Land of the Giant Cactus, Ajo Arizona

I have really been enjoying my campsite in Ajo Arizona. Ajo is an old copper mining town that hasn’t come back to life after the mine closed in 1985. Ajo is truly in the middle of nowhere about 120 miles from Tucson, 100 miles from Phoenix and 100 miles from Yuma.

I have been fascinated with the large cactus in the Sonoran Desert and feel astounded by the scenery. I think I am going to make this my winter destination next year.

Video Desert Blooms, Illegal Immigration, and A-10 Warthogs

YouTube video Boondocking in the Land of Giant Cactus!

Vanlife is the best life – Vanlife and Mountain biking Sedona AZ

After my job wrapped up in Telluride, I was ready to get back to the desert and seek warmer weather. I was checking the weather forecast and New Mexico was starting to get cold. I took a look at Sedona and their weather looked great. Sunny and mid 60s each day. I have never been there and have heard nothing but good things about the mountain biking and beauty Sedona holds.

I could immediately tell were were going to be friends

My friend Andrew’s Chevy Express

I was getting tired of driving down the washboarded and sandy Forest Road 525. FR 525 is a extremey popular dispersed camping area that offers amazing camping along the western edge of Sedona with view of the vibrant red cliffs.

Immediately after deciding where to camp I met Andrew. He invited me to camp next to him and I could immediately tell we were going to be friends.

After getting my camp set up, Andrew and I checked out each others vans and planned on a bike ride the next day. Andrew had never ridden a mountain bike and since I had two of my bikes with me this would be a great way to share the sport with somebody.

During the sunset the Sedona cliffs would turn an incredible vibrant red.

Sedona offered some of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. Every evening my camping neighbors would gather on top off the hill and enjoy the sunsets together and a bit of conversation. In addition to Andrew I made friends with Johnny and his sweet dog Desi, and Jeanette and Brian from Minnesota. I ended up getting an incredible t-shirt from Johnny with one of his mandala designs. You can visit his webstore HERE. Jeannne and Brian offered to host me in Minnesota if I ever make it that way. I hope to get to see them again. Things are looking up in my social life and my spirit is full of amazing energy!

The sunrises were equally impressive

Each morning I would open my sliding door and witness the valley below bathed in pastel light. Usually there would be 5-6 hot air baloons drifting slowly along the horizon. Unfortunately my cell phone camera could not capture the hot air ballons. Maybe time for a new camera?

Shaman Cave

The day before Thanksgiving Andrew and I decided to make a visit to Shaman Cave. Shaman Cave boasts a spiritual vortex that I swear I could feel.  I was having such a wonderful time and my spirt was at an all time high! Andrew and I performed a short meditation in the cave and decided to take the difficult route out of the giant sandstone rock the cave was housed in. This involved some minor exposed climbing around the cliff wall that was thrilling and only added to the adventure.

Andrew on the exposed route

The tour guides would come through daily and talk about the Sedona area and point out historic features

Example of the many Jeeps that brought hundreds of tourists.

The tour guides would always talk about the energy vortexes that Sedona is famous for. One of the guides would pull out a pair copper rods for the tourists to hold and they would spin around while in their hands, reacting to the magnetic fields. It was neat to watch the tourists react like it was magic. Also the tour guides were brilliant at taking pictures with the their cell phone cameras and would use tricks like zooming in on a subject to make the background appear larger. One guide would have the tour group line up on one side of the tour jeep and pretend they are pushing it as a group connected by each other arms to hips. With the camera in panoramic mode, the guide would start the shot at one end. After taking the first frame, she would have the group run behind her, then have the group pull on the other side of the jeep before finishing the pano shot. This would produce a photo that looks like the group is pushing and pulling on the Jeep at the same time.  It was a clever idea and you could tell the guides were always hustling for tips.

A Thanksgiving day bike ride to get the juices flowing

Thanksgiving day had come and the site I was camping at was full of awesome people. Sedona is a popular place around this holiday day.  I was excited for a bike ride I planned to start the day then later hanging out with my new friends for dinner.

My bike ride was perfect. It was filled with views and fun technical trail riding. It’s been a tradition over the holidays to fit in a bike ride pre-dinner. It’s a great way to build up an appetite. This was the first Thanksgiving I have spent away from my family in quite a long time. I ended up having one of the best Turkey Days ever.

Riding along on Templeton trail
Mezcal Trail West Sedona

No offense to my family, I love spending the holidays with them, but this was an opportunity to connect with people from all over the world and have a new experience. Since our campsite was so popular it was filled with vanlife people, tent camping people, trailer rigs, and jeep tour guides. There was also a couple in a military-looking camping rig with massive tires that seemed a bit overkill to me. Andrew went into town and got Thanksgiving vittles for the evening that we all enjoyed.

After Thanksgiving Day many of the folks I had been camping with the past week had left and it was getting time for me to move on. I wanted to catch another ride in Sedona before leaving and decided to try the Highline Trail. The Highline Trail is considerd to be one of the most difficut rides in the area.

View from the Top of Highline Trail

While riding along the top of Highline Trail I passed another mountain biker that later passed me back when I was walking my bike down one of the treacherous downhill sections. The lines on Highline were very dangerous and I was not in the mood for anything risky. Once down to the bottom I met him again and it turns out he is from Gunnison. We talked about how busy Colorado has gotten then wished each other well before parting ways. It was a fun couple miles on Templeton Trail back to my van.

Capitol Butte

It was time for me to resupply in the town of Cottonwood. I was also getting ready to head to Prescott Arizona (pronounced Press-Kit) and meet my friend Dace to help him with his minivan build. We met in Durango last summer and got to be friends while exchanging minivan camper info. 

Dace setting the screws for his new floor in his 2008 Grand Caravan

It was great to see Dace again. It has been a couple of months since the last time we met in Durango. He has been getting his Dodge Grand Caravan named Koopa ready for a camper conversion and I was here to help with his van build and offer some of my experience.

When I arrived Dace had completed the demolition process, had a roof vent installed, and most of the insulation done. He was ready to start the initial building and Dace decided to start with the floor while I was here since I already had experience putting in a flat floor on my minivan Odie.

Putting in a flat floor into a minivan can be incredibly difficult. After removing all the seats, trim, and carpet there is hardly a right angles or flat surfaces to work with. We were lucky this single 4×8 piece of plywood covered most of the rear.

After a couple of days working on Dace’s van it was time for me to move on and head back to my home town of Colorado Springs. I have two house sitting jobs lined up there and hope to see my family for the holidays (not sure due to the pandemic), then its back down to the Arizona desert for the rest of the winter. I am not looking forward to the drive back and forth but it will be great to see my friends and family back home.

Those Sedona sunsets!

Conclusion

Sedona is an incredibly beautiful place to visit that I would highly recommend. The scenery and spiritual energy are off the chart. Be prepared for lots of company as Sedona is no secret and very popular. Lots of dispersed camping to handle the crowds and I found out there is more camping in the area than just the popular FR 525 that I went to.  I barely scratched the surface exploring the trail systems and the weather during the fall was incredible. I will definitely go back when I’m ready for another highly social camping experience.

