The Corner Pieces – Part I : “I had no idea!” (Austin – Clovis – Sedona)

There are many pieces to the puzzle of our decision to become RV full-timers.  One of the big corner pieces was the last road trip we went on.  The ups, the downs and the time spent renewed our energy, fervor and commitment to a simple life of embracing the things that are closest to our hearts.  It reconfirmed our values and ultimately forced us to act.

This was a long and action packed journey full of many lessons, so I am going to have to write this particular blog post in several parts.

Very dear friends of ours were getting married in Malibu California and asked Rob and I to perform a song in their wedding.  We were so excited about the two of them tying the knot and felt so honored to be a part of the ceremony, we started planning the trip immediately.  This was to be our first real RV trip. We were going a significant distance, traveling roads that were new to us and stoping in towns we had never been to before.

I want to just stop for a moment and tell you that this trip was amazing!  We learned so very much! I kid you not, the number of times each of us uttered the phrase, “I had no idea!” is literally off the charts.

From Austin, TX. to Malibu CA. there are two routes you can take.  I10 or I40.  I did some research and it truly seemed as though I40 was our best bet.  Everyone on the internets said it was prettier and more serene… Bullshit!  I40 was one of the most harrowing and terrifying drives I have ever been on.  ”I had no idea!”

Lets start at the beginning: Yay!!! Big drive! The freedom of the road! California here we come!  Sunny the cat is our co-pilot! (yes, we took our cat to Malibu. She loved it by the way.) Desert, mountains, beach, friends, awesome!!!!!! So cool!!!!! 

There is a lot of land between Austin and Malibu and some of it really isn’t so pleasant.  To reach the nightmare that is I40, you have to go through Northwest Texas and a town called Clovis, NM that boarders Texas.  For about 20 miles you pass a lot of industrial cattle farms, some still operational but there are also many abandoned factories and plants used for processing god knows what.

This area of the country seems as though it at one time enjoyed significant agricultural success.  It now looks like something from a B Science Fiction movie.  The cattle “farms”, I am using that word very loosely, are the kinds that you see in documentary films about how terribly cattle are treated.  The cows are packed in like sardines and clearly wallowing in their own feces.  The stench is unbelievable and the sadness is palpable!  It smells like rotten death and putrid disease, but mostly like a whole lot of cow shit!  The shit of poor, abused and mistreated cows that probably end up at chain restaurants and regular grocery stores and eaten by people who don’t know any better. Call me an elitist, snob or health nut if you want.  When it comes to food, I will not deny that claim.

After 12 hours of driving, Clovis was to be our first overnight stop.  “Yay we are finally stopping! Boo! We have to stop here.” I had made a reservation in advance at a clean RV park with good reviews.  This was a Good Sams rated park and it was right on the highway which was perfect so we could get up early and get on the road…

When we got all set up and settled in, the Natural Gas Detector alarm in our RV started  piercingly ringing!  We were a bit panicked.  We kept checking the propane and turning the alarm off.  We were confounded.  What was the problem?  Methane!  Methane gas from cow shit and farts was setting off the alarm!  We closed the door and the windows  to keep the gas out and hunkered down for the night.

We woke up, had some breakfast and didn’t waste any time getting on the road.  We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  This was to be our most stressful drive to date. It started with our first fuel up.  Rob had to get something out of the trailer.  You can’t get anything from inside of the trailer without slightly opening the slide out.  He forgot to pull the slide out back in.  Mind you, it wasn’t out far, maybe a few inches.  Nevertheless, when he realized it and told me and we both realized that there was no place for many miles to pull over and fix the situation, I had what was to be my first meltdown of the day.

We had a 570 mile drive ahead of us.  According to Google Maps it was supposed to take us about nine hours and a few minutes.

When we eventually got to I40 more insanity followed.  It was quite literally all uphill! – But more like up MOUNTAIN!

Here is the long and short of it:
– Within the first 6 miles of being on I40, like a huge warning, we saw the skeleton of what was once a travel trailer, completely burnt out and reduced to a big black smudge on the road.

– The grades kept getting bigger, steeper and scarier.  We were really starting to question if our rig would be able to handle it.  ”We had no idea!”

– Many of the truckers were perfectly polite and fantastic drivers.  In fact I can specifically praise the drivers of the Swift big rigs. They keep it classy on the road! Unfortunately most of the other truck drivers, on that day, were clearly all on some sort of insane Crystal Meth bender – and there were a lot of them! Sometimes it really felt like they were literally trying to kill us.

– We have to travel at about 55mph.  That was not acceptable to some of these fast hauling psychos.  While on a seriously steep incline, one of these assholes decided to pass us. His tire started smoking and then completely shredded, and flew at us while he was passing us.  The big rig went all squirrely and I begged Rob to please put on the breaks and stop.  Rob’s response was that if he stopped there, we would never make it all the way up the incline!  I knew he was right.  We slowed to a snails pace which felt almost like going backwards while the reckless truck driver pulled off to the side, axel still smoking.  So that’s how all of those shredded tires make it to the side of the highway!  ”We had no idea!”

-We encountered temperatures up to 107 degrees and elevations over 7000 ft.  “We had no idea!” – When it rained, we were relieved.

– I40 around Albuquerque should be avoided at all costs. We hit it at rush hour. “We had no idea!”

– At one point we had to sit and idle in the direct burn of the intense sun for about 1.5 hours because of a big rig wreck that was blocking the road.

– We were definitely feeling strange from the altitude and could tell that Sunny was not really feeling too great either.  She had this white ring around her nose which was of concern to us.  ”We can hazzed no idea!”  Eventually we realized that it was basically cat boogers.  Her little wet nose had dried out just like ours had.

– Food. There was barely any to be found on this route.  “But you have a fridge and pantry in your trailer!”  Interestingly, there is seldom a good place in the mountains to pullover and get said food.  We did once.  It was terrifying.  In this situation, a motorhome would definitely be the rig of choice.  Your food would be at your fingertips if you were crazy enough to take off your seatbelt!

– Also, there are grifters at about every gas station with the same predictable story. “We had no idea!”

– AND just when we could not take it any longer, it went on longer and longer and longer and we thought we would never ever reach our destination in one piece.  We seriously almost gave up several times.  We had been on the road in hellish conditions for over 13 hours at this point.

