Trailhead Vehicles: Pri the Prius

Bryon Powell tells us about his beloved Prius, which has taken him on huge road trips, facilitated a lower-impact lifestyle, and helped build iRunFar into what it is today.

By on September 22, 2021 | Comments

There’s nothing better than a vehicle bought new that stands the test of time — going through all the growing pains, life journeys, and bumps and bruises along the way while seeming to live forever. Bryon Powell, founder and Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar, has such a vehicle in his beloved 2004 Toyota Prius, affectionately named Pri. Also known as the iRunFar Car, Pri has survived and thrived in multiple cross-country (and intra-continental) road trips, trailhead ventures, crewing Meghan Hicks and others on their own running adventures, and in her early days, ferrying Bryon to several important events that helped bring iRunFar to where it is today.

Trailhead Vehicles - Bryon Powell Pri - Sunshine Coast

Pri makes a visit to the Pacific Ocean while Bryon visits some friends on Canada’s Sunshine Coast in 2016. All photos: Bryon Powell

Bryon originally bought Pri while going to law school in Washington, D.C., where a car was rarely needed. But he was training for his first 100-mile race at the time — none other than the Western States 100 — and city life wasn’t exactly conducive to the hills he would eventually face at Western States. Bryon needed a fuel-efficient way to get to Shenandoah National Park many weekends, to get in a long run or do some repeats with the Virginia Happy Trails Running Cluband to return in time for class. The initial training missions were a success: in his first 100 miler, Bryon ran 21:50. While Pri didn’t drive to her first Western States, there was plenty of travel in her near future.

In the summer of 2005 Bryon took a sabbatical to work in Salt Lake City, Utah at The Nature Conservancy, and the summer of 2006 to study for the bar in Park City, Utah — which he took and passed, yay! To celebrate, Bryon and Pri went on an epic mountain-climbing and cross-border road trip to Banff National Park in Canada. While she’d been to many a trailhead before, this was one of her first big adventures, testing not only Pri’s mountain-climbing abilities, but fuel economy as well.

Trailhead Vehicles Bryon Powell Pri Wyoming 2005

An early photo of Bryon and Pri driving cross country for Bryon’s work at The Nature Conservancy in Utah in 2005.

Trailhead Vehicles - Bryon Powell Pri - Park City 2005

Pri hangs out in Park City, Utah during the summer of 2005.

“I originally went with a Prius because of the fuel economy,” said Bryon. “Even up here in Silverton, Colorado at 9,000 feet, she gets nearly 40 miles per gallon, and in the city even better. I’d never had a commute [to work] before, and financially and psychologically eyeing climate change, this car enabled me to occasionally splurge on weekend road trips, since while I’m working, she can sit for weeks at a time. Even on my daily runs, I very rarely drive to get to the trailhead.”

Early in Pri’s life, she had only a few stickers: that of Haverford College, George Mason School of Law, Virginia Happy Trails Running Club, and an Arlington, Virginia parking pass. Now, many who see Pri today comment on her bedazzled trunk — completely covered in stickers from races, running companies, and other adventures, as well as an “IRUNFAR” license plate (formerly just “RUNFAR” in Virginia). For that reason, as well as some of her early day’s journeys, Pri came to be known as the iRunFar Car.

Trailhead Vehicles - Bryon Powell Pri - CaliCanada 2009

Swinging by the Terry Fox Memorial while moving from Washington, D.C. to California via Canada in 2009.

“Right after I moved near Yosemite National Park in California to be near Meghan, I took a three-month road trip with Pri that was integral for iRunFar’s development. We went to Western States, the Outdoor Retailer Show, to various events around Leadville, Colorado and to Carbondale, Colorado to meet with Mike Benge of Trail Runner Magazine,” Bryon remembered. “Fully immersing myself in this sport [of trail running and ultrarunning] and the people in it helped me move iRunFar from what was essentially a blog on the side, to something more than that.”