Review – How I Shower in a Minivan

Really its an outdoor shower setup that will work for just about any camper. My simple outdoor shower setup consists of the following items all availalble on Amazon without breaking your budget. I hope this helps give you some ideas on what might work for you. YouTube video tour HERE

Pop up Shower Stall

Rechargeable Shower Head/Pump

RainLeaf Microfiber 24″ x 48″ Towel

Dura-Rug Recycled Mat, 20″ x 30″

Folding 6″ Stool

3 Gallon Bucket

The inside of the shower stall is roomy. There is no roof so lots of sunlight comes in. With me being tall at 6’2″ there is plenty of room for me to stand.  I love the RainLeaf microfiber towel and it is available in a variety of colors and sizes.

I like bringing in my folding foot stool. It makes a great shelf for tolitries or comes in hadny if I feel like sitting down while washing. The Dura Rug keeps the mud off my feet and a place for the water to not pool up under me. I love the Dura Rug Mat and out of all the outdoor mats I have used for vanlife this is by far my favorite. Does anybody else remeber these mats made from recycled tires?

Its important to tilt the bucket to get most of the water up into the submursable pump. I went with a 3 gallon bucket vs. a 5 gallon bucket to save room inside my small minivan. This bucket also acts as a stool, and storage bin. I just use a rock to get the angle on the bucket.

Conclusion

This simple outdoor shower set up really gets the job done. My preference is to shower at a truck stop or recreation center but for extended boondocking stays this system has kept me clean and fresh! I do have to consider water consumption and will typically wait for warmer weather to use the system.

Pros:

– Most of the items to make up this shower are used for other purposes as well. The shower head also makes a great sprayer when its time to wash my mountain bike or dishes.

– Pop up shower stall offers privacy and blocks the wind

– Shower head and rechargable pump have been reliable and charge via USB.

– Ability to take a hot shower and feel fresh and clean while boondocking

Cons:

– Pop up shower tent is difficult to fold up

– Boiling water takes time and uses fuel

– Each shower consumes water. If there is a stream or well near my camp I will try and use that water source for my showers and dishes. I will even collect rain water if I can.

Amazon links below

Pop up Shower Stall

Rechargable Shower Head/Pump

RainLeaf Microfiber 24″ x 48″ Towel

Dura-Rug Recycled Mat, 20″ x 30″

Folding 6″ Stool

3 Gallon Bucket

YouTube Video Tour of the Shower HERE

Troubles on the Road – Vanlife in New Mexico

After a long and wonderfull 3 months in the Colorado Mountains it was time to make my way back to Colorado Springs and visit my friends and family back home. I also needed to get some work done to my van. My check engine light turned on after I left Silverton and wanted to get that looked at by my mechanic. I also had plans to install a Chinese Diesel Heater to help me get through the cold winter ahead.

Before heading back to Colorado Springs I was meeting a new friend named Dace in Durango. We met through a minivan camper group on Facebook. Dace was also traveling through Colorado in his Grand Caravan camper and on his way from Breckenridge Colorado to Southern Arizona. We met in Durango to discuss vans and show him some of the things I did with my minivan build. It ended up being a really great time getting to know Dace and it was fun to hang out in Downtown Durango.  It’s not often I come across another minivan conversion so it was fun to talk shop and learn from each other.

Snow in mid September

After leaving Durango some bad weather was coming and snow was in the forecast for most of the high country. I decided to get supplied up and hunker down in a nice ponderosa forest outside of Pagosa Springs. Two days of constantly running my Mr. Buddy heater during this storm made me realize I need to install a Chinese Diesel Heater before winter comes. (you can read about that install HERE). I never feel safe when running my propane Mr. Buddy inside my van and don’t like the moist radiant heat it puts out. After the sun came out and it warmed up I had water dripping out of the vents in my headliner from the moisture the heater produces. This could lead to mold. Not cool!

Little did I know trouble was coming.

This day was very upsetting to say the least. Every vanlifer in the back of their mind knows a breakdown could happen. Well here was my time. After a wonderfull stay in Pagosa I was just getting onto I-25 heading north past Walsenburg. After reaching the spead limit my van died. I pulled it off the side of the road and thought it may be a fuel issue related to the check engine light that was on. When I was in Durango I stopped by an O’Reillys and used their diagnostic tool. It turned out to be and issue with he fuel system so when my van stopped running I thought I could be related to that. After several attempts, my van would not start and I needed to call a tow. I was very relieved to have AAA tow insurance. I literally called for a claim and within 45 minutes a tow truck arrived. Two hours later my van is dropped off at my mecanics shop and he has a chance to take a look at it. He turns over the motor and quickly realizes there is no compression and the timing belt is broken. When a timing belt breaks on a Honda motor there is a very high chance it’s damaged your valves and ruined your engine. A valve job would be more expensive than putting a new motor in.

Long story short I blew a timing belt and ruined my engine. It had nothing to do with the check engine light. I later had a good cry.

A little whiskey to ease the pain.

It felt good to be with friends and family and catch up with everybody back home. My dad was kind enough to let me stay with him for three weeks while my van was in the shop and I was working to install my new heater. It was great to stay with him and felt we were a little bit closer by the time I left town. One thing I really enjoy about this lifestyle is you may be away from the people I care about for an extended period of time but when I do get to spend time with my friends and family it is of higher quality.

It felt excellent to get back on the road and my van was running smooth as can be with its new engine. I also installed my diesel heater and that project kicked my ass. I had messed up on my first install and had to do a full reinstall. I got it working well and it is a game changer for vanlife. The 2kw heater I got works perfect for my small van.

I think back to what happened and it really came down to a miscommunication on when my timing belt needed to be changed. I was lucky with the tow insurance and being able to get my van in the hands of my best mechanic. Two weeks in the shop and $,3,500 later I had a refurbished engine installed and Odie (my vans name) was up and running again. This was great news.

Feels so good to be back on the road!

When I finally left Colorado Springs I headed due south to Southern New Mexico. The Land of Enchantment they say. Here is where my love affair with New Mexico began.

I had to wait out some bad weather when I got to Alamogordo and hunkered down on a nice piece of BLM land a few miles out of town. I stayed here for 2 days and got to use my new diesel heater for nearly 48 hours straight. It worked incredibly well and kept me toasty warm throughout the entire storm. I am so happy to have cut the cord with my Mr. Buddy Heater. Mr. Buddy got put into storage.

I wanted to see the White Sands National Park before I left the Alamagordo area.  The weather got better and I was excited to check it out before heading to Carlsbad.

I didn’t have a National Parks pass this year so I settled for a photo of the White Sands from the side of the highway. Maybe I will come back and visit here again as this was a pretty unsatisfying way to visit a National Park.

Carlsbad has mountain biking?

Before heading to Carlsbad Caverns I got resupplies in the town of Carlsbad then found a patch of BLM land to call home next to the La Cueva Trail System on the outskirts of the city. It’s a small system but was fun to ride and I was enjoying the desert scenery.  The camping was good to for being so close to town.

