photo courtesy of John Pety
by Chris Bagg and Curtiss Feltner
Ed. Note—this past December, your editor rolled into T2 at Indian Wells 70.3 in the company of a compact fellow in a Wattie Ink. Mixtape kit. He quickly dispatched me on the run and trundled off for a 7th place finish. He introduced himself afterward, one thing led to another, and today we're sharing an interview we put together with Feltner, who mixes snowboarding, triathlon, and a very strong #vanlife game. Don't miss this incredibly intriguing account of life on the margins of two sports.
You're a professional snowboarder—tell us about what that daily existence is like. Do you have to train every day? What are the things you have to do other than snowboarding to stay on top of your game? Tell us a story about a time when you really had to hustle to make it happen, and what that looked like.
Snowboarding is different in that you don't really cross a certain line and become pro, likely because competition isn't necessarily what the sport revolves around...I guess what I'm trying to say is that I've never really considered myself "professional." I've been a team rider for a few different companies over the years, been to a handful of Superparks, and competed a few times, but I've never really won much money or felt that I was at a level to really call it that. But to answer your question, when I was really trying to "make it" in the sport I was riding A LOT. After I dropped out of college (who needs it?) for snow, I put in 150-200 days of riding per year for about 7 years straight. I even had a streak of 69 months in a row at one point. Mt Hood and Timberline Lodge was what made all of that possible, as they keep their lifts turning until Labor Day each year...As far as things I was doing outside of snowboarding, there wasn't much! I was usually working some type of night job to ride that often, and night jobs usually seemed to lead to a beer (or six) afterward...I came from a running background growing up, so I did run occasionally during those times...very occasionally. The main hustle was really just figuring out ways to make it happen year after year. Places to live, jobs, passes, gear, gas money etc...I rode a ton of park back then and was always trying find the best jumps, which kept things moving around frequently. Probably a large part of why I ended up in a van.
photo courtesy of Devon
Tell us the story of your biggest success on the snowboard.
This might sound corny, but I would consider my biggest success to just be doing it the way I have/am. I grew up in Manhattan, Kansas so I didn't exactly spend much time on a board growing up. A few family vacations to Colorado when I was young had me hooked me though. I remember getting snowboarding magazines while were were there, taking them home, and putting the pages all over my wall. I'd stare at them for a year or two before getting the chance to be back on snow...I knew from a young age that when I left home, snowboarding was going to play a role in where I went.
When did you first notice triathlon? What drew you to the sport?
I found out what triathlon was the summer of 2012, which was the only summer during that 7 year period that I wasn't at Mt Hood. I worked in Sunriver, Oregon as a Bartender, and the restaurant I worked for hosted an event called Pacific Crest Endurance Festival (which is a fantastic event that I try and do every year!) I worked long double shifts for that four day weekend, and let's be honest here, sometimes triathletes aren't exactly the easiest people to deal with race week... I wasn't sure what to think about the sport, but the old competitive runner in me was telling me that I could beat these people at their own game. A year later I would race my first sprint on a fixed gear bike and with a surfing wetsuit. So by the summer of 2014 I had one of these triathlon things under my belt and was feeling confident going into Pacific Crest Olympic race, I even rented a real road bike... I was ready to show these people what was up.... and I got my ass kicked! Later that summer I would actually go to a pool and learn how to swim, buy an old tt bike, a real wetsuit, google some training plans, and get to work!
photo courtesy of Colin Clarke
Have you given up professional snowboarding, or are you able to pursue both sports?
Good timing on this question. I find myself in Tucson to train right now, fresh off a three-month long snowboarding road trip...and the answer is yes absolutely still doing both. The last couple of years, late in tri season, I would have probably told you I was going to get more focused on triathlon and snowboard less. Then I get back on snow...and there's no chance! I honestly have as much fun (or more) on a snowboard today as I did when I first moved away from home to do it.
How is triathlon similar to professional snowboarding in its demands on your time, skills, and body? How is it different?
I would say the biggest thing they have in common is just time and dedication. For years I've been in search of the best way to get by while snowboarding as much as possible, and that mentality has certainly translated well to free up hours for training. They definitely have their differences...snowboarding is obviously a more skills- and risk-oriented sport, and one that provides more adrenaline. It can be pretty rough on your body though...I've broken nine bones, dislocated a hip, separated a shoulder, had a few concussions, and countless other minor injuries. Not to say that triathlon comes without risk or injury, but the two seem a bit more avoidable...and skill certainly plays a role, largely in swimming, skills I very much need work on...