Alas we saw signs for 17, the road that would lead us towards our destination for the evening, gorgeous, mystical, Sedona, AZ. Some relief was certainly on the way.  Or so we thought. There were trees along the road shielding us from the harsh and unrelenting sun that had beamed at us all day, there were no longer massive trucks recklessly careening past us and we were now only 20 to 30 minutes away from our intended destination.

Soon the gently sloping road turned into 20 miles of switchbacks down the side of a mountain. There was a sign, warning that rigs longer than 40ft should not attempt this route when it was already too late to turn around. We descended over 3000 ft, hairpin turns the whole way!  If I didn’t die from death, I was sure, I would die from fright!

This narrow road with a steep abyss below, seemed to wind endlessly as dusk was ominously turning to dark. What kind of cruel joke was this?  It was just one surprise after the other and it did not seem to be stoping any time soon. At this point we were so white knuckled, frazzled and fried we started to seriously doubt the actual existence of our destination.

After 14.5 hours, we finally reached the little town of Sedona and then Rancho Sedona one of the coolest little campgrounds we have stayed in yet!  Even though it was now dark and we would have to back into our site which had a lovely tree in the middle of it (not so good for backing in), we were very relieved. – Yet the surprises didn’t end there.

After many attempts and much yelling, “left, no, right, come straight back, nope, pull forward, try again, don’t hit that tree, watch out for that car….” and attracting the attention of several neighboring campers, we finally got all situated, unhooked the vehicle from the camper and started hooking up water, and electricity – in the dark.

I went into the trailer to put out the slide out and deposit Sunny (World’s most patient cat) inside to relax, only to discover that the one time we stopped to get food out of the trailer, in my haste I had failed to latch the pantry properly.  ”I had no idea!” More surprises!  The entire pantry had become completely dismantled.  The shelves and everything that was in them was now strewn about the camper.  The extreme disarray of the contents of the camper was a true testament to the insane ride we had been on.

“Kate” I hear Rob calling from outside the camper.  “This is full hookups, right?”  Yes, I had made the reservation for full hookups!  “Can you help me find the sewer hookup, I can’t find it.”  After some digging around in the lovely landscaping of our site with a flashlight in hand, we found the hook up!  Hooray!  Not so fast!  Our sewer hose was exactly 1 inch too short to reach!  ”We had no idea!”

We had to hook the truck back up to the trailer in the dark and back it up yet again. More yelling and attention from the neighbors.  We decide to keep the trailer connected to the vehicle until everything is definitely in order with the hookups.  What could possibly go wrong now?  Well, the sprinklers came on and completely soaked us.  At this point there was nothing left to do but laugh. It was all we could do.  Now it was dark and everything was wet, including us. We laughed and laughed as we finished outside and went to tackle the disaster that was awaiting inside.

We took off our wet clothes and put them outside on the picnic table to dry. Wearing towels, we set about to clean up the pantry situation; gather all of the loose items off of the floor and return the shelves to their proper place.  But, something was missing!

There was an entire wire shelf missing!  It was impossible!  How can you lose an entire shelf inside of a 21 foot travel trailer?  “Where the fuck did it go?”  We looked high and low.  And then we noticed that something about the carpet looked strange on the front of the slide-out.  Somehow the pantry shelf managed to cram itself under the slide-out.  We had already put out the slide-out!  How were we going to retrieve the damn shelf?  We were a bit dumbfounded.  ”We had no idea!” Fearing damage and destruction, we carefully brought the slide-out back in. Success!  We were able to fish out the approximately 4ft deep shelf from under the slide-out unscathed.  Let’s celebrate!

We both collapsed on the dinette seats.  Rob pleaded with a higher power, “Please, no more surprises!”  We were exhausted and starving but decided that what we really needed was a stiff drink.  We put on dry clothes, unhooked the the 4Runner from the trailer and set out for the liquor store we had seen on our drive into town.  Of course when we arrived, the owner was locking up and said we were three minutes too late.

Back at the camper we made a simple meal of soup and beans, took showers to wash the day off, got into bed and promptly fell asleep.

We had no idea!

This was just the first part of a very long journey from Austin, TX to Malibu, CA and back again.  Subscribe to my blog if you want to be notified about every exciting and information packed installation!  Next I am going to talk about the incredible majesty of Sedona, how we fell in love with it and why we can’t wait to go back!

My goal with this blog is to educate and entertain.  We share our mishaps so hopefully you can avoid them!

The Chicken or the Camper

When we finally got our camper home from the dealership, after the much drawn out purchasing process, we sat in it and looked around and when faced with the reality of the size, decided that unfortunately, it would probably not be livable.  I mean, how would we do that? How could we possibly get rid of that much stuff?  How could we go without having our individual offices anymore?  Where would we put our guitars?

Last year, after we made our big trip to Big Bend in the Apex to shoot the Deadly Beauty music video over Thanksgiving weekend, we made an even bigger journey for Christmas.  We went to Florida to visit our families. We played a couple of shows and got a bit of press while we were in Sarasota. In a lot of ways this trip seemed smaller or maybe just a bit easier because it is a drive we have done at least a dozen times.  It is a relatively flat drive in comparison to that last journey.  Also there were just two people in the 4Runner instead of four like when we went to Big Bend.

This time the trip to FL was different though because we were now towing our camper, more than 4000lbs and had the back of the 4Runner filled with guitars, amps and monitor speakers. Neither one of these things was new on it’s own, but the combination certainly was. This was the farthest we had ever driven with the camper.  Also it was Sunny, the cat’s first big road trip!  She is a trooper.  I might even go as far as to say that she likes road trips.

This was a cool trip because we finally felt like we were really using the camper for the reasons that prompted us to buy an RV in the first place.  We got to visit friends along the way, it kept us dry and comfortable in inclement weather, gave us and our loved ones privacy while visiting and we were even able to rehearse for our shows in the camper.  So what if Rob had to put his guitar amp in the bathroom…?

Also we stayed at some really cool campgrounds!  Yacht HavenBlackwater River State Parkand my parents yard!  I think I might have to start a page with my own campground rating system.

This trip was more than just a road trip to see family and play a show over the holidays.  This was two weeks of living in and really getting to know our camper.  This was a test! Two weeks.  How would we handle it?  Would we be anxious to to get home and back into a bigger space?

The result was that when we got home, we actually slept in the camper in the back yard for two nights.  We decided that it absolutely would be possible to live in the camper as long as we had some sort of office. We would figure it out.  We could make it work.