Snug as a bug in a rug. I really enjoyed camping next to the La Cueva trail system but this patch of BLM land had a lot of fracking and mining going on so I could hear the machines and flames groaning and popping in the distance. I needed to get a good night’s sleep for for my big day at Carlsbad Caverns tomorrow and I did. This is how my interior looks when the bed is pulled out. I have been sleeping so incredible since I got my Exped Megamat. Most nights I get 8 hours of non stop sleep.

Time to get my cave on!

I was really excited to arrive at the entrance of this iconic cave. It has been on my bucket list for quite some time.

The Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

It was massive and was totally worth the $15 entrance fee. I dont know why this park is such a good deal. Normally a day pass is much more expensive for a National Park.

The Dolls Theatre was a favorite feature of mine. 

The National Park service did a great job with the lighting and building a foot path that was not to intrusive while guiding you through the best parts of the cave. There air is misty and everything was damp. This place really felt like an alien world.

Park Ranch Cave System

After visiting the National Park I found an amazing campsite on the other side of the highway. It turns out this was right next to a public cave system that you could explore.

Main entrance of the Park Ranch cave just down the road from my camp.

The Park Ranch cave system was very exciting for me to discover. The last time I explored a primitive cave like this I was 19 years old. The passage was smooth and full of gypsum. It was formed by water draining through these passages and its important that you stay out of the caves if there is any flooding in the area. The shapes in the passages reminded me more of slot canyons than a traditional cave. These caves are nothing like Carlsbad Caverns that are just a few miles away.

There was 4 miles of passage to explore and within 100 yards of my camp were 2 entrances to the cave. I took one day to explore the southern entrance. And on the next day I explored the northern entrance. I was so excited when I figured how to link the two together. My adreniline was pumping! I was very carefull to make sure I did not get lost and had 2 light sources in addition to my headlamp with me. I also wore my bike helmet and that did d a great job protecting my noggin.

The second entrance was much tighter and I had to belly crawl for a ways through some muck! I would love to come back here and explore more passage. It’s incredibly hard to find caves as nice as this one that are open to the public.

Strange moths arrive

My first hot springs and the Gila Cliff Dwellings

I had a interesting encounter with nature when dozens of large moths gatherd and clung to the side of my ARB Deluxe Room when I left my outdoor lights on one night. I am sure they were terrified by all the bats in the area.

After a great stay in Carlsbad it was time to head towards Silver City New Mexico to get resupplies and meet my friend Garrett at the Gila Hot Springs Campground. The campground was only $8 a night and offerd a level spot with a picnic table and all the soaking you wanted. There were 3 very clean pools to choose from and all were a very comfortable 103 degrees right along the West Fork of the Gila River.

Before leaving the hot springs we visited the 700 year old Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

The cliff dwelling were preserved well and fun to walk through. After taking some time to enjoy this beautiful location we quickly realized why it would be an incredible place to call home. We asked the Park Ranger on the way out how big the community was here and she said around 50 Mogollon’s lived here between 1270s – 1300s.

The Gila National Forest and wilderness were absolutly incredible. I could have stayed here forever but it was time to move on. I had a short job coming up in Telluride hanging window draperies in a fancy hotel.

Quick stop in Gallup for a bike ride!

High Desert Trail System.
Gallup, NM

I started to make my way closer to Telluride along the Airzona/New Mexico border and along the way I stopped at one of my previous camping and mountian biking destinations in Gallup New Mexico. I got in a great ride and checked off some trails that I did not get to ride in 2018. You can read about my camping and mountain biking in the Zuni National Forest outside of Gallup HERE.

New Mexico makes the best carins!

After a crappy nights stay in the High Desert Trail Head parking lot it was time to get back to Colorado. My job in Telluride was coming up in a couple of days so it was time to say goodbye to the Land of Enchantment. I am excited for my job in Telluride and I will get to see my friend Mike and take a shower!

Conclusion

New Mexico is a remarkable destination and the landscape and remoteness makes for an amazing road trip. The camping was excellent and not crowded compared to my Colorado camping this past summer. There is hardly anyone on the roads and I would recommend taking the back roads versus I-25. My time on Highway 56 and 180 were remarkable. I also liked that the rest stops in New Mexico allow overnight camping and were imaculate.

Carlsbad and the Gila National Forest were my favorite destinaitons. I also really enjoyed the town of Silver City. Silver City had a really cool vibe and is the gateway for the massive Gila Wilderness. I regret not going into White Sands National Park but am sure I will have another opportunity to visit those pretty white dunes again. Carlsbad Caverns blew my mind but it was exploring the undeveloped Park Ranch Cave system that was the highlight for me!

We all know that there is great cycling in Albuquerque and Northern New Mexico but it’s good to know there is excellent singletrack in the small towns of Gallup and Carlsbad.

My van is running great and I feel back in the game. I cant wait to go back and visit New Mexico and see more. As my nomad friend Garrett said, “You can land just about anywhere in the state and it will be beautiful.” Truly the Land of Enchantment.

Mineral Creek Road – Vanlife in Silverton CO

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Full relaxation in my ARB Deluxe Room. Truthfully this is how I spent most of my time here. I didn’t have neighbors close by but 4×4 traffic would pass by me regularly. Often I would get a thumb’s up on my setup. I love that.

When this room is set up I use it for cooking and lounging. In my search for the perfect camp chair to lay around in I came across the Nemo Stargazer Luxury. Its a pretty rad chair and need to post a review on it. I do not sleep in the side room but you could. I always sleep in the van.

When I got to Silverton I needed to take it easy. After 3 punishing rides in Telluride my body was tired and also I threw my shoulder out swatting bugs! I know right!

I was able to get about 10 days of relaxation at this spot. I really loved this campsite.

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A short hike down Mineral Road I came across Balder Mine. This was one of many mining relics in this area.

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I was lounging at camp and heard a rustle on the other side of the road. Suddenly a man emerges wearing what looks like canyoneering gear. My mind started to boggle. I should have asked him what he was up to but he had quickly moved down the road to meet his friend before I could say anything. It turns out there is a bit of canyoneering along Mineral Creek. Upon this discovery I made my way down to explore and found this water fall that they must have repelled down.

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I was also within hiking distance of Ice Lake and Island Lake and it was time to explore and get some excercise after sitting on my ass for a few days. I have seen pictures of these lakes for years and was excited to see them with my own eyes. Even though I knew the hike would be popular and crowded It was an incredible experience.  Here is a panorama of Ice lake. What a beauty. Alpine lakes could be the most spectacular features on this planet.

Island lake with Ulysses S. Grant Peak in the background.  What an stunning alpine lake! I had to sit here for a while soak it all in. Moments like these are to precious not to savor.

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The hiking was spectacular. On my way to Island Lake after visiting Ice lake, I got a tip on a side trail for the way down. It turned out to be an excellent and made for a loop instead of an out and back hike.

