally planned for us to skip from Yellowstone straight through to Seattle. What a mistake. Yesterday afternoon the two of us arrived in Bozeman to pick up my brother Vince who had flown in from the Midwest, and to visit Justin’s friend Ryan. After not-so-patiently spending a handful of hours glued to the Bozeman Library’s free internet (in order to maintain radio contact), Vince finally met up with us across the street from the Montana Ale Works where we were hoping to set up our laptops, grab a burger and a quick pint, and then generate a bunch of content.

Feeling hungry yet energized, we ordered some massive bison burgers (except Vince, who somehow expects to survive as a vegetarian traveling with two voracious carnivores), pulled out our laptops and got to work. Our server, Tim, was extremely genial and was making some solid recommendations, and in what was likely a combination of excitement and dehydration we eagerly sampled a rich variety of the local offerings. This hampered production significantly, but gave us a chance to spend more time with Tim, who it seemed was something of a kindred spirit.

Editing photos from Yellowstone at Montana Ale Works.

Editing photos from Yellowstone at Montana Ale Works.

He was stoked about the bus and the journey and shared with us bits of his own adventures. He knew what it was like to be on the road, and how welcome some of the comforts of home can be. He knew we would be looking for a place to leave the bus overnight and told us that we should park in front of his house. Vince, who was the designated driver moved it to Tim’s place a few blocks over and came back to finish off the night with us.

During the course of the evening we also befriended another wayward westbound traveler, Jillian. Justin and I had been staring at each others ugly mugs for the last five days straight, and a feminine presence was more than simply welcome. She had flown from her home in Philadelphia to LA, rented a car and embarked on a solo road-trip that already passed through Utah, Wyoming, and Montana, and was continuing west on a similar route to ours. She was smart, funny, and attractive, and made a wonderful addition to the characters already in our crew.

We spent the remainder of that evening sampling the local wares, shooting pool, sharing travel pictures, playing vulgar card games and enjoying the company of new friends. That night was a celebration, the first of our journey. It was the kind of celebration that had no specific cause, or if there had been one, it had been lost in the deep end of a pint. A night I would never forget, could I remember it in the first place.

Tim picking a fresh salad with his son Fergus.

Tim picking a fresh salad with his son Fergus.

The next morning, we were greeted on the sidewalk outside the bus by Tim and his glowing children, Fergus and Liam. Tim had to run a few errands with the kids, but let us know we were more than welcome to shower, have a cup of coffee, and recharge our batteries literally and figuratively. We were humbled and gratefully accepted his hospitality. When he returned with the kids, we were ready to pack up to avoid overstaying our welcome. Instead, he invited us to stay for lunch and hand-picked us a salad from his garden, and as we ate in his back yard under the shade of an umbrella I began to reflect on my surroundings.

Tim's 900sqft home.

Tim’s 900sqft home.

Tim’s house is incredible. On the corner of the block in a neighborhood lined with small, re-invented pre-war homes, shaded by long rows of mature trees is Tim’s piecemeal masterpiece. Sided with corrugated steel and barn-boards he reclaimed himself, surrounded by small well-maintained gardens of veggies and berries, with a basement full of bikes and snowboards, Tim’s 900sqft home provides everything he and his wife need to raise their beautiful family of four. His home has a character that could not be anticipated. It could not have been “designed”. It had to emerge. Each element was constructed out of necessity, with available resources, bearing the mark of the craftsman, without obscuring the rich history of reclaimed materials.

I’m telling of the story of the bus to let people know that it’s possible. You can live in 200sqft. You really can. But it’s a bit ridiculous. It’s extreme. Conversely, the size of a modern suburban home is also extreme. Like Goldilocks final bowl of porridge, Tim’s house is just right. I’m sure there are moments where 900sqft can seem a little cozy, but it truly has all of the elements that make a house a home.

Watching the kids play on the bus.

Watching the kids play on the bus.

We would have loved for Tim to join us on our journey, and as we sat on the bus watching his kids play, we let him know as much explicitly. For just a moment you could see his mind wander, pausing briefly to fantasize about an adventure. But then he looked over at his kids bouncing on the bed and smirked. This is where he needed to be, this was home.

After saying our goodbyes to Tim and his kids, we headed west from Bozeman, traveling in parallel with Jillian, to meet up at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.

