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!


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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


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!



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


Main Street in Downtown Telluride


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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!


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.


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.

IMG_20201007_090108 (1)a

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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


  • 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


  • 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


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


Tincup Time! – Mountain Biking and Vanlife


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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. 





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


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


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)


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.


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


Picture of the bolt on mounts from inside.


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)

IMG_20200706_150833 (2)

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)

IMG_20200706_150833 (3)

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.


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)


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.


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.


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.


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.


Crested Butte Redux–Mountain Biking and Vanlife

Summer nights in Crested Butte are most excellent!After resting for a day in Gunnison and stocking up on supplies I made my way back to Crested Butte to spend a week at a spot I had previously camped at in 2018. I ended up having a good time in 2018 and you can view that stay here.My campsite is located at the top of the maintained part of Brush Creek road and there is a large open dispersed camping area. There is plenty of room for all types of campers and due to its proximity to town, awesome riding, and 4 wheeling, it is a very popular place to camp so expect some neighbors. If you have a 4×4 camping setup it would be great to push up the 4wd road past the creek crossing and stay at one of the many incredible dispersed sites along the way to Pearl Pass.IMG_20200710_110919Climbing is tough getting up the start of the singletrack on the way to the top of Teocalli Ridge.In 2018 I got my ass kicked on this trail. It was my first high elevation ride of the year and I bonked so hard I could not enjoy the downhill. After getting rested up from the 195 mile ride with Joe and Kristen I was feeling pretty strong and ready for another attempt.IMG_20200710_113347The wild flowers were poppin! I was feeling strong at this point but there were still some steep spots that required you to push your bike. About 2/3 of the way up I was pushing my bike, huffing and puffing and I look back and see a middle aged couple rocketing up the climb that I could barely walk. They zip past me and say hi, I notice a whirring sound that reminded me of and RC motor. Ha! They were on e-bikes! Ok my spirit wasn’t completely crushed after all.


At the top I took a break and busted out a gluten free PB and J. Man these taste good but ended up being a bad idea for my finicky digestive system. The views from the ridge are spectacular and inspired me to ride Perl Pass the next day.IMG_20200711_102329After a great ride on Teocalli Ridge the previous day I was ready to attack Pearl Pass next. This ride has some historical significance and hold the oldest Mountain bike event in the world the Pearl Pass tour from Crested Butte to Aspen that has been a tradition for 48 years!


Picture from the 3rd annual event in 1978


I wasn’t riding to the town of Aspen but still wanted to make it to the top of the 12,705 foot pass then head back to camp. On the way up I ran into some jeepers and had a good conversation with a gal that was waiting for her husband and friends to get to the top and head back. One of the jeeps radioed in and said they had to turn around about 200 yards from the summit due to a snow bank. When I got up there and saw it for myself the snow bank looked manageable so I drug my bike across the off camber snow bank. Briefly after getting back on dry trail I encountered another snow bank that was just as easy to cross as the last one.IMG_20200711_131211I was thrilled to get to the top of this 12,700 foot pass. Lots of other jeepers, motos, and ATV’s were not able to enjoy the summit this day. I felt kind of special.IMG_20200713_143419_290

Breathtaking views of the Elk Mountains all around. The Elk Mountain range is one of my favorite ranges in Colorado.


After a good 10 days of camping at the Brush Creek dispersed campsite I made my way back into Gunnison to resupply and noticed a post from one of my other nomad friends Ramon. I know Ramon from riding at the bike parts and in New Mexico. I messaged him and we decided to meet up in Gunnison and catch up then later ride Doctor Park.

Doctor Park is considered to be one of the best rides in Crested Butte. Ramon’s wife Linda was kind enough to shuttle us to the top of Bear Creek Trail. The ride started off excellent with mellow descending along the creek and through meadows.

When we reached the top of the climb to Doctor Park a thunderstorm moved in and parked right on top of us. It was scary to hear the thunder ecohing right above us. We waited for about a half hour for the rain to let up but it never did so we decided to go for it. Man did it rain on us. Lucly I had brought my rainjacket bur Ramon did not. It rained so hard the trail turned to a stream and even hailed on us.