Once last look at these incredible alpine views before making my way down to camp. All in all it was a 8 mile hike round trip.
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This has to be one of my most scenic campsite of all time. Unfortunately in October of 2020 about 2 months after my stay here the entrance to the Ice Lake got burned by a forest fire. Sad, sounded like it was due to some careless campers that had a fire during a fire ban. Its going to be hard to continue using sites like these if people cannot respect our public lands.

Mineral Creek Road is an incredibly popular campground and I would camp here again. There are tons of sites and a good variety for everyone. Not sure how long this area with be closed due to the fire.

ToHelluRide – Mountain Biking and Vanlife, Telluride CO

Being a Colorado native and a lover of the outdoors you would think I have visited the incredibly scenic mountain town of Telluride. Seeing how this summer is my summer to check off all my Colorado bucket list items it was time to visit. Telluride is packed with world-class mountain biking, ghost towns, unbelievable views, and a neat little ski town. I loved my time in Telluride. I had an awesome campsite that was at 10,300 feet near the old town of Alta Colorado.

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It was wonderful to be camping that high (lol no pun intended) because Colorado is having a hot summer and it takes alpine elevation to beat the heat this year. I was able to set up my camp with 360-degree views of the San Juan’s Mountains surrounding me and quickly made friends with a family of marmots that had a den just 10 yards from my front porch. I was immediately feeling relaxed and enjoying the views.

Here is a video of my marmot friends. I affectionately named them Big Bear and Little Bear. Little Bear seemed very comfortable with me and let me take pictures and videos freely. But if I had neighbors nearby they would stay in their den. Most of the time it was Little Bear splayed out with this stomach resting on the warm rock catching the suns rays. I want to say we enjoyed each others company.

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A couple of miles up the road was the Gold King Basin. This is where I originally wanted to camp since it’s above treeline and thought it would be awesome to camp with these kinds of views every day. On my way up to find a spot, the road became incredibly steep and I decided it would be best to turn around. You never know unless you try! I ended up finding an excellent campsite about midway to the top just below the old ghost town of Alta. You can find the campsite’s location HERE. This place is no secret and was very busy during my stay in mid August.

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I enjoyed exploring the old mining town of Alta. It was only a short walk from my campsite. It seemed that at one time this was a very busy mining town. There were lots of broken down structures and debris left from the old mining operation everywhere.

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Awesome mountain biking was just a pedal away. For my first mountain bike ride I wanted to check out the freshly built Magic Meadows Trail.

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Lets just say that the Magic Meadows trail was packed with fun flowy twists linking up several small meadows and aspen groves along the way.  The Magic Meadows trail was about 7 miles long and really well thought out.

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I was getting good use out of my ARB Deluxe Room and love my Pro Bike Tool covers.  I use my 50 watt Renogy Eclipse solar panel to charge my RockPals 300 power station. Every evening at 8pm I would witness alpenglow to the Ophir Needles to my southeast. Breathtaking to say the least. I ended up acquiring some neighbors as the week progressed and had a good conversation with a Forest Service worker. He gave me some good advice on how to apply for Forest Service jobs and also recommended to me that if a Forest Ranger asks me where I live, give him the address on my drivers license and don’t hesitate. He reminded me that the National Forests are for recreation and not residence. I also met a couple of Buskers! I never knew what a busker was but Chuck and Lilly have been on the road for a couple of months and have a bluegrass band in Atlanta called High Lonesome. They have been traveling around and playing gigs for tips at various mountain towns. Lilly and Chuck said they made out really well in Durango.

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After a couple of days chilling it was time for some more mountain biking. I wanted to ride Magic Meadows again but this time add in a couple more trails that looked good for a bigger ride. I climbed higher and completed the Prospector Loop before riding the Magic Meadows trail again.

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Prospector took me out to the lifts that included excellent views of the valley. The riding up here was supreme.

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The single track finished with the T-35 trail which is the highest rated trail in the area. This picture does not illustrate the steepness but there was a couple of times I let my brakes go and was overcome by speed! The ride back to camp was rough. It was a combination of paved and dirt road. On the climb back up the paved road, I had a road biker pass me. My competitive side got the best of me and I pushed to hold his wheel for a couple of miles thinking we would reach a summit soon. After reaching the top I could tuck in and try to tail him on the descent. I was wrong and ended up burning myself out for the rest of the climb and bonked on my final 2 miles back to my camp. Still, a fun ride and I would highly recommend linking the Magic Meadows to the T-35 trail!

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This was my last night at the Alta Lakes area and it was time to say goodbye to my marmot friends. I packed up most of my stuff and got ready for an early departure the next morning. I had a big ride planned! The whole reason I wanted to go to Telluride was to ride the infamous Wasatch Trail Loop. I have known about the Wasatch Trail from my MTB guide books from the early 2000s. This was before we found out about trails on the internet. The Wasatch trail was described as an expert-level trail not for the faint of heart starting from the town of Telluride climbing to 13,000 feet. During this ride plan on spending ample time exposed above treeline. To make it worse the descent was one of the most treacherous ones I have ever encountered, packed with tight switchbacks, exposed ledges, and crazy steep talus fields. As an alpine trail junkie, this loop has been on my bucket list for over 15 years and was excited to check it off.

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After leaving town the route started on some easy bike path then climbs up a dirt road to Bridal Veil Falls. Coming in at 350feet Bridal Veil Falls is the biggest waterfall in Colorado. It was getting to be late season so the runoff was over and the falls are not as spectacular as they would be early summer. I was still excited to see this spectacle.

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After passing the falls I followed an old mining road that is only open to hikers and bikers. This mining road was rough and I pushed my bike most of the way up to the 13,000 ft. pass.

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The route turns to single track and continues to climb steeply. I ended up spending a couple of hours exposed above treeline allowing for great photo opportunities of the basin. On the way up I captured this picture of Three Needles Peak and is one of my favorite photos of all time. Something about the subtle beauty of the yellow flowers contrasted by the vast basin and rugged mountains. If I was to say I had an artistic style in my photography it would be this style.

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Here is my bicycle dwarfed by views of the Silver Mountains as I take a quick break for photos and snacks. I did not spend to much time here as clouds were moving in and I knew the downhill was going to be tough. Getting to the top was half the battle as the descent is steep, highly exposed, and very dangerous. This one of those amazing trails in the Rocky Mountains that was not made with mountain bikes in mind but you can ride it any way.

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Here is an excellent photo of the descent. Much of the downhill is navigating the steep Bear Creek drainage that quickly takes you back into town.

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After wrapping up the ride I was feeling like celebrating and found a shower at the campground and park in the middle of town. Afterwards I was ready for a whiskey and some food at one of the bars downtown. While searching to find a place to eat, I ran into Chuck and Lilly and got to hear Chuck play and sing for a minute. Chuck is very talented! Lilly did not preform but does the social media and probably keeps Chuck in check!

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Main Street in Downtown Telluride

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One last look at the San Miguel River before saying goodbye to this beautiful mountain town.

Drama with my Diesel Heater – Don’t make these mistakes!

It took me 2 Chinese Diesel Heater kits and 2 install attempts to get a working heater. Don’t make the mistakes I did! I have experience and confidence cutting holes into my minivan and making significant modifications but this project kicked my ass!!

