While #vanlife and racing seem like they’d be made for each other, that’s not entirely accurate. We love our van, but here’s the thing: Most #vanlife people aren’t also trying to train big hours or race optimally. It’s like tiny houses: When you live in one, having a tiny house is your hobby. For vanlife to be optimal and relatively easy, vanlife is your hobby, along with maybe some moderate exercise. There is a steep learning curve when it comes to being comfortable, fitting all of your gear, and having a good race out of a van. Heading into the Leadville Trail Marathon, we spent a week in our van camping in Colorado to acclimate to altitude, while also getting in some final training. It was a two day drive to get here, and our campsite was sans shower—in fact, because it was a really important race for me, we actually stayed in an AirBNB for a few days around the race itself. Naturally, that week has had me thinking a lot about how to balance training with travel and camping in less-than-athlete-friendly conditions as we head into the Quebec Singletrack Experience and then head to Nova Scotia for MTB Nationals. We had a great trip, but definitely there’s still a learning curve when it comes to being truly comfortable (and clean! and well-recovered!) in these situations.
Here’s where I’m at in terms of vanlife while racing:
Any bathing beats no bathing. I definitely had a bit of a black-and-white view of showers before this trip. But it turns out, boiling water and then just scrubbing down my face, legs, etc. was enough to make me feel much more human, and much less gross going to bed at night. Between sunscreen and bug spray, my legs in particular start feeling icky if I don’t get them clean—I was shocked at the power of a small bowl of hot water. (Whatever you do, DO NOT neglect keeping those nether regions clean post-workout. This means my usual change-out-of-your shorts or chamois spiel, but also use a wet wipe or at least some warm water to clean it up. Especially if you use chamois cream!)
But seriously, figure out a shower. We did descend down into Breckenridge to hit their rec center for a shower halfway through our camping week, and it was well worth it. Most rec centers, and even some YMCAs and private gyms, will let you use their shower for a reduced fee. (Or worst case, you can just pay for a day pass and do a workout while you’re there!) Truck stops are another option. And of course, there is the solar shower situation, which had been our plan until ours sprung a leak! We were able to sort of fix it, but the water was just not heating up. I eventually just boiled a kettle and used water from that to wipe down, and we just used the shower for handwashing. I am seriously considering a hot water shower setup for the van now…
Be prepared to hydrate. I find it SO much harder to hydrate enough when camping/traveling compared to when I’m at home, so things like the giant Nalgene that show you exactly how much you’re drinking can be super helpful. (I also use this 32-ounce thermos for herbal tea on chilly days.) This is a big thing for us at altitude in particular, but the same applies to camping in the heat.
Create a spare cable kit. All the cables. I’ll get into this more in another post, but we have had a few issues in our last couple trips with having uber-specific cables for watches/headphones/etc. and leaving those cables behind. Moving forward, I’m building out a cable kit (for both of us) that exclusively lives in the van, because it’s well worth the spend on a spare charger compared to having a dead watch in the middle of a heavy training week while at a campsite. We’ve had dead Garmins, dead laptops, dead headlamps, and—when we were at an AirBNB for part of the trip—no HDMI cable to stream computers to the TV. All of these problems are now solved by just making a bundle of cords that live out in the van. (And I only had to buy 1 extra cable—we had a bunch of spares lying around, as it turned out.)
ABC: Always be charging. This is an easy habit to get out of when you’re camping, but super annoying if you forget about it. You’re out of your usual routine, and likely not automatically hooking your phone/computer/watch to the charger like you would at home. Have a charging station, set reminders on your phone if you need to bring it inside (at a race like QSE, most campers won’t have power access, but there is a recharge station in the main building—having a routine there is super helpful.)
Clean up, THEN legs up. At a stage race or when doing a big training block and living out of a car or van, your best bet is always to train, then clean up your body + bike, and THEN get into recovery mode and get your legs up. This is both smart practice from a ‘now you’re not trying to clean a bike at 10PM’ standpoint, but also from a ‘not getting the van gross’ standpoint. Everything takes a little bit longer in a camping situation than it does at home, so it is more tiring to have to deal with all of that immediately post-workout or race. But you’ll keep your van cleaner and you’ll be able to relax more fully.
Pause and enjoy. I had a few of these moments in Colorado. When you’re busy training, working, etc., it’s super easy to fall into a routine where you stop noticing where you are and how great it is that you’re camping outside, drinking coffee and watching the sun come up, seeing the stars at night… Especially during big training blocks or stage races where there’s always more to do, try to press the pause button and take a moment to appreciate where you are!