Ash Bocast and Andi Zolton are in Europe, enjoying their first vacation in three years, and taking a break from hosting year-round women’s mountain bike experiences through their company Roam Events. But of course, they can’t resist the siren call of two wheels. “Everything’s so bike friendly,” says Zolton. “It’s been really easy, actually.” And then Bocast chimes in: “Well, except for the part where we bought flights through Thomas Cook, like, twelve hours before they announced their bankruptcy. So, we have to figure out how we’re going back home.”
The two met in 2015 at a Sturdy Dirty enduro race. At the time, Zolton was a pro rider and Bocast worked as an events manager for Liv Cycling; their romantic connection wouldn’t manifest until a year later when Zolton applied for Bocast’s job as she prepared to launch what would become Roam. The two geeked out on a mutual cycling affliction—and acknowledged a mutual attraction that went far beyond their shared sport. “It was love at first bike,” laughs Bocast.
Now engaged, Zolton and Bocast help others, primarily women, get stoked on bikes. While their one-off Roam Retreats, designed for those who already know how to ride and want to get out and shred somewhere beautiful, take up the most calendar real estate, they also host a series of events that speak to shifting views about gender in the cycling industry. There’s the Roam Bike Fest, billed as one of, if not the largest women’s mountain bike festivals in the world. Then there’s the partnership with world champion cyclist and bestselling author Rebecca Rusch, whose Rusch Academy hosts all-inclusive educational camps several times a year. And taking it back to the beginning, the duo now supports the Sturdy Dirty Enduro Series, the first women-focused event series of its kind.
While they used to bed down in a 2017 Toyota Tacoma, Zolton and Bocast now operate the Roam empire from the more expansive interior of a bright teal school bus named Nancy, who is living her best second life after serving the children of Florida’s Broward County Public Schools.
Year, make, and model?
2004 International CE 300 Bus
Does the vehicle have a name?
So, what’s your origin story with Nancy?
Ash: We were fully committed to vanlife and had a few gentlemen at a few select Ford dealerships not been a-holes, we probably would be driving a Ford Transit. They treated us like we were little women that didn’t know anything about cars, or they would send their 15-year-old salesman out to deal with us because why would two women spend, you know, $40,000 on a brand new van? Same thing with the Mercedes dealership. So we got a bad taste in our mouth.
A friend that was helping us with work at the time just kept being like, “You have to get a bus; the bus is where it’s at.” In addition, we’re good friends with Brock Butterfield, who is the founder of Bus Life Adventure. He was always pestering me, like, “Forget about vanlife; bus life is where it’s at.” We started to look into the bus thing a little bit more seriously and pretty quickly it was like, Oh my gosh—why would we ever get a van?
Andi: Ash did hours and hours and hours and hours of research, looking at hot shot trucks and ambulances and obscure shuttle vans that they only make in foreign countries. Then I was in Laos with Rebecca Rusch, out of service for a week, just mountain biking in the jungles. When we finally got into a big city and I hooked up to wifi, the first text I got was from Ash, saying, “I might’ve bought a school bus.”
Ash: We found it on eBay and I put a bid on it. We bought the bus for $10K. The big winning point on it was that it had a Cummins [turbodiesel] engine and that it only had 73,000 miles on it. And I was just like, What is the deal? Why are we winning this bid? Like, this should not be happening because that’s kind of the ideal bus situation. I had to go do something else in Utah, so Andi and a friend who was working with us flew to Florida, picked up the bus, kind of sight unseen, wrote a check, and then proceeded to drive the bus back to Colorado. They ran out of gas, but didn’t know what had happened; when the mechanic came out to plug into the system to troubleshoot, the screen popped up with the mileage on the engine—
Andi: —and it was 173,000. We ended up having more engine trouble; we blew an O2 sensor and rolled into this Cummins dealership in Columbus, Missouri. The guy’s like, “Yeah, so, that’s not a Cummins engine; it’s an International.”
How did your use of Nancy evolve?
Ash: We would never have built her out the way we did the first time if we hadn’t needed her for shuttling humans and bikes. We built her out with office furniture because we had a bunch of weather delays. Finally, it was like, we gotta just do this, so we actually painted the outside of her in the middle of a thunderstorm, which I don’t recommend. What ended up happening is we were like, If we don’t leave tomorrow, we will miss our own festival, and it was like, well we got to sleep somewhere. We had this big, ungodly furniture; the desk was like six-feet-long, it weighed like 7,000 pounds, and it had built-in drawers. We got a bunch of tools out, dismantled this desk, wedged it into the bus, and bolted it down. We had these foam panels that were 32 inches wide and we’re like—that’ll fit on the top of the desk. So that was our bed.