When I decided to do vanlife through the winter this year I realized that I would need a more sustainable heat source than my propane heater. I know there’s people in the vanlife community that will make a propane heater work but for me the heat it produced was uncomfortable, gave me a bit of a head ache, and emitted large amounts of moisture into my van.

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Here is my Mr. Buddy Grey 4000 – 9000 BTU heater keeping me warm during a 2 day snow storm in Pagosa Springs CO. I would use the 1lb green propane bottles just because they are more convenient but they certainly are not cheap. Sometimes I would connect it directly to my 1 gallon refillable propane bottle, fuel filter, and 4’ adapter hose and this was far more cost effective than the green 1lb bottles. The major down side to this propane heater is it puts out too much heat even on low and I need to constantly be turning it on and off to keep the small space in my minivan van from getting either too hot or too chilly.

I decided to go with a 2kw Diesel Heater since my minivan interior space is very small and felt a 5kw heater would be far more than needed

After watching some video’s and doing some initial research I found out that a true 2kw heating unit measures 28cm x 11cm x 11cm. I decided to go with a 2kw kit from Aliexpress based from a link from this YouTube video. It looks like this kit is no longer available. This kit had a 5l fuel tank, the new blue lcd controller, and measured 28cm x 11cm x 11cm which was the size I was looking for.

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Buying this kit off Aliexpress was my first mistake, This kit came with a crappy fuel line and exhaust muffler. If your kit comes with the green fuel line I would highly recommend replacing it with the thinner and stiffer white fuel line that provides a consistent fuel dose. The green hose is flexy and can deliver too much fuel to the combustion chamber. The exhaust muffler this kit came with was a piece of crap and had air gaps all around the seam and the coupler where the exhaust pipe is connects broke off. I did my best to fix this using JB Weld but with too many bends in my exhaust pipe and a low quality muffler made for a poor performing exhaust.

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I drilled my initial holes for the exhaust, intake, and fuel line, then prepared the surface to mount the heating unit with aluminum tape. Here lies another one of my mistakes. I should have cut larger holes and later I did because the exhaust gets over 400 degrees Fahrenheit and can melt or damage the mounting surface. In my case the sound deadening material I used started to melt and ooze out of the holes. Yikes! I later cut 2 bigger holes and that took care of the problem. I have seen a lot of people recommend one of these heavy duty turrets from eBay for your install. If I wasn’t rushing my install I probably would have used a turret.

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Here is my 2kw unit mounted in the rear cavity of my 2003 Honda Odyssey minivan where the 3rd row seats used to be.

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Here is the rats nest of my first install! Yikes! I did not take into consideration that since the combustion chamber does not have a carburetor its very sensitive to oxygen intake and fuel mixture.

My first install had too many sharp bends in the exhaust pipe, a pinched intake hose from a zip tie, and the shitty green fuel line. This adds up to a poor oxygen/fuel mixture and a badly smoking exhaust pipe.

After running the heater for a few hours the unit started to smoke. It smoked so much that it caked up with burnt carbon and would no longer ignite. After some intense trouble-shooting I came to the conclusion that I would need take the unit completely apart and clean out the carbon build-up and redo the intake and exhaust. In addition to this I would need to acquire special tools and parts to include new gaskets, glow plug remover, exhaust pipe, muffler, air cleaner, and fuel line. I was having anxiety about opening up the heater, cleaning it, then put it back together. I think I could handle this task if I had the time but I needed to get back on the road and winter was coming fast.

A good resource during my trouble shooting was the Chinese Diesel vehicle air heaters – Troubleshooting & Parts sales group on Facebook. If you are on Facebook look it up. I learned a lot from this group.

After a couple of restless nights thinking about it I decided not to clean the heater and just order a new 2kw Chinese Diesel Heater kit from eBay. This was a much better kit and came with a higher quality exhaust muffler, an air filter instead of an air silencer, and the proper fuel line. The best part was I didn’t have to take apart the heating unit I ruined and clean it! These heaters are cheep in the long run. I was glad I opted to just buy a new unit. When I have more time I would like to take apart this unit and learn how to clean and maintain it.

My second install went much better.

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Simple 90 degree bend in the exhaust pipe and a much better silencer. I drilled a small pinhole at the lowest point of the exhaust. This will prevent water buildup since I was unable to mount the pipe sloping downward.

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The air intake was also installed much cleaner with no more zip ties. I also installed an air cleaner instead of the air silencer that the previous kit came with. The difference between the two is the cleaner has a mesh screen to keep debris out and the silencer does not. The silencer only has foam wrapped around the outside to make the intake quieter.

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Here is the improved fuel line and larger cutouts to accommodate for the extreme heat given off by the combustion chamber exhaust. This is where the turret would come in handy. I made sure my fuel lines are secured tightly with the included hose clamps. Spray paint is used to cover any exposed metal. Most of the drilling surface in this 3rd row seat compartment was 1/2’ thick composite plastic with a steel frame and very easy to cut through.

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Here is my fuel pump install. Yes you can hear it ticking inside the van! I used a self tapping screw to mount it directly to my tow hitch. Not much room to work with under my minivan but I was able to get about a 20deg tilt in the pump and so far its been working great. The new fuel line delivers and much better dose of fuel to the heater and seems to work much better. Due to the nature of how this pump works its important that they are mounted in a tilted fashion. I have heard anywhere from 45-90 degrees is ideal.

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I wanted to go with the 5l fuel tank instead of the more common 10l tanks you see in most kits. It mounted excellent using self tapping screws into the steel insides of my bumper. Its somewhat stealth as it tucks in nicely behind my bike rack. This also made for easy routing of the fuel line and keeps the clingy diesel fuel smell out of my cabin. The 2kw heater is incredibly efficient on its low setting and this 5l fuel tank lasts for hours and hours. If you look closely you can see two dots spaced about 1 1/4 inch apart on the left side of the tank. To get an idea of fuel consumption, that is how much fuel it used on the low setting for 8 continuous hours!! At some point I want to paint it with grey Plasti-Dip to help protect the fuel tank and diesel inside.

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60mm vent ran to the far back of my passenger side cabinet. You may notice the thermal tape inside covering half the outlet. This is done to help create back pressure and increase flow to the longer running hot air duct mounted to the front of the cabinet.

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This is a photo of my 60mm hot air vent mounted to the front of my passenger side cabinet. I am glad that I installed 2 hot air ducts to better distribute the hot air.

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Above are some examples of my duct work and insulation. After it was routed I covered the aluminum hose with 2 layers of insulation. First layer is motorcycle fiberglass exhaust wrap and the silver outer layer is self adhesive water heater insulation cut to fit. Running the aluminum hose and insulating everything was far more time consuming that I expected. Its not pretty but it does work well.

I used 4 sections of 60mm aluminum ducting and a T Joint to get the length I needed. This took 3 additional 60mm aluminum ducting segments I ordered form Amazon then taped them together using aluminum tape.

