Trailhead Vehicles: Krissy Moehl and Janet the Van

Krissy Moehl is an ultrarunner, author, coach, and, now, full-time van-lifer.

Moehl works as a running coach with 30 to 40 clients, is the race director of the Chuckanut 50k, and is an extremely accomplished ultrarunner in her own right, with previous wins at the UTMB, Hardrock 100, Vermont 100 Mile, and a second place at Western States 100. She’s also set previous fastest known times on the Tahoe Rim Trail, the Wonderland Trail, the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim, and the Trans-Zion route.

Moehl has been a longtime female leader in trail running and ultrarunning, at the top of the sport starting in the early 2000s and inspiring the modern generation of women who have followed. Throughout the years, she’s become a leader not only on the trail, but also off the trail and within the community.

In a lucky turn of events that brought her and her dream van together, she’s been able to expand her geographic influence as well. Her current setup, living and working from her van, allows her to be mobile, agile, and flexible in all areas of her life, in what she calls the “full-time independent hustle,” which this year has included working on the release of the second edition of her book, Running Your First Ultra, which is available for preorder now and will be released mid-January 2022.

Trailhead Vehicles - Krissy Moehl Van - Landscape at dusk

Krissy Moehl’s van Janet at dusk. All photos: Krissy Moehl

In August 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when most people were secluded in their homes, Moehl was just putting the finishing touches on her new home: a 2014 Mercedes Sprinter 2500, a high-roofed dream come true. Wanting to bridge the gap between living in her small condo and home ownership, Moehl had been searching for a van to live and travel in since 2016, when she realized her frequent long road trips in her Honda Element with her new dog were just a bit too cramped for comfort.

“My friends would say I was destined for this, that I was always going to live in a van. I never would have imagined it, but here we are,” said Moehl. “I’ve always had a nomadic life. I moved 11 times in 11 years within Seattle, Washington; Bend, Oregon; and Boulder, Colorado … so I guess it makes sense. I thought I’d throw my stuff in storage for three months and try it out …”

But when Mohel tried out full-time van life, she was hooked. While Moehl now rents an office at a sports institute in Bellingham, Washington, and the town is a kind of home base for her, living in and working out of her van — which she named Janet, after her grandmother — has allowed Moehl to both stay connected with her community through special-spot hopping and socially distanced driveway meetups with friends, and get to know her local area even better than before.

Trailhead Vehicles - Krissy Moehl Van - Krissy and Piedra Dura after a run

Krissy and her dog, Piedra Dura (PD for short), in the van after a run.

Moehl described her first few months in her van, moving in at a time where few people were traveling.

“It was interesting — I moved into the van when you couldn’t go anywhere. You have these visions of van-life people, but I didn’t have that. I was in the U.S. Pacific Northwest in the rain. For 20 years I’ve taken off to travel, not knowing my backyard as well. But I got to explore so much of my own backyard — the Cascade Range, the Mount Baker Highway. Some nights I just [wanted] to chill with my dog and make dinner, in a couple of my own spots here in Bellingham.”

It wasn’t an easy transition though; though the van was mostly built out when she bought it from a friend (who decided to move to New Zealand and needed to rid himself of most his worldly possessions, including the van), she knew nothing about electricity, wiring, how things were put together, and had to figure it out on her own.

“Power management was a really steep learning curve: I didn’t understand the difference between AC and DC, a house battery versus the van battery, how to get the fridge working with the right kind of power, and the best way to recharge, including the Goal Zero. I was so frustrated, but I felt like, I have to do this, I have to learn the hard way.”

Trailhead Vehicles - Krissy Moehl Van - Piedra Dura Dog in the van

PD relaxing on the bed in Janet the van, and Krissy’s spread of snacks on her movable table.

That curiosity and desire to learn has been useful to Moehl not only in making her van her own, but also in her journey in the trail running and ultrarunning world as well. Moehl was 22 years old, returning from half a year abroad in Ecuador to her job at a Seattle running store recently purchased by Scott McCoubrey, a Seattle trail running trailblazer.

Top ultrarunner Scott Jurek was working in the store, and Moehl was quickly swept up in the excitement of a small but growing sport with legends working to spread it across the country. Seattle slowly morphed into one of the early epicenters of trail running in the United States, and Moehl was hooked.

“There I was, 22 years old, and caught up in the passion of these people who love the trails and they sucked you in and then you inspired more people. I had lucky life circumstances and the attitude of wanting to be involved,” Moehl remembered.

While winter for most trail runners is a quieter time of preparation and reflection, Moehl is moving full steam ahead, promoting her book, and digging into the work of race directing for the March 2022 edition of the Chuckanut race.

“It felt very liberating, once I got to take off,” Moehl said of her foray into van life. “It’s such a gift to have everything I need right with me, not having to manage a home.”

Trailhead Vehicles - Krissy Moehl Van - in the trees

Janet the van sunning itself at the edge of the forest.

The other thing Moehl currently has to manage outside work, is keeping her fluffy travel friend happy. Her Mini Australian Shepherd’s name is Piedra Dura (PD for short), which means “Hard Rock” in Spanish and speaks to both her completion of the storied race and how PD has been there for her throughout this time of transition and transit. PD is much happier in the van than she was tagging along in a tiny Subaru or Honda.

Moehl has decked out her van with a full kitchen and mobile cabinet build-out to give her more space, two swivel front seats, and a bit more design than its spartan beginnings. No matter where she’s headed next, Moehl has her van dream home and all the trailheads in the world to explore.

Call for Comments

  • Have you met Krissy Moehl, PD, and Janet the van in their travels?
  • Have you, or do you know anyone who lives in a van full time?
  • What are the positives and negatives in living in a vehicle full time, rather than just using one to get to the trailhead?
Alex Potter

is an Editor at iRunFar. Following a nearly decade-long hiatus from running after college, she has found a new love in trail running. As a photojournalist, Alex has reported throughout the Middle East and East Africa for publications like 'National Geographic,' 'The New York Times,' and 'The Washington Post.' She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her partner Pete and her two cats.