Hank, Vince and Jillian at the Caverns.

Hank, Vince and Jillian at the Caverns.

Now, I’ve been on a few cave tours in my time. The formations are always amazing, but every cave I’ve toured has had a similar breadth of formations: Stalactites (hanging tight from the ceiling), their counterpart Stalagmites (who might someday reach the ceiling), and the ones I like to call Stalag-I-made-it’s (when the stalagmite finally completes its multi-millennial trek to the ceiling.)

This tour, however, caught me completely off-guard. The cave was largely what I expected it to be, but what made this tour a truly unique experience was our guide, Jimmy.

Lewis and Clark Caverns.

Lewis and Clark Caverns.

It was, and I cannot overstate this: The Best. Tour. Ever.

Jimmy’s guidance, although informative, was not terribly rehearsed. It was a completely un-sanitized experience. Jimmy seemed to care little for scripted spiels, instead speaking off the cuff, nonchalantly offering geological information interspersed with off-topic personal anecdotes. His demeanor was casual, and his delivery was conversational, much to the chagrin of the tour-goers still descending the stairs, well out of earshot. In a sense, Jimmy was not really giving the tour, he was on the tour with us.

At one point, after already having descended hundreds of stairs down into the mountain, Jimmy offered us the opportunity to turn back if we were reluctant to continue. There was a moment of silence as everyone considered, what the hell is that supposed to mean? Someone calls out, “Is the second half worse than the first half?” He pauses for a second to consider it, then casually decides, “Nah. Not really.” Then Jimmy mentioned that we would have to lay down and literally slide through a small hole, walk like a duck, shimmy through a crack, and crawl on all fours to finish this tour. I’m sure there were warnings about this kind of activity before the tour began, but I did not hear them. I’m not sure the senior citizens or the man with the cast up to his knee heard them either.

Vince and Hank excitedly discussing the tour.

Vince and Hank excitedly discussing the tour.

The lack of structure on the tour was endlessly entertaining. We never knew what was going to happen next. More than once, Jimmy flipped a switch, momentarily casting the cave into darkness, neglecting to first turn on the lights ahead. As the lights reappeared, complete strangers would share a wordless glance, as if to say, “Is this really happening?” Although I believe the tone of the implied question varied dramatically somewhere between delighted and concerned depending on the tour-goer.

Jimmy knew the tour was unorthodox. He could tell that at least some of us were thoroughly enjoying it, and he began to open up and embrace it. Arriving at one particular cavern, after having already enjoyed a number of ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ moments, Jimmy reveals the cause of the chaos. He has in fact, only been employed at the caves for a month, and had been taken through the caves only four times for his training. According to Jimmy, each of his training tours were different, so he assembled (and I use the word ‘assembled’ lightly) his own version of the tour. As a result of Justin’s fantastic sixth sense for capturing essential moments, we happened to catch this conversation on tape. It is our pleasure to share it with you:

 From the caves we continued west, planning to meet again with Jillian, this time in Missoula. As I drove, Vince was able to enjoy the fruits of his labors for the first time. Over the past three months Vince has spent four solid weeks of 8 to 12 hour days working on the bus, entirely unpaid, taking direction from his detail-oriented-yet-chaotically-disorganized older brother with no complaint. The scenery along the route was fantastic. I was grinning from ear to ear as Vince and Justin played in the back of the bus taking in the sights, and enjoying the space he had helped build.

Stepping up to the best view in the house.

Stepping up to the best view in the house.

Missoula that night was a continuation of the previous evening’s causeless celebration. Less than 24 hours after meeting her, Jillian had become the fourth amigo. (We tried multiple times to convince her to ditch the rental car and travel with us for a few days out to the coast, but she politely declined. I told you she’s smart). After ordering an especially large sampling of the local brew, we realized the vehicles should be moved to a final location before the beverage was consumed. Vince and Jillian took the vehicles to a lot where they could stay overnight, and Justin and I set off to make a dent in the 20 full glasses in front of us. That night we drank, we told stories, we eagerly told everyone we met about the bus. It was an aimless and shameless evening, filled with new friends and impulsive decisions, which probably explains why we ended up passing out in a Walmart parking lot.

Our time in Missoula capped off a wonderful stay in Montana, and our adventures with Jillian. Montana caught me completely off guard. As someone who comes from flyover country, I should have known better than to assume Montana was a barren void. Without a doubt, the most unexpected highlight of the trip.

