Break the Rules. Go Home with Strangers

Custom Horse Saddle

Nelly’s handmade saddle

As often happens in life, good things start with a beer. That is, after all, how Shannon and I found ourselves on the back of Nelly, the very first horse either of us had ever ridden.

In retrospect, we didn’t really stand a chance. The Main Street Brewery in Cortez, Colorado, was walking distance from our campground. We find so few things in this country we can walk to that we always take notice of those we can. Boozy establishments that we don’t have to drive home from are especially rare and prized finds. So there never was a question of whether we’d pull up a bar stool at the brewery a few blocks from our door. It was really just a question of when.

Our timing couldn’t have been better.

I don’t recall how the discussion started, who initiated or about what, but long before we had even finished our first pint Shannon and I were drawn into a lively conversation with a couple of locals seated next to us. Gwen and Eddie, we learned, were fellow travelers. That always makes for easy conversation. A shared interest in the wider world is a wonderful common bond among strangers. Instead of pointless chit-chat about the weather or potentially contentious comments about politics, talk of where we’ve each been and where we’d like to go next is endlessly entertaining.

And then there are animals. Like us, Gwen and Eddie share our love for critters of all kinds. Unlike us, they have plenty of space to give them a proper home.


With the bottom of our second pint fast approaching, Gwen asked if we wanted to go back to their place to meet their furry friends. It wasn’t the most original bar pick-up line we’d ever heard, but we’re easy. We finished our beers, piled into Gwen’s truck and soon were heading down a dirt road to God knows where.

Outside of town signs of development diminished rapidly. An occasional roadside mailbox was just about the only indication we could see that anyone actually lived out there. We turned into a gravel driveway and beyond a ranch-style house we had a clear view of open country stretching all the way to the San Juan Mountains.

Shannon, Gwen, Nelly and Mack out for a ride

We stepped out of the car and into a burst of activity. Nelly and Mack trotted over to a small fence that looked neither strong enough nor tall enough to contain the large horses. Four dogs (three residents and a neighbor having a sleepover) ran manically about trying to both greet their owners and evaluate the newcomers.

Inside, Ernie ignored everyone the way cats often will. But Bert surprised us by rolling over to have his belly scratched like one of the dogs. After a while, though, Bert reclaimed his feline sensibilities and retreated to the protection of a small alcove above the refrigerator; occasionally gracing us with perturbed looks from on high.

Shannon riding like a pro.

“So, Shannon, do you want to take the horses out for a ride?” Gwen suddenly asked.

“We’ve never ridden before. We don’t know how.” We protested.

“Nonsense. Let’s go.”

With that, and a few simple instructions, Shannon was perched upon an animal as gentle as it was powerful. Nelly made the whole thing easy. She seemed to know what we wanted to do even though we’d never spoken her language before. Nelly was obviously fluent in noob, for which we are grateful.

Riding Mack, Gwen took us, one at a time, on a tour of her property. At first down gravel roads but then through sage brush that released its sweet perfume as the horses pushed past. Ensconced in the scent of sage and enveloped in a ring of distant mountains, we felt like true cattle ranchers out to reclaim our herd.

After our ride, everyone enjoyed a good meal

Back in the house Eddie made a comment that caught us a little off guard. “You guys are brave” he said. By that he meant our willingness to trust strangers we had met only a few hours ago. In a way, he was right. We were alone in unfamiliar territory, on someone else’s land and were definitely vulnerable. But it never occurred to us that we were in any way brave.

We’ve made such a habit of opening ourselves to new opportunities that it has become second nature. In the process we’ve discovered that most of the world is populated with wonderfully generous people, like Gwen and Eddie. What a loss it would have been for us if we were too fearful to get to know them, and Nelly too.

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16 Comments on “Break the Rules. Go Home with Strangers”

  1. Books & Art - Spirit & Soul July 20, 2012 at 9:16 am #

    Gorgeous – If it were not for strangers I would have no friends 🙂


    • Brian July 21, 2012 at 8:38 am #

      Very true. A stranger is just a friend we haven’t met yet. LOL.


  2. Betty Londergan July 20, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    What a GREAT story — and how beautiful is Colorado?? Our land is on the other side of the San Juans and seeing your pictures make me really, really miss it out there! (But what a sad, horrific day for the Rocky Mountain state. God bless you guys for being brave (and good writers, too!) …


    • Brian July 21, 2012 at 8:48 am #

      Yes, it’s very tragic the evil that some people do. In addition to the comment in this post that “most of the world is populated with wonderfully generous people” I was going to add “you can meet the other kind anywhere; even on your doorstep.” How true. And unfortunate.


  3. earthriderjudyberman July 20, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Will Rogers “never met a man (stranger) that he didn’t like.” It sounds like your encounter provided both of you with a rich experience.

    While I frequently talk to strangers, I don’t know that I would taken the additional step of going home with them. But kudos to you for doing so and having a wonderful story to share as a result.


  4. writecrites July 20, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    I watch enough detective shows to know it can be risky to go home with strangers, but I have done it several times, even as a single-woman traveler, always with rewarding experiences. One of those stays resulted in a wonderful tour of the Pacific island of Tinian. The wife even loaned me her camera since mine had broken. I think, if we trust our instincts and allow our gut feelings to guide us (as opposed to emotions), we’ll be alright.


    • Brian July 21, 2012 at 8:51 am #

      I think you nailed our thoughts: “trust your instincts and reason to guide you and don’t let your life be governed by fear.”


  5. Crowing Crone Joss July 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    a wondrous moment in your lives and new friends made. Life is good.


  6. flyingwildgeese July 22, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    What fun!


  7. P. C. Zick July 23, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    Wonderful! I agree with your philosophy. My husband and I have met some of the most wonderful people siting at a bar enjoying a brew. I’ve never quite understood folks who travel in packs – you’d never have the opportunity to meet new friends.


  8. rfljenksy July 23, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

    I had made plans to travel to Cambodia with a friend. That didn’t work out for my friend so I ended up traveling alone for 6 weeks. Truth is, when you use good judgement and trust it, you are never truly alone. There were no strangers on this trip. Just several travel companions who stayed with me from 4 hours up to 3 days. A few even remain my friend over 3 years later. Great story here that only confirms my suspicions that most people you meet, especially on the road are kind, helpful and up to nothing but good! Thanks for writing this piece!


  9. Betsy July 24, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    Thought of you when I saw this piece:
    Perhaps this will be your story in 23 years… 🙂


    • Brian July 24, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      Wow, we’re honored that you thought of us. But we can say with all sincerity, “we’re not worthy!” Gunther truly is The Man. Thanks for sharing his awesome story.


  10. theUnitedStatesofK July 29, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

    I’ve found myself relying on the kindness of strangers on most all of my travels and so far so good! I’m of course always aware of my surroundings and cautious but some of my most adventurous times have resulted from just saying yes. From spending Easter Sunday with a random Greek family in Corfu, drinking their homemade Ouzo and what I’m sure was lamb intestines (but I’ll never know) as they shot off fireworks and sang without exchanging a single word of English with us, to being stranded in outskirts of Brussels when all of the public transportation shut down and walking to Gare du Midi relying on one phrase of French and walking in the direction people pointed, I have had some exciting times thanks to people I’ll never see again. I’m glad to find some other open minded people and hope I can remain as adventurous as you two!


  11. moi du toi photography August 16, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    What a fabulous story! Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and leaving your footprint.



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