This month’s Coffee Talk is with our dear friend and business associate, Sarah ‘Woody’ Wood. Our connection with Sarah goes back to the days when she was the Executive Director for the 5Point Film Festival and was living out of her van, Ms. Vana White, on the streets of Carbondale, CO. Since then she’s joined us here in beautiful Western NC and is juggling multiple businesses and volunteer efforts.
Thanks for chatting with us Sarah. It’s always great to hear what you’re up to! So I’m thinking we should kick off this interview with some serious stuff, so what’s your birth sign?
It said “full throttle or don’t bother,” haha ok ok, Scorpio
When you and I first met you were working with the 5Point Adventure Film Festival. Can you tell us a little bit about your path since then, how you ended up in Asheville and have now become the founder of Good Talk?
At the time, I was the Executive Director of the 5Point Adventure Film Festival based in Carbondale, CO. That work brought me around the country from Bellingham, WA, to Asheville, NC, and many points in-between. While doing some sponsorship work here in Asheville, my 5Point colleague Micah Pulleyn introduced me to Industry Nine. Industry Nine (i9) is a high-end cycling component manufacturer in Asheville mostly known for its high engagement hubs and colorful customization. I took a tour of the production facility and machine shop where everything is made, demoed the wheels, and drank the Kool-Aid! The owner, Clint Spiegel, and a group of his employees and friends took me out on a night ride, and well, I couldn’t head back to Colorado without a set of wheels, to say the least. After that experience, my technical brain was hungry to learn more, and Clint offered to spend time with me in the shop on my next visit to North Carolina, which he did when I came back. Soon after that visit, Clint offered me a job and 6-8 months later, I drove to Asheville!
After spending a few weeks getting my feet underneath me at i9 it was apparent that they really didn’t need an engineering apprentice, they needed someone to help with day-to-day operations, overall organizational structure, and management. They needed to get some new products in the pipeline, too. Clint and I agreed to shift our efforts in that direction so he could get back to designing a new product. I LOVED being a part of that process and learned a lot about manufacturing and production. Albeit not in the ways I had originally intended to in an apprentice role, but still, it was a fantastic opportunity and crew to work with. Throughout those three years, we accomplished a lot! We restructured the business, got new products in the pipeline, and set up processes to continue that work. We released the A-Series Stems and Hydra, among a few other smaller iterative products as well. It was a great team effort and I’m proud to have led that crew as Operations Director and eventually VP of Operations.
Last summer (2019), I realized I was ready to take on some new challenges, leverage my skills into a new venture, and feed the entrepreneurial beast again. So I gave notice in the fall, stayed on to help with the transition through the winter, and started taking on clients at Good Talk in January 2020. I now split my time between Brevard, NC, and Grand Junction, CO helping small businesses with strategy, organizational design, project management, and leadership. It is a crazy time to start a new business, but luckily I had some great clients lined up before the pandemic hit!
Wow, you’ve been just a little busy since you got here! What else are you involved in at this time?
Share with us a bit more about your partnership with a local web agency, Status Forward, to create the Supply Connector. Where did the concept for the idea come from and how has it evolved?
While doing some contract work with i9 in March when COVID-19 hit the US full force, Clint asked that I help them find a potential use for their machine shop for COVID-19-related medical devices. In my initial search, I was hoping to find a resource where I could search, but after two weeks of researching, I couldn’t find anything. That’s when I decided there was a bigger need for something manufacturers and suppliers could use to connect to fulfill demand. I called Laurel at Status Forward with a half-baked idea on an open platform/directory. She agreed, liked the idea, and jumped right in. We also brought in Amy Allison, Director of the NC Office for Outdoor Recreation Industry, and a number of advisors and volunteers have also helped us with the effort.
With a number of the outdoor industry brands pivoting to producing PPE and other COVID-19 relief and recovery products, we saw an opportunity to connect them with local, state, and national opportunities and supply chains. Our goal with this tool is to ultimately be able to adapt quickly based on the needs in the community and bolster the connectivity and network for US manufacturing. We continue to work as a volunteer group and are actively working to license the product state by state to provide this broader national benefit to economic developers across the country.
As I recall, you once took a pretty epic motorcycle trip with your father years ago? Can you tell us a little bit about that trip?
Haha yes! I have loved getting into motorcycle riding and wrenching, and love the older carbureted bikes. I wish I had more time to spend fixing up old bikes—I just love getting my hands in there and figuring out what they need and bringing them back to life. The trip with my dad a few years ago was indeed epic. Dad rode from their home in Indiana and we headed west from Colorado to ride up the Pacific Coast Highway from the top of California up to Port Angeles, WA. (PRO TIP: Ride north to south instead. Then you will be on the right side of the road for the pull-outs!) We stayed in Airbnbs and hostels, and definitely rode waaaay too many miles each day. It was the first moto trip like that, that I had planned and while I had to make the miles to meet some work deadlines (and a meeting with a new potential 5Point title sponsor in Seattle), I wish I could go back and slow us down a bit to do more side adventures.
We were exhausted by the mileage each day, but we had a blast. I’m so fortunate to have experiences like this with my parents. We had days of cold drizzly weather, a few days of sunshine, awesome seafood, hikes through the redwoods, and just a special time together. My dad departed from Port Angeles at the end of the trip and I grabbed a ferry to Seattle for my meeting. After that, I went up and spent a week in Bellingham for work. I rode on up into Canada, down through Idaho and Montana to Salt Lake. Flew to Vermont for a friend’s wedding, back for the Outdoor Retailer show, on to spend week at the Salt Flats, and back to Carbondale.
