Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route section Leadville to Gypsum

The Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route has been something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while. This summer we have taken a little bit of time to do a few sections of it. In mid August we completed the section closest to us that connects Leadville to Gypsum. We set off with the intentions of doing the trip over three days and two nights.

Our first day of the trip we left our home in Carbondale, Colorado and drove over Independence Pass as we made out way to Leadville where we would start our section of trail. We crested the summit of Independence just before dark, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset from 12',000’.

After cresting independence we spent our first night outside of the small town of Twin Lakes at the base of La Plata Peak (14,360’ / 4376m). we headed down a forest service road and passed several less than ideal camp spots. Finally we found a wonderful one tucked back from the road and at the base of large Pines and Aspen tress just at the edge of the meadow. We started a small fire, something that we don't normally do when its just the two of us, and settled into an evening of watching our dog run around in the dark and the stars slowly roll past the horizon.

Our camp below La Plata

What's left from an AVALANCHE over the winter

Avalanches debris is everywhere in the mountains this year.

The next day we headed into Leadville to make one final fuel stop and headed off to Hagerman Pass. The first several miles of Hagerman are very easy flat windy gravel roads that make their way pass Torquoise Lake. Soon the road turns and jumps off the old rail road grade and starts a streap and rocky climb to the pass itself. A few large rocks and one tight washed out switch back are the only notable sections that make the trail challenging on the Leadville side.

Just shy of the summit of Hagerman pass

West side of Hagerman pass

Looking down to Ivanhoe lake

From Hagerman Pass we descended toward the Fryingpan Valley but just before the base we made a detour from the CBDR and followed roads that would lead us to Lime Creek and where we would rejoin the normal route that would take us over Crooked Creek Pass and down into Gypsum. By taking this detour we would avoid driving several miles of pavement that connect Hagerman Pass and Crooked Creek Pass. If you haven't driven this route they are not to be missed. The veiws are stunning, but since we live so close we chose to take a route we had never been before.

The sign at the crest of crooked Creek.

The original plan was to camp somewhere along this detour section. It offers many beautiful open dispersed camp spots, some on the gentle crest of small hills with stunning wide open views and some tucked back in against towering Evergreens and Aspens. Somehow in our day though we covered more ground then we had planned and got to these intended spots much earlier in the day than we had planned. So not wanting to sit around in camp from mid day to night we continued on, this was our first mistake of the trip.

We drove further along passing many beautiful established spots and not thinking anything of it until we decided it was finally time to find a spot for the evening. Since we had our dog Greta with us, we trird to choose spots well away from other people. We like to let her run free and wild around our camps. She's truly happiest outside unbound by the need to stay close. Ultimately we never found spots like the wide open ones we had passed, or ones that weren't close enough to your neighbor to not smell the dinner they were cooking. So we made a decision to continue on. By this point we only had 2 hours and change of driving till we were back home. We finished the last few miles of easy gravel roads that descend Gypsum Creek Road, rejoined I70 and made our way home west back to Carbondale.

We finished out planned 3 day 2 night trip in a day and a half. It was kind of a bitter sweet mistake. We learned some things along this trip. Maybe the most important one is that we should be setting up camp sooner in the day. Ultimately this is goal of these trips. Spending time enjoying our public lands, camping and hiking, chasing our dog as she runs free and unhindered by the restraints of life in town. Maybe we will do better next time.

Headlight test and Shackles

There is a head spinning amount of options on the market for LED headlights for all sorts of vehicles, and for LMTV there is no difference too. You can find headlights that will run in the neighborhood of $600/set and as inexpensive as about a 10th of that price too. With a price that cheap it was too tempting not to give them a try. So we hunted down a pair from the good ol’ Amazon, and after a short bit, and some electrical modification we had some new lights in. These are the lights that we chose to go with. I really liked that they had a turn signal built into the light.

You have a few options for adapting the headlamps to work on the military plus system. The easiest is to order an adapter, there are plenty out there and this is just one option that we found.

Or the other option is to cut and splice the military plug system onto the new lights wiring harness, this is the option that we went with and it worked out pretty well for us, a little multimeter magic here helps to get the high, low and ground wired correctly.

One other thing that we did to get these lights to fit completely right was change out the 3 mounting screws that hold the bezel in place with longer stainless steel bolts. This new light is slightly thicker, and the original screws were just a touch too short and hard to get engaged.

So far after having the headlight in for almost a week I am really pretty happy with them. They are worlds brighter than the stock headlights, and add a slightly cleaner look to the front end of the truck. Really the only complaint I have about them is that on high they have 2 really bright hot spots, one of them points low, and other points either far up the road, or high into the trees above. I still need to spend some more time aiming them to completely the right spot, so this hot spot complaint might go away. The low beam has an amazing bright and very even beam pattern, plenty of light to brighten up the road ahead and also a good amount of the side to light up the shoulders. Below are some photos of the lights and driving with them. The comparison photos were taken in manual mode on my camera, no settings changed other than switching from high beam to low beam.

Low Beam with the turnsignal on.

Lows with the Day Time Running Lights on.

Lows with the Day Time Running Lights on.