We started the process of shedding our belongings in mid January.  We started dividing our stuff into categories.

 Categories:
-Sell
-Give Away
-Donate
-Trash
-Keep

Visually, you would have never known, but we actually did make a sizable dent.  We planned to have a garage sale… We put little price tags on all of our belongings. We chickened out.

We chickened out!!!

We never got to the point where we were serious enough to tell our landlords that we were going to move out.  The plan was still in the back of our minds, but it just seemed overwhelming.

You may not know this, but your stuff OWNS you!  Sentimentality OWNS you!  AND fear OWNS you!  Well, if you are anything like us, it certainly did.  Also, you probably don’t realize that you are storing stuff that is actually trash.  Like, did I really need that monthly calendar from 7 years ago?

You see the thing about people like us is that we like to conserve “supplies” and “information”. We love projects, which makes us kind of hoardy because, you might need that “thing” for some kind of future project… But also, we truly want to be minimalists.  We don’t want to throw something useful away and we don’t want to waste – but then here we are with this double edged sword because you end up “saving” everything that “might” be useful in the future yet the less stuff you have in the first place, the less wasteful you tend to be.  Know what I mean?

I started Yoga Teacher Training in February 2012.  This is not something you can do without it changing you.  Additionally, I did a particularly intense program where I left home when it was still dark out and then didn’t get home until it was again, dark out.  It was ten hours per day for ten days straight in Feb and then we had 3 weeks off,  then did another ten hours per day for another ten days in March.  The learning, the evolving, the enlightening, the hours, trying to keep my blood sugar under control with this radically different sleeping and eating schedule, it really was very exhausting…

In any case throughout this process, I learned to meditate. This was not easy for me, at first, sitting still and breathing slowly made me want to climb the walls and hyperventilate!  I decided that my wanderlust was a symptom of a greater internal problem; which is that when I become settled, I become dissatisfied, and I want to take off and move.  I decided that it was imperative that I make peace with myself independent of my location.  I thought, “I need to find happiness where I am right now instead of constantly looking at it as something that would be waiting for me somewhere else.”

I decided that my rented home was serendipitously a perfect space for a small yoga studio on account of the massive living room and hardwood floors.  I would endeavor to be content andteach yoga in the small town of Manchaca!  Clearly this was the prudent thing to do.   Rob and I both read the Bhagavad Gita.  We were to be egoless and content with the present.  We were to attend to our duty, which for me meant humbly bringing the benefits of yoga to the people of my small community.  We both convinced ourselves that we had been crazy to think of moving into our travel trailer!  We decided that we felt a calm and a sense of relief now with this new, and more “sensible plan.”

That is where it all ended.  Until it didn’t anymore.

I am sorry to leave you with a cliff hanger like that after our Big Announcement, but you will have to continue to read my blog to find out how we got to our current present, which used to be the future, but like I said before, the future is now!

The Big Announcement

If there is one thing I can say about my approach to anything that I am focused on or committed to, it is that I am thorough.  Very thorough.  If I can’t be thorough, I generally just don’t bother.  Before we bought our RV, a lot of research was done.  I scoured the internet for all things RV related.  There is an interesting twist though because I am also very impulsive.

In the past my thoroughness has perhaps slowed me down and caused me delayed decision making and even tons of late homework assignments in my school years.  My theory is that my impulsiveness is a learned mechanism that I have incorporated into my psyche to balance my thoroughness…Or maybe it is the other way around…?  Anyway, balance is important.  Perfectionism and the intense anxiety surrounding it can make a person physically ill if they don’t lighten up and go with the flow every now and again. Trust me, I know from experience.

There are all these slogans and quotes like, “Just do it” and “Perfection is the enemy of good enough” and “You will regret the things you don’t do more than things you do.”  These are all pretty good for me to an extent, they are words of wisdom that I try to remind myself of when I start over thinking things… Or as my husband, Rob says, “being German.”

Having said that, I tried to convince Rob that we should live in a van and become “van dwellers.”  I was very serious about this. This conclusion that I reached with such confidence was a combination of both my tendency to “over think” as well as this newly embraced impulsive nature.  Rob never outright said “no”.  He just tried to keep me focused on the task at hand which was, RV shopping. He said, that I was “changing the plan” and “confusing him” and that we should just do the thing we set out to do in the first place which was “get an RV!”  He didn’t want to just jump in all at once and said if we loved extended periods of time in the RV, we could talk about being “VanDwellers” at some point in time, when we had more experience… Well played Rob, well played!

You see, in all of my scouring of the internet in search of the “perfect RV”, I found this wonderful and brilliant website, Cheap RV Living and it’s sister sight, Cheap Green RV Living.  It spoke to me in so many ways!  And even though “RV” is in the title of this site, it is more about “VanDwelling”. Please, please, please take some time to explore these sites and read the stories!

Why it appeals to me:

  • Conservation of resources, the idea seems so logical, this would be a great way to save money!
  • DIY! I love a project! I love the idea of converting a van to a living or working space. The conversions on the site are quite inspiring.  And the size of the project is manageable!
  • Independence and self sufficiency.
  • Ability to pick up and travel any time. I embrace and welcome a change of scenery.
  • Simplification of lifestyle.  I honestly believe that the more stuff one has, the more complicated life becomes.  People actually spend time and energy WORRYING about their stuff.
  • Sense of adventure and a longing to really “live”, serious wanderlust.
  • I still harbor a spark of rebelliousness.  “Fuck the establishment!”  Amiright???

In any case, I read all of the stories and experiences and that led me to search for more such accounts of adventurous living.  I worked up a pretty fabulous and romantic fantasy in my head of how we would live life on the road in a way cool van!  It would be like living inside of a fucking stealth Transformer van/house that we perfectly customized with all of our desired requirements, like secret passageways, a crazy slide and a candy dispenser in the dashboard! It’s gonna be so rad!!! Dude, how could you not want that?

When I get what may initially seem like “harebrained” ideas, Rob doesn’t shut me down. He goes along with me and slowly neutralizes the situation until we both distill the essence of what it is I am after.  Though, I still think that van dwelling is an excellent idea, I concede that it is not ultimately the best situation for us.  Though someday, I am totally going to convert a van into a living or working space.  I want to do that project!

