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!