The Saga of High King Margo

The Saga of High King Margo
Photo by Jen Theodore / Unsplash

Note: in continuing the theme of transparency over Insta inspo...

In early 2020, before Covid, I took a sabbatical from work as I was already burnt out from working in start-up land for the previous eight years. In returning to the company after the break, I moved into a business operations role.

Two weeks later, everything locked down.

Since I have some chronic health problems - and a background in molecular biology - I took it really seriously and quarantined with my cats for a long time.

A long time.

Fast forward to 2021 and the solitude had me feeling deranged. As an introvert who needs a good battery recharge, even I was craving people. The van life Instagram rabbit hole was addictive.

In previous years, I'd idolized that lifestyle and was already following an abundance of accounts. One husband and wife duo that converted vans stood out to me, and I connected with them for the build out.

After hearing my hopes, they convinced me a short school bus, a "skoolie", would be a better option because of its size and extra storage possibilities.

We found a party bus for $6,900; I see the irony.

She was dubbed Strip Steak for...obvious reasons. A mechanic did some work and gave the go-ahead, so we purchased.

The husband said he noticed an electrical draw but could not find it. He assured me it was not a problem and began the build.

Ten-ish months and one rental car later, and I had driven out to Oklahoma to pick up the bus. She had been re-christened High King Margo. Immediately, on the ride back, my friend and I noticed an issue that the husband said sounded like a faulty throttle sensor on the accelerator pedal.

Imagine driving 60 mph on the highway and the engine just....cuts out. You drop down to 40 mph in a matter of seconds and drivers all around you explode with rage. You're already the giant machine going under the speed limit, and now you've scared the shit out of them.

We pulled over, tried to get a new sensor to change it out, and wound up at a local diesel mechanic's house in Oklahoma. He said it was something wrong with the air compressor and worked on that for a while. Given the timing of everything, we hunkered down in an RV park for the night.

The next morning, we got back on the road to North Carolina. We drove for a short while until it happened again. Whatever the diesel mechanic had done did not fix the issue. We pulled over again and tried to find the sensor but, with as much irony as the universe could muster, there was not a single one in stock for a 90 mile radius. The stores that did have stock were in the opposite direction from home.

So we soldiered on and continued to drive back to NC because it was all we could do. We made it to the storage unit parking spot I had rented, and I got a Lyft home like the zombie I was at that point. I slept for 12 hours and woke up feeling dread.

Over the following week, I had driven out to HKM several times to do some work inside and made plans to get her to a local diesel mechanic for a full work-up. A friend wanted to see her, so I drove her over.

After the visit, as I was leaving, she burned through a belt, the air compressor shit itself, and I was dead in the water. I had to have her towed to the aforementioned diesel mechanic.

They did their thing and I was able to take her on a few local excursions. She always had a hard time turning over in the morning when started. Everyone said, "well, it's a diesel, that's normal."

Except it wasn't.

The decline of my mental and physical health due to Covid was the catalyst for leaving my full-time job. Earlier this year, I lost my baby girl very unexpectedly, and Shiro and I were trying our best to get through the day-to-day. I had hoped to take HKM on a friends-and-family tour of the US to try to bring us back to life.

About ten years ago, I'd rented out my condo for two years when I moved to California for work, so I decided to do it again while we traveled. Most of my stuff had been sold off or put in storage, and I'd contracted with a local team to renovate my small condo to prepare it for rental. The timing was great because they were starting when Shiro and I would be taking HKM to a local campground for a few weeks to start our trip.

We went to pick up the bus and the battery was dead, so first that needed to be replaced. Finally, we drove to Jordan Lake and stayed overnight. Shiro hated it. He'd been in the bus a couple of times before to expose him to it, but he's not what you'd call an adventurous cat.

He will run away if you walk directly at him. He watches your shoes; if they are pointed at him, he'll run, but if you side-step towards him, he's fine. Cats, man. Quirky af.

The next morning the brand new battery was also dead.

I lost my shit. In a big way.

It took the local diesel tech 40 minutes of cable hook-up time for HKM to turn over. The tech was flabbergasted considering his colleague had just put the new battery in her the day before.

HKM needed to go to the diesel mechanic for them to figure out what the hell is going on with her. Since my condo was already being renovated, I drove Shiro and myself to my friend's house. Her family was supposed to be in Disney and they offered me their house while the bus stuff was getting sorted.

Insert Hurricane Ian.

They wound up having to delay their trip for a week, so we had some fun sleepovers and I got to spend a lot of quality time with my nieces and nephew.

Another week and change later and HKM was ready for pick-up. She needed a second battery. All vehicles of her size and ilk needed two batteries, and she'd only had one.

Do you know how furious a person can get when a solution should have been identified previously when any number of literal experts have worked on something....but it never is?

Pretty fucking furious.

So that is the good news. The bad news is that the engine gave out down the block from the mechanic's place after picking her up.

I got her to turn over again and spoke with the mechanic shop owner. He said that his team mentioned that she's just an old lady and will likely need an engine rebuild (or a new engine) in the not-so-distant future.

Let's recap costs so far, shall we?

Bus - $6,900
Conversion - $32,000
Mechanic 1 - $2,000
Mechanic 2 - $2,500
Mechanic 3 - $1,200
Total - $44,600

That doesn't include the storage parking space, diesel fuel, or driving/camping costs accrued thus far. But it's enough to be going on with.

SO! All that being said. Some options that spring to mind.

  • Sell her and use the money to get a newer, more reliable option. Stay in a corner of the condo that's still being renovated for the time being.
  • Get in HKM and go, and expect that you'll end up on the side of the road all sweaty and frustrated.

I need a hug.