We finished the ride with big grins on our faces. Although this was not the Dr. Park experience I was looking for we still had a blast and completed the ride safely. Ramon and Linda invited me to their winter home in San Felipe Mexico that I just may take them up on!

Road to Tarabithia–3 Day Epic Bikepacking Trip

Bikepacking makes the best friends!!! Joe, Kristen and myself smiling big after leaving the town of Crested Butte.


After completing a week stay in Buffalo Creek I made my way down to Gunnison Colorado to meet my friends Joe and Kristen for a 3 day bikepacking trip around Crested Butte. I was riding my bike in Buffalo Creek when I noticed a text from Joe that said “Kristen and I were thinking about your Crested Butte 4th of July route this year. Would you be interested in that?” I replied “Yes, Lets make it happen!”

For several years in a row we had a 4th of July weekend tradition where we would ride a gravel style bikepacking route that typically covered 150+ miles of gravel road, 4×4 road, easy singletrack, and some paved road. The idea is to explore and discover new parts of Colorado that we have never seen before. Unfortunately the tradition got derailed mainly due to my health issues I was having the past couple of years but was very excited to see it pick back up and me back in good health.


Joe also runs his own bike bag business and just in time for this adventure he made me a fresh set of frame bags! I got a brand new FramePak, ToolPak, and SnakPak. They are made of this really slick off black XPac Lightskin material with orange stitching that gives the bag a little pop. My old frame bag was made by Joe back in 2012 and it is still going strong. I love my old bag but am excited to take advantage of JPaks new innovations and features. For instance the FramePak now bolts directly into the water bottle mounts for an incredibly secure fit. The front of the frame pack is flared for more room when stashing items in a pinch. The pack is cleverly divided into 2 sections for easy organizing. And this new bag is constructed with the latest XPac Lightskin material that’s incredibly sturdy and looks amazing! Be sure visit his company JPaks here.

I always get very excited when my bike is fully loaded up and ready to go. Its amazing how capable this 2 wheeled human powered machine is. The above picture was taken in Gunnison next to a a friend of Joe and Kristen’s by the name of Jonathan. He was kind enough to let us park our vehicles on the side of his house for 3 days while we had our adventure. Jonathan is the County Commissioner for Gunnison and an advocate for our public lands. We discussed how I would like to live in Gunnison someday.


And we are off! The start of the ride was a gentle climb up Ohio Pass Road. The last few miles it gets steep and turns to gravel with some rocks to dodge here and there. The crisp morning, blue skies, and beautiful country road made for a very pleasant start.


Here is Joe and Kristen celebrating with some snack mix after cresting Ohio Pass. This was the first of many big passes on this route.


After reaching Kebler Pass Road, Kristen found a delightful piece of singletrack that took us down into the town of Crested Butte. Unfortunately this little slice of trail was the only singletrack the 195 mile route offered.


We arrived at the legendary mountain bike town of Crested Butte and all took turns getting selfies in front of the town sign.


We rolled onto Main Street and scouted a place for lunch. One thing I love about bike touring is all the delicious food and resupply options along the way.


While we were eating lunch it rained hard and we were grateful to have dodged the storm. Here is Kristen enjoying her affogato which is espresso and french vanilla ice cream. I got a taste and it was yummy. Something about the mix of rich espresso and the cold vanilla ice cream did wonders for your taste buds.


Somebody is all fueled up and ready for our next big climb over Schofield Pass. Over the years it’s been great to see Kristen grow into one of the best mountain bikers I know. She is a Colorado Trail Race finisher and an absolute beast of a rider that continues to inspire me.

We continued on climbing up easy paved and dirt road passing the Mount Crested Butte Ski Resort and the little town of Gothic.


Along the way up I asked Joe and Kristen to stop at a bend in the stream next to the road for a little Tenkara fishing. During my last van tour in 2018, I had finished riding the 401 Trail, and after I loaded up my bike I fished the creek by the trail head and caught a little brook trout. So why not try this spot again?


Well the fish were not biting for me and the next wave of thunderstorms were moving in. However Joe did catch a little fingerling that he was pretty excited about!


Continuing up the pass and it starts to rain. In the distance you can see the gorgeous Emerald Lake. This day we planed to ride 50 miles and after cresting the pass it would be time to look for a camp site.


