Most cross-country road trips are fueled by greasy food, but the one that Sean Busby is fueled by the grease itself.
Busby, his wife Mollie and their two friends Russ and Brittany Hopkins are driving from Utah to Alaska and back in a 1977 Dodge Travel Queen motor home running on vegetable oil and powered by solar panels.
“We basically drive it off the stuff you get out of fryers from restaurants,” said Busby.
Before this trip he didn’t have any real experience with alternative fuels. The idea came from Russ.
“He and his wife live pretty seasonably,” said Busby. “They live in a straw-bale house and they’ve converted all their other vehicles to run off waste vegetable oil.”
Russ, a professional photographer, wanted to capture the Alaskan landscape on film.
Busby, a professional snowboarder, saw it as an opportunity to play in the mountains.
“In January we came across a motor home and we purchased it,” said Busby. “And it’s just been work, work, work since then to get it on the road.”
Along the way Busby has also stopped at schools and summer camps to give motivational presentations.
Busby is a type-1 diabetic.
Eight years ago he was a professional snowboarder living in Colorado and training with members of the U.S. Olympic snowboarding team.
Then he got sick. In two weeks, he lost over 30 pounds.
A first doctors misdiagnosed him with type-2 diabetes. “It was kind of a shocker of a diagnosis,” said Busby.
Type-2 diabetes is a disease often related to obesity and poor diet. That didn’t fit Busby’s lifestyle as a professional athlete.
It took another three months before the doctors realized their mistake. In the meantime, Busby’s condition had deteriorated.
“During that time, I had a lot of snowboard sponsors drop me because I was so sick,” he said. “Basically my body needed insulin in order to survive, so my body was shutting down.”
With all his health and career on the rocks, Busby fell into a deep depression.
After he finally got the correct diagnosis, he started doing research into his disease.
“I came across these stories about these two-year-olds, these seven-year-olds, these 15-year-olds, that all live with type-one diabetes, and they live life no differently,” he said.
It caused Busby him to re-examine his own life.
“If a two-year-old can do it, so can I,” he said.
As his health returned, he was able to restart his career.
“A couple months later, I was back on the pro tour again, picking up sponsors and winning competitions.”
Busby now travels the world snowboarding, but he also talking to kids about his story.
“I wanted to show other kids the same sort of inspiration that they gave me,” he said, “You can be a person first before a diabetic and go out and chase your goals still and not let this disease limit you.”
With Mollie, Busby has also founded his own nonprofit, Riding on Insulin, which hosts international ski and snowboarding camps for kids with type-one diabetes.
And while he lost a few sponsors initially, he’s picked up a few since. One is Insulet, which makes the OmniPod, a tubeless insulin pump.
“It’s a medical device that I use to keep me alive,” said Busby.
Because it doesn’t have tubes, it’s much less prone to freezing. That’s important on backcountry snowboarding trips, he said.
“It’s one less thing that I have to be thinking about when I’m climbing a mountain where there’s already plenty of other things to be concerned about, such as crevasses and that sort of stuff,” said Busby.
The insulin pump has been much more dependable than the RV.
Since they left Utah last month they’ve had a mechanical breakdown in every state and province they’ve passed through.
In Utah the bike rack broke off. In Idaho they blew a tire. In Montana an injector failed. In Alberta they had to rebuild their transmission. And in B.C. the brake pads had to be replaced.
“We’re going to come home with a new motor home,” said Mollie.
Mechanical problems haven’t been the only setbacks.
When they finally got too close to the Yukon, they got stuck for more than two days when the road washed out. But that wasn’t too bad, said Busby.
“We spent one of those days at Laird Hot Springs, which is nice,” he said. “After you’ve been in a motor home for so long it’s nice to soak in some hot springs and move around.”
But that meant they wouldn’t be able to spend as much time in the Yukon as they had originally planned.
In March, Busby was working as a guide in the Yukon, based out of the Sky High Wilderness Ranch.
“I fell in love with the Yukon, especially the Fish Lake area around there,” he said.
Although their time in the Yukon was short, they did have a chance to get in some backcountry snowboarding and rock climbing before pushing off to Anchorage.
“It’s definitely been really interesting, a lot of life lessons learned on this trip,” said Busby. “And we’ll all have some great stories for our families and friends back home.”
Contact Josh Kerr at