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Vanlife: Winter Running Tips for Humans and Dogs

Keeping a tiny space clean is a challenge, period. Then add the extra splatters and drips that trail running with a furry pup in the PNW bring. No matter the temperature, my pup loves to dip her belly in puddles, creeks, snow patches, and lakes – if it’s wet, she’s in. Her quirks always add joy to our runs and this life, so we continue to adapt. Vanlife is great for that meditative reminder: be in the moment and know that the moments are always evolving.

Krissy & PD lounge in the van.

The ability to plan ahead feels essential for basic (where do I do my laundry?) to involved (having a guest for the weekend) situations vanlife creates. In the trail run scenario, the clean-up plan starts before the run. When I pull into the trailhead I strategically park to create privacy so that I can spray and get the mud off both of us after the run and before hopping in and shutting the door to change clothes and dry out by the heater. 

As a recent vanlife upgrade, I gave PD a scissor haircut, trimming off the longer underbelly feathers of fur and tail end skirt to have less fur that gathers and holds the slop from the trail. How many dogs do you know wait until they are inside before doing the dreaded full body swivel shake? In our tiny space that means the steering wheel to the bed and nearly every wall between receives PD splatters. As a clean-freak (I sweep the van at least daily and have been caught picking pine needles out of the indoor/outdoor rug), and trail runner, now living in a van with my fluffy pup, I have my work cut out for me. It’s worth it.

Krissy & PD stop for a snack break while trail running.

The peace of mind and joy a trail run brings to life, time in the trees, dodging and splashing through puddles while weaving the rooty trails of the PNW, will always outweigh any clean up woes after. Better when we can meet a friend or two. Essential for the daily happiness checkbox, even if it takes a little extra motivation in the dark or wet weather.

Krissy & PD run down a muddy trail.

On downpour or even gnat-piss rainy days it helps to prop out the awning to prevent the interior near the slider door from drops and provides a covered outside spot to strip off the muddy, wet clothes. I have a wood shower mat that I put out to create a high point, and a separate foot pump hose to spray us down. 

PD almost always gets cleaned and towel dried first (see below for the sports bra caveat). This prevents the dreaded full body swivel shake fresh off the trail and all over the van. She is not a fan of water being sprayed at her and it’s taken some modifications to the pump to be able to bathe her on my own. But if spraying her down is the worst thing in the world, toweling her off is equally the best. It is a special moment to throw the towel over her face and tiny 34-lb body and feel her turn into me and wiggle with delight. The next step is putting the towel on the floor of the van and wiping her paws before letting her loose. If you have a dog you’ve likely seen the pure joy of a dog drying off by throwing their body to the ground and pulling themself along a carpet, rug, or in our case, the towel I’ve put out for her. It is a spaz that always makes me smile followed by pure exhaustion and an audible sigh. The trick is keeping her in the van afterward to avoid round two of her bathing. 

As for myself, a lot depends on the wind, outside temperature and the time duration I’m looking at until the next shower. Minimum, I clean the mud off my legs and spray down my shoes. I rarely cleaned my trail shoes before vanlife, they would just wait in the garage for the next run. But now having to store my shoes in the van (shoe sleeves bolted to the inside of the back doors) having them cleaned is a must for reducing smell (who knows what I stepped in?) and keeping dirt out of my tiny space. I have yet to fully bathe standing under the awning as I haven’t been too long from a true shower, but I imagine the day will come. The vision is a warm, sandy beach and my biggest concern is a sunburn on my butt, but the reality is an awkward hustle while subduing gasps from the cold water so as not to draw attention to myself and avoiding smacking my shins on the high step into the van.

Sports bra caveat: If I don’t clean the dog first, I feed her first, outside, while I clean up and change. There are temps that are not safe as the cold, wet sports bra can be the death of any runner that has to wear one. I prefer to clean PD first, but have to weigh the timeline of my slip to dysfunction due to early stage hypothermia.

Once we are both in the van, door shut and heater roaring, PD has usually claimed the passenger seat, which helps in our limited space. I’m able to sweep and vacuum the 3’x4’ rug (because I’m a neat freak), stretch & foam roll, boil water or milk for a hot recovery beverage and snack on whatever sounds good because my entire kitchen is within arm’s reach. A hungry runner's dream if you ask me. PD’s treats are under the passenger seat and she doesn’t mind as I slide the seat forward to pull out a few for her. Her food is stored in a tackle box behind an L bracket on a short shelf. The plastic click of the case’s lock another sound she has tuned into.

I made a few modifications from summer living (I moved in August 1st) to fall. Drying sweaty clothes is much different than ring ‘em out wet clothes. I added J hooks over the slider door well and added a USB chargeable fan aimed directly at the hanging items to help them dry faster and to keep air moving. A plug-in shoe dryer has been a total bonus to speeding up that forever process. And it is essential to crack the windows or ceiling fan and to burn incense (or find a USB diffuser – on my wish list) to combat the smells as things dry. Or plan to open every door upon returning to a closed “drying room” van. Or drive with the windows down as soon as the skies clear.

Krissy & PD walk through the woods.

I have to remember the situation will keep changing. It can feel like a lot when everything is wet, the floor is covered in trail grime, my fingers won’t function from being chilled to the bone and it’s all I can do to ignite the JetBoil. But it changes. The van heats up. The clothes eventually dry out. We move locations. The smells dissipate. Vanlife is a constant reminder of being in the moment and knowing that each moment evolves into another. PD taught me it’s not always, it’s just right now. Same principal. A lesson I think I’m still embracing.

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