Surprises of Van Life for Triathletes by Nicole Falcaro
Calf sleeves, 21” tires, race series sponsored by Bud Light, and racing in speedos. All of these triathlon trends have come and gone (well, the speedo one is mostly gone), but one that is here to stay is VanLife!
Once for dirtbags and hippies, VanLife has had a resurgence amongst triathletes, skiiers, cyclists, and the endurance community in general. What better way to experience lots of different places on this speedo-sportin’ earth than to spend a night or two glamping on it? What better way to travel to a race and bring double the gear, even an extra bike if you feel like it?
It was a little pandemic project last year to design and outfit a campervan - a Mercedes Sprinter 2500, 144 wheelbase - with my boyfriend. But where to start on how to build it out? Search for #vanlife on Instagram, and there are nearly 12 million posts! Even #vanlifemood (whatever that means!) has 48,000 posts! It’s overwhelming. I knew we’d take the van to triathlon and cycling races, and I knew we would spend most of the summer sleeping in it during a month-long stay in Colorado, plus a few other road trips from New Hampshire.
While we were really pleased with how the van turned out, some learnings came out of the first six months of VanLife, which included four trips to Colorado, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.
We went with a bed-above-the-bike style, so the “garage” below the bed needed to accommodate the longest bike and the highest saddle height. For us, this was not the same bike! My triathlon bike was the longest - longer than a 56” mountain bike - and my boyfriend’s road bike had the highest saddle height. It was worth it to have the bed a little higher than to adjust the saddle height every ride.
We tried every single permutation of order and rearward-facing vs forward-facing, and this was the most efficient use of space for four bikes. The Rocky Mounts quick release attachments were really helpful, as was the sliding tray table.
The van in its natural state.
We thought we’d get one of those pop-up shower curtain tents, but there was never a time when there wasn’t a fence or line of trees we could reverse the van into! We’d open the back doors to 90 degrees to serve as side protection. If it was too cold or inconvenient to shower…
Rinsing after Timberman 70.3.
Just in case.
Two pieces are also helpful when privacy is hard to come by.
We had a portable toilet just in case, and somehow, we never needed it. We always opted for taking care of business in the Cracker Barrels, Walmarts, and grocery store bathrooms (sorry, fellow patrons). It made me really happy that we didn’t opt for a built-in toilet, which takes up a lot of precious space and can be tenuous to clean.
After a ride or after doing laundry at a laundromat or friend’s place, we didn’t have the luxury of hanging things overnight to dry. We strung a simple rope across the van, and hung all of our kit on it (plus on armrests and any hook we could find!)
Somewhere out in Kansas.
I can think of several workouts I had to cut short because I didn’t leave enough time to retrieve all of the equipment…and then you simply have to put it away afterward! The bike has to go back in the garage, with the wheel off (which requires a hex wrench when you have a thru axle). Clothing is sweaty and has to be hung up to dry. Bike shoes have to be put in the shoe storage, as tempting as it is to let them float around on the floor. It gets pretty tedious, but you get better at it!
We cooked on a single induction cooktop, and we often had rice or pasta, vegetables, and some kind of protein in the fridge. When heating up leftovers, we put the food on a tortilla, put it on a shallow pan, and put a lid on it. Once everything was heated up, we rolled up the tortilla - no mess, and no food stuck to the pan! (This trick is not limited to vanlife!)
Whether you want to swim, use the gym, or just have a proper shower, county- and city-run recreational centers were a godsend. I found most of them through swimmersguide.net and never paid more than $10 to swim in all different types of pools. Bring your own towel and low expectations, and you may be surprised!
Employing some of these tricks will advance the most novice VanLifer to an intermediate VanLifer. VanLife forces you to flex your problem solving skills and enjoy living in the present, because, much like your athletic gear, your environment is constantly changing. Just be sure to change with it, and leave the super skinny tires and racing speedo at home.