Summer-time Lessons from Adventuring

Molly drove home from San Francisco last week for her annual summer visit. She and her Heeler/Pit Bull, Roxy, loaded up “Little Red,” Molly’s new used car, a fire-engine-red 2003 Honda Civic, on Saturday noon and drove 1,300 miles, arriving in Salida on Sunday evening. 

Little Red proved quite road-worthy except for one thing: About 90 miles west of Grand Junction, Colorado, crossing the Utah Desert in hundred-plus-degree temperatures, the air-conditioning stopped working. Molly soaked some towels with water and wrapped she and Roxy in them as evaporative coolers, and drove on. 

“The weird thing was,” she said over dinner, a pasta salad with fresh pesto I had made that day, “it came back on again when we got up higher and the air cooled down.”

Some of you may already know what happened from that particular detail, but I didn’t until I called Mike’s Garage, my wonderful neighborhood shop, the next day. Dallas listened to the story, asked one question (“Did the fan cut out, or the cold?” “Just the cold,” I said.) She checked with a mechanic and then explained:

Relatively new cars like Little Red have a computer that senses engine function and condition, and when the engine gets too hot–as in driving for hours across the desert in a heat wave–the computer makes the decision to save the engine’s power for cooling itself and shuts down non-essential functions, including the compressor that makes cold air. 

“In the old days before car computers,” Dallas said, “the engine would just cut out.” 

I should have known that, because I can remember family summer road-trips when we’d drive at night to keep the engine from overheating when we crossed the desert. 

Molly and I have a tradition of adventuring whenever she’s home, whether exploring a new trail, visiting a new place, or learning some new skill. 

This summer, we decided to learn stand-up paddle-boarding, something I’ve wanted to try for a while. I set up a half-day lesson from Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center, a local outfitter. On the appointed morning, Josh, our guide, outfitted us with boards, helmets, wetsuits, and the other gear you can see in the photo at the beginning of the post. 

After orientation on land, we got on the water and began to learn balance and paddle-strokes, starting on our knees, and then working up to standing on the boards. Which took me longer than Molly.

I am a firmly terrestrial creature, so anything involving water, whether swimming in it or floating on it, takes some courage. As it turned out, I mastered the starfish (falling backwards off the paddle-board with an impressive splash), and learned that the water was indeed c-c-cold.

Still, I began to get my balance and had a lot of fun practicing. I grew up canoeing and have kayaked on and off for 30 years, so the paddle strokes were familiar. But the feel of gliding across the water while standing on the board was deliciously different.

After we felt like we were proficient enough, Molly got Roxy, and we worked on her paddle-board skills, first with our two boards rafted together, and then with her swimming between the boards. After which Molly bravely stood up and paddled around the pond, with Roxy standing like a pro in front of her. 

Until Roxy decided the trout she could see in the water were more interesting than standing on the board, and jumped in. I laughed so hard I did a perfect starfish, and surfaced still laughing. I swam back to my board and Roxy decided to “rescue” me, which meant it took me twice as long to get back on my board as it would have otherwise. But we had a great time. 

At the end of our lesson, Molly and I helped Josh load up the boards and stow the other equipment, and thanked him for patiently teaching us. As we drove off in Big Red (my Tacoma pickup) with Roxy snoozing the back, we talked about getting paddle-boards of our own. And wetsuits. 

Of course, none of that equipment is in either of our budgets right now, but maybe next year. 

And Molly and I have some wonderful new shared memories. I feel very grateful that she loves Salida, and me. I’m lucky to have her in my life. If only her daddy were still here to join us on summer adventures… .

Richard Cabe (1950-2011) paddling our double kayak

Why I Live in Salida

I was standing in one of my favorite stores in Salida’s lively downtown this afternoon, debating about whether the cropped jean jacket I’ve been eyeing for the past month would fit into my budget, when a nicely dressed woman nearby spoke,

“Excuse me, do you live here?” 

“I do.” 

“For how long?” she asked.

“Almost nineteen years on the same block,” I said. 

She was curious, she said, because she and her husband were looking for a retirement place, and basically, she wondered why I live in a rural town of just 5,200 people, itself the seat of a county boasting only 18,000 or so permanent residents. A town with a thriving arts community, a lively independent bookstore, excellent restaurants, a good public school system, an excellent small hospital, and a serious shortage of affordable housing

A town located two scenic-but-sometimes-treacherous hours drive through the mountains to the nearest interstate highway, shopping mall, commercial airport, or traffic jams. In a county bisected by the most popular whitewater river in the country (the photo at the top of the post is that river, the Arkansas, and our downtown whitewater park with Mount Princeton in the distance), including Colorado’s longest stretch of Gold Medal trout water; a county with more peaks over 14,000 feet elevation than any other county in Colorado, a nearby ski area known for its powder snow, and hundreds of miles of hiking/biking/horseback riding trails through nearby public land. 

That description lists some of the reasons: I love this landscape, from the high-desert valley bottom with the river flowing through it to those peaks, white with late-winter snow now. I love the art and cultural scene, the restaurants, the lack of traffic jams (a traffic jam here is when a herd of deer ambles across the road in the evening and the cars have to wait their turn), and so on… 

I mentioned those things, but then I gave her a more personal, deeper answer. 

What holds me here is the community, and the way we support each other. We disagree about all sorts of things, from gun rights to religion to presidential candidates, but when someone needs help, we pitch in.

Because we’re a small town and there aren’t that many of us. Because we know each other, or at least we’ve said hello in the line at the Post Office, the polling place, the grocery store, or at the high school games. Because we all remember what it’s like to need help. Because we care about each other as human beings, regardless of the labels that are so divisive in American life today. 

“I lost my husband to brain cancer almost five years ago,” I said, my voice choking a little. “And a lot of people asked if I would move home to Wyoming, where Richard and I met.”

“I thought seriously about it. But I didn’t. Because going through that–losing the person I loved most in the world–showed me what mattered most. The community enveloped us with so much caring and compassion. I couldn’t live anywhere else. This is home now.”

She expressed her condolences, and then her husband came to meet her with their dog. We chatted some more, she thanked me for my thoughts, and off they went. 

I tried on the jean jacket, talked it over with Stormy, who was my next-door neighbor for much of her childhood–now in her 20s, Stormy is learning the trade from her mom, who owns the store. I asked Storm to hold the jacket until tomorrow, when I’ll come back with my checkbook, saving them the charge card fee. 

“Absolutely,” she said. “We appreciate it.”

I walked up the block, stopping to talk to a friend whose husband is recovering from heart surgery, congratulating another friend on her forthcoming book of poetry, and then waving at my electrician and his wife, a forester, out ambling with their golden retriever. 

I stopped at the health food store and bought some organic romaine lettuce, and chatted with Gina, the owner, about her need for summer staff. 

Then I walked the two blocks home, baked some wild-caught salmon for dinner, chopped and dressed the lettuce, and added some Pueblo Sweet corn I put up last summer. I sat down to eat as the shadows of the peaks began to creep across the valley. 

And thought how lucky I am to live in this small town in a spectacular landscape, a community with a very big heart. 

Some of the dozens of luminarias with messages placed around one of Richard’s sculptures after the celebration of his life, December 2011