On the Road in the Winnebago + Adventure Wagon as a Competition Base Camp
On the Road in the Winnebago + Adventure Wagon as a Competition Base Camp
Learn how an athlete uses this van to have the comforts of home while competing.
By: Abby Holcombe
Earlier this summer, I eagerly arrived in Buena Vista, CO, in my brand-new Winnebago + Adventure Wagon ready for a month of traveling around the state for different freestyle kayaking competitions that are a part of the well-known Colorado Kayak Tour.
This year was the first time I've competed while living in my very own van, and it definitely improved the Colorado Tour competition experience.
About the Colorado Tour
The Colorado Tour is a series of whitewater kayaking competitions across the state during late May and early June. I've been traveling and competing in different events in Colorado every year since 2012. The Colorado Tour is always one of the things I look forward to most every year.
I get to travel with my closest friends to some of the best rivers in the world, all while competing and showcasing how much I've improved my paddling and competition skills since the previous summer.
During the Colorado Tour, there are downriver races, head-to-head races, and freestyle kayaking competitions. (Learn more about the competitions in this article from the 2021 season.)
While many talented female athletes competed in the Colorado Tour this year, three main women were battling for the gold: myself, the reigning Junior Women’s World Champion Freestyle Kayaker; Emily Jackson, a 3x World Champion kayaker known for dominating the GoPro Mountain Games; and Zofia Tula, who has medaled in many World Championships and World Cup events and traveled all the way from Poland to showcase her beautiful and stylish freestyle tricks.
I was eager to show the world what I was capable of during my first year competing as a senior woman beside some of the best female freestyle kayakers in the world. They are both athletes and competitors I aspire to be like.
This year I also agreed to help organize two of the three events. I was nervous about taking on such a huge responsibility as an event organizer but equally as excited to give back to the sport and community that have helped shape me into the person and athlete I am today.
RV Camping for Athletes at the Colorado Tour
Over the month, all of the kayakers arrived in Buena Vista, CO, to train and prepare for the upcoming competition. All the nomadic kayakers gathered in a big, dirt parking lot next to the Arkansas River, where they allowed the kayak competitors to camp during the weekend. The vehicles ranged from Winnebagos to self-converted vans and regular cars with sleeping platforms in the backseat.
It's a plethora of people and vehicles with one thing in common: kayaking. This was the very first time that I'd done the Colorado Tour in my own vehicle, as I usually travel with my parents. I was so excited to have the freedom of chasing rivers across the state on my own time and in my own vehicle.
Having a kitchen and a toilet in the Winnebago + Adventure Wagon made me feel safe because I was completely contained and independent, especially since I didn't have to get out of the van in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.
Convenience Amid Competition Chaos
After three weeks of training and figuring out the logistics of organizing my first freestyle competition, it was time to kick off the 2023 Colorado Tour at CKS Paddlefest in Buena Vista!
I woke up early on the morning of the first event, stowed everything in my van, and hopped into the driver's seat to head to the river. In hindsight, competing as a senior for the first time while organizing the first event of the CO Tour, with two different competitions in two different features over one weekend, might have been a little ambitious.
Still, there was no better way to get back into the rhythm of competing, judging, and organizing than diving in head first. And luckily, I had my Winnebago right next to the river during the whole event for easy access to snacks and a big, comfortable bed perfect for quick power naps when I wasn't needed at the event. It was so convenient to have all of the comforts of home right at the competition venue.
During the first competition of CKS Paddlefest, I was dusting off the rust, adjusting to the altitude, and dealing with the logistics and hundreds of questions of running an event. I got the tricks I practiced which secured me a second-place finish between Zofia (in first place) and Emily (in third place).
We moved downstream to a smaller and more challenging feature the next day. I had a solid ride, which put me in third place, and I watched Emily and Zofia battle it out in a tight final round. In the end, Zofia won, Emily got second, and I finished in third place.
Safe Behind the Wheel on Winding Mountain Roads
The GoPro Mountain Games is one of the most famous of all of the freestyle kayak competitions. It's located in the heart of Vail, CO. It attracts people and athletes from around the world to watch the extreme sports events that occur throughout the weekend.
When I first got my van, I was nervous about driving such a big vehicle. I wasn't sure what it would be like to drive it on the winding mountain roads, especially navigating a busy mountain town like Vail. But after a day of driving it, I was very comfortable parking, going off-road, and through cities thanks to the safety features, like blind spot assist and 360º view on the backup cameras.
By the time I got to Colorado, I felt very confident behind the wheel. The drive from Buena Vista to Vail was stunning, especially because I accidentally timed it with the sunset. The sky was pink and purple, with gorgeous snowy mountains and lots of wildlife. And the best part when I arrived in Vail is that all I had to do was close my blinds and crawl into bed for a good night's sleep before my competition the next day.
The freestyle rodeo takes place on Gore Creek, a low-volume river that runs through the middle of Vail. The water changes drastically throughout the event because it's such a small creek close to the snowpack. The river will be lower in the mornings after a chilly night, but after a couple of hours of sun, the snow begins to melt, and the river rises.
The secret to the GoPro Mountain Games is to be ready to adapt to the ever-changing water levels and river conditions. Sometimes it's challenging to retain your tricks in the feature. Other times it's so retentive it's hard to set up for your next trick. Sometimes you get lots of air, while other times, you hit the bottom of the river, which makes the tricks much more difficult.
However, the feature isn't the most challenging aspect of competing in Vail. The lodging options are incredibly expensive and normally booked well in advance. Fortunately for me, I was able to get a reservation at a campground about ten minutes from the river. The campground was just outside of Vail, surrounded by aspen trees, and was a nice contrast to my days spent in the heart of Vail.
