Trailhead Vehicles: Writing New Stories With Tessa Chesser

Tessa Chesser says her van allows her to write new stories and remember what’s important about life.

By on May 3, 2022 | Comments

Tessa Chesser had an incredible and busy 2021.

She moved back to Flagstaff, Arizona, from her Mammoth Lakes, California, home, placed in the top 10 at the Canyons 100k, and took third at the Javelina Jundred Mile to earn a Golden Ticket to the 2022 Western States 100. Throughout all that upheaval and movement, there were a couple of constants: her chocolate lab puppy named Sugar Velour, and her 2015 Dodge ProMaster van.

“The van doesn’t have a name, but I’m open to suggestions,” said Tessa. “It does have a skeleton sticker with guns a-blazing … because well, it’s still the Wild West.”

Tessa Chesser - Grand Canyon

Tessa Chesser running in the Grand Canyon. All photos courtesy of Tessa Chesser.

The van isn’t new — Tessa got it a little over three years ago — but it has allowed her to not only be comfortable and well-rested while en route to races and adventures, but also to take her entire life with her when she wants.

“I was looking for a vehicle where I could be mobile yet comfortable. But more importantly, as someone who works remotely, I wanted the opportunity to see and be in places [on a daily basis] that I had only vacationed to, or only dreamed of visiting.”

She began her van-building adventure a few years ago in Flagstaff, before making her temporary move to Mammoth, with a local company called Holland Vans.

“I sat down with Ham Bone [Hamilton Holland, one of the company owners] at a coffee shop and we talked the build, budget, layout, and more. I wanted a rolling office, larger kitchen, bed with plenty of storage … it was the real deal … all the way down to turquoise and amethyst drawer pulls.”

The last year, since COVID-19 restrictions have eased a bit, has been nothing but go-go-go for Tessa. She’s changed jobs; locations; run at races near and far; gone on running adventures from the Grand Canyon to Hawaii, and from Colorado to California, and much more — most often with the van in tow.

Tessa Chesser - van - rainbow

Tessa, her 2015 Dodge ProMaster van, and a double rainbow.

“That van has taken me across all of the U.S. Southwest and then some … to and from Mammoth at least eight times, and of course the places and sunsets that you can really only see from four wheels,” explained Tessa.

“Some of the best places it has taken me have been in the middle of nowhere. [Sometimes it’s all about] the simple beauty — the sunsets of the Southwest have a way of bringing you into the unknown.”

The last few years have also been a bit of a leap into the unknown for Tessa. While she grew up as an athlete — an avid soccer player — she didn’t start running in earnest until after college, eventually falling headfirst into the trail running and ultrarunning world around 2014.

After engaging directly with the trail running communities in Flagstaff and Mammoth, Tessa has worked her way toward the top of the sport, gaining wins and top-10 finishes at local, national, and international races alike, and building out an impressive host of sponsors: Craft, Buff, Spring Energy, Leki, and Drymax, as well as the Aravaipa Racing Team.

October 2021 brought her best accomplishment yet: At the Javelina Jundred, she earned an elusive Golden Ticket to the 2022 Western States 100. With her crew working out of the van to keep her hydrated and cool on a brutally hot day, Tessa managed to hang onto third place by holding off runner Lotti Zeiler who was chasing hard. It was such an effort for Tessa that she lay snacking and rehydrating on the floor of her van for hours afterward.

So, what’s next for Tessa, the van, and Sugar?

Tessa Chesser - van - dog

Sugar Velour accompanies Tessa in the van on many adventures.

“I don’t use the van every day, especially now because of gas prices, but I lived out of her last summer, and I’m still using her for longer road trips. I’ve been percolating on some ideas for the back half of this year. I’m hoping to take her out for some longer stints.”

Some of those longer stints will be to visit friends — Tessa said her heart is in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado as well as Mammoth, so she plans to make plenty of trips back to those two places. Other trips with the van will be to races like the 2022 Western States 100; for international races on the docket like CCC and Ultra-Trail Cape Town, well, sadly the van can’t come along. But no matter where she takes the van — and the ever-present ball of energy, Sugar — she’s always making new memories.

Tessa Chesser - van - mountains

Tessa’s van in Colorado.

“I have plenty of stories about the van: being [on the floor] in her for 45 minutes after Javelina, sitting in the van up high in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains while watching the sky change color as the sun sets, being scared of driving her solo on trips from Mammoth to Flagstaff, and camping alone in the deserts of Nevada,” remembered Tessa. “But no matter where I go, I’m always making new memories, writing new stories.”

“Most importantly, I’m just taking things day by day. Learning the importance of this life and this time.”

Call for Comments

  • Calling all Tessa Chesser stories! Leave them in the comments section.
  • Does your vehicle help you make memories, write new stories, and center the important parts of your life?
Tessa Chesser - dog

Tessa and Sugar Velour.

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.'