Sunset on the road to Missoula.

Sunset on the road to Missoula.

32 Responses to Day 6: Tim, Jimmy and Jillian

  1. Murray Lunn

    Awesome!

    I’d love to go spelunking sometime and this post definitely nailed it for me. Looks like you guys had a wonderful time and Time (and family) look like they’re living quite comfortably. So far, so good, be safe and good luck!

    • Hank Butitta

      I’m not sure why this post convinced you heading into any cave was a good idea, but best of luck to you! Thanks!

  2. Uncle Brad

    Sounds like you are doing this trip the right way. Keep enjoying the moments.

    • Hank Butitta

      It’s a heck of the journey, I’ll see ya when we get back!

  3. Mary Jo

    Ha! I mentioned the Lewis & Clark Caverns in my other post and then proceeded on to this day of your blog. Very nice 🙂 You mentioned that small hole part of the cavern that you kinda had to slide down to get to another part of the cave…we were with my bf’s brother, a disabled Vietnam Vet. Not sure the extent of his injuries but he walked VERY stiff from arthritis and he slid down that hole without any complaining. He had been there before and was anxious to show us the cavern. Very awesome eh? That was def. a highlight. I, too, never thought much of Montana, until I got there and saw mountains for the first time in my life. For YEARS..I felt strong yearnings to go back to the mountains. Never have. I live on the Michigan/Ontario border on the Canadian side (SSM). anyway….too much info…your travels just made me think back to my own travels out there…I’m happy. thx.

    • Hank Butitta

      Glad you had as much fun there as we did! Thanks!

  4. Doug C

    Great adventure you have going there, Montana is a wonderful experience, next time try it further north…

    So I was hoping you wouldn’t ignore us here in Spokane on your way west, we are not quite as obvious as P-town or the emerald city but we do have a welcoming ‘alternative’ culture here, next time give us a try, if you dig you’ll find us welcoming and with our own version of heaven 🙂
    Good luck in your travels, I’m envious!

    • Hank Butitta

      Sorry I didn’t give a mention, but we stopped for coffee in Spokane and loved it, so walkable! Thanks!

  5. Steve Davis

    Nice. Yeah I think 900 sq ft is perfect for a family with 1-2 kids. I personally feel I need about 400 as a single to be happy, then add on a wife, maybe 600 total, then 200 for each kid. The average american home is over double the size it was in the 50’s and that was when people were also living more densely, so on average each person has 3.1x more living space.

    • Hank Butitta

      Right? Why is the value of home based entirely on square footage? 900sqft is a bit cozy, but totally doable! Thanks for the comment!

  6. Dwayne

    wow ,thanx for posting your trip and how it all is unfolding , i’m envious, and Kuddo’s to everyone involved to. I’ve been following the small house theme for about a year , and by you doing the Bus theme it made the small living spaces theme a reality for me as well. I have been looking into doing something similar to what u and your friends have done to, by any chance ,what did your proff.s say , and what type of budget did u factor for ?like did you do a lot of refurbished mats. did u decide to do a laminate type materials for weight etc.. You folks have really peaked my interest in your design theory just from the picture ive seen so far ! WTG and gratz .

    • Hank Butitta

      By the end of the semester, the professors were all on board (although at the beginning, some of them may have thought I was crazy. In fact, they probably still think I’m crazy, but at least they’re on board!)

      The reclaimed gym flooring was my biggest re-use score, otherwise I used mostly new material.

  7. patricia boyd

    Love the pictures makes me want to hit the road. Sounds like you are having a great time.

  8. joanne

    I am architecture docent and really enjoying this blog. I might even mention it to my audience when giving tours. Way to Go!!!

  9. harry stalder

    Seriously inspiring. Am getting a gutted 1972 Grumman aluminum motorhome, good mechanically/structurally, and plan to do the same thing. Will follow you guys. As a child of the late ’60s people used to do this, with psychedelic enhancements. If you get to south Florida, we have room for you. The Everglades and Florida Keys are beautiful and unique.

  10. harry stalder

    Forgot to mention travel book Blue Highways, by William Least Heat Moon. You may enjoy it – he used a Ford van.

    • Justin Evidon

      Harry,

      Thanks for your comments. I have actually been reading a copy of Blue Highways that my grandfather gave me.