Some people would say I have A.D.D., like the overmedicating shrink I had in high school. Personally I think I just like to multitask and explore my options. Life is short and the world is vast, which can be overwhelming. There is a lot to see and do. I don’t want to limit myself with the constructs of what is socially popular.  I would hate to make the wrong decisions as a result of not thoroughly exploring my options.  I know I’m not alone in this sentiment.

In any case the idea of “full timing” in our travel trailer, maybe, possibly down the road in the long and distant future was now something we were sort of, kind of, maybe thinking about… And it was something that we were definitely keeping in the back of our minds while we were RV shopping.  Even if it was just something we tried out for a few months or just for a summer… we were thinking about it, and we purchased our RV accordingly.

Guess what? The future is here!  The future is now! It will probably take a few more blog posts to get you up to speed on how exactly we arrived here at this exact junction in the “future” but nevertheless, we are arrived.  Incase I have been too cryptic, we are moving into the Apex!

We currently live in an 1800 sq. ft. foot house, built in 1939 on over an acre of land.  After living in a 700 square ft. apartment near downtown Austin built in the 1980‘s and being in a band and trying to rehearse, write and record albums in that space with paper thin walls, it was incredible to move out to this semi -rural, very private land in South Austin, and finally finish our third album in a huge old house with lovely wood floors…  It was great to have space to practice and teach yoga, it was great to make an outdoor shower and fire pit in our back yard. It was amazing to be able to use the house and land for several writing, photography, film and music video projects. And to each have our own offices to work out of.  And make as much noise as we wanted… This is a great house in which to realize and see any number of artistic projects through. We even made our own batch of wine here!

chateau-du-voyage

But now we are ready for a change.

We want and need to be more mobile.  We want and need to save more money.  We want and need to be able to afford to commit more time to our creative pursuits, as well as leisure pursuits like hiking, surfing, dancing, climbing, skiing or visiting family in other parts of the country.  We are ready to be a little more social and closer to downtown again.  We crave water; lakes, streams, rivers, oceans, or even just a pool or hot tub. It is time to move…

What one needs in life is not a static and fixed thing. Human beings are dynamic creatures that ebb and flow like a winding river.  What we have come to realize is that we absolutely DO NOT NEED all of this space. We do not have or want kids, we do not have or want a mortgage, we don’t have a big dog, Rob hates mowing the acre of lawn we are living on and we want more freedom both physically and financially to move about.  After all, we need to save money so we can find and buy land to build that tiny house we have been dreaming of!  Also, we are really compatible (perhaps to the point of codependence) when it comes to sharing small spaces together for extended periods of time, it doesn’t bother us.  So, why the hell not?  The status quo will always be there, waiting for us, if we choose to return.

The house, that we are living in is amazing; and living in it has fostered a tremendous amount of creativity as well as clarity. There will be plenty of things that we miss about living here, but it is time to move on. We can’t forget that being in this house is what prompted the creativity and unorthodox, yet totally logical decision making that led us to the new experience that we are about to embark upon.  It is time for someone else to live in this house and let it nurture and push them to be brave in pursuing their hearts desires*.

We officially made the decision in mid July after returning from a glorious trip West (that is another blog on the burner, coming soon!).   Our last day here at Casa 1626 will be September 30th. In the meantime, we are giving away, selling and donating the vast majority of our worldly possessions. Be sure to follow along and subscribe to my blog as we make this massive transition to tiny living and continue to live, learn, travel and explore!

*A side note to this blog is that coincidentally, the three hippies that were renting this house prior to us moving in, left by way of a school bus that they converted into an RV and drove to Costa Rica.  Makes you wonder…

The Tiny House Movement

Along the way, I have developed a few quirks and obsessions, aka passions.  Some of these are deeply rooted and can be traced back to my childhood.

I have always had an interest in architecture, design and different materials.  As a child this manifested itself in fort building, and the observation of regionally changing architecture while on family road trips.  My parents were very lovely and let me keep my forts erected for much longer than most would allow and even let me sleep in them. They have also reported to me that one of my first sentences ever, while en-route from Florida to the Midwest was an inquiry, “where did all of the condominiums go?”  I noticed!  Where did they go???

I have a very distinct memory of being toddler aged and driving through Indiana, just before you get to Chicago and seeing these old town houses built in rows and some of them even built into the side of the hills and being amazed by it.  It is so simple and so “heart of America” yet it blew my mind. Growing up on an island in Florida, I had never seen anything like that.  At that point, I remember my mom telling me that yes, indeed architecture and the way things are built, varies widely from place to place.  I remember making a mental note of that so that I could keep my eye out and observe what might come next.  I have been making these observations for about 30 years now with the same inquisitiveness.

While investigating RV’s and the RV lifestyle, something new popped up on my radar that piqued my interest in design and architecture again, in a new way: The Tiny House Movement. My interest has been piqued somewhat intensely and obsessively.

Design that turns me on:

*Maximum efficiency and good uses of space.

*Items and spaces that can multitask, like stairs that are also drawers etc.

*Conservation of money, environment and resources through the use of things like solar panels and rainwater collection.

*Nice outdoor spaces.

*Creative use of materials, especially recycled and natural materials like reclaimed wood, shipping containers and cob.

*Ability to be off the grid if necessary or desired.

What is the “Tiny House Movement” you say???  Or maybe you have already heard about it, it is quickly gaining popularity in this country and well, globally.

My personal definition: The Tiny House Movement is a reaction to the social, economic and environmental climate of modern society. It is a movement that favors design, economy and environment over square footage, wasteful spending and excess building.  It is is about being thoughtful, as well as socially and environmentally conscious.  It is about examining ones needs and wants and realizing that we really only “want” a lot of non necessities because we are marketed to heavily –  we are living in a hyper capitalist society that thrives on a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality.  Such an intense rat race has been imposed upon us that people are willing to risk their health, happiness and quality of life to acquire bigger THINGS and greater quantities of THINGS and consequently bigger houses to store all of their THINGS. To quote my late grandfather, J. Kenneth Baird, “they sure can think of a lot of shit for you to buy.”  Life as we know it has become very complicated and The Tiny House Movement is answering back with a call for some simplicty. It is about personal choice and figuring out what ones true values are.