How did you eventually build her out?
Ash: I would actually recommend doing it the way we did it, where we lived in it for a year just empty. You kind of start to figure out what’s important to you. Like, is having a kitchen and cooking space important to you? Is having a dinette important to you? For us, it was like, I don’t ever want to have to put my bed “away.”
Andi: In January, we were at my folks’ house in Seattle and it provided a really great space for us to be able to tear everything out and start from scratch, except for the floor. We got out some blue tape and coolers to act as benches and couches or whatever we were thinking that we’re going to build and changed our minds about a bazillion times. We moved our bed to the back corner and raised it high enough that you could roll a bicycle underneath. It’s four feet wide—we’ve got 48 inches of bed now!
Ash: For me, breaking bread and having a dinner table was always really important, so even though we didn’t really plan on doing a lot of cooking, just having that communal hangout space was really important, so we created a dinette that steps up into the bed. Just before we did our build-out, we were visiting my mom who’s been harping on me to get my crap out of her garage for 15 years. My childhood dresser was still in the garage, so we grabbed that and threw it into the bus; that kind of became the cornerstone of the whole build-out. Then we took the couch that we had been using as a bed, lowered it to like a proper couch height.
Andi did really awesome cabinet work to rearrange some drawers that had been in other spots. We took a filing cabinet that had become our kind of catchall drawer that we had in the bus, and Andi took the drawers out, reconfigured them, and that’s now like our dog’s bedroom. Then we put up this wall, intending to utilize it as a space to hang things from. But it actually divides the bus so that when we’re in our bed, it kind of creates a cocoon.
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You don’t have a kitchen or bathroom, right?
Ash: This goes back to living in the space for a while and figuring out what’s important to you. Andi and I enjoy good food, but for both of us, eating is a necessity, so it’s not like cooking or having a meal is the most important part of our day.
I think that’s what is different about us, and the utility of our bus and living space as opposed to other folks who do choose to have plumbing. We work out of the bus and we have events nearly every weekend, so when it comes time to shower or we just need to have a proper meal, we’re often at a venue that has a kitchen. And you know, we’re kind of dirtbags through and through; we really don’t mind going a few days without a shower. I always tell people—that’s why God made baby wipes.
What’s one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had with Nancy?
Andi: One of the times we blew a tire, about a year ago, we pull over and take a look—it had torn out all the wiring back to our good air conditioning unit and tore off the mudflap. We’re 20 to 30 miles outside of Bend, Oregon, and it was a two-day wait to get a tow truck because it was Labor Day weekend. So, we decided to get out our angle grinder, because we travel with all of our tools, and grind the tire flap off so that we could limp the bus into town.
So, we started limping the bus into town and we’re going so slow ‘cause we have a bum tire. Ash looks to the left and she was like, “Are those mountain bike trails?” And I was like, I think so let me look on Trailforks, so I look and yep—bonafide mountain bike trail system right there! So five miles and half an hour later we pull into the trailhead for this trail system and we go on this really rad epic, epic ride where there was a sunset finish at the top. It was just the best day ever.
Ash: I really want a bookshelf, like a proper big-ass bookshelf so we can have lots of books. So, like, having the space for kind of frivolous things; in my case, the frivolous things are books, really.
When people are like, “Yeah, van life, it’s the best!” I’m like, Do me a favor—think about every single night, where am I going to go to sleep? Where are we getting food? Am I safe? There’s no consistency whatsoever, which can get really exciting. It’s new every day. Sometimes you pull in at night and you have no idea where you are, then you wake up and you’re like, holy shit, this is amazing! Sometimes it’s the opposite—like, We never should have slept here, what were we thinking? The lack of a routine can get really challenging, but that is also one of the biggest perks.
Andi: Constantly learning things about school buses. It’s a pro, but sometimes it comes out as a con. It’s just really fun. It’s a good project, constantly.
Ash: You know the lady from World War II on the “We Can Do It” posters, Rosie the Riveter? I think sometimes that Andi and I feel like we are embodying the modern-day Rosie. We feel like we can do anything now.
I think the forced minimalism has been one of the biggest things that I just love about it. It’s forced us to be really, really conscientious of what we buy and what we have. We walk into Target, Costco, or name a store, and we walk out empty-handed all the time. It’s so easy because you’re thinking, we fucking live in a bus. We don’t have space for that. It’s so easy to say “no” to things. You know, your grandma tries like pawn off whatever it is that she’s trying to pawn off on you, and it’s really easy to just say, “Hey, we live in a bus. Sorry!”