Bryon knew he was taking a big risk, and Pri provided some security. While she wasn’t a big vehicle, Bryon had a system worked out where he could live out of the car for weeks on end if necessary.

Over the years Pri has served as a daily driver, adventure vehicle, trailhead companion, and iRunFar office. While not every trip was an epic one, Pri has been reliable – even when it seemed like everything had gone awry, like on what Bryon describes as “the greatest road trip ever.”

In 2016, Bryon crewed Meghan in her successful first attempt at the Nolan’s 14 fastest known time, where she completed the notoriously heinous route in under 60 hours. Pri, of course, was along for the ride, waiting at trailheads along the way, as well as at the finish line in Leadville. In classic Bryon style, as soon as Meghan could walk properly afterward, he loaded up Pri for a 3,000-mile journey to Fairbanks, Alaska in order to run the Equinox Marathon – a trip he would make in just 3.5 days.

“Somewhere in northern Montana all the lights – like all the dashboard lights – went on, and the brakes started [acting funny]. I pulled into a Toyota dealership and spent the day there. They told me it would be $5,000 to fix all the electronics. I basically said ‘thanks for the advice’ and kept driving. Later on the Alaska Highway, I got a flat in the middle of nowhere. I had to yard sale all my stuff onto the road, drive with the donut tire to the town of Whitehorse [in Canada’s Yukon territory], and wait overnight to get a new one. I woke up with a dead battery, a flat tire, and brake issues!”

Luckily, Pri got Bryon to the Equinox Marathon, and was soon nursed back to health with the help of fellow runner-friend-mechanic Noé Castañón.

Trailhead Vehicles - Bryon Powell Pri - Leadville to Alaska

In 2016, Pri made it from Leadville, Colorado to Alaska in less than four days.

Despite the hiccups on that trip, Pri has gone on to carry Bryon to more adventures near and far: iRunFar race coverage at dozens of races around the U.S.; a trip along the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia, Canada to see friends; shuttling between Silverton and Moab, Utah when temperatures get too extreme in either; and more. In fact, the only other mechanical issue in the 230,000 miles and 17 years so far was a dead hybrid battery sometime in the last year. Bryon loved Pri so much that, rather than buy a new vehicle, he bit the bullet and replaced the pricey battery – which should last him another 10 years at least.

“I’m really holding out for a small, fully electric truck with a six-foot bed and extended cab. I think we’re at the point where [electric charging stations] are becoming more ubiquitous, so I’d really like that. Other than that, I’ll be sticking with a Prius. If I really needed to replace Pri, I’d get a used Prius, maybe a 2009.”

Bryon just went to Alaska once again, but this time, Pri stayed behind. COVID-19 restrictions have left the Canada-United States border closed to road travel, so he flew to his latest running and fly-fishing adventures. But he’s still scheming up his next road trip with Pri.

“I’m dreaming of the next time I can drive to Alaska with Pri and hang out in the Yukon. I’m really looking forward to the next time I feel like I can schedule out another good three- or four-week trip and have the freedom to do so work-wise.”

Call for Comments

  • What long adventures have you taken with your trailhead vehicle?
  • How do you decorate your ride to make it your own?

[Editor’s Note: Car, truck, van, bike, or unicycle, what is your go-to ride and, more importantly, what does it mean to you? We want you to tell us about your trusty steed that climbs mountains, evades potholes, and crawls through mud so you can get in your weekly running miles. Contact us for potential inclusion in this series!]

Trailhead Vehicles - Bryon Powell Pri - Silverton 1

In 2021, Bryon Powell’s Prius is living its best life in Silverton, Colorado.

Trailhead Vehicles - Bryon Powell Pri - Silverton 2

Pri has always been wild and tough.

Trailhead Vehicles - Bryon Powell Pri - Silverton 3

The current tailgate sticker layout on Pri.

Alex Potter
Alex Potter is a contributor and former 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.'