Here’s what I value in life:

*Family

*Friends

*Travel

*Outdoor activities and nature

*Health

*Helping others

*Minimal environmental footprint

*Learning

Here is what I value in people:

*Compassion and Empathy

*Creativity

*Resourcefulness

*Adaptability

*Humor

*A desire to help others

*A desire to continue learning

As you can see the Tiny House Movement speaks to me because it is directly in-line with my values. And I am not the only one. See for yourself….

One of my favorite blogs to follow is, Tiny House Blog.  Kent Griswold is one of the pioneers in this movement. His blog is always offering new tiny houses to moon over.  Also, I have learned a lot on this site about the different types of tiny dwellings people are building, where they are building them and why.  For instance, I didn’t know what a Vardo was before reading this blog.  Also I learned about straw and hay bale construction, cob homes, container homes, and pallet houses.  Additionally I learned a bit about buying tiny house plans as well as building codes and laws.  One of my favorite sections on this particular blog is “Tiny House in a Landscape.”  The Tiny House Blog is really just the best virtual window into almost every aspect of tiny house culture.

Another really fabulous resource is The Tiny Life blog.  On this site you will find inspiration as well as great ideas about how to build multi-purposed furniture and space saving solutions to fit perfectly into your tiny house.  A couple of other informative and inspiring sites are Tiny House Talk and Tiny House Design.

Some of the pioneers and famous names in this movement who are currently offering tiny houses, building plans, workshops and books are Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, Dee Williams of Portland Alternative Dwellings, Derek Diedricsen of Relax Shacks, LLoyd Kahn of Shelter Publications and Jim Wilkins of Tiny Green Cabins.  I find them all fascinating and massively inspirational!

One of my most favorite sites is Tiny Texas Houses!  I absolutely love what they are doing with reclaimed and recycled materials.  The tiny homes that they are building are undeniably beautiful.  When I see their homes, construction, and philosophy, I truly see my heart and soul reflected.  Also, they are in Texas!  

A few other fun sites for browsing are, Cabin Porn, Tiny House Swoon, and Tiny House Listings.  I am sure there are others out there that I am missing, let me know if you know of any cool “tiny sites.”

If you still are not convinced that Tiny Houses are the coolest thing ever, the wave of the future and becoming super dooper popular, check this out: The Huffington Post, The New York Times, Bloomberg Business, Wall Street Journal, Dwell, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, PBS, NPR, NBC, CBS, CNN, even Oprah and USA Today are reporting on the movement!

If you can’t tell, I am ready to join this movement. I have Massive Tiny Dreams! I want to get my hands dirty and use power tools. Don’t worry, Rob is on board. I have been talking about this for about three years now, he is excited too. We want to buy some land and build our own Tiny House!  For the first time in our lives, the “responsible” thing to do also seems like fun.

Right now this project is just one important piece my varied number of Massive Tiny Dreams!  For now we shall practice the Tiny Lifestyle in the Apex.

Not all tiny houses are the same, they are actually really diverse.  Here is some inspiration.

House-Boat-2-Apartment-Therapy tiny1Tiny-3

Where would you build your tiny house? What materials would you use to build your tiny house?

Also check out Pinterest for some inspiration!

Deadly Beauty

Our very first trip in our new camper was to Fredericksburg, TX, the cutest little German town in the Texas Hill Country.  We decided to do an overnight at a KOA, just to feel out the camper and get aquatinted with our new travel trailer.  We even baked cookies in the propane oven, just to see how it worked.

Our second trip was an overnight in preparation for a future work trip to make a music video.  We invited our friends and collaborators, filmmakersChristine Carstairs and Robert Haynes, a married couple who also work together, to stay the night in the camper with us at McKinney Falls State Park right here in Austin.  We wanted to test the camper and the situation of actually having four people in it; do a day of hiking and picture taking to prepare for our upcoming journey to Big Bend National Park to film the music video for our song, Deadly Beauty.

Big Bend National Park is an amazing and brilliant park in the extraordinary desert and mountains of West Texas, along the Rio Grande!  Having heard about this pilgrimage of sorts, Rob and I took a traditional tent camping trip there, the spring previous to buying our travel trailer.  We fell in love with the place so deeply that we wrote a song about it called Deadly Beauty.

There were Bear and Mountain Lion warnings everywhere in this park, complete with bear proof storage boxes at every campsite, as well as warnings about “curious” Javalina, breaking into your tent.  Also there was some wild weather that came with this wild terrain.  It came and went very fast and included a lot of lightning, a downpour, hail, not to mention temperatures reaching 116 degrees during the day and then dropping into the 50s in the evening!  We did not end up setting up our tent, we slept in our car for four nights.  To tell you the truth, there was one night that it was so gusty that I thought it might blow the car over… It didn’t, obviously.

Interesting fact: Big Bend is the least visited of all of the National Parks because it is so remote.

Suggestion: Read, Big Bend, A Homesteaders Story, by J.O. Langford before going to Big Bend, it will give you a much deeper appreciation for the land and the journey.  I can honestly say that this is in my top 10 favorite books.

Also: Visit Terlingua, it is the weirdest, coolest little desert, formerly ghost town, right next to the park.  Also, don’t tell anyone about it.  I want it to stay cool.

In any case this trip was inspiring.  As an artist and as a human being you can’t help but be changed by this journey.

  

Less than a year after visiting Big Bend for the first time we released our album,Brush With Greatness, with the song, Deadly Beauty, an homage to that unapologetic, raw, and wild place.  We truly felt that being in the presence of and having the opportunity to explore this desert, mountains and river was a quite literal brush with greatness. The song Deadly Beauty without a doubt is filled with visual and aesthetic imagery, how could it not be?  Making a video for this song was mandatory.

We asked Robert and Christine, our filmmaker friends who were our collaborators on the photos and album art for Brush with Greatness as well as script advisors cum directors and cinematographers on the music video for the song, Proof if they would want to go to Big Bend for four nights over Thanksgiving and shoot the video for Deadly Beauty.  It was on!  Four people, twenty hours in the car, four days in the desert, and sleeping in The Apex!  It was actually quite magical!

RV Lesson #1:  Plan your trip accordingly… It takes at least two hours longer than you think it will when traveling with a travel trailer.  Just go ahead and tack on two hours to your  journey when you are estimating how long it will be.  Also you will go through gas about twice as fast.  I can’t emphasize this enough!  Fill up when you are at half a tank!!!  Especially when you are in the desert, or anywhere remote.  We coasted into a gas station on fumes and in a state of panic.  Lesson learned!