One thing I didn’t realize during my initial install was how much heat the hot air exhaust pumps out. Also it tends to get really hot around the joints and intersections. I learned the hard way that you need to use the 60 mm aluminum ducting the kits come with. I thought I could get away with a vinyl flex duct hose I found on Amazon since it was difficult to find long sections of 60mm hose to fit this smaller 2kw unit. The vinyl duct hose was described as duct work for your vehicles heater/AC and sounded like something that could work. The first time I fired up the heater the vinyl hose melted and started smoking as soon as it warmed up! Yikes again! The aluminum hose holds up great to the heat but does get really hot and I realized it would need some serious insulation to protect my precious gear and supplies near the ducting.

Most of the ductwork runs through my largest cabinet where I store all my bedding. The double insulation works well enough for me not worry about my expensive down sleeping bags or anything else melting while stored. So far everything is keeping at a safe temperature.

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The LCD controller is straight forward to install and I find it easy to operate. There is a setting to prime your fuel line and I quickly found out these heaters do not have a thermostat but instead 2 timers you can program. You adjust the temperature output by increasing or lowering the speed of the fuel pump. It also came with a remote that works well but I don’t really see myself using it much since the main controller is usually within arms reach for me. This YouTube video helped me learn how to navigate the settings.

I still find it amusing watching the indicator go through it startup cycle and watch the animations!

Summary

It took me two attempts to get this heater working right but when it does work its pretty incredible. Clean, dry, efficient heat that seems to last for ever. I could be parked in sub freezing temperatures and stay toasty warm for days. I have found that when the outside ambient temperature is above 40 degrees it can get hot inside while running on low. To solve this I just let out some warm air using my roof vent.

I do worry about the exhaust, intake and fuel lines exposed in the underside of my van but so far everything has held up and stayed out of the way on bumpy backcountry roads.

I wish I didn’t feel rushed during my install and should have taken more time and research to plan. It was hard to find much information on diesel heater minivan installs which I think a minivan install can be more complex than a larger van since I had tight spaces to work with and no clearance under the vehicle.

I do have a remaining issue with this heater. It starts up smoky when I am above 6,000 feet in elevation. For somebody like me who spends a lot of time in Colorado this is going to be an issue. I have a feeling I can tune it to run better at higher elevations but I need to set aside some time to trouble-shoot and figure this process out. There are some advanced setting that can be adjusted to decrease fuel and increase fan speed and I have heard of people using a cleaner burning kerosene mixture to get it running better at elevation. More to come on this and I will be sure to update the blog on what I find.

Hopefully this blog post helps some people with their heater install and maybe avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way. If your have any questions or would do something different please let me know in the comments. I am always learning!

I would highly recommend watching this YouTube video series by John McK 47. The series is long and very detailed but If I would have discovered these videos by my first install and watched them all things would have gone much better.

Here is a nice looking 2kw unit currently on Amazon. It looks like it has nice parts and I like the aluminum body. If I was to by another heating unit it would probably be this.

If you are considering a 5kw heater this is a decent kit and the Happybuy kit is popular.

Here is the kit I bought of eBay.

Although this heater unit came with nice parts I cannot 100% recommend it. The plastic outer housing it came with was warped and would have leaked hot air. I ended up switching out the housing from my first heater and that solved the problem.

Review – ARB 2500 x 2500 Awning and Deluxe Room

I have been absolutely thrilled with my ARB Awning and Deluxe Room combo. ARB is primarily known for their 4wd products but this system works excellent on my minivan camper. I previously had the ARB 2500×2000 Awning attached to the roof and enjoyed it quite a bit but felt the coverage was small and really wanted bug protection for when I sit outside. I decided to sell my smaller ARB 2500×2000 awning I had and ordered the larger 2500×2500 ARB Awning and Deluxe Room to go with it. It was a big debate for me if I should get the Deluxe Room since space is so limited in my minivan. It packs up about the size of a large duffel bag but I managed to find a good place to store it in the cavity in front of the passenger seat. One of my favorite things about this system is how versatile it is. It can be set up fully enclosed, screened, or like in the about picture, open. The room offers a door that you can drop down against your vehicle that allows access to your vehicles side doors. My setup allows me to open and close my sliding door but does block access to my passenger side front door. The room cannot stand alone on its own and needs your vehicle to create its structure. It is not possible to leave the room set up and drive away.

To set up the awning it would help to have 2 people. Although it can be tricky I seem to manage to set it up by myself. Setting up the awning involves unzipping the PVC cover, releasing the velcro straps and unrolling the canvas. This part can be difficult if just one person. Before getting to far out I extend the side poles, then once fully rolled out extend the legs and secure everything. After the awning is set up the room uses a combination of zippers, notches, and clips to attach itself to the awning structure. The room is easy for me to set up on my own but can still take a good bit of time to stake everything out and clear the area of debris. I cannot stress enough how important it is to use the included guy lines and stake everything down securely.

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Just the awning pulled out.

When not in use the awning rolls up and stows nicely on my roof rack. The ARB 2500×2500 awning does not come with mounts to attach to your roof rack so if you do go with this awning you will need to figure out what mount works best for your roof rack system. I have a round bar Thule roof rack system and decided to go with mounts made by BomberProducts. I was unable to look up their website and they may be out of business at the time of writing this review. I have seen folks go with these ARB mounts and if you do you may need to drill holes into your cross bars to attach them.

Setting up the awning by myself can be a bit tough but I have been able to manage it. If the wind is bad I wont even bother. Once the awning is set up up, the Deluxe Room is a not to bad getting set up.

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The Bomber Products mount that I am using. Unfortunately it looks like this company is out of business and no longer making these mounts.

Here is a link to the ARB mount that I have seen people make work by drilling holes in their cross bars to accommodate.

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The Deluxe Room fully screened.

It does a great job protecting you from the bugs but I need to make sure it’s closed up tightly. Bugs always seem to find a way in.  Along the edges of the roof you will find hooks to hang items or in my case a string of lights. I use my room for cooking and living and sleep in my van. It could easily be used to sleep in.

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This is a neat configuration. There are so many ways to set up this room. As the sun or wind shifts you can open and close panels and screens depending on what you need. The zippers are high quality and there are tons of hook and loops to stow away unzipped panels. After using this system for 3 months on my Colorado road trip It proved to work very well for shade, bug , rain, and even snow protection.

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Here is the room set up for rain. Its very important that you leave one corner dropped to let water pour easily off the corner. One time I left my ARB 2500×2000 Awning unattended while hiking and a thunder storm snuck in. The water pooled up on top of the awning while I was gone and stretched out the canvas. When it comes to the room, it’s performance in the rain has not been as good as I would like. During hard rain I have had trouble with water trickling in and pooling up on the floor. Its never been much and easily mopped up with a rag. If I had one complaint about this room is its inability to fully stay dry in heavy rain. Also its critical that you guy line and stake down (stakes and stake bag provided) the awning along with the room quickly to avoid damage. It just takes one gust of wind to send this thing flying over my roof if not secured immediately. One time I was setting it up with occasional wind gusts and took to long stakeing it down. A gust of wind snuck in and flipped the awning over my roof! After a bit of a strain I got the awning flipped back over I was lucky with minimal damage and learned a hard lesson.

