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!

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!