During the final round of competition, Emily, Zofia, and I were eager to win the legendary GoPro Mountain Games. I went first, and the long weekend and the changing water levels got to me, and I wasn't able to perform the ride I needed to win. Next was Emily, who put down a solid ride bumping her into the first-place position. Zofia was the last to go, and she started off strong with big air maneuvers that moved into higher-scoring tricks. Watching her get into her flow and pull out the highest-scoring ride among the women was amazing. After her big ride, Zofia secured the first-place position.
While I didn't get the rides I wanted, I still finished third. It was a fantastic weekend, and I'm eager to take what I learned from this year and hopefully get better results next time.
Parking by the River for Low-Stress Commuting
After the GoPro Games, I got in my van and drove from Vail to Salida, CO, for the last competition of the Colorado Tour: FibArk. The feature in Salida is one of the best in the country, if not the world. I consider the Salida Boat Ramp feature my 'home' training grounds, as I have spent most summers there in a van down by the river, training hard to progress my paddling.
There is a big, concrete boat ramp next to the feature, hence the name. And ever since I was a little girl, I've dreamt of sleeping in my own van on the boat ramp. And this year was my year!
The camping was split up into two places, the first being a big dirt lot upstream. This is where everyone in tents, trailers, and bigger RVs camped. The second option was the boat ramp. This was where smaller, self-contained vans could park, like my Winnebago + Adventure Wagon and my parent's Revel.
It was a dream come true. It eliminated the stress of finding a secure place to leave all my equipment throughout the day and made for an easy place to rest and recover throughout the event.
FibArk was the event I was looking forward to the most, as it is my favorite place to paddle in the whole world, and I wanted to show the judges the high-scoring tricks I've been practicing there for the last three years. Unfortunately, the temperature rose while we were in Vail, causing the snow to melt quickly and the river to rise drastically from its usual (lower) world-class flows.
As I practiced my competition ride leading into the weekend, it went from an over 1,000-point ride to a 300-point ride. I was disappointed but still eager to see how the weekend would pan out, as everyone else had the same challenges with the feature that I was struggling with.
Instead of performing big aerial tricks, I focused on linking the smaller, easier tricks to rack up as many points as possible. The preliminary round was intense, but probably not in the way you would think. The competition started, and some of the women had gone.
It was almost my turn to go when the announcer said, "Ladies! The competition has been put on hold due to lightning in the area. Please get off the water!" And almost instantaneously, it started to rain heavily. In all of my years competing, I have never seen a storm like that during a competition. And I've never been pulled off the water right before my ride.
All the ladies were cold and wet, but we had to stay close by because the competition would start again as soon as the storm passed. Thankfully, my van was parked on the boat ramp so that I could stay warm and dry there. Eventually, the storm calmed, and the preliminary round proceeded as usual.
After prelims, I was sitting in third place going into finals. I was exhausted from organizing, judging, and competing for the past month, but I desperately wanted to win in my 'hometown.' During finals, I started with the small tricks and worked my way up to the bigger tricks and, fortunately, landed and retained a huge aerial front flip, something that I had struggled with at these levels in practice.
However, Zofia and Emily also had really good rides. As I got out of my boat at the end of the competition, I had no idea where I would land on the podium.
The announcer interrupted the music, "And we just got in the Pro Women's Freestyle Results. In third place, we have Zofia Tula. In the second place, we have … Emily Jackson and your USA Senior Women's National Champion is Abby Holcombe!"
This was my first win as a senior and I was over the moon that it was in my 'hometown' and during the National Championships. It might not have been the high-scoring ride I wanted, but I am still so proud of my ability to put down the ride I needed when it mattered.
My dad made a vlog of the entire weekend, make sure to check it out here:
Final Thoughts on My Van Life Colorado Tour Competition Experience
Overall, this was an incredible Colorado Tour, and I'm really proud of my results for my first year competing as a senior!
This year was also the first time I've competed while living in my very own van. It was a totally different experience than when I traveled and competed out of my parent's van for the last nine years. Having my own space to help get me focused right before my competitions was so nice.
It was also really convenient to have all of the comforts of home (food, water, shade, places to rest, and all of my kayak gear and equipment) consolidated into one vehicle right next to the river where I was competing.
In previous years, my parents and I have done Colorado Tour out of their Revel and a Hike travel trailer, which was a great combo for us as a family. But parking and camping, especially in Vail, is expensive and challenging, and having my van with all the comforts of home made the entire competition circuit, especially the GoPro Games, a much easier and more pleasant experience.
The storage under my Winnebago + Adventure Wagon bed also made storing and drying my equipment a breeze. I have two big gear bags that hold all of my gear under the bed. Next to that, I have a giant rubber maid tub. This is where I keep all my wet gear, so I don't get the rest of the stuff under my van wet. I leave my gear in the tub when I'm driving. Otherwise, I hang my gear off my side ladder or my mirrors to dry.
Between my gear bags and my Eco Flow battery unit, I keep the kayaks I compete in. Because of the L-track system throughout the van and under the bed, I can securely fasten my kayaks inside the vehicle, making competing and loading my kayaks a breeze! It was nice never to have to worry about loading my competition kayaks on the roof and to know that all of my gear is in one secure place.
As I finish this article, I'm thinking about the last-minute things I need to stow in my Winnebago before I embark on my first solo international road trip in my van. I'm driving from Denver, CO, to Ottawa, Canada. The Ottawa River has world-class waves and is one of the best places in the World to train for the 2023 ICF Freestyle Kayak World Championships in Columbus, GA, this October.
I'm excited and nervous to embark on such a big adventure by myself, but I can't wait to see the lessons I learn along the way. The Ottawa River is one of my favorite places to paddle in the World, and I can't wait to get back on such a fun, warm, and high-volume river!
As always, follow me on Instagram @adventurous.miss for more frequent training and travel updates.
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