  11. Susan Hotard

    I am thoroughly enjoying reading about your adventures. Two questions: 1. Why didn’t you visit the south? I was born and reared in Columbus, Georgia, 100 miles south of Atlanta and our city has some of the most beautiful ladies… I’ll leave it at that.
    2. Men often travel alone but I’m curious to know if Jillian has written about her experiences as a woman travelling alone. I’m 66 years old and this is something that interests me.

    There’s nothing like the Smokey Mountains … give them a go. Have a safe trip. Susan

    • Hank Butitta

      We only budgeted enough time to rush through this shorter route, but we’re already scheming a larger journey! I’ll have to ask Jillian if she’s written anything about her travels, it must be a very different experience!

  12. Samantha

    Thoroughly impressed with your blog. It takes me back to my days as an over the road truck driver…when I got sick of being contained approved routing, I’d ask my dispatcher to send someplace interesting with lots of time to get there. Then I’d drive like crazy to get there early and rent a car and go exploring. US Hwy 15 (if I remember correctly, traveling south out of Missoula into Idaho was a spectacular drive. Had to remind myself a few times that I was behind the wheel of a 40 ton vehicle and to keep from letting my eyes get too distracted.

    • Hank Butitta

      It’s a lot easier to make those long hauls when you’ve got a few drivers to rotate through! Driving is a great way to see the scenery, but it’s nothing like sticking your head out the top of the bus! Hope you get the chance to do a bit of adventuring without 40 tons behind you!

  13. Michael?!

    Vulgar Card Game, CAH? I think that would be awesome to play on the bus!

  14. Stori

    I absolutely love Tim’s house! Gosh, whenever I see a house with real, true, honest-to-goodness character I have to stop and stare at it a little. Something so rare is a gift. Your bus is like that. Justin’s pictures are like that, too.

    Deliberate living shared through satellite!

  15. sebastian

    Can I merely say such a relief to discover someone who actually knows just what theyre talking about on the internet. You need to know how to carry an issue for you to light and earn it critical. More people have to read this and understand this part of the story. I find it difficult to believe you aren’t more popular because you definitely possess the gift.

  16. Jonathan T

    Great! Now I have to start a bucket list:
    1. visit Jimmy at the caves
    Watched the video and LMAO. I have friends who live in Montana and his honest dry wit is right on the money.
    •••
    ST
    J TELFER

  17. The Good Luck Duck

    Outstanding! Love your photography. Keep on rolling.

  18. Great Grandma Ginny

    Hi Guys,
    Whew, took me another 90 min. to get this far. Think I will need another day but I will get caught up.

    Just wanted to say in the 50’s we bought our first home. Picked out a lot on a street of empty lots. We visited every couple of days and watched every nail, pipe & electrical line go in. Moved in 3 months later. We had one child at the time. House, 3 bedroom, brick ranch, full basement, kitchen & living room 880 sq. ft. $11,900 on a VA loan (Korea) Stayed 8 years until child #4 turned out to be a boy. 3 boys & 1 girl would not work. 3 kids in one bedroom was not feasible.

    But had we had 2 & 2 like my friend did, we would have stayed there & lived just fine as they have all these 50 plus years. A family can live very nicely in 900 sq. ft. (w/basement). We need to get back to basics, truly we do.
    Blessings,
    GG Ginny

    • Hank Butitta

      Thanks for sharing your own “small home” story… although it was probably just considered a “home” back then!

  19. Elise & Rob

    Hi Tim!!!!

    ~Hank, you met our Bozeman friends. In fact, we also knew the family that owned the house before Tim. We miss living in Bozeman. And we also share your spirit of adventure. This year we have started homeschooling our boys and have our eyes on the future when we can hit the road with them again. Right now we are in a “stay put phase”‘ as our boys are adjusting to the new rhythms of homeschool. Isn’t it all a fascinating adventure!!?? We will be following your journey from Billings MT!! I am so glad you have this awesome blog and fantastic pics!

  20. jiho Son

    it’s my dream~!

  21. mario

    O.M.G. qu’elle merveilleuse chance vous avez de pouvoir découvrir la terre en vous promenant en bus que vous avez tout , tout et tout réaménager…Vous devez être vraiment très très fiers de vous !!!! Awesome !!!! Have a nice trip….i am proud of you !!!

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