Steamboat Springs Gigi Walker has more bear stories than she can count. It comes with the territory of living in a tepee in the Colorado mountains.
She remembers the first time a bear came to visit the tepee she and her husband, Johnny Walker, spend their summers in just outside of Steamboat Springs.
Arriving home, the two discovered a bear had rifled through their belongings, found a box of wine, opened the bladder and settled in for most of the night. When the bear left, it took the bladder of wine.
"It was the first time we had a bear and I was scared to death," Gigi Walker said.
That night, Johnny slept with his archery equipment beside the bed. A year later, the Walkers found the empty wine bladder in the woods.
Over the years, Walker's fear lessened and she remembers the time a bear had rummaged through their outside kitchen, gone into the refrigerator, ripped through cabinets and gotten into a special box of chocolates Gigi's daughters had brought back from Europe.
And just as Gigi had calmed down from the intrusion, she saw in the nearby shrubs two ears and a nose peeking over the bushes. A woman on a rampage, Walker jumped up and started banging pots and pans and yelling at the bear for the stolen chocolates.
"I was this hysterical women because he had my chocolates," she said.
And she said with a chuckle, the bear never came back.
For the past 20 years, Walker and her family have spent their summers in a tepee in the mountains surrounded by a grove of aspen trees and wildlife. She goes there for the peace and quiet, the exclusive views of Emerald Mountain and Sleeping Giant, the hiking and the chance to work on her watercolors.
For longtime Steamboat friend Betsy Blakeslee, Walker's life is like the watercolors she paints.
"I love that she makes things happen in her life," Blakeslee said. "She is an artist and she designs her life like she would paint a beautiful picture. She picks things that are important to her and brings things into her life like an artist would bring colors onto a canvas."
Building a tepee in the woods, taking a year to go sailing, traveling in Africa Blakeslee said her friend works at having a rewarding life.
Since arriving in Steamboat 27 years ago with her 9-month-old daughter Chula, Walker has been a waitress, a speech therapist, cross country ski instructor, school bus driver, condo cleaner and a backcountry guide.
At 40, Walker became a hairdresser and found the first job she truly loved. For the past three years, she has had her own shop on the corner of Seventh and Oak streets.
"I always loved doing people's hair. All through college, I was doing other girls' hair. When I was 40, I just thought I would go back to school," she said.
Although Walker liked doing hair even in high school, she said the idea of going to beauty school never crossed her mind. She was set on a professional career and going to college.
In a midlife career change, Walker went from being a speech therapist at Horizons to a hairdresser. Her husband followed a few years later when he went from being a carpenter to a middle school industrial arts teacher.
The 19 years Walker has spent cutting people's hair has been the longest career she has had. She loves working with her hands and talking to people as they pass through her shop. It is a love for the profession she found reflected in the women of an African village she visited while her daughter Chula was in the Peace Corps.
"There was this little tiny village and everywhere you went women were doing other women's hair in tiny corn rows. It is very nurturing," she said. "I never thought I would love a job so much."
When Walker came to Steamboat in 1975, she said nothing was available to rent in the paper except for a typewriter. She first lived in Clark and then in a trailer in town with five other people.
The Walkers have always lived in somewhat-talked-about abodes.
Their tepee home started 20 years ago when the Walkers, overwhelmed with home-improvement projects, decided to take a break and move out of their house for the summer. They set up a camp on property owned by a friend. Walker said she and her husband had such a good time in the tepee that they extended their stay until the end of September. But it turned out to be a very wet September and the family finally moved out when six inches of snow fell.
"We stayed way too long," said Walker, now a veteran tepee dweller.
It was among the many lessons the family has learned. Among the others are bear-proofing almost everything,
Today, Walker calls the 2 1/2 acres their tepee sits on a little piece of heaven. There is a campfire surrounded by wooden stools made by a log that fell on the road they use to get to the property. Not far away is a swing, and her husband has made an outdoor kitchen with cabinets, rain collector and refrigerator. Everything is powered by solar energy.
Although she spends quality time in the secluded tepee, Walker is also active in the community from being a member of Environment 2000 in the 1990s to giving haircuts to Hospice patients to being a member of the Back Country Skiers Alliance.
"I try to do something besides just my work something that gives back to society," Walker said.
It is a lesson of service her daughters, Chula, 30, and Josie, 22, have picked up well. Chula, a local artist, has started the Peace Project that encourages students to express their feelings of diversity through art. Josie is working in a safe home in Santa Rosa, Calif.
"I love it," Walker said. "They are even more radical than we are. They are taking what we teach them one step further. It is great."