After being rained on moderately for the last couple of hours we were relieved to see the top of Schofield Pass. Are spirits were high and the day seemed to go really smooth despite the rain. Joe obliged and added a couple of JPaks stickers to the sign and we got this group photo. After the summit the gravel road slowly descends to a large alpine park then turns to a very rough 4×4 road.


After a great night sleep in my hammock next to a rushing stream, I was awakened by Joe making a morning fire and was looking forward to having coffee with my friends.



Our campsite was excellent. It was right next to a rushing creek with a a waterfall about 50 yards away. There was a flat spot for Joe and Kristen’s tarp and a nice spacing of trees for my hammock. Also there was a makeshift bridge that crossed the fast running creek and on the other side was a sign that said “Bridge to Tarabithia”. Kristen explained to me that it was based on a children’s fantasy book that I never had heard of. Well Tarabithia sounded like a magical place and so was the setting for this adventure. Hence my title for this ride, “Road to Tarabithia”.


After a high energy breakfast we loaded up and got ready to head out for day 2. I was a little apprehensive about this day since the backside of Schofield Pass looked steep and spicy with large creek crossings according to the maps I studied. It ended up being spicy indeed with steep loose rocky descents, massive water crossings, and consequential exposure.


The first large water crossing was immediately after leaving our campsite. Here is Joe taking in the majesty of the area. This was just a small taste how amazing the next 10 miles were going to be.


More creek crossings. The descending at this point was way beyond the capabilities of my gravel bike but Joe and Kristen were right at home on their beefy trail bikes and 3 inch wide tires. We were coming down a very rocky and exposed section of trail when we encountered two dirt bikers that were trying to figure out how to get their heavy motorcycles up the steep, rocky trail. Kristen rode by them as if this treacherous section of trail was a piece of cake. I will never forget how they were in complete amazement of her prancing down the rugged trail making it look effortless. Me not so much. There were several parts I had to dismount and walk my bike but for the most part I did well and just had to hang on tight to my fully ridged whip.


The views were unbelievable. As Joe said later on, his retinas were burning from the overload of beauty and pure ruggedness. This had to be the most spectacular 10 miles of Colorado I have ever experienced. However it is not easily earned. You need a very capable off road vehicle, motorcycle, or mountain bike accompanied by some balls of steel to conquer this side of the pass.


The lighting was not right but low and behold the Devils Punch Bowl. As usual It was much more impressive in person. I did not know at the time but reaching the Devils Punchbowl it is a sought after off road accomplishment.


The 4×4 road starts to level off but is still very rocky. I love riding through these tight sections of Aspens that would on occasion open up with views of the rushing Crystal River.


When I designed the route I was ecstatic to see that it passed the infamous Crystal Mill. For quite some time I have wanted to visit this highly photogenic riverside relic. I have seen photos of it displayed in businesses, doctors and dentist offices, even one of my old coworkers had a picture of it hanging on his cubicle wall. We took some time to snap some shots and enjoy the spectacle.


Here is a better picture of the Crystal Mill. I later found out that the mill is actually an air compressor that fed pressurized airlines at 60psi for the marble mining operation.


After a very bumpy ride we made it to the town of Marble. I always wanted to visit this little town and when I created the route I noticed Marble had an awesome BBQ spot worth checking out. Joes eye caught the catering truck and our mouths started watering.



Slow Groovin BBQ didn’t open until noon so we had about an hour to kill. We discovered this historic site and had fun checking out the cool cuts of marble. Much of the marble mined from this area was used on the Lincoln Memorial and Colorado State Capitol.


Oh boy did Slow Groovin deliver! Just look at that!


After leaving the town of Marble with a belly fully of brisket, smoked sausage, baked beans, and cole slaw, we had some road riding to do and coming up was our first big pass of the day, McClure Pass. The pass was a beat down as temps were close to 100 degrees and the road was steep with no shade. We had some ground to make up as by the time we left the town of Marble it was afternoon already and we had only ridden about 10 miles so far.


We were back on gravel and on a very long dirt road climb that would lead us eventually to the small Western Colorado town of Paonia. This climb was 4000’ of ascending over 13 miles and was an absolute beat down. I suffered more on this segment than anywhere else on the route. The blazing heat, unrelenting sun, never ending climb, and the loose surface of the road just absolutely tore me up.


