I probably made a mistake trying to show the evolution of the Dodge from the beginning. After 15 years of ownership there are just too many photos to sort through/resize and too many modifications to catalog. So in the interest of brevity I’m going to pick up from where it is now and document the latest round of upgrades as these will be extensive.

The truck as it was at the finish of the Alaska trip.

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As you may notice the truck is also stuck (for the first time ever!) and I had to winch myself out. Worn out tires, nasty slimy clay laden New Mexico mud and a lack of traction aids led to this predicament. It was almost impossible to walk and stay on two feet on this road it was so slick.

After 180+ thousand miles of highway and backcountry exploration, the poor Dodge is just worn out. Also needing to be addressed are a LOT of Dodge design flaws and shortcomings. I seriously considered (very seriously) selling it and starting from scratch. It’s only left me stranded on the side of the road once, and only been stuck once in 15 years so in the end I decided to keep it and breathe some new life into it.

Here’s where we are now: the 5.9 Cummins is stock except for a Supertuner reprogrammer and Magnaflow 4″ turbo back exhaust system and will stay that way. The 47RE transmissions in these trucks are notoriously inadequate. This one is stock and started acting up during the trip. It will need rebuilding and upgraded. The axles are stock 3.54 ratio with limited slip in the back (worn out) and open (no traction aids) in the front. These issues will be addressed. The biggest problem with these trucks, aside from the transmission, is the entire front end! The vacuum operated CAD front axle, track bar, ball joints, and just about everything else involving the front suspension and steering is…well…crap (to put it nicely)! A few years ago I threw quite a bit of money at the front end in the form of DT Profab products which helped some but didn’t address all the problems. All the front end and steering issues will be addressed in a big way. The truck has been running 35″ tires and aluminum wheels which will also be getting the boot.

All of this went under the truck a few years ago along with some custom rear leaves.

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I will be keeping the DT Profab track bar and upgrading it with their new heavy duty ends. I will also be keeping the DT Profab 3.5″ lift coils, and DT Profab steering brace. I may keep the Fox steering damper but I’m not sure yet. The rest is going bye bye. Yes, that includes the ENTIRE front axle assembly and everything associated with the steering beyond the steering column (and even that is getting a modification)! Okay I may keep the pitman arm if I can get it off the steering box.

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You have probably figured out by our lack of postings that the “Big 2014 Alaska” trip, for all intents and purposes, is over. We arrived at our cabin/second home in rural New Mexico in late September. We thought we would venture out from the cabin on a short trip or two since we planned to stay through the end of December, but other than a few hikes and a little back road exploring, it just didn’t happen. We still have to get back to Florida, but that will mainly be a road trip visiting friends and family along the way.

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Our cabin is an ongoing project and we just keep finding things to do! One of the first projects was to import a little Inuit cultural influence in the form of an “Inuckshuk”.  We were introduced to these in Western Canada and immediately decided we needed one of our own. The Inuit used them for various purposes including navigational markers and indicators of a place of significance.

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We had tentatively planned to go to Moab, Bryce Canyon, and the White Rim Trail but ultimately decided to save those for next year. With winter quickly approaching and no trips planned we decided to winterize  the trailer and put it away for the winter. It was a bittersweet moment…

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… but a timely one!

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We had been planning this trip with Alaska as the focal point for many years. Sometimes you worry the experience will not equal the anticipation but that was definitely NOT the case. This trip delivered! Look for some “best of” photo compilations in the near future. We hope you have enjoyed following along on our journey and rest assured there will be more in the future.

For now it’s back to Florida and I have some interesting vehicle projects on the agenda.

Stay tuned…

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Remaining fit during our travels was a top priority. It was a hassle to make room for our bikes, but we did because they were an integral part of our fitness regime. Because space is a premium when rv’ing, I forfeited my weights and packed exercise tubing instead. I also had a list of exercises that required only body weight for resistance. Running shoes and other fitness apparel were also packed.

Well, let me tell you. Our commitment to fitness faded with each passing mile. There was always an excuse: too hot, too cold, not enough time, wrong environment, bears in the area…ad nauseam. I used the exercise bands once and performed body weight exercises twice. At the beginning of our trip, we biked once. The only substantial hike we did was in Montana, again at the beginning of our trip. I ran a total of three times in four months. Jim did not run at all. As the weeks passed, we participated in less and less physical activity.

On return from Alaska, we were feeling quite sluggish and decided it was time to get back to a regular exercise routine. So we began with biking while we were in Montana. It was a sad attempt at re-entry into the world of fitness. We were motionless, breathing as if we had a pulmonary disease, more than we were in motion. I would like to use the excuse that we are flat-landers and are not accustomed to climbing on a bike. But that is a prevarication. During our annual sojourns to New Mexico, we mountain biked regularly. We are, just plain and simply, deconditioned.