We stayed at Big Bend Resort and Adventures Park, about 6 miles from the Western entrance to the park. Our thanksgiving dinner was Turkey Chili.  We didn’t get in each others way once.  Somehow we all maneuvered around the camper like an intricate ballet.  Christine, despite being six feet tall and having insomnia, was sleeping on the dinette converted to a bed next to her husband Robert, and reported that she has never slept better in her entire life!  These are minor miracles here!

RV Lesson #2:  It is very possible for the RV break controller to become unplugged from your vehicle.  In fact this happened to us in rather steep and mountainous terrain.  This can be VERY BAD.  At about hour 10, the vibration of the vehicle jiggled the plug right out of the socket.  We have since created a little harness for the plug with zip ties to make sure this doesn’t happen anymore.  ALWAYS continue to check the status of your break controller, throughout your journey, to make sure it has not become disconnected. 

It rained and was overcast on what was supposed to be our first day of shooting, so we ended up scouting some locations and just taking stills while exploring a bit… The next two days of shooting were intense.  We were following our video treatment, sometimes linearly and sometimes not.  There were a lot of scenes and locations to get in a short amount of time, before we lost daylight.  Not to mention, a horse and horse wrangler that had to be involved on the second day of shooting. Oh, yeah and the detailed and outrageous costume I had designed for myself… I was literally hiking up the side of mountains in a vintage evening gown with a feathered mask and headdress while onlookers and tourists gawked and tried to figure out what the hell we were doing.

Our main goal was to capture the beauty, diversity and wild spirit of this untamed land and share it.  I think we accomplished that.

Here is the final product:

I love setting out to do something, and then actually doing it!  It is immensely satisfying.  Because of the camper, we were able to make our dream of a video for the song, Deadly Beauty a reality.  Viva La Apex!  Honestly, without it, our artistic vision could not have been realized.  Also, we had a ton of fun!

By the way… If you are interested in seeing what team Carstairs/Haynes has been up to lately, check out the trailer for their festival bound horror/comedy short, The Spell Book.   In another collaborative effort, Rob Houle, my wickedly talented husband and front man of our bandBefore Dawn composed the original score for the film and I designed and built the main character, the spell book.

Happy camping and happy working y’all!

The Apex

We bought our camper, The Apex by Coachmen, in the fall of 2011.  We had been casually shopping for our RV for about two years and then quite seriously, with the intent to buy, for about one month.

We got serious at this point for three reasons:
1. We had just been on an excruciatingly long tour of the Midwest where we were constantly crashing with different people.  This led to some very serious talks about getting the camper sooner rather than later.
2. When we returned from our tour, it turned out that our friend who had been house sitting for us had started feeding a stray cat.  Of course, we now had a cat.  We travel a lot.  We needed a way, to bring our new cat, Sunny with us!
3. Summer was turning into fall.  The end of the summer and in the fall are the best times to go RV shopping because dealers are trying to move the current years RVs fast and get them off of the lot so that they can make room for the new seasons inventory.  This means you can get a good deal!

A couple of weeks prior to buying the Apex, we almost bought a different trailer.  It was a situation of “the one that got away.”  It was our first day of serious shopping and about the fourth or fifth dealership of the day.  There was an incredible deal on a Jayco Swift that tickled our fancy.  It met all of our necessary requirements, and even had some bonus features like a big back window as well as the dinette AND couch set up. It was also on sale for the ridiculously low price of $10,000.

It was our first day out though and we were scared, so we said, “we’ll think about it.”  A few days later we decide that we were going to go make the purchase!  When we pulled up, our dreams were shattered. There was a big SOLD sign on what we now had built up in our minds to be “the camper of our dreams…”  This happens, especially when there are mad sales going on.  Don’t worry about it.  Move on. There are literally tons of different campers that will be the camper of your dreams.

After looking at many more campers, both online and at dealerships, we were headed out for a day of RV shopping. We were in the middle of the one of the worst droughts in Texas history, and suddenly there was a downpour so heavy that we opted to get off of the highway and go no further.  We decided to go to a small dealership that was close by that we had not been to before.  We did not think that they would have any RV’s that would meet our “Ultralight” requirements.  BUT, we had to go there!  We were glad that we were getting rain, but at this point, if we didn’t look at RVs that day, we would have gotten proverbial “RV shopping blue balls.”

This unexpected dealership is where we met an RV salesman that was like a cross between Burt Reynolds and Don Knots.  We climbed onto his now soggy golf cart and he took us to see the only two campers on the lot that he thought would even come close to meeting our needs.  He showed us the more fancy, high end, featured one first, of course.  I barely remember the second one.  The first one he showed us was The Apex by Coachmen.

We told the salesman that it was way out of our league at $19,900.  He said that it was a 2011 and that he would see what he could do about pricing it to move…  He said that the absolute lowest he could get it down to was, $15,900.  We said we would “think about it.”  We called him when we got home and told him that we wanted to put money down so that they would hold it for us while we talked it over and took a closer look at our finances to see what we could do…   I wasn’t sure… I thought it was too big with a 21ft. interior, and 24ft. exterior with the hitch and weighing in at 4111 lbs.  It was the biggest and most expensive camper we had looked at or considered.  Rob was smitten, he was so convinced that this was the travel trailer for us, that I really couldn’t help but trust his confidence and instincts.

We saved money like mad!  We sold some of our possessions on craigslist and ebay and came up with a solid down payment in less than 2 weeks time.  We officially bought the camper on September 21st.  After we signed all of the paperwork, the dealership called us and said that they had made a mistake, the camper was actually a 2012.  It was their mistake, so we got to keep the “low price”, but we had to go back and re-sign all of the paperwork to reflect the different year.

We had to have an Equal-i-zer Hitch as well as a break controller on the 4Runner.  They did all of this for us at the dealership.  Just, put it on the loan with the rest of it….

A few days later we went to pick up our rig.  When we arrived, it was all hitched up and ready for us to dive off of the lot.  To me, it looked insane!  I drew this picture to illustrate what I thought it looked like in my minds eye.

At this point we have had the camper for nearly a year now and been on a couple of major trips with it.  We both love it, and so does Sunny.  We have made tons of wonderful memories camping around the country and we are both very happy with the Apex.  Honestly I think we would have been happy with almost any camper we bought, but this one has features that we absolutely love.

