Skier Kalen Thorien was finally home in Salt Lake City when I caught her via phone. The week prior, she was on a solo bushwhacking backpacking trip through Wyoming’s Wind River Range, and right before that she had circled most of the American West on her motorcycle. Shortly after we spoke, she headed to Europe for a Solomon athlete summit.
Thorien, who has a thing for remote, big-mountain lines at high speed, has spent much of the last few seasons on the road, either in her camper, on her bike, or traveling to ski. It might sound like an outdoor athlete’s fever dream, but she points out that it can be tough to stay in shape when you don’t have a home base. “The camper killed my fitness a little bit, especially in the winter, because I was spending so much time driving and looking for places to park,” she says. Heading into this winter, she’s fine-tuned fitness on the fly. Here’s her advice for building functional strength anywhere, anytime.
Embrace Feeling Awkward
Thorien always brings a jump rope when she travels, and she’s never too shy to pull it out in the corner of an airport or at a highway rest stop. “You have to take advantage of free exercise,” she says. When you’re not on a regular program, or even in the same place every day, you have to seize opportunities for space and time, no matter what everyone else around you is doing. Even if she’s exhausted after a long drive, she’ll try to limber up. “Fifteen minutes of stretching in the campground makes a difference,” she says. “I got really good at stretching in bed when I lived in the camper.”
Use What You’ve Got
In addition to the jump rope, Thorien brings a few basic workout tools—like a small foam roller, massage balls, and a yoga mat—everywhere she goes. In the camper, she has a square of outdoor carpet from Home Depot that she unrolls and uses as a base for her traveling gym and yoga studio. She also brings climbing rock rings that she can throw over a tree branch for an arm workout when she’s camping in the woods. When inspiration strikes, she’ll improvise exercises with found objects, like squats while holding a big rock or a jug of water.
Keep Your Diet Simple
When you’re traveling, it’s easy to slip into a cycle of takeout and fast food. Thorien says she sticks to a mostly vegan diet, because it keeps cooking and cleaning streamlined, and because animal products are generally quicker to spoil. “I make a lot of salads and soups, and I have one of those little NutriBullet smoothie makers that I can plug it into a Goal Zero pack.” If you don’t have the equipment or space to cook and you’re resigned to the gas-station diet, stick to options with minimal ingredients. Thorien’s staples are apples, bananas, and beef jerky—one of the few meat products that doesn’t call for a refrigerator.
Don’t Neglect the Gym
Thorien has never considered herself a gym person. She’s usually outside skiing, biking, or otherwise adventuring, and in the past, she’s depended on those activities to keep her in shape. But she’s decided she can do better. “I spent a lot of years assuming that I could just hike and have my fitness be all outdoors, but sometimes the weather would get so bad that I would lose my fitness,” she says. This fall, to counter that, she started going to Gym Jones in Salt Lake City, where trainers (who also happen to be skiers) run her through CrossFit-style workouts three days a week. “I consider myself a fit, strong person, but I got my ass kicked when I started going,” she says. She practices yoga twice a week, too. “There’s a lot of fine-tuning that goes into your body if you want to make it feel its best. It’s like my motorcycle—I can do a lot of minor tweaks myself, but if I really want it running right, I have to take it in and have it looked at.” (Bonus: a trip to the gym while on the road also means access to a much needed shower.)
Take Care of Yourself
As she heads into the ski season, Thorien focuses on small tweaks that can improve her overall well-being. For instance, she’ll cut back on drinking, because that makes her feel healthier and stronger. “I don’t go cold turkey, but I like to get the system cleared out,” she says. And while she will modify her routine to spend more time working out, she also tries not to take it too seriously, and she makes sure to give herself breaks when she’s not feeling motivated. “Fitness is supposed to be fun. If you’re not a gym kid, that’s fine. Experiment and keep yourself moving,” she says. “I have more time than a lot of people for fitness, so I like to get out for an hour a day, but even half an hour of moving is important.”