Hi friends and fellow travelers! It’s been far too long….
You see, since one of our last posts about choosing to sell the truck, things have been moving mighty quickly and a LOT has changed for us. To start, let’s quickly bring everyone up to speed:
- We sold the truck this past spring and its new owner picked it up in mid-July here in Alaska. Why did we sell the truck? Well, we’re not ready to give up adventure travel anytime soon, so we’re building a new Global Expedition Vehicle to more closely match our new circumstances and goals. (More detail on that in one of our last posts). So if you see the big white truck somewhere across the US, it’s no longer us! The new owner plans to use the truck as a base camp for photography and exploring.
- We decided to make Palmer, Alaska our home base and literally JUST put an offer on some beautiful land overlooking the Chugach & Talkeetna Mountains, Knik Glacier and Matanuska River in Palmer, Alaska. This is where we hope to build a small home next year that will serve as the launch pad for adventures with our new wheels. Suffice it to say: We are beyond smitten.
- As the new truck build is underway, we’ve been living and working in Palmer (about 45 minutes northeast of Anchorage) since May, happily adjusting to the quiet rhythm of life in one spot for a while: Making friends, taking classes, capitalizing on the seasons’ bounties, hiking locally, etc. After over two years of living in the truck full-time and three years before that owning our Sprinter, VANdal, it was a bit of shock to the system to suddenly not have an adventure vehicle! Not being able to spontaneously plan travel around Alaska’s often-unpredictable weather quickly made us realize that we had been on the right path all along – For us, an adventure truck is the best and only way to travel.
Over these last few years, so many of you have reached out with questions about the truck and our travel plans. Every wants to know: What is the holy grail of adventure travel vehicles? And the answer is quite simple.
The perfect adventure vehicle is the one you can build on your budget that supports your interests in the specific area you wish to travel.
Life is fluid and those factors (budget, interests, location) evolve. And as they do, the vessel for adventure must adapt and change with it.
Not only did we find in our two years on the road that we enjoyed exploring close to cities and towns as much as we craved deep off-road exploration into the caverns of civilization, we also learned that we were really seeking deeper connections and the ability to contribute something to a real community. Thus, we needed something that wasn’t so dedicated for full-time, off-road travel.
Since we found that sense of community and will now be making long on-road commutes from the lower 48 to Alaska every year, it no longer made sense for us to have a perfectly built, off-road biased LMTV-based adventure truck. As great as it was for us, we also recognize that it’s costly to have and maintain something that doesn’t get used for its intended purpose, so we had to let go and adjust.
Our new truck will allow us to have the best of both worlds: A small home base in a community we want to add value to, and an adventure vehicle that’s big enough to support our hobbies and gear for extended travel, yet compact, nimble and just as weather-worthy to use in all conditions, on and off-road.
WHAT DOES THAT LOOK LIKE FOR US?
It became clear that the next vehicle would need to have better fuel economy, faster highway speeds, and less maintenance since it wouldn’t necessarily be used every day for full-time living (more like 4-6 month stints). To that effect, we were willing to give up some of the incredible off-road ability of our old truck as well as some size.
From the new & improved GXV factory in Springfield, Missouri, the team will create for us a customized and highly modified version of their signature “GXV Turtle” which includes a gear garage and some features that our old truck didn’t possess. There are things that we got right the first time and are being replicated in this truck (and most likely every adventure vehicle to follow). For instance, we will never, ever ever ever give up Armor Vision windows or the composite shell that gives us incredible thermal and sound insulation. We are also retaining virtually the same layout, including the metal security door between the cab and cabin.
THE HIGHLIGHT REEL
For those who like to geek out on this stuff, here’s a quick overview of what we’ll be rolling in when it’s complete at GXV this winter:
- 4×4 Dodge Ram 5500 with locking rear differential.
- Total Bumper-to-Bumper Length: ~25’ (A savings of about 4 feet from our last truck)
- Cabin Length: 16’3″
- 41” tires (And the spare has GXV’s first-ever swing-away external tire carrier designed specifically for larger tires).
- In-floor heating in the cabin, bathroom and gear garage to keep all our equipment warm & dry (Yay, warm Nordic ski boots!!)
- We’ve swapped out the three 168-pound AGM batteries in favor of two Mastervolt 400-amp hour lithium ion batteries and a full Mastervolt electrical system. Not only does this save us over 400 pounds of weight, it doubles our battery bank’s amp hours.
- Since we will no longer have a generator, a larger solar array of 800 watts, as well as two 200-amp alternators from the truck’s engine will charge the batteries.
- Virtually the same interior layout as we had before with dinette, galley, bathroom/shower combo, steel cab to cabin access door, and queen size bed.
- Dedicated full-width gear/bike garage in the rear.
- Same Vitrifrigo Stainless Steel Marine Fridge/Freezer and Webasto Diesel Cooktop.
- Bathroom omits the sink to save space and to keep plumbing super simple.
- We lose the washer/dyer but with that omission comes the freedom of not requiring a generator.
- Same Armor Vision windows & single main cabin skylight (If you’ve ever researched these and thought, “Nah…too expensive.” Think again. Worth. Every. Single. Penny.
- Since we lose some length in the cabin and gear garage, we’ve opted to use the headboard area of the queen-size bed for additional interior cabinetry. In addition, we can keep overflow gear in Yakima Rocket Boxes up on top since we have switched to inflatable paddleboards. The gear boxes fit perfectly in configuration with the rooftop solar array.
