Finding the Ocean – Chapter 6

On September 1, 2017, I did something a little crazy. On a complete and utter whim, I took off on a 4,700 mile road trip to go find the ocean. Just me… and the dog.

Continue along on my healing and soul-inspiring journey below, or start from the beginning

 


According to the clock, it was officially Day 3 of my road trip, and as I lay in the back of my Ford Explorer… not sleeping for the second night in a row… I was seriously starting to question the sanity of my plan (or lack of one). Maybe if I was 25 this would have been a good idea, but honestly, what was I thinking?

I fumbled around for my ear buds, hoping I could overpower the dog’s snoring with the white noise app on my iPhone. I found them in a side pocket of my purse, then climbed back onto my double-stacked self-inflating air mattresses and tuned in to the comforting sound of a commercial air conditioner. Zoey watched me with mild curiosity, then immediately fell back to sleep. If only it were that easy. After several more tosses and turns, I finally managed to drift off for a few hours.

I was awakened by a cold nose to the face and the flapping of ears. Zoey needed to go out. Sigh.

I got up and took Zoey for a quick walk. It was dark and chilly, but I could see the hint of a sunrise behind me in the east. It had been dark when I’d pulled into the Echo Canyon Welcome Center the night before, so I was excited for the sun to come up so I could see the mountains all around me. Rather than wait around, I decided to get going again so I could find somewhere beautiful to stop and watch the sunrise.

The GPS took me south, along the shores of Echo Reservoir (which I couldn’t see because it was dark) and around Lewis Peak (which I also couldn’t see because it was dark). I imagine both of these places would have been beautiful sights to see, had I only known they were there.

Here is a lovely photo of someone else’s dog sitting on top of Lewis Peak. (Sorry Zoey.) If you want to read more about it, click the picture. You’ll notice it mentions that Lewis Peak is in North Ogden, Utah. Keep this in mind; I’ll come back to it later.

As the sky started to brighten, I found myself driving faster and faster, trying to get past the annoying foothills on either side of me that were blocking my view of the mountains. Completely unbeknownst to me, I was just seven miles north of Park City, Utah… a place I have wanted to visit my entire adult life. But, in a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees (or, in this case, the mountains for the foothills), I kept racing down I-80, trying to beat the sunrise and hell-bent on finding somewhere beautiful to watch it.

The sky kept getting brighter and brighter in my rearview mirror, and at my mad pace, I started to worry I was going to miss the sunrise altogether. I pulled off at the next exit, turned right onto a frontage road, and found myself traveling alongside a beautiful little golf course, nestled into a canyon at the base of a bluff. I pulled into the parking lot, hopped out of my car and took this quick video of the sunrise. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it was still pretty!

I watched the sunrise show for a few minutes more before I was interrupted by Zoey flapping her ears at me again. She was hungry. I was afraid to letter her out at the golf course because she tends to get a little OCD when it comes to retrieving balls of any sort… golf balls included. So, I got back in the car and travelled a little further down the frontage road until it started to narrow and meander its way down into the canyon. The road was so narrow and secluded by this point, I started to wonder if I had mistakenly wandered onto someone’s private driveway. I was just about to turn back when all of a sudden the road opened up to a small parking lot, and just like that, without even trying, I had found somewhere beautiful – Washington Park, in Parley’s Canyon.

Mine was the only car in the parking lot, so I let Zoey out to run while I filled her bowl with dog food. This place was gorgeous. It had a big beautiful pavilion with a stone fireplace, perfect for weddings and events, plus several cozy fire pits for people to gather around. There was a playground, softball diamond, horseshoe pits, volleyball court and a separate building with large, clean restrooms.

Zoey and I strolled around a bit, admiring the beautiful little park. It was a nice break, and we were both happy to get out of the car for a while. But, after 15 minutes or so, I  was ready to get going. I was excited to surprise Stephanie and Conrad at their house in Salt Lake City, so I loaded Zoey into the back of the Explorer and got back in the driver’s seat.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Zoey started howling in pain. Panicked, I ran back and opened the liftgate, terrified of what I might see. Somehow, she had managed to get her foot stuck in between the two stowaway seats. She continued to howl and scream as I tried pulling her foot out, but it wouldn’t budge. Finally, I pulled the latch on one of the stowaway seats to loosen it and her foot slipped out.

From the way she’d screamed, I was sure Zoey’s foot was mangled and broken. My mind jumped ahead to how I was going to find a veterinarian on Labor Day weekend, but on closer inspection, her foot seemed to be just fine. I helped Zoey out of the vehicle, and though she was favoring that foot a bit, she seemed to be putting weight on it. I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to inspect the problem with the stowaway seats.

I figured out that one of them must not have locked into place when I folded it down into the stowaway position, so when she got in, her weight must have caused the seat to buckle then lock tight with her foot caught in the middle. Poor thing. I positioned the seats into a backseat again, then helped Zoey back into the car. With my heart restored to a normal rhythm, I decided to take a quick video before we took off again.

OK, exhale. Back on the road.

According to my GPS, I was only about 15 minutes outside of Salt Lake City, but I figured it was too early to pop in and surprise my niece and her husband. I needed to kill some time, so I decided to just follow my GPS to the “city center” and see what there was to see.

I continued cutting my way through the foothills on I-80, finally catching my first glimpse of the mountains after crossing under the I-215 bypass. Beautiful! I love the mountains. I kept following my GPS, and eventually found myself right in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City.