Since accepting that epiphany, we have recommitted to fitness. We have been biking and running regularly. We hiked the 8-mile Narrows Rim Trail recently and captured some breathtaking views once we reached the top. Next on our list is the 16-mile Acoma-Zuni Trail. We hope to hike the La Luz Trail on Sandia Mountain, if we can get in shape for that hike before it is too cold. Oops, we are doing it again. Excuses, excuses, excuses.

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ADDENDUM: A few days after I wrote this post, I was attacked, not by a bear, mountain lion or wolf. No sir. I was attacked by a wild domestic dog. I sustained superficial wounds on the front of my leg and deep, or as we medical folks would say, full thickness wounds on the back of my leg. So now instead of getting into shape, I spend my days changing bandages and traveling 65 miles each way to go the doctor for wound care. So unfortunately, biking, hiking and running are on hold for now. Although I would rather have avoided being attacked by an animal, I think I now have a legitimate reason to delay regaining my previous level of fitness. Jim, however, has no excuse…so I say to him, chop, chop and no I don’t need you to stay here and help me change my bandages.

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As we worked our way south through Colorado toward our cabin in New Mexico, I was thinking about detouring over to Durango to ride the Durango & Silverton narrow gauge railroad. Rather than go that far out of our way, I decided to settle for the Cumbres & Toltec railroad from Antonito, CO to Chama, NM, which was on our route. When I mentioned the train ride, Pamala’s response was “And you want to do this why ?”. To which I replied “It’s an old-fashioned steam train ride through the mountains, hanging off of cliffs, why wouldn’t I?”. She once again saw the error of her ways and we booked the ride. We booked the cheap seats rather than the “period correct”, full service car, which turned out to be a good plan since I spent the vast majority of the time enjoying the views from the open gondola car. The weather turned out perfect for the day and the Aspen trees were changing so even Pamala ended up enjoying the ride.

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I stifled a moan when Jim suggested going to Rocky Mountain National Park. My immediate response was how many tree-covered mountains must we see? Were Denali, Glacier, and Yellowstone not representative enough? I love nature and enjoyed visiting the National Parks we patronized very much, but did not feel Rocky Mountain would be different enough from the others to warrant the time and expense of going there. Yet because Rocky Mountain was on Jim’s list for this trip, I acquiesced. So we traveled through the wind-blown prairie of Wyoming and encountered 19 degree temperatures and snow in order to reach the park. I must admit that I had awful flash-backs of the trip to the North Slope.

I was distracted from my flash-backs when we encountered multiple herds of antelope en route and immediately rewarded when entering the park by the presence of a large bull elk. A family of marmot and a herd of elk entertained us while we were at the visitor’s center. Upon reaching the park, I was pleased with the more temperate weather, since the park is located in the north-central region of Colorado. More on this later!

Perhaps because we were at the park on a Sunday, it was very crowded. We had to bypass many of the scenic turn-outs due to lack of available parking for RVs, but we were still able to experience, I think, the essence of the park. Driving the Trail Ridge Road through the park was quite an experience. It is the highest, continuous paved road in the U.S. reaching 12, 183 feet of elevation, and based on my declining level of physical fitness, I would never have reached the peak by foot. It is quite a steep climb up.

I discovered that Rocky Mountain is different from the other parks we visited in that it has three distinct zones: the montane, subalpine and alpine zones. The montane zone is the lowest (below 9000 feet) and warmest zone. Most of the animals are found here and this zone is indeed where we saw the bull elk. The subalpine zone is between 9000 and 12000 feet of elevation and is directly below the treeline of the park while the alpine zone is naturally above the treeline. When we reached the alpine zone, the weather was quite chilly (code phrase for unbearably cold) due to the elevation and lack of trees to block the wind. All the zones are beautiful, although I tend to favor the areas with trees over the rugged, treeless areas. We were in the park too late in the season to see the wildflowers that blanket the alpine zone in the spring and summer months. Fall was definitely in the air, as was evident by the brilliant foliage found on the trees in the montane zone.

I concluded that Rocky Mountain is unique in its own right. We experienced several climate and geographical zones within the park. Our senses were stimulated by the range of colors, the bodies of water and the wildlife. In addition, Jim is happy that he can now check Rocky Mountain National Park off his list, but I am still cold from the time spent in the alpine zone. I think I need another spa day to warm up! Is Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Spa and Resort near by?

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