The selling points that won us over:
– Massive four point locking slide-out with an extra large dinette.
– Kinro mirrored windows so you can’t see into the camper from the outside during the day.
– Flat screen HDTV on a swivel that can face the living space or the bed.
– Curtains separating the sleeping space from the kitchen area.
– Dual axle aluminum wheels.
– A big bathroom with a shower, toilet, sink and a lot of storage space.
– Electric awning.
– Neutral decor with dual colored light and dark wood cabinets.
– Really gorgeous counter and table tops.
– Centered bed, so we each had our own side.
– Two individual closets.
– Nifty slide out food pantry.
– Stove, Oven, Fridge and Freezer.
– Enough space to comfortably spend a lot of time in.
– Insulated bottom wrap, making it cold weather appropriate.

Stuff that is annoying:
– You can’t really be in the camper with the slide-out pulled in.
– Weird storage places without shelves.
– The “short queen” bed is a bit too short for Rob.
– The mattress that came with it is complete crap (this is typical of most RV beds). We are planning to buy a new mattress for it.

All in all we are very satisfied!  We always look forward to camping and spending time in the Apex (model 214RB).  We have made many incredible memories and trips already and are very excited about making more!

RV Shopping

Despite our decision in the fall of 2009, it would still be two years before we actually bought a camper… But we were officially looking, the purchase was eminent. We were now in the process realistically trying to determine what kind of camper would be ideal for us.  This task is both fun and overwhelming.  There is a lot to choose from out there!

Here is what we had: A Toyota 4Runner with four wheel drive, six cylinders and a nice tow package.  We decided that we would look for a travel trailer that we could tow with the vehicle we already had.  This was our cheapest and most efficient option.

1. We were newbies and thought that it is best to start small.
2. Motorhomes by nature are more expensive than travel trailers because they have an engine.
3. We did not want another vehicle with an engine to maintain.

Our 4Runner has a maximum towing capacity of 5000 lbs.  This was our jumping off point.  We were looking for a travel trailer that was under 4000 lbs. DRY.  Meaning under 4000 lbs. without water in the tanks, without propane, and without all of our belongings inside.  (We will get to more of the technical side of RVing and some of the jargon in another post…)  To be honest I felt that we should be looking for a travel trailer that was under 3500 lbs.  I wanted to error on the side of being conservative.  Rob, my husband, and most RV dealers assured me that 4000 lbs. would still be appropriate.  Oh, also we wanted to stay under $12,000.

Features that were important to us:
1. Bed that was separate from the dinette, meaning that our bed could stay a bed and would not be a surface that would be turned into our dinner table. (This can be a tall order for some of your smaller RVs)
2. Toilet and shower (Some small campers have toilets, but not showers)
3. Refrigerator. – I need a place to keep my insulin.
4. Decent storage for clothes and gear / good use of space.
5. Double axle wheels for safety

Bonus Points:
1. A big back window (sometimes you are parked/backed in to scenic places in campgrounds and it is nice to be able to enjoy the view from inside the camper.)
2. A centered bed, not against a wall, so that we would each have our own side of the bed and would not have to crawl over each other to go to the bathroom.
3. Good insulation in the event we wanted to take the camper to a cold climate and do something fun like go snow skiing…
4. A slide-out (a wall that literally slides out to make the area inside your rv bigger when you are parked.)
5. Flat screen TV.
6. Retractable awning.
7. Couch AND Dinette (In small RV’s you typically get one or the other, but not both though there are some exceptions).

When you are shopping for an RV, it is just as important to know what you don’t want as much as what you do want.

Don’t want, Don’t need:
1. Bunks.
2. Other built-in’s for families with children.
3. Shoddy materials or workmanship.
4. Overly “decorative” interior fabrics and appointments. -There are some pretty hideous interiors out there…
5. Any kind of canvas pop-outs.
6. New or used didn’t matter to us…

At some point in this process you start to think that you should be able to design your own custom RV.  “Why for the love of god and all things holy can’t I have a nice closet where those bunks are???”  “It would be so much better of a use of space if the bed was a loft bed with a dinette, or storage underneath!!!!”  What you eventually realize is that you will not find the “perfect” RV!  It does not exist.

Find an RV that you like and that suits your most important criteria, be happy, and go camping.  Understand that if RVing is something that you really enjoy, you have not just purchased your “forever home”, but rather your very first trade in.  The more time you spend in your rig, the more you will figure out what things about it you absolutely love and which things you want to be different when you get your next one.

Having said that… DO A TON OF RESEARCH!!!  
1. Search online and learn about what you need – get very familiar with lengths, weights,  materials, brands, manufacturers etc.
2. Find product reviews and forums for the campers that interest you.
3. Go to as many dealerships in your area as possible.  Look, listen and learn. The features you think are important to you will change.  In general RV sales people are not pushy like car sales people.  They tend to enjoy their job and are RVrs themselves.  Also they are aware that (a.) An RV is not a “necessary” purchase.  (b.) This is a big decision that may take some time… (c.) They truly want to put you in an RV that you are going to be excited and happy about.  This is not to say that they don’t try to wheel and deal.  They do.  Just be prepared and don’t buy until you are ready.
4. Go to RV shows.  THEY ARE A TON OF FUN!  You can see nearly every kind of RV available all in one place.  It is a great place to compare, contrast and take notes.  By the time you leave, your feet will be sore from walking and your head will be spinning from the shear magnitude of these events.
5. Your very best resource is people you meet who already own an RV.  They have experience under their belt. They know what they like and don’t like about their own rig(s). They will be very honest.  They are excited to talk about their camper.  Best Method: The Campground Camper Walk. – Go tent camping at a State Park or other campground. In the early evening, just after the dinner hour, while campers are still enjoying the outdoors at their campsites, take a walk.  When you see a rig that you like, if the owner is outside (do not knock on any doors!!!), approach him or her and tell them that you are in the market for an RV and start asking questions about their rig.  What do they specifically like or not like etc?  They will tell you!  Also nine times out of ten, they will even give you a tour of the inside, outside and all of the systems.  They love it!  You will learn a lot!  And if you are anything like Rob and I, you will fall in love with the RV lifestyle and culture a little more.
6. As a general rule, don’t buy your RV from a salesperson who does not or who has not owned an RV themselves.

These are the basics.  In my next post I will finally tell you about our RV, why we bought the one we bought, what we love about it and what kinds of compromises we made.

