If you search #VanLife on Instagram, you’ll find thousands of images of a way of life that doesn’t actually exist. You’ll see well-dressed and recently-washed influencers enjoying a matcha while contemplating the meaning of life as the sun sets behind an undisturbed beach. You’ll see couples giggling as they prepare eggs and coffee before a morning hike with their fun and funky Australian shepherd. It looks like a pretty alluring lifestyle—if only it were real.
There’s not a whole lot of glitz and glamor in the real pro triathlete #VanLife, but for those few pros who have braved it, living in a van or RV for long periods of time offers an endless variety of training and racing options in a sport that is often all about routine. It also provides a certain degree of financial flexibility, particularly when trying to make it as a pro triathlete is as tough on the bank account as it is on the body. Here’s a closer look at a few pros who have found fun, fitness, and financial freedom on the road.
Curtiss Feltner’s #VanLife
Home base: Bend, Oregon, USA
Follow along: @curtiss_feltner
7th at Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells (2018); previously a professional snowboarder
2002 Ford Mobile Concepts Adventure Van (custom built)
“I’ve owned 12 vans, going all the way back to 2010. The longest that Devon—my girlfriend—and I have gone living out of one was about 11 months, which was in this last van. It’s basically a Ford F-350 chassis with a giant fiberglass box built on top of it. It was built by a company called Mobile Concepts, which used to make mobile office spaces. Our van used to be a mobile golf shop. Some dude just drove it around all day, xing and selling golf clubs out of it.
”My one piece of advice for athletes interested in giving it a try is to expect to put in a lot of work and upgrade frequently. That’s how I went from a $600 tent on wheels to what we have now.” Feltner and his girlfriend are expecting their first child and recently bought a house. They’re selling their adventure van on Craigslist for $60k.
Looking back, he acknowledges that the #VanLife afforded him a freedom at times in his life when he couldn’t—or didn’t want to—pay rent, yet he still could still train and enjoy life on the road. He made it work for just one summer to begin with, and then realized he could probably do it full-time if he had a better van.
“The best part of training on the road is that every day can be a new bike route or a new trail. Strava is huge for finding routes. The toughest part is pool access. Pools aren’t cheap if you’re not a member. I’ve paid as much as $25 for a single swim session.”
Heather and Trevor Wurtele’s #VanLife
Home base: Kelowna, BC, Canada
Follow along: @TeamWurtele
Heather: Three Ironman 70.3 World Championship podiums (3rd 2014, 2016; 2nd 2015); six-time Ironman champion; two-time Ironman 70.3 North American champion (2015, 2016)
Trevor: 1st Ironman Canada (2013); 2nd Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant (2016); 2nd Ironman 70.3 Monterrey (2016); 3rd Ironman Chattanooga (2014)
2002 Class C Ford Regal with an E350 V10 engine “I’m not sure we qualify for the #VanLife anymore, but we were early adopters of the lifestyle. We purchased our RV way back in 2008. By February of 2009, we had quit our jobs and committed fully to being triathletes, living exclusively out of the RV. It’s admittedly a lot bigger than a van, but we’re both over six feet tall, so maybe that makes up for the space differential. “The impetus for us to do this was definitely financial. Our RV cost us $21,000 Canadian at a salvage auction. We wanted to be completely debt free and have no bills to pay, so the big drive south in 2009 was our biggest expense. From there it was just food and the odd gas station stop if we drove any farther. In later years, we started renting RV spots in Utah and Arizona for about $300 a month. We’ve been incredibly lucky with repairs too. The biggest thing was some new tires, which Heather bought after winning St. George in 2010.
“The longest we’ve lived in the RV was five and a half years with almost no breaks. That was from September 2008 until February 2014. The only breaks were to travel to a couple of races, a few housesitting stints during the winter in Canada, and the odd training camp where we stayed with teammates for a few weeks.
“Being a professional runner and living the #VanLife might be a lot more interesting. Triathlon is incredibly gear intensive, time consuming, and that pesky need to get to a pool five times a week really puts a damper on the places you can go. Food is also an issue. With a small fridge and big appetites, we need to buy groceries often. The biggest challenge is wet clothes…where the heck can you dry your wet clothes when it’s been raining all week?”
Summer and Ben Deal’s #Vanlife
Ages: 26 (S), 25 (B)
Home base: Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Follow along: @deals_on_wheels_tri
Summer: 1st F25-29 at Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells 2018; 1st at Pumpkinman Olympic Tri; 1st at Lake Havasu Olympic Tri
Ben: 10th at Ironman 70.3 Eagleman 2018; 10th at Ironman 70.3 St. George 2018; 1st amateur Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells 2018
Van make/model: 1985 Dodge Ram Van
“We’ve never truly lived out of the van. So far we’ve just used it for extended camping trips and traveling to races, but it hasn’t been our only shelter—yet. We’re hoping to make that happen at some point, but with Summer still in school, it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.
“With both of us working part-time and Summer being a full-time student, our finances are tight, so there was a big financial incentive behind the van. We’ve only ever paid for a hotel one time. The order we typically go through is: homestay, camp, cheap Airbnb, and then a hotel. We also elect to drive to nearly every race. We’ve driven as far as 16 hours to Galveston. Driving saves a lot of money after you factor in the cost of transporting two bikes. When your vehicle doubles as your lodging and your bike transport, the savings really start to add up.
“The longest trip we’ve done in our van was also the first. We bought it in Charlottesville, Virginia, fixed it up, and drove it 1,900 miles back to Albuquerque. In total it was 64 hours of living out of the van, including the 40 hours of driving. It was also the middle of July and the AC wasn’t working yet, so it was quite the sweaty trip.”