Salida, Colorado by Sarah Leamy

A few days alone in the mountains did wonders for my confidence. We can do this. It’s not so bad, right? I talked to the pets constantly; full of words now that Trader Joes didn’t use them all up on customer service. Harold followed me with his eyes, Rosie at my feet, and Stevie watched from under the van. I packed up the last of the kitchen crates and stowed it under the bed. We had time for a last hike with the pups before we drove to Salida to visit friends.

Mornings were bright and crisp, and I was glad to have the insulated coveralls with me, a last minute addition that had made Katie and Peter laugh. “It’s summer, you know.”  Luckily peer pressure doesn’t work on me, I’d even packed snow boots just to be sure. Perfect on mornings like those at 11, 561 feet.

Salida appeals more in theory than reality, like Taos does for me. I always want to visit, and usually make it up there once a year, but once parked by the river, I don’t know what to do with myself. That time was no different. Britney and AJ had invited me to stay, I knew where they lived in an A-frame cabin, but instead I walked around downtown with the dogs, popped into a pet store and bought treats for all, and then stopped for lunch at my favorite place, the Riverside pub. A burger and beer for me, treats for Harold and Rosie, life was good. Yet I worried about Stevie in the van. Was it too hot in the sunshine? Had I left windows open enough for air but not big enough for a little furry body to climb out of? I finished the burger, paid up, and headed back to find Stevie fast asleep under the bed again.

Salida has spread over recent years but downtown is still historical with tall brick buildings a hundred years old, with a thriving business in tourism and art. Salida was settled in 1880 by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and became a hub for mining and agriculture. These days it’s known for the outdoor activities, what with the Arkansas River, rafting, kayaking, and even skiing near by, but I did nowt. The post office has been here since 1881, but I sent no postcards. Instead, I drove off, getting lost briefly in the downtown streets before heading east three miles to a BLM campground. Well, it was free, but busy with what looked like long-term campers, all stared at me territorially as I drove by and parked near the river. Dogs barked at us, campers glared, the river was fast and rough, and so no, I’d not go back. Emergencies yes, but to relax? Nope. It was too much of a contrast after the peace of Stunner Pass and Platoro. Stevie was grounded for his own safety and that didn’t go over well. The dogs were tied up, and I hid inside, waiting for morning so we could head north. I drank too many beers, peed in a bucket, spilt pee on that damn rug, and worried about Harold, Rosie, and Stevie.

Why was I doing this? Why had I brought them with me? Well, what else would I have done? Paid a house sitter? Then I couldn’t have afforded such a trip. Plus, I was checking out places we could move to, as a family. The only way I ever really know if a place is pet-friendly is when I show up with dogs and in this case, a cat. Salida was very dog friendly; the waitress brought them treats and water, checked on the pups more than on me, and everywhere we’d walked, hands had reached for furry ears. So yes, Salida was pet friendly but could I seem myself living there? No. I don’t want to work in the service industry, dependent on tips and seasonal work. Okay, time to move on. But what about Britney and AJ, why didn’t I visit? I don’t know. I just didn’t.



If I’m going to be mauled, bitten, and/or killed I have a choice of Black Bear and the Grizzly. I’m not sure which is better. The Black bear is smaller, at only 650 #s maximum, lives all over the damn place, and last I read, there were over 600,000 in the States. The statistics are meant to make me happier, help me relax but knowing that there have been on average 25 bear attacks per year doesn’t actually make me feel any better. Maybe because the advice given is vague and contradictory. I’d like someone to give me a definitive answer as to what to do. Stand tall and make noise? Climb a tree? Stare down or fall down? I’m more likely to shit myself and freeze.

Grizzlies, now there’s a bear worth running from, although you don’t really want to run. But wouldn’t you? Facing a bear, wouldn’t you just want to run away? Grizzlies, topping over 1200 #s with a hump on their shoulders should be easily recognizable, right? But a bear is a bear is a bear. I have the spray from REI but can’t say that helps me. Knowing that it might not happen, they might just stare at me and amble off, but they might also decide that Little Stevie looks like a dunkin donut? Well that keeps me awake at night. In my sleep, a grizzly stares me down, I back off slowly, asking myself, am I meant to climb a tree or play dead? A black bear though, they like it when you lie still, so much easier to chew.

Years ago, when I first came to the States, I ended up at a Rainbow Gathering in Minnesota in July. Peace, love, sex, drugs, and the munchies. I fell asleep (passed out) in a tent one night after getting the munchies, the food storage tent that is, kind of like a 7-11 in the woods. Clashing pans, yelling, screaming, stomping, I woke suddenly, lying on the dirt floor with a bag of half-eaten chips next to me. A big, and I mean big silhouette stood in the tent’s opening then turned and ran into the night.

A black bear, yes, in a tent with me and enough food for a few hundred people. I finished the chips and stumbled off looking for my own tent. If only I could remember which one it was.


BIO: This is an excerpt from Van Life by Sarah Leamy. She is an award-winning author, a cartoonist, and wanderer.


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