Highs, wahoo!

Highs, wahoo!

low beams, nice even pattern.

low beams, nice even pattern.

high beams, note the 2 hot spots at the bottom of the pattern.

high beams, note the 2 hot spots at the bottom of the pattern.

low beam.

low beam.

high beam.

high beam.

Last but not least on this post is shackles, and tow straps. It seems like many of these trucks that people purchase either Via or from an individual don’t come with the shackles on the truck anymore. You can order shackles from many surplus website or the like, but they tend to be really expensive, in the range of 40-60 per shackle, and if you’re buying 4 of them, that adds up really fast. So naturally I started hunting for other options, and came up with a good one. Temco 1 1/8 D ring Shackles fit the mounts on Peanut perfectly, even with a little extra room for some 1 1/4 ID rubber fender washer picked up from the hardware store so that the shackles won’t rattle around on the mounts. The Measurements to pay attention to is the pin for the shackle can’t be larger in diameter that 1.25” and the spacing between the two sides of the shackle at the pin cannot be narrower than 1.77” otherwise they wont fit. Also keep in mind that the shackle should have a Working Load Limit or WLL of at least 9 tons. Another little helpful trip is a strong magnet between the shackle and bumper so that it doesn’t swing back and clank against the bumper, the magnet will help prevent it from swinging away. The Shackles mated with a 30’ x 30000lbs rated tow strap has us fully ready to pull just about anything.

Perfect snug fit.

Perfect snug fit.

No more dim reverse lights

Anyone who has driven one of these trucks knows that they are big, and that reversing them into tight spots can be challenging, especially in the dark with the trucks incredibly useless reversing lights. So it was time to make a change.

One of the items that was on our Christmas list this year was a set of Yitamotor LED lights, and in good form Santa delivered a wonderful pair of lights. Below is a little information on how we installed the lights, and few photos.

Its a pretty simple process; We removed the stock tail light. Cut the male electrical connection from it to use as the male connection for the new lights. Ran a new wire to the passenger side for connecting that side. Removed one of the two bolts that hold the rear tail light protection shroud in place and used that now empty bolt hole to mount the lights, no need for drilling. Both lights are ground on the frame to the bolt that has them connected to the frame.

Below are some photos. Im really pleased with how it turned out. The lights are advertised at 2000 lumens each, and it certainly seems to be more than enough now. No more struggling to tell whats behind us when we reverse, or at least it wont be because our lights aren’t bright enough.

Can you see me now?!

Can you see me now?!

Mounted in place of frame mounting bolt.

Mounted in place of frame mounting bolt.


Peanut's progress, so far...

Sometimes it feels like in the last 3 months that we’ve owned Peanut that we haven’t finished as much as we would have liked to before winter hits. But then other times its feels like we’ve really covered a lot of ground. We have to remind ourselves that even slow progress is still progress. So we thought that we would share some photos and a little about what we have done with Peanut since we purchased her on 8/15/18.

Full disclosure, we’ve included some links to products that we’ve used and recommend and if you purchase those items through the Amazon links below, we get a (much appreciated) little kick back. It’s a great way to help support our build though purchases you might already make without any extra money out of your pocket. Thanks in advance!

This is the very first photo we have of Peanut. This photo is actually from the person who owned the truck before us. You can see a water tank in the bed of the truck which was used for spraying grass seed on Breckenridge Ski Resort right before we bought the truck.

Another photo from the seller.

We purchased the truck just outside of Alma, Colorado and our drive home was a solid test drive. Up and over Hoosier Pass into Breckenridge, and then over Vail Pass on I-70 and back home to Carbondale. The total drive took a little over 2 hours, most of it on the interstate. Thankfully learning to drive this thing in such ‘sink or swim’ circumstances was much easier than expected.

Christina, Greta (our pup) and myself at the top of Shrine Pass Road just after we bought it. We couldn’t wait to get on some high mountain dirt roads with her!

One of the very first projects that we tackled on Peanut was resealing the hatch on the roof of the cab which in its former military life was meant to have either a large caliber gun or grenade launcher mounted in. We got to work pretty quickly removing the old steel plate that the former owner made to cover the hole, repainted the underside of it, and removed any rust that had formed on the cab from the steel plate rusting. After taking care of the rust, we sealed the hatch with closed-cell foam weatherstripping. It has held up great through multiple storms and no longer leaks!

Sanding away silicone residue that was used (unsuccessfully) to seal the hatch before.

Up next we started the process of cleaning the truck and starting to prep some of the exterior parts for paint in the weeks to come. We first decided to paint the wheels. We used Rust-Oleum Professional High Performance Enamel Spray Paint for the wheels and eventually used the same paint in gallons to do the frame. We decided to use that paint because its easy to find at most hardware stores for when we need to do touch ups or want to paint other things on the truck as well. It is also fairly inexpensive to purchase. You can also find it on Amazon:

Masking off the wheels with a little index card trick that I learned several years ago.

After painting the wheels we started to work on repainting the interior of the truck. We really can’t wait to get rid of the military green drab interior. We are currently leaving the military green floor mats until we are totally finished with the inside. After we have finished spraying the interior we will use Dynamat Dynadeck for the flooring with a sound deadening layer beneath it.