If you are an RV enthusiast yourself, please feel free to add more helpful tips in the comments section.  Also, if you have any questions, feel free to email me at info@MassiveTinyDreams.com

*Additionally I hope to have some guest bloggers in the future contribute stories and insight about what they love and don’t love about their campers and motorhomes…

The Last Straw

We were on tour in Florida with our old band, Before Dawn, which was just us at that point.  We we were a duo. It was October of 2009.  It was hot and humid, surprisingly so for Halloween.  We had played several shows.  It was our thinking that October should be a good, comfortable month for camping. Instead of paying for hotels on our drive back to Texas, we decided to tent camp at a State Park.

As you might imagine, tent camping when you have hundreds of pounds of guitar amps, monitor speakers and instruments in your car is a little different than say having a cooler with food and an extra sleeping bag.  We went very minimal with our camping gear.  After all, it was only going to be an overnight…We had our tent, our air mattress, a sleeping bag and a quilt.

It was actually turning out to be a really beautiful evening.  We had driven as far as the panhandle of Florida and it was quite a bit cooler, pleasant really. We were staying at, Falling Waters State Park.  Yay, a waterfall!  After spending late nights playing loud rock music in dirty bars, and days on end driving, despite being rather exhausted, we were excited to go on a little hike and try our damnedest to change mindsets, relax and enjoy camping?

We really wanted to hike to see the waterfall for which the park is named, but it was getting dark fast and we only made it halfway there before we disappointedly decided we better turn around and go back to camp.  We still needed to set up our tent and bed, get firewood and make some sort of dinner from the items we were able to find at the only store that was around for miles. It was a very weird old Walmart… If you spend time traveling the country via interstate, you know exactly what I am talking about.

We were trying so hard to enjoy ourselves!  We were trying so hard to accomplish these normally fun camping tasks with enthusiasm.  We were trying not to be the tired, cranky babies that we really wanted to be.  And, ”jeeze, the temperature really is dropping now that the sun went down.”

We ate our dinner. I don’t remember what it was. We went on our requisite “camper walk” whereby we walk around the campground and voyeuristically observe others enjoying the conveniences of motor homes and travel trailers. We sat by the warm fire and fantasized a bit about what kind of camper we might want some day. Then we turned in for the night.

From the screen window on our tent we had a clear view of a travel trailer at a campsite across the way from us.  We could make out the outlines of comfortable, warm, cozy people watching television.  We had camper envy. We were really jealous.  Also, we were VERY cold.

After nodding off, we both woke up around 3:30 am absolutely freezing.  There was no going back to sleep at this point.  This was Florida!  What the hell?  We put on pretty much every single piece of clothing that we had with us.  We were getting cold from the ground up, so we let air out of the air mattress thinking that the air in the mattress was keeping us cold. We took the quilt that was covering us and put it underneath us. Now we were cold on top. We tried to both cram into the only sleeping bag we had with us.  We were miserable and I was pretty sure I was starting to get a sore throat.

Even though, at this point we were probably more tired than we have ever been, at first light we got up and started packing our stuff.  There was no point in staying.  We were in no mood to hike and all we wanted to do was get home.  When we got up, we realized that there was frost on everything!  How cold was it???  I looked at the thermometer I had recently added to our camping gear.  It was 35 degrees and all we had had with us to keep warm was a summer quilt!

Thirty five degrees!  That was the last straw!  We were now officially in the market for a camper. Consuming large amounts of caffeine, we drove 13 hours from the panhandle of Florida back to Austin, Texas and spoke almost exclusively of our necessity for a camper.  We were going to somehow make it happen!  This was now more important to us than the vague social concept that one must buy a traditional home first.

On Our Radar

Because of my parents RV, the concept of RVing was now on our radar, though it would be at least ten years before we would entertain the idea of getting one ourselves.  Rob and I started to take notice of them everywhere we went.  We started to realize that the different kinds of RV’s that exist is vast!  We noticed them on the road, we noticed dealerships on the side of the road that for some reason had been completely invisible in the past, and we noticed them in campgrounds, now with some curiosity rather than scorn.

We went on a few overnight trips and did various fund raising events with my parents in their RV for their dearest cause, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. We had a ton of fun!  We met other RVrs.  They are some of the most friendly and warm people you will ever encounter.  They are also extremely enthusiastic about their rigs and will gladly answer any questions you might have.  We started to amass a bit of experience and jargon to go with it…. Despite being somewhat fascinated, it still seemed like something other people did, not us.

The thought that we could be a part of this interesting little club had not occurred to us yet; though my mom every once in a while would subtly suggest it and point out small campers that might be appropriate for us… We just thought, “it is nice for you, but no, that’s not us.”  I am certain that this block existed because we are absolutely NOT the typical demographic that the RV market appeals to and we never once saw people like ourselves with an RV.  It is no secret that the largest population of RVrs is retired folks; we actually partied with a lot of retired people during this process…  The second largest population is families with children.  We are a very long way from being retired and we have no plans to have children.

We are artists, we are theater people, we are a fucking rock band!  AND then, that is where this all started to make sense for us.  Touring.  Between 2005 and 2011, we had been doing a lot of it.  There were certainly mornings that we woke up not knowing where we were geographically or whose house we had crashed at, not because of being intoxicated, but rather because we were working hard and constantly on the go.  We thought, wouldn’t it be nice to sleep in the same bed every night?

We are not famous or on a record label, our tours are completely self-funded.  We were crashing at the houses of generous friends and family, staying in really crappy hotels and every once in a while even tent camping while on the road and performing in clubs.  We were often exhausted, getting very little quality sleep and eating poorly (especially bad for someone with Type 1 Diabetes).

The idea of getting an RV started to become a big fantasy.  We would talk about it and imagine ourselves with our own mobile bed, kitchen and bathroom. Even though this fantasy was starting to bloom, it still seemed like it stopped there.  We thought, one day, maybe we will be able to afford such a luxury.  We also thought that it was important to buy a house before we bought something seemingly frivolous and of our fantasies like a Recreational Vehicle, even if it was for work………………………………….

Too be continued!

Update: 2/3/16 – We no longer perform as Before Dawn, from Austin, TX.  We have an L.A. based rock band called JagLyonz, if you want to know more about us go to www.JagLyonz.com.  Here are a few photos from the old Before Dawn days!

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