Tell us about your van—how long have you been living on the road?
I could literally write on Novel on my van, as I know this thing inside and out!!! But I'll try to keep it to the basics...It's a 4x4 2002 Ford E350 chassis with a 7.3 power stroke diesel, and a 12ft x 7ft fiberglass box on the back. The van body was made by a company called "mobile concept" who, from what I can find about them, produced mainly mobile office spaces...Our particular van used to be a two-wheel drive golf shop, and still sort of resembled that when we got it. After 7 months of building, it is now the full time residence for my girlfriend Devon and I, and we've been living in it since early July. This one is actually (if I'm counting right) our 11th van together. Not all of those were fully livable, and some were actually RVs, but yeah we're no strangers to van living.
Any changes modifications you've made to your rig of which you're really proud? Something that made your life a lot easier?
Oh man, I'm really proud of how the whole build turned out! We knew this one was going to be home, so we took our time and tried to do everything right. For instance, we spent almost an entire week after we had ripped out the golf shop, just sitting in the empty van. We'd drink beers and tape lines all over the floor and walls to get a feel for dimensions and what we could fit in the space. Maybe we'll have to do a tour sometime for the blog! Here's just a few things I think we did well:
- We fit five bikes underneath our bed, and cut a 45" x 45" door into the side of the van so they could all slide out neatly on a big tray. We call it the garage.
- We made our own shower using a sealed plywood coated in industrial truck bed liner. Which allowed us to build it right in with the other cabinets easily, and it really maximized the space inside of the shower. It also has its own small heater vent, and roof fan, so it can double as a drying closet for wet gear.
- Our hot water is powered by engine coolant, so all we have to do is drive and we have hot water. It's in a vacuum insulated tank, and stays hot for about 12-14 hours after we turn the van off. Our little heater pulls straight out of the diesel tank, and we kept all of our water lines inside of our well insulated walls (sheep's wool!) and this winter we slept as cold as -15 F and were perfectly comfortable inside without any freezing water fixtures.
- Oh yeah and we kept enough floor space inside that I can set my trainer up!
What is training on the road like? How do you manage your time and find pools and places to train?
Training on the road certainly has it challenges, and is definitely filled with ups and downs, but it's pretty entertaining to ride new routes and run new trails regularly. Finding routes is usually pretty easy thanks to the good ol' internet. There's a lot of apps and online resources for finding trails or cycling routes, but it does take a little bit of planning and prep work the day before. Pools are the worst though...I've paid as much as $18 for a swim, though $4-12 is more normal range. There's no easy way around it when we're traveling through places and I only get a day or two in a town. If we are staying somewhere for a few weeks, I'll get some sort of punch pass or even a monthly if the savings add up...
Has something truly odd happened to you while living in your van? Anything that stands out you'd be willing to share with us?
We definitely have little weird occurrences, almost on a daily basis...for instance just a few minutes ago Devon had a random person walk out of the bushes in front of her and our dog, in an empty Home Depot parking lot...at 11pm. Things like this have just become almost normal for us, but we definitely try our best to stay safe and aware of our surroundings. Probably the most odd thing is how the public perception of van living has changed in the past decade. As I mentioned before this is our 11th van/rv/camping vehicle together, and when we first started doing it, people thought we were totally nuts! But as the years went on, something changed, and it seems like now almost everyone we talk to wants to start living the #vanlife for themselves. I would assume that Instagram is the reason behind the shift in public opinion, there sure are a lot of people on that platform doing their best to make this lifestyle look much more glamorous than it really is. Which is great in some ways, it certainly makes us more socially acceptable, but it has definitely made it harder to park. Many of our favorite outdoor communities and ski resorts are now getting heavy amounts of this new van traffic, and in the last couple years we've seen a huge rise in "no overnight parking" signs.
Where are you racing this year? What are your goals?
I don't know!!! I had Wildflower on the Calendar to start the season, and now that it is (unfortunately) cancelled, I have no plans! I've never really been one to plan things very far in advance, so this is just normal operation for me. I probably won't race until June, as the extra time might be needed to get the body feeling it again after a super fun snowboarding season! I actually have a snowboard contest in mid-April, so I'll probably be on snow a fair bit more this year before I really move things over to 100% triathlon. Goals are pretty loose too ha...I'm really just excited to see what my body can do. So far each year the improvement has been pretty noticeable, and I'm hoping that trend continues.
photo courtesy of Kinsey Laine