Here I am faking a smile, or maybe not… as I climb and climb and climb. To beat the heat I would pack away my helmet and wear a buff until I started going downhill again.


One last stop for water. By this time we had been on our bikes for over 10 hours and I was beyond exhausted. Kristen kept pushing us to make distance. Originally we had thought the route was 150 miles long so our goal was to make 50 miles each day. At this point we were at about 40 miles for the day and wanted to stay on track. This way we didn’t have a terrible long set up for tomorrow. Later we would find out that what was thought to be a 150 mile long route was 195 miles instead.


We rode until 9:00 pm. I remember saying to myself several times that at some point we had to stop. And we did eventually after a 12 hour day and slightly exceeding our 50 mile goal.



Here are a couple of pictures that I took as we were finishing packing up and getting ready to leave for day 3. We had trouble finding a spot at the end of the second day and most of the sites were occupied by mooing cows. Kristen was wise and recommended for us to find a campsite not occupied by noisy cows which we eventually did. I can tell I was completely exhausted because I lost my sun glasses and a USB C cable while setting up camp that night. I got up early and looked everywhere but could not find my misplaced items. Oh well, Joe had a cable I could borrow to charge my phone and soon the town of Paonia was coming up so I could look for a place to buy new sunglasses there.


After a roaring 13 mile downhill we made it to the town of Paonia. We crossed paths with a bakery and Kristen thought it would be a good idea to stop and grab a quick bite. Joe and Kristen had breakfast pizza and I had a quiche. Everything was delicious. After that we ventured our way deeper into town to find me a new pair of sunglasses. I didn’t notice, but while I was standing in line to purchase my glasses, J and K went on a photo shoot and captured some really cool shots of Joes new titanium bike and some street art. Joe says he wants to retire in Paonia. There is something very charming about this town.


When I had mapped out the ride there was a long highway section between Paonia and Kebler Pass Road. So I searched and searched for alternates along the way to reduce our time on the highway. On the outskirts of Paonia I found some back roads on Google Earth then some small farming roads that lead to this bridge crossing the North Fork of the Gunnison River. On Google Earth it looked legit but you never know until you get there in person. Everything was great until we got to the end of the bridge and it was gated and locked. There was a residential house just 10 yards away and just beyond the end of the drive way was the public road we were trying to reach. We made the call to hand our bikes over the side of the bridge and make a dash for the road. If we turned back it would have added at least an hour to an already grueling long day on our bikes. Well we dashed for it and we did get yelled at but all in all it was worth the risk. I certainly don’t condone trespassing and if I am ever to do this route again I will be sure to leave this section out and ride the highway miles.


Moments later we got stopped by law enforcement on another highway detour. We were forced onto the highway again and left no choice but to put our heads down and push the remaining miles to Kebler Pass Road. I felt bad about the private land issues but if I attempt this route again I will be sure to make some adjustments.


We reached the start of Kebler Pass Road and found a campground with a little general store to buy some cold beverages and snacks. It was blazing hot again today and it felt good to get off the highway and refresh in the shade for a bit. We devoured the last of our snacks and guzzled our drinks before attacking the final grueling segment.




Kebler Pass Road is beautiful and home of some of the largest aspen groves in the world. It had some paved parts but was mostly dirt. Kebler Pass Road is 33 miles long with massive hills but we pushed forward knowing this was our last big climb.


As we ascended up the pass we were treated with excellent views of Ruby Peak and the surrounding Elk Mountains


Joe is rounding out the final climb at the top of Kebler Pass. We were all beat but proud of our accomplishments this day. After this point it was 26 miles of downhill tracing our way back to Gunnison on Ohio Pass Road where we started 3 days ago.


Easy Peasy! All of us were relieved to be riding the final bit of bike path into Gunnison. The last 26 miles went by quickly.


We made our way into Gunnison and found a place to get some Mexican food and salty margaritas. Here is my bike after arriving back to my van with my leftovers strapped to my SeatPak. 195 miles and over 15k of climbing according to my Strava app. On the last day we covered over 80 miles… Wow!

We were beyond tired and dirty after 3 days of riding. I remember Kristen saying after the ride she just wanted to lay on the ground and groan. I thought this was funny because I wanted to do the exact same.