The floor is large and easy to clean. Its constructed out of tarp like material that is thick and solid black. So far it has proven to be quite sturdy. Before setting up the room I always try and clear out rocks and debris that may end up poking the underside of the floor the best you can. After using this floor extensively and stepping on plenty of rocks and twigs that were lurking underneath, it has held up excellent. I did poke a hole in the floor by accidently dropping the lid to my cast iron skillet to the ground. The hole was easily repaired with some Gorilla Tape.

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Summary:

This ARB combo has really delivered and has proven to be worth the extra bulk. It has added incredible amounts of living space to my minivan camper setup and so far I have really enjoyed using it. It does take some time to set up and keep clean. Also you need to be a bit more selective where you park your vehicle to create a flat surface for the room floor. Similar to what you would do if you were to pitch a tent. Both the awning and room have held up to expectations and I am happy with my purchase.

Pros:

  • Brilliant versatile design that adds tons of living space
  • Full floor
  • Excellent protection from the bugs and the elements
  • Easy to change the configuration and has proven to be a adaptable system
  • Made with high quality materials and has proven to be durable
  • Strong zippers
  • 4×4 tough

Cons:

  • Expensive compared to a homemade tarp or pop up screen room
  • Finding a mounting solution for your vehicle can be tough
  • Cleaning and packing up is time consuming and dirty
  • Easily caught in the wind if not staked down securely
  • A little bit leaky and the roof needs to be pitched at a slant during a rain storm

Overall:

I would highly recommend this awning and screen room combo and have been very happy I purchased it. I really have not seen anything else like it on the market. The tarp is an absolute wonder on its own and adding the Deluxe Room has added a whole new level of living space.

Amazon link for ARB 2500×2500 Awning

Amazon link for ARB 2500×2500 Deluxe Room

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Tincup Time! – Mountain Biking and Vanlife

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Tincup is a tiny little town in the Taylor Park area. I got a tip on a campsite outside of town and it looked like an excellent option just being 1 hour away from Gunnison were I have been resupplying and staging adventures.

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On my way up Tincup Pass road I found this beautiful campsite next to a large meadow and babbling stream.

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The weather forecast was bad and I had only 1 day with good weather so decided to take advantage of Monday and attempt a high alpine ride that I had been eyeballing.

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This was a big ride. From my campsite in Tincup you climb to the shores of Mirror lake and up and over Tincup Pass. From there its a huge descent down a forest road to the ghost town of St. Elmo. After a quick visit and snack in St. Elmo I proceeded up the 7 mile long railroad grade dirt road to the Alpine Tunnel.  From here you access the CDT to ride a sweet high alpine section of trail. After some fun descending back to the forest road its a gruleing climb back over Tincup Pass before descending rough 4wd road back to camp.

The above picture was taken when I arrived to St Elmo. I looked down at my real wheel and noticed that the rim was wobbling all over the place. I stopped and checked the spokes. Every single one was loose!! I dug out my spoke wrench and snugged them back up allowing me to continue on with the ride.

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There were some old mining relics up the road to the Alpine tunnel. The 7 mile road climb was nice and went by faster than I thought.

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After the gravel road you hit the old railroad bed and continued up the gentle climb to about 11,000 feet.

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The view start to get really good once you get on the CDT (Continental Divide Trail)

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I always appreciate segments of alpine trail like this. This was a 7 mile stretch of trail and most of it is above tree line.

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I got the pleasure of crossing Tincup pass twice. This is a very popular ATV area and on the way up I hit a traffic jam of about 20 ATV riders and caught myself getting pissed off and snapped at some lady in her 4 wheeler. I usually don”t like to snap at people but she saw me getting frustrated while I was waiting to get a clear path. We were only a 10th of a mile from the summit and she said “Didn’t quite know what you got yourself into… Did you?” This did not sit well with me and I replied “Yeah, So many fucking OHV’s!” It felt good to let out some of my frustration as there were just to many ATVs. And of course I knew what I was getting myself into.

I was beat after this ride. It took me a couple days to recover. 

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I love my breakfast and after depleting all those calories the previous day I had to throw down.

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After a relaxing and getting some rest I decided it was time to head back up to Mirror Lake and catch some dinner.  

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Mirror Lake was stocked with 10″-12″ Rainbows. They were striking about every half hour and really fun to catch. This was my second time going to this spot and on the north edge of the lake there is a nice pensala that I was catching some nice ones a few days prior. When I got to the spot there were 2 elderly couples taking selfies at my fishing spot. I sat there and waited patiently, not wanting to have a conflict like I did with the ATV lady. After awhile they asked If they were in the way. I said no I was just waiting for that fishing spot and I had good luck there the other day. They were very friendly and finished taking their pictures starting moving along. As I was getting my pole ready one of the gentleman stood by and waited for me to send my first cast. It was almost like the pressure was on….. I reached back and send my bait flying through the air. As soon as my fly hit the water, Snap! I had a bite instantly and a nice 12 inch rainbow on the line that I fought me nicely while I reeled him into shore. The guy watching said “Wow you weren’t joking, this is good spot!” I smiled and enjoyed the moment of fishing glory.

East Willow Creek was beautiful and lulled me to sleep each night.

Tincup offered some amazing camping and activities but I was a bit overwhelmed with how popular it was. Outside of town there is an ATV rental company and daily there were 100 – 200 ATVs racing up and down the road behind my camp. Needless to say it got old after awhile. This was a very beautiful spot but probably wont go back due to the crowds.

Review -JPaks Adventure Bags

Back Story

Before I met Joe I was using a large CamelBak and and several compression sacks for my bikepacking adventures. This was back when the concept of bikepacking was new and frame bags were not yet available unless you wanted to make your own. I quickly learned that bikepacking with a heavy Camelbak was not the way to go. Sore sweaty back and shoulders, decimated sit bones, and intense fatigue is what I dealt with on my early bikepacking adventures. I bought my first JPak from Joe Tonsager in 2012 and it was a very early version of his current packs. Even back then he was ahead of his time in terms of quality and innovation. Joe is a Colorado Trail racer and an avid bikepacker himself. He uses all of his own bags and tests of his products rigorously in the field. The frame bag that I first had made 2011 is still in great shape and gets used to this day. Working with a custom bike bag maker like JPaks over the years has been an excellent way for me to get set up for big bikepacking adventures.

Joe stands behind his products and is just a all around great guy to work with! Be sure to visit his website here. Depending on your bike and type of adventures you are planning, Joe can design your bags in a variety of ways such as custom colors, custom pockets, double or single zippers, bladder storage, webbing for your pump, etc. Lately Joe has been using a very durable material called XPac and XPac Lite. Not only does it look good, it’s highly durable and water resistant. If I have ever had any problems with the packs Joe will fix them personally even if it means tearing apart and rebuilding your bag. Over an 8 year span there were only 2 times I had to send my packs back. Once for a blown out zipper, and another was to repair a hole in the bottom of my frame bag from crank rub. Both instances Joe was able to repair and get the bags back to me in a very reasonable amount of time. I especially liked that when he fixed the hole from crank rub on my Stumpjumper he reinforced it with some very sturdy plastic material to prevent another hole from ever developing again. In terms of finding a more personable, innovative, and quality driven bike bags go no further than JPaks.