It would take a lot of pages to tell you all of the breakdowns, epic weather, food, packing, and logistics…but it was amazing. I love traveling solo and I also loved having my dad pop in for part of the trip. On another coast to coast solo trip, I got stranded in Lincoln, Nebraska after my cam position sensor went out. Dad jumped on his bike and motored the only available part in a four-state area from Indiana to Nebraska so I could keep moving and make a 5Point show deadline in Richmond, VA! On that trip, I had my mountain bike with me on the back of the Harley and was able to ride trails along the way. I could go on. Needless to say, we have had some great adventures together!
If you could meet anyone past, present, or future, who would it be and why?
Ohh man, so many people. I really want to meet everyone, and especially the unsung heroines who paved the way for how I’m able to walk through the world. I find that some of the folks I gain the most perspective and insight from aren’t the ones who have notoriety or are famous in some way. I would love to speak with some of the early women engineers and frontier families. And I would have loved to be in the same era with some of the people I already know who are older or younger. For instance my Grandma McNeely. In her lifetime she saw so much change, and I think we would have gotten into a lot of fun trouble together if we had lived in the same era. I think I would rather time travel and age hop, more than I would like to meet anyone particular person. Plus you know what they say about meeting your heroes. I do value the perspectives I’ve been able to gain from people from all walks of life. If I could bottle that up and give it to everyone, I think we would see quite a few positive changes in the world.
You’ve lived the van life for many years. Can you share with us your craziest experience while living in your van?
Haha ohh, Vana White. I miss van life. It has only been 6 months since my partner Shawn and I started living in a brick box we now call home, haha. I’ve had my fair share of strange van stories, being run off the road by aggressive semis, nasty encounters on the highway with perverts, roadside MacGyver moves, and some incredible nights under the stars in places no one cares to go. Maybe not the craziest, but a memorable night on a random stretch of road in Southern Utah, I stopped to cook some food in the van at a little farmer/field pull out. There was a lightning storm off in the distance. I wasn’t planning to sleep there, but I just got pulled into the storm and couldn’t take my eyes off of it. No one was driving that back road that night and it was as if I had the whole world to myself. It was the best light show I’ve ever seen on a stretch of road with no lights. I’ve been to my fair share of concerts and nothing compares to Mother Nature and this night in Utah—she is the ultimate headliner.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to become a van lifer but may be a bit nervous to make the jump?
Do it. You will figure it out, and if you don’t, it will be worth the effort. What could go wrong? Just buy a mechanically sound chassis, put whatever you want in it. Don’t electrocute yourself and you’ll be fine. I believe the van life experience helped me understand “needs” and “wants” at a level I likely wouldn’t have appreciated before. I want everyone to gain that insight, maybe I’ll try to bottle that, too.
You don’t need special tools or special carpentry or electrical knowledge. I built mine out by myself twice and I just figured it out. A jigsaw, level, powered hand sander, tape measure, wood glue, drill, and driver are all you need. Plus, now there are a ton of videos on the process and tips you can find for doing it right. Just know that your first build-out won’t be your last build-out. You have to live in it to understand what will work for you. My second build-out is a lot better than my first and I added some amenities. Like making space for a small RV toilet instead of using a paint bucket with restop bags and a Nalgene bottle! Haha, I like being minimal, but I like having a few comforts.
Be prepared to learn a lot about yourself. I miss it and am looking forward to a road trip again, hopefully soon! Dialing in why you want a van will help you determine what type of build and how much money to spend. Start there. If your reasons are that you think it is “cool” and you want to start a YouTube channel, please don’t, hahaha.
What’s currently on your playlist?
Nothing, really! Honestly, I have enjoyed working and living in semi-silence lately. I love music and singing, don’t get me wrong. I worked in that industry in Nashville after college because I loved music so much. I’ve suffered from some concussions over the last few years and in the aftermath, I have had a hard time with too much noise, among other stimuli. I started driving in silence, keeping the radio off, and not turning anything on in the house. Now I really like it so I don’t have much in my music queue. Haha, I know…BORING!
Are you a podcast listener? If so, what podcast are you digging right now?
YES! When I do turn something on it is usually a podcast.
Normal favorites: Radio Lab, 99% Invisible, Today Explained, Brave not Perfect, Business Schooled, Hidden Brain, Channel Mastery, Dirt Bag Diaries, Savage Love Cast, Invisibilia, On Purpose, honestly anything from NPR or Gimlet like Start Up, Planet Money, Hidden Brain, This American Life, Reply-All, the list keeps going….
You’ve skied and biked in some pretty amazing places, what was your favorite place and why?
It still awaits! I keep going back to British Columbia though. I had a weekend up there one February where I met up with some friends to do a little backcountry skiing, then the next day I mountain biked in Pemberton and Squamish before dipping back down to Bellingham for work. From powder in the mountains one day to loam in the forest the next, you just can’t beat that kind of weekend and terrain. There is so much to explore up there and I just keep wanting to go back and get into the backcountry.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I love flamenco music. I aspire to take flamenco guitar lessons from an instructor in Spain at some point. Living there, eating the food, learning the language and culture, and playing music sounds like an amazing experience I’d love to have. I have sung and played music in a number of small garage cover bands, and I enjoy the art of performance. I think that is what I loved so much about my work at 5Point. Crafting a memorable performance and weaving story and experience in a way that moves people is very satisfying. Maybe that reflects the way I’m trying to live? I’ll ask my therapist and get back to you.