- When in doubt….more LIGHT! The more, the better, especially on desolate desert dirt roads or in the pitch black of Alaska winters. We’ll have two x 40-inch light bars from Black Oak. One will be a flood pattern and the other a spot pattern for 88,000 lumens of usable light. Plus, two x 6.7” multi-LED light cannons from VisionX mounted in the AEV bumper which will come on automatically with the high beam.
- Last, but not least, the main cabin door got an upgrade. Though it was a high-end door, the old one’s aluminum frame acted as a cold bridge. When temps dipped well below zero, frost would appear on the inner door trim. Couple that with the acrylic window (akin to those you’d see in Earth Roamer and other vehicles), and we got a recipe for water condensation. As water ran down, it would create a miniature puddle in the well housing the paper window shade. In other words: A chia pet come spring. Instead, our new door will be made of the same material as the cabin, fully integrated with a 3-point locking system, and without an aluminum frame to transmit cold temperatures inward.
WHY GXV AGAIN?
Global Expedition Vehicles made the most sense for this build for a number of reasons. GXV has the longest running track record of US-based expedition truck builds, and a tremendous reputation for quality and support. As new adventure truck builders have come on-line to take advantage of the recent surge in the trend toward living off-grid, full-time travel, homeschooling, van-lifing, and overlanding, GXV stands out as one of the few who we can count on to stand the test of time. While others may produce a worthy product today, where will they be tomorrow when it needs repair? What will their value be down the road? We can honestly say that our last GXV truck held its value extremely well upon resale with minimal depreciation after over two years of full-time use.
Building a one-off, custom model of anything is bound to encounter issues and problems. GXV has built enough of these that they’ve worked out all of the kinks so we feel we’re paying a fair price with a reliable build schedule. As a result, GXV’s whole is greater than the sum of its parts – sure, other builders could put those same parts together, but with GXV we know we’re getting a reliable build, complete with our customizations, and something that we know will hold up to the rigors of travel on and off-road. It may be a bit outdated now, but here’s our take on a few of the other builders we had initially researched before deciding to go with GXV a few years ago.
As before, we revisited a lot of them (along with several other new builders), including a serious consideration of Bahn Camperworks. Bahn builds a marvelously beautiful, lightweight truck camper, but the long and unpredictable production time schedule, astronomical price increase, coupled with no gross maximum price (GMP) deterred us from moving in that direction. Though lightweight, some builders use a much thinner and less robust camper shell, and many may not be able to build with the Armor Vision/KCT glass windows we so love. Often, their range between X base price and X + 30% is too volatile, indicating that small scale builders haven’t quite mastered the art of being able to accurately quote and build accordingly.
If you’re on the prowl for an expedition vehicle, a yacht, a home, or anything custom – this is our advice: Make sure your builder is willing to give you a Gross Maximum Price based on detailed plans and specifications. This ensures that, assuming no additions or changes to your build contract, you know what you’re getting yourself into. Do not build on a time & materials contract + overhead and you’ll save yourself some surprise costs at the end. The more time you spend detailing accurate plans and specifications, the more likely both you and your builder will get an outcome you’re satisfied with, both tangibly and financially.
WHY THE DODGE 5500?
The M1083 is still by far the most durable, if not indestructible, off-road vehicle. But as we mentioned earlier, it no longer fit the new paradigm shift.
To make sure we were making the right choice, we revisited all the available chassis choices out there, quickly eliminating the Internationals and Freightliners for the same reasons we did originally. We eliminated smaller vehicles because we knew we’d still be living in this full-time at least 4-6 months at a time. We also researched the new Kenworth cab-over chassis (a rebadged DAF truck). GXV has been having Kenworths converted from 2 wheel to 4 wheel drive, and they’ve quickly become one of their most popular big-truck platforms.
At first, the Kenworth concept was seductive. Though its fit and finish is closer to a Mercedes Sprinter, the mileage improvement wasn’t substantially greater than the LMTV and the price tag was significantly higher. Moreover, we wanted a more intentionally robust off-road vehicle than the Kenworth. These “can” go off-road but there’s not as much history there. They do bridge the gap nicely for people who want to go above and beyond a traditional RV with good traction on snow and dirt roads, but we wanted something a little more purpose-built.
That left the ton and a half pick up trucks: the Dodge Ram 5500 and the Ford F-550.
Of the two, the Ford is more popular by far. However, we chose the Dodge Ram. Why? Three main reasons:
- We’re fans of the Cummins 6.7L Turbo
- It is much easier to remove the DEF system from a Ram than a Ford should we want to head south of the border.
- For many service issues, the Ford unfortunately requires the cab to be lifted off the chassis. With our build configuration, removing the truck cab off the chassis would be a huge ordeal.
It’s not that we don’t like the Fords. In fact, we currently own the last of what is arguably the best Ford engines ever made – the 2003 F250 with a 7.3 liter Powerstroke diesel. It took some homework but we found one that had just one owner and was spotless, so we bought it on the spot for our summer without a home on wheels.
THERE YOU HAVE IT!
As winter closes in and the completion date is in sight for the new truck, we will be back with updates. Until then, we invite you to follow along on Instagram for the latest. We’re looking forward to being back on the road throughout this winter, with plans to be back in Alaska by the spring thaw to start developing our home.
Questions? Thoughts? Give us your two cents in the comments below.