I drove around a bit, noticing that Salt Lake was a clean, beautiful city that reminded me a lot of Minneapolis. There was a light rail system, artwork on the sidewalks, and a lot of pretty landscaping and green spaces.

As I drove along, I noticed a sign with an arrow that said “Temple,” so I decided to see where that went. Turns out, it went to the temple… THE SALT LAKE TEMPLE. I had no idea this was right in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City.

Curious, and with time still to kill, I pulled over and parked in a shady spot so Zoey would stay cool. It was Sunday, so all the meters were free, which was both good and bad… good that the meters were free, but bad because it was Sunday. That meant people were walking downtown in their Sunday finest heading to church while I was on day two with no shower and very little sleep. Oh well. I tucked my hair behind my ears, put on some sunglasses, and decided to go see what there was to see.

Oh my goodness.

I had no idea.

The Salt Lake Temple is ENORMOUS and GORGEOUS! It looks like a shimmering white castle with six towers, each topped by a tall spire. The property is surrounded by beautiful landscaped gardens, bronze statues, water fountains, and walking paths. The Tabernacle, which is separate from the Temple, is also immense. Because I knew very little about what I was looking at, I took a lot of photos, hoping to catch up on the history a little later. However, I did manage to find one sign that explained a little bit about the temple, itself:

“The temple is used by Church members for marriages and other sacred ordinances designed to strengthen families, both now and for eternity. Begun in 1853, it was completed 40 years later. Granite rock used in its construction was hauled 23 miles by ox-drawn wagons from Little Cottonwood Canyon. The walls are nine feet thick at the ground level and narrow to six feet thick at the top. The east center tower is 210 feet high and is topped by the statue of an angel heralding the restoration to earth of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the latter days.”

 

After wandering around a bit, I started taking some short videos and sending them to Stephanie on Snapchat.

“Hey Steph, guess where I am?”

“You home? Wake up!”

Sadly, I knew as much about Snapchat as I did about the Mormons, but since I didn’t have Stephanie’s cell number, I figured this would be the best way to catch her once she woke up. In the meantime, I decided I needed some coffee. In fact, I decided I needed some breakfast. A real one. With eggs, and bacon, and hash browns, and toast. I’d been eating carrots, celery, hummus, Wheat Thins and yogurt for three days. I was ready for a real meal.

Luckily for me, I happened to find a perfect spot, directly across from the temple, and about a block from where I’d parked my car. I walked in, got seated, and continued to send snaps to Steph while I sipped my coffee and ate my breakfast. Finally, she responded.

STEPH: “Where are you? Are you in Salt Lake City??”

ME: “Yes! Can I come visit!”

STEPH: “Of course! But I don’t live in Salt Lake City. I live in Roy, near Ogden.”

WHAT. THE. WHAT.

The minute she said that, I knew it sounded familiar. Roy, Utah… yes… that is where I sent her Christmas card every year, now that I thought about it. However, in my head, Stephanie and Conrad lived in Salt Lake City. Definitely Salt Lake City. And yet, here I was, and they were not. They were 30 miles north, near Ogden.

Honestly, Joy.

Well, no worries. I had driven this far, I could certainly drive another 30 miles to see “my Stephy.”

This girl.

Stephanie’s dad is my first cousin and her mom is my best friend. In 2010, Steph married her high school sweetheart, Conrad, when they were both just 19 years old. He had joined the Air Force right out of high school, and not long after their wedding, Conrad was transferred to Rapid City, South Dakota. They had just started their new life there, and Steph was busy making new friends, working, attending college, and getting used to life on an Air Force base.

Then, she started getting sinus headaches. Severe ones, that she couldn’t get rid of. She went to the doctor, and after several more weeks of being treated for a sinus infection that wasn’t getting better, she and Conrad finally learned the devastating truth.

It was a tumor.

Rhabdomyosarcoma.

All our worlds collided and fell apart for a while. Steph moved back home to live with her parents in Sauk Centre while she received intensive chemo and radiation treatments at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Stacey took over as Momcologist, while I pitched in and helped where I could. I started a Caring Bridge site for Steph and tried to provide regular updates, but the news was rarely good and always scary.

Rhabdomyosarcoma, or “Rhabdo” as it is more commonly known, is an aggressive childhood cancer with outcomes that get progressively worse for patients who are in their teens and early 20s.

But, this girl. My Stephy. She beat it.

Stephanie is an amazing person. She is one of those old souls who is wise beyond her years… the kind of person that people just naturally gravitate toward. She is kind, confident, and fun to be around. Throughout her cancer journey, she was always positive, serving as a role model for other Rhabdo kids on the Pediatric Oncology floor. She played with them, read books, sang songs, cuddled and loved them.

Throughout it all, she remained steadfast in her faith, often holding us up when it should have been the other way around.

Honestly, there just aren’t enough words to say how much I love and admire this girl.

I didn’t stay long once I finally made it to Steph and Conrad’s house in Roy. I got big hugs from both of them, a tour of their beautiful home, and a chance to catch up and unwind for a bit before I decided to hit the road again. They wanted me to stay (and probably I should have at least taken them up on a shower), but I was anxious to get going. The ocean was calling my name, and I couldn’t wait to find it.

Next time… the Bonneville Salt Flats and more bad planning…

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