FramePak (approx $300)

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I have purchased 4 frame bags from Joe over the years. One for my hard tail bike in 2012, and a Surly Cross Check and Specialized Stumpjumper sometime in 2015. In July of this year I received the beautiful pack above made out of XPac Liteskin material. FramePaks need to be custom made and it starts by creating a template of your frame triangle. Joe can provide you instructions on how to create a template at home, or drop into his shop in Denver and he can make one for you while enjoying some friendly conversation about bikes and adventures!

The FramePak is by far my favorite and most functional bag JPaks offers. My FramePak almost always stays attached to my bike and allows me to take on day rides and bikepacking adventures with nothing on my back. I am able to carry all my tools, tubes, pump, food, clothing, and water stored neatly inside my frame triangle. For bikepacking trips it functions amazingly with easy access to all those items you need to grab quickly while on trail. I am always amazed at how much stuff fits inside. Joe uses closed cell foam to create structure and rigidity. It’s also flared in the front by the head tube so if you are looking for a place to stash a jacket or leg warmers there is always plenty of room waiting for you there. About 2/3 the way down the inside of the FramePak there is a divider in the middle that can be used to create 2 separate compartments, each with their own zipper access from the drive side of the bike. The velcro divider in the middle can be stashed away to make your bag one compartment if that is what you prefer. There are so many functional pockets on piece of gear! I did not capture good pictures of the pockets but counted over 7. These pockets will hold everything form your pump, energy bars, clothing, water, tools, tire sealant, and even several beers. For awhile now Joe has been leading the industry by taking advantage of the water bottle mounts already in the frame to attach the frame bag directly to your frame. The top of the bag is secured by a elastic cord laced through tabs across the top of the bag. This makes for a very secure fit and allows the bag to hold its shape but flex while zipping up tight loads.

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One of the Innovative features on the FramePak is a port to run your CamelBak Hose or cables for your lighting system through.

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Picture of the bolt on mounts from inside.

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Peaking inside to see the velcro divider and Joe’s flawless stitching. I like having the option to have one large compartment or two smaller ones. And all the different sized internal pockets, so much storage! Its important to stay organized on trail and my FramePak really helps. Also the highlighter yellow interior seems to light up and make it easier to find what you are looking for. There are 3 pockets on the drive side and 4 pockets on the non drive side in addition to the main compartment allowing me to organize my gear just about anyway possible.

SeatPak (Retail from $170)

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I have purchased 2 different versions of SeatPaks. I have a large one (SeatPak) that I use for bikepacking and a small one (GravelPak) that I use for commuting or long day rides. Both I have been very satisfied with. The GravelPak fits a pair of shoes or a jacket and some light clothing which makes it perfect for commuting or bringing extra layers for that winter ride. Unfortunately I do not have a picture of this pack but you can find one here.

The larger SeatPak’s performance is incredible when riding loaded. My seat pack is a few years old had is just as sturdy as the day I bought it. Some of my favorite innovations are the oversized straps and buckles used to keep this large bag snug and your gear compressed. In the above picture my pack is filled to the brim. I rely on mine to hold my shelter, 10 degree sleeping bag, and rain gear. That’s a lot of stuff!. My JPaks Seatpak fits securely with 2 over built velcro tabs around the seat post then two heavy duty straps with locking buckles that attach to my seat rails. This plus some plastic molding in the front of the pack makes for easy loading. After my gear is stuffed inside I use a velcro enclosure at the edge of the bag and compression straps to roll and compress its contents. What I end up with, if properly packed, is a very stable bag that holds my gear securely all day long despite how rough the ride gets. There is minimal sway and my legs or butt do not rub against the material when peddling. I have been extremely happy with this pack and has proven to be an essential piece of my bikepacking gear.

Deluxe BarritoPak (call for pricing) and RukSak ($60 each)

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Bags from left to right..The Pouch, BarritoPak, and RukSak all work in harmony to securely load gear onto the front of your bike. In the picture above is my JPaks Deluxe H-Bar Pak setup with the BarritoPak and the handy Pouch that for the front. With all my gear fully packed I find minimal impact with steering and the load feels nicely balanced and secure on the front of my bike. The BarritoPak is the largest bag in the grouping and is the one that looks like a burrito. Each end is equipped with a velcro and buckle and roll system that allows you to compress your gear. The cleverly designed “H” mounts space the bag away enough from your bars to clear your cables and levers. I typically will strap this bag on loosely then use a piece of gear like an air mattress or sit pad to create structure in the middle. Then fill the rest with food on one side and clothing on the other opening. After compressing each end you should have a nice burrito shape. Joe makes an additional pouch that is designed to mount to the front of the “barrito” and offers quick access for items like my stove, food, medical kit, and more. It takes some practice to pack and get the straps right but when done correctly I am left with an all day long secure fit.

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It’s pretty standard to have 2 RukSaks, one on each side of your stem. These mount securely using straps from the BarritoPak and a strip of velcro connecting each pack to the stem. On the bottom of each RukSak is a strap to lash under your fork crown to finalize securing it. Inside there is plenty of storage for large or small water bottles, snacks, sunglasses, bear spray and whatever else I need to stuff in there. There is a drawstring on top to close it off and a mesh pocket on the outside for a couple energy bars, ear buds, or to stuff your wrappers in.

SnackPak ($70) and the ToolPak ($45)

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The SnackPak is a simple but highly functioning bag. It’s constructed using XPac Lite and closed cell foam to ensure a sturdy shape for you ride. Its easy to un-zip and zip back up while riding.

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Another great innovation is a velcro divider inside the SnackPak that’s just the right size for energy bars in top compartment and my keys in the bottom. Like the FramePak, If needed the divider can be opened up for more room.

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My ToolPak fits snugly into this corner of my bike and is filled with bike tools, spare parts, a small bottle of chain lube, and enough room left for my headlamp.

Overall

Synergy is what makes these packs so amazing. They all work together to carry your gear over rugged trails and keeps you comfortable over long distances. Its also great to work with Joe. He is a stand up guy and is fun to be around. He is very knowledgeable and it shows with his passion of cycling and the sport of bikepacking.

With 8 years experience using JPaks I can say I am pleased with every purchase. Joes quality and innovation proves he is an absolute industry leader. If I had any issues it would be the long lead times on custom items like FramePaks. Typically everything is made to order. Joe is just a one man show and supports a large demand of bikepackers that love his products. Something else to consider is that JPaks for the most part are water resistant and not waterproof. I typically bring along a couple trash compactor bags to line the inside during heavy wet weather.

The JPaks on my bike have elevated my cycling and hunger for adventure to new levels. I have completed the Colorado Trail in 2015 and the Kokopelli Trail 4 times along with countless other adventures that you can find on this blog.

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