Inside the cab we are using a semi-gloss paint that will be a little easier to clean than the flat finish that will be on the exterior of the truck.

Repainted seat brackets, and repainted turret cover.

Dash labeling nightmare while I prep for painting the dash display.

Old nasty olive green dash panel looking very military and ready for an upgrade.

Still lots of painting to be finished in the dash and inside of the cab but this was a huge step and made such a difference in the look and feel of the truck.

We repainted the handles for getting in or out of the truck yellow, and this made such a huge difference. Our friends no longer have such a hard time figuring out what to grab onto as they climb in or out.

Our last big project for this year before winter closed in on us was to get the underside of the truck, including frame and bed, painted flat black. Thanks to the generosity of one of our friends, we were able to borrow some garage space to tackle this project, which we would have had a hard time doing otherwise. I feel like this, really more than anything so far, has changed the appearance of Peanut. It looks so much less military after changing the underside from desert tan. We did all our spraying on the truck with a Graco Cordless Ultra spray gun. Going into this project I was really scared about how challenging it might have been, but the spray gun made it all go so much smother and faster. If you plan on doing anything like this, I highly recommend going and picking one up. We ordered ours through Amazon and have been extremely pleased with it!

Pealing masking tape off after we painted.

Peanut seems like it’s starting to take shape after getting some fresh black paint!

After a full day of letting the paint dry it was time to take Peanut out for a little cruise in her new clothes.

This is how Peanut currently looks going into winter.

Looking at the photo above, it’s fun scroll to the very top and see the contrast from where we started. It seems like we still have a very long ways to go, and we do. But its all coming together, slowly but surely.


Hi there! I guess first off, thanks for stopping by our website!

We wanted to write a little something about why we chose a retired military cargo truck to turn into a camper and maybe our next full time home. Here is the short list of features that we wanted our next home on wheels to have:

  • Easily serviceable. I know this might seem crazy because it is a huge truck, and looks really unique. Actually though, the truck is very simple. I like to think of it as an oversized “fast” tractor. It has an Allison transmission and a Caterpillar engine in it. All the other parts of the truck are somewhat common tractor-trailer type parts and they were produced by the thousands for the government.

  • 4x4. I think you can kinda figure this one out just by looking at Peanut. I mean seriously, the truck will go anywhere that it fits… Sometimes that is the limiting factor, but it’s not often. Bonus, the truck has the ability to adjust tire pressure from within the cab, which this makes off roading much better, with lots more traction, a smoother ride, and is less likely to get stuck.

  • Standing room. Brian is 6’ and Christina is 5’5” so room was more of a factor for Brian. Our previous van that we lived in for some time wasn’t tall enough for either us to stand up. For short trips if was fine, but by the end of the summer it really started to wear on us not being able to stand fully.

  • 4 season living area. This will come down to how we build the box on the back. We both love skiing and winter recreation so having the ability to take our home anywhere no matter the outside temp is a huge bonus.

  • Unique. As cool as Sprinters are (and we have both drooled over our fair share of them) we both decided that we wanted something way more unique and eye catching than your standard cargo work van turned home on wheels. Plus, it is amazing watching both kids and adults faces as we drive past them in Peanut. It seems like people can’t help but be surprised and smile when they see the truck.

  • Affordable. It may seem surprising, but this truck cost us less than a fifth of what a new blank-slate Sprinter would cost. We had been saving up for some time to purchase a Sprinter and after seeing some inspiration from other builds on this truck platform, it was an easy decision for us to get this truck.

We decided to name the truck Peanut for several reasons. We both liked the idea of having an ironic name. It’s hard to tell sometimes when we are out and around town talking about Peanut between us if we are chatting about our pet at home, or an adorable name from something small. So it really throws off the idea of the truck being this huge and intimidating 17,000lbs military vehicle.

When we purchased the truck, it was completely painted in desert tan. With the generosity of a friend’s temporarily donated garage space, we repainted the whole underside of the truck matte black. Although we have plans for an updated paint job for the cab, it is kind of fun that the desert tan “peanut color” matches the truck’s name.

Eventually, our plan with Peanut is to have a camper built on the back of the truck that will be 15’ long 7’ high and 8’ wide. It will have a kitchen, dinette/living space, full wet bath, closet, bed, and plenty of gear storage. From there the plan is very roughly written. We are entertaining the idea of driving from the most NE corner of North America to the most NW corner of Alaska through as much of Canada as we can. And if we are lucky, we will be able to move into Peanut full time, enjoying a home on wheels again. We really miss the simplicity of life on wheels. We wake up earlier, go to bed earlier, eat better and find that we are outside way more often. So, fingers crossed and time will tell!

So there you have it. A not so short, short explanation of our thoughts and rough plans. We hope you follow along here and on our Instagram. We will be posting information about our build here as we progress, along with tips, tricks and our trips along the way.

Take care!

Peanut outside of Carbondale, Colorado. Playing around on a snowy and muddy Forest Service road.

this is sketch that we have done showing our rough plans for how we build out the living space in our box.