I cannot recommend this bikepacking route enough. It delivered on all of our 4th of July adventure expectations and then some. The route had awesome towns like Gunnison, Crested Butte, Marble, and Paonia. Massive passes, rugged 4×4 descents, waterfalls, sunsets, and barbeque. Even a little fishing can be thrown in. This is by far the best route I have put together for our 4th of July adventures and we all said let’s do it again!

Check out my activity on Strava:

1st stop. Buffalo Creek

It had been 634 days to get back to this place in my life. When my last road trip ended I was heart broken. I remember that day so clearly when I unpacked my van and rented a room from a friend back in Colorado Springs. I remember unexpectedly crying and feeling immense grief as I unpacked my van and I realized this was the end of the road.

So much happened after that. I ran into some serious health problems that pretty much keep me grounded and didn’t allow me to be active the way I like to. I rented a cute little cottage in downtown Colorado Springs and went back to my old job as a recruiter with the condition I would work for them for a year in hopes I can return to my dream.
My dream was very much still alive. I pushed thru, made some money, and was able to resolve my health issues. Going back to recruiting was a tough decision but I ended up working with great people and made some great friendships and money. At the end of my 1 year commitment I was in an excellent position to launch another adventure. My savings account is stacked, I have a new mountain bike, my health is good, and made some nice upgrades to my minivan camper. 

To kick off this adventure I had my sights set on hiking the 500 mile long Colorado Trail. Starting in January of this year I began my training. I started dialing in my backpacking gear and doing longer and longer hikes with my pack loaded to get my cyclist body in shape for a long hike.Training was going great until I injured my foot and developed a case of planter fasciitis.

My very dialed backpacking kit. I always wanted to take a gear explosion pic like this. 

My hammock set up I planned on using for the CT. 

It was a tough pill to swallow but  I made the decision to postpone the Colorado Trail hike due to the foot injury and switch my focus back to cycling and Vanlife which is what I had planned to do after the hike anyway. 

Here is my new and improved camper setup. I sold my sold my 6’x8′ awning and went all out for ARBs 8’x8′ awning and Deluxe Room. ARBs Deluxe Room is outstanding! It’s a fully enclosed room that can be converted from fully enclosed, screened, or open. In addition to the massive living space I can now cook and relax protected from the wind, rain, and bugs. I also purchased a separate small solar system to supplement the main solar system integrated into my van build. Then I set out to find the most baller camp chair I could find. 

Here is what the room looks like fully enclosed on a test run trip down to Canon City.

I am super grateful that I have such good friends and family and was sent off with several small gatherings and a bikepacking trip with my best friend Mike and a weekend backpacking trip with my nephew Evan. 

On June 22nd 2020 I launched my next journey with my self built mini campervan and made my first destination to an area called Buffalo Creek. It’s a very popular dispersed camping area surrounded by world class hiking and biking trails. As long as you get there on a Tuesday or Wednesday you can usually find a good spot. Here is my first camp site!

My first bike ride was a 20 mile easy ride on mostly roads. It felt good to be pedaling and during the ride I got an invite from my friend and frame bag builder Joe of Jpaks to ride a multi day bike route around Crested Butte that I had designed a few years ago. More to come on this adventure.

It was time to bust out my mountain bike and ride Little Scraggy trail. Little Scraggy is a well built MTB oriented trail with lots of tough climbing and a long fast and flowing decent at the finish.

After the ride I was treated to an interesting sunset and had dinner with some new friends that I am sharing my camp with. 

Here is Kristy and Shaun that I ended up sharing my large camp site with. On my last adventure one of the challenges I encountered was loneliness and lack of human interaction. I decided on this journey I would make an effort to meet people and be more social. Sometimes as an introvert that can be tough but I am already off to a great start enjoying conversations and meals with my neighbors. 

I went out for another ride on my gravel bike but this time I was going to enjoy the smooth and easy going single track this area offers. All in all I got to stay 6 days in Buffalo Creek and was able to get some great rides in and make new friends. I love this freedom!!!

Not everything is glorious about Vanlife. Here is me and Baby Yoda hanging out in a King Soopers parking lot in Denver while we get our shit together to go back into the mountains!