I vividly remember the day Jacki jokingly said to me, “Let’s just live in a van and travel the country for the year.” At the time it all seemed like a far-fetched bucket list idea, but here we are - five months into our 10-month road trip across the country.
Let me back up a bit. It actually all started back in 2016 at IRONMAN Wisconsin. Jacki won her age group at IRONMAN Wisconsin and had qualified for her first IRONMAN World Championships. Having qualified myself, I was standing in line behind her to punch my ticket to the big island. I happened to overhear Jacki and her mom talking about buying an IRONMAN finishers jacket. I butted in telling her, “Save your money for Kona.” A few days later we connected on Facebook and I offered her some advice for training leading up to Kona. She has a different side to this story, which you can read about here.
Jacki and Eric at the 2017 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga, TN.
Fast forward to December of 2017, Jacki and I had been dating for a few months and she had this crazy idea for both of us to work, train and live on the road for the majority of 2018. I was looking for a career move and Jacki’s employer (AltRed) happened to be looking for someone with my skill set. Jacki pitched the “van life” idea to her boss and they loved it!
Things started to get real when we both sold our cars and got rid of our apartments. We would be living in a Mercedes Sprinter Van for 10 months, pulling our AltRed Airstream across the country to different IRONMAN, marathon, cycling and endurance events. The adventure began on a cold February day in Illinois when we left AltRed Headquarters and headed to our first event in Tucson, AZ.
The AltRed Airstream and Spriter van leaving Momence, IL, in early February on the way to Tucson, AZ.
Once we were on the road, life was very different from what we were both accustomed to. I’m a creature of habit, especially with my triathlon training. Prior to the “road trip” idea, Jacki and I both signed up to race IRONMAN events - me racing IRONMAN Santa Rosa in May and Jacki racing IRONMAN Wisconsin in September.
Had to take an intermission from working the REV3 Quassy to hit the start line.
Training for an IRONMAN while living in a van isn’t ideal, but for the most part we’ve managed to find ways to make it work. With busy workweek schedules and event expos on the weekends, it became evident that our training would have to be very adaptable. Being in a new city each week, trying to find a new pool along with running and bike routes, can be very challenging. We worked with our coach, Bill Bishop, to adapt our training plans to meet our nomadic lifestyle.
Eric’s pain cave setup in the Airstream trailer, complete with his CycleOps smart trainer and QR PRsix.
While training for IRONMAN Santa Rosa, I did 80% of all my bike training on my Hammer smart trainer. I spent countless hours sweating out hard intervals at campsites, in the Airstream and sometimes even while working event expos. The Hammer allowed me to get quality workout sessions simulating real world conditions and changes. I was able to throw down a 4:55 bike split at IRONMAN Santa Rosa while punching my ticket to my 4th IRONMAN World Championship this October!
Jacki came to love using her Magnus bike trainer with Zwift. She tried to do a lot of her riding outdoors, but sometimes it just wasn’t possible. Using the Magnus trainer on Zwift allowed Jacki to get her “social rides” in still, even when we were in the most remote campsite or location.
Jacki putting in some trainer miles on her Magnus smart trainer at a campground in Oceanside, CA.
During our time out on the road, we get asked a lot of questions both about training and traveling. One of the questions we’re asked the most is, “What have you learned while living on the road, aka #vanlife?” To answer that, here are some lessons we’ve learned so far in our 10-month, 10-wheel journey:
1. Less is More!
We would have never considered ourselves as minimalists until this year - when we were forced to be. Living in such a small space forces you to really consider what you need and what you don't. Too many things in our small space can cause immediate stress, because there just is no room for it!
2. Roll with the Changes!
Van life is not always fun. Whether its a broken air conditioner, flat tire, traffic jam or lack of showers for 3 days - you need to be flexible and just embrace #vanlife.
Jacki riding her CycleOps rollers during the 2018 Sea Otter Classic Expo in Monterey, CA.
3. Keep Your Bottles Clean!
Not having a big sink or dishwasher can be hard, especially when we use water bottles as much as we do! We always have to make sure to rinse out our bottles after workouts.
Pro Tip: clean your water bottles by using denture cleaning tablets and a baby bottle brush! Just fill it with water and pop in a tablet. Let it sit, then rinse out and scrub with a brush - works like a charm!
4. A Workout is a Workout!
Whether it’s 20 minutes or 2 hours, something is better than nothing. After standing at expos all weekend, it can be tough to have the motivation to get out there and train. Jacki has fallen in love with SUP (stand up paddle boarding). It’s a great workout for the core and stabilization muscles.
5. KOA’s are A-Okay!
KOA campgrounds are our life! We LOVE KOAs. They're all over the country, you can always expect clean bathrooms, friendly people, food in the camp store, and great WIFI which is super important since we work all week! We signed up for a KOA membership before hitting the road and we’ve saved big bucks already!
Jacki using Zwift on her smart trainer at a KOA campsite just outside of Washington, DC.
6. Water is King.
You can never have too much water! Every stop we make, we pick up at least 3-4 gallons of water. Staying hydrated goes a long way - it can keep you from getting crabby or irritable during long days and road trips.
7. Black Water isn’t so Scary.
Although, it is the opposite of fresh water. We had never camped or stayed in an RV before, so we did not know the first thing about RV toilets. The first few times emptying that thing was absolutely terrifying! I just had all these horrible visions of everything going very wrong. Turns out its not so bad after all. Just one of those things you get used to on the road!
8. Say Yes to Adventure.
Life is short and people are awesome! We’ve met so many cool and interesting people along the way. Sometimes you just need to set your “plans” aside and take an adventure - even if it’s a 10-month road trip living in a van.
Eric putting some evening miles in on his direct drive smart trainer at a KOA in Phoenix, AZ.
After 5 months on the road, we had a quick break back home and now we’re back at it for the second half of our trip. Jacki has been dealing with lingering back injuries so she’s taking a break from racing for 2018 and will be racing IRONMAN Wisconsin in 2019. I’ll be continuing to train and race throughout the season leading up to IRONMAN Wisconsin in September and the IRONMAN World Championships in October!
Be sure to follow along the second half of our trip by following AltRed on social media as well as our personal channels in our bios below! We want to give a big thank you to everyone who has made this journey possible - including Saris, Roka, AltRed and INFINIT Nutrition! Keep your eyes peeled for the AltRed Airstream coming to a town near you!
Eric, Jacki and the Airstream trailer at AltRed Headquarters.
About Eric & Jacki
Eric Engel is the Marketing Manager for AltRed by Sur and an Elite Amateur Triathlete. Over the last 10 years of racing, Eric has completed 12 IRONMAN distance races - qualifying 4 times for the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, HI (2014, 2015, 2017, 2018).
Eric will continue his 2018 season while training on his Hammer for IRONMAN Wisconsin and the IRONMAN World Championships this fall. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter at @engeleric, check out Eric and Jacki’s blog at onceuponatri.co and learn more about AltRed at www.altred.com.
Jacki Cronin is the Event Marketing Manager for AltRed by Sur and an Elite Amateur Triathlete. Jacki is relatively new to the sport of triathlon, but she qualified for the IRONMAN World Championships in her first IRONMAN race in 2016 (IRONMAN Wisconsin).
After battling back and hip issues in 2018, Jacki has her eyes set on re-qualifying for the IRONMAN World Championships at IRONMAN Wisconsin in 2019. Follow her on Instagram at @jackicronin, check out Jacki and Eric’s blog at onceuponatri.co and learn more about AltRed at www.altred.com.