Finding the Ocean – Chapter 5

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

 


After getting my oil changed, my tire patched, and purchasing two self-inflating air mattresses, I finally left Rapid City and was back on the road.

For about an hour and a half, I continued across the rolling prairie and pine-covered hills of South Dakota and finally hit the Wyoming border around noon. The smooth four-lane highway had transitioned to a bumpy two-lane road, and I was now staring at a vast landscape of flat ranch land as far as the eye could see.

After another hour, I finally reached a town: Lusk, Wyoming, population 1,599. As I drove down the main drag trying to decide where to stop, I suddenly found myself on the outskirts of town, and then, poof… I was back on the highway again. In the blink of an eye, I had missed the entire town altogether.

I was trying to figure out where to do a U-turn when I spotted a sign for a rest area just one mile ahead. Perfect. No U-turn required.

I pulled into the Lusk Rest Area, which was very clean and lovely. It had a playground, picnic shelter, outdoor grills, and a landscaped walking path. As it turns out, this was Wyoming’s very first rest area, constructed in 1966 after the passage of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act of 1965. Interesting. I’d never heard of such a thing. If you want to learn a little more about it, click the photo and read the sign.

On my way out of the restroom, I happened to notice a flyer taped to the window of the entryway. It was grainy and a little blurry, but something about it seemed familiar, so I walked over to have a closer look.

It was a “Missing” poster for 15 year old Jasmine Block who disappeared from Alexandria, Minnesota on August 8th. I knew Jasmine’s story because it had been in our local news for the past three weeks. Jasmine had last been seen at her home in Alexandria (or “Alec” as we call it) on the night of August 8, 2017. She’d been lying on the couch in her living room, watching TV, and trying to recover from a migraine headache. Her mom, Sarah, left to attend to a family emergency, so Jasmine was home with her older sister and her sister’s boyfriend. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. When Sarah returned later that night, Jasmine was gone. She left her keys, cell phone, purse, bike, and scooter behind. Local police, Minnesota BCA, and FBI were all investigating the case. There had been searches, a reward, and pleas for information on the news, yet Jasmine still hadn’t been found.

I took a picture of the poster and tried to memorize the details so I could keep an eye out. I wondered what kind-hearted person had cared enough to tape up this flyer inside a rest area all the way out in Lusk, Wyoming. I silently thanked that kind person, then said a little prayer for Jasmine, hoping she had just run away and would return to her family very soon. (Much more on this later.)

After letting Zoey run around and sniff a bit, I got back in the car and prepared to hit the road again. Before taking off though, I took another quick look at the map on my GPS. I noticed I would be heading straight through Salt Lake City on my quest to reach the west coast, so I made another impulsive decision. My cousin’s daughter (who is more like a niece) and her husband had been living in Salt Lake City for several years and I’d never been to their house before. (For that matter, I’d never been to Salt Lake City before.) I decided it would be fun to pop in and surprise them the next morning. It was still eight hours away, so I figured I would find a nice little place to camp just outside of Salt Lake and get to their house early on Sunday. Perfect. I had a plan.

I left Lusk, Wyoming around 1:30 PM and continued to drive… and drive… and drive. It seemed like that little red arrow on my GPS barely moved as I inched across Wyoming. Still, I pressed on, snacking on carrots and celery sticks, Wheat Thins and hummus. All I could think about was a thick, juicy burger, but I kept going.

After four more bathroom breaks and 616 miles, I finally decided to call it quits. I was about an hour outside of Salt Lake City and too tired to try and find a campground. Instead, I just pulled into another rest area for the night… the Echo Canyon Welcome Center.

Trying not to look like a homeless person, I unrolled my new sleeping mat in the back of my Explorer and tried to go to sleep. No go. After about an hour of tossing and turning, I unrolled the second sleeping mat and added it to the first. A little better, but still no go. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t turn my mind off.

It was Saturday, September 3rd. Labor Day weekend.

I thought about what had transpired on this day one year earlier.

……….

I can’t sleep. As Friday turns to Saturday, I keep looking at my iPhone. First it’s 11 PM. Then it’s midnight. Then 1 AM. Then 2 AM.

Patty’s words keep ringing in my ears.

“They found him.”

It was all I could think about. Over and over, the details churn in my head. He was buried on a farm in Paynesville. We can’t say anything. It’s part of a plea deal. Heinrich’s hearing is on Tuesday, the day after Labor Day. He’s unstable. Might change his mind. He needs to sign the plea deal. Need to keep it out of the media. Don’t say anything. We’ll put you on the list for Tuesday.

I watch the television all night long, terrified the media will find out. I’m amazed and irritated that Ross can sleep through anything. Finally, around 4 AM, I drift off to sleep.

I’m awakened a few hours later. The phone is ringing. It’s our landline. Hardly anyone ever calls the landline. It’s early, before 7 AM. Who would be calling this early? Must be for Ross. Where is he? He couldn’t have gone too far… he just had knee replacement surgery 12 days ago. I let the answering machine pick it up. It’s someone I used to know through work, many years ago. He says something about a crawler on the news. WCCO is reporting that Jacob Wetterling’s remains have been found.

I bolt upright, my heart pounding out of my chest. I reach for the remote and turn on channel 4.

Oh my God. It’s true. WCCO has a live crawler running across the bottom of the screen. I grab my phone and see a text from Jared. It was sent at 6:41 AM.

“Channel 5 aired the story this morning.”

What?? KSTP broke the story? How did they find out?

I switch to Channel 5 and watch the breaking news.

I am sick with worry. Who leaked the story? What if Heinrich doesn’t go through with the plea deal?

My cell phone rings. It’s Jennifer, the clerk from the Tom Thumb store who rented Jacob the movie on the night he was abducted. The two of us have become friends. I pick up the phone and can’t remember if we even got words out. I think she said something like, “Oh, Joy,” and I said, “I know.” And then we both fell apart. She is the first person I talked to.

My phone is blowing up. Reporters are requesting a comment. Friends are sending condolences. Well-wishers are sending congratulations.

I just want to crawl back into bed and pretend this isn’t happening. There should be some sense of relief, but there’s nothing. Just emptiness and sadness. Deep, profound, dark, overwhelming sadness. I can’t help but think about the Wetterlings. I worry for them and wonder how they’ll cope over the next few days. And I think to myself… my God… I did this. I took their hope away. And nothing about it feels better. It just feels so profoundly sad.

……….

Next time… an early morning sunrