Sarah Wood and her Dodge Sprinter VanaWhite

She’s handy with a wrench. And a Skilsaw. And a motorcycle and a Santa Cruz and a film festival lineup. But not airplane travel. Definitely not airline travel. And that’s why Sarah Wood spends far more time driving between venues for the 5Point Film Fest and posting up in awesome towns than she does in her nominal home of Carbondale, Colorado.

Wood’s a storyteller, though, and she tells her own better than we ever could.

Year, Make, Model?
2006 Dodge Sprinter 2500

Name of vehicle?
Vanawhite

Years owned?
7 months

How did you get it?
It was a bit of an impulse and has been the best decision of my adult life so far. I spend over 200 days a year on the road for work, coast to coast, and get to weave in some fun along the way.Flying sucks for me. I am a pro at throwing up on planes. It’s the worst, but I’m the best at it. Last year I spent 10,000 miles on my Harley Davidson with my mountain bike on one trip instead of flying. Going from Bellingham, Washington, to Asheville, North Carolina, several times a year for festival work, this allowed me some personal time getting there via the road versus keeping the hectic pace and digital connection that flying does. While in Bellingham last fall (on one of those unfortunate trips where I flew in), I started looking “just to see what was out there.” That afternoon I had paperwork flying around for a loan and a few days later I picked her up in Denver. The previous owners had started the conversion, and she only had 100k on her. Just gettin’ broke in.

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How have you modified it?
Vana came insulated, solar and roof fan installed, a simple cabinet from Ikea, full size queen memory foam bed, and lots of potential. I tore out the existing bed frame, floor, and cabinet, cut the bed down to just over a twin but kept it full length, and lowered the bed to fit a Yeti 65 cooler just underneath. I installed Pergo floors, made custom cabinets, desk space, installed a new inverter, propane stove, sink, and overhead storage. I did this all in a backyard set up with the most basic power tools. I enjoy this kind of thing and have since I was a teenager. If we are having a beer sometime, ask me about my first kayak. My priority with the build was getting my mountain bike inside without a bunch of hassle, and with the lower roof model I didn’t have a lot of headroom to keep the bed high and put a bike underneath like most do. Luckily with my job at 5Point, we have van life rallies at each major festival, so I’ve gotten to take a lot of mental notes over the last year, even though I wasn’t planning this. Now I can fit two bikes next to the bed and stay completely stealth by having them inside, have plenty of headroom while in bed, and still have lots of storage under the bed for skis, tools, and other stuff. I really built it for one…but trust me, boys, two people can get along just fine in there if you like each other enough.

I did this work solo in about two weeks and then improved and rebuilt a few things over Christmas.

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I also did a little mechanical work and had a block heater installed…this winter was way too cold in Carbondale to go without. But the best modification of all? The sound system! Open the back doors all the way and it’s an instant party. I can’t stand poor stereo quality, so I installed a new head unit, two six-inch speakers in the doors and tweeters in the dash, two 6×9 speakers in the rear doors, and a sub halfway back. It kicks ass and was super satisfying to install and get working myself. What I love most is that aside from the roof fan and solar panels, I look like a legit electrician or plumber…I think that is how I’ve blended into the urban landscape most of the time when I travel. I intend to keep it that way. Traveling solo as a female isn’t always great in certain parts of America and I’ve been harassed enough on the road to want to stay stealth. Hate to admit it, but with the short hair, a ball cap, and the help of newly tinted windows, at a glance I look more like a male and am less likely to get noticed or bothered. I don’t worry about it much, and stay smart out there. I mean if anyone tried to…well they’d be sorry.

The next project is installing an Airtronic D2 heater, a few finishing touches to the interior and storage, and converting a box trailer into a moto shop to pull behind me. My hobby is wrenching on and reimagining newly vintage motorcycles and I’ve missed having my projects to work on out there. This will be a fun “spare bedroom” or bike shuttle space in the future too. I don’t think you ever stop improving on these builds, you just keep refining them. Huh, might be somethin’ to that.

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How many states has the vehicle visited?
17 in 6 months and 17k miles…plus BC and AB Canada

Sports?
Mountain biking. I only pull out my skis when there isn’t a dry trail I can get to reasonably. Don’t get me wrong, I love skiing, and all the other typical mountain sports that I’ve dabbled in but I’d prefer to descend brown pow everyday. That is why the bike parking in the van was a priority. #livetoride

Pros?
Solitude and community. Hear me out-it’s not contradictory. I get to be home and in my own space on my own schedule everywhere I am. You know what I’m talking about. Staying with old and new friends is awesome, and I want that in my life, but for me there is nothing more fulfilling than my time I get on my own too. As for community, I had a notion about six years ago when I was traveling a bit for the American Alpine Club that all I wanted was more time in these amazing places I was visiting. I wanted to live in each and know the people and integrate into each community. Now I kind of can. I am lucky to call Carbondale home. But I’m in the van full time and am lucky to get to spend extended periods of time in Asheville, Bellingham, Moab, and a few other spots as well. It keeps me sane, gives me my solitude and freedom while having community everywhere I go, and also allows me to stay healthy by having easy quick access to trails and good food anytime I want. Also diesels rock. I like feeling like a big rig out there unless it’s windy and icy. Mileage averages 21.5 mi/gal. Yes, I check almost every tank.

Hood Rivers

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Cons?
Getting out from under my electric blanket at 6 a.m. when I have to pee, though the Airtronic heater will help with that. I would like to be able to stand up in more than one place than the fan well, but beggars can’t be choosers. This was a smokin’ deal for the five cylinder diesel Sprinter of this make and model. Would be nice to have four-wheel or all wheel…the rear wheel doesn’t go very many places easily…but that’s why I’ve got the mountain bike in the back.


Photos by Corie Spruill @c_skilz and Liz Cunningham @long_live_lemon

Join Sarah and Vanawhite in Carbondale, April 21-24 for the 5Point Adventure Film Festival, and the Van Life Rally Thursday April 21. Want to enter your rig? Reach out at [email protected] and follow at @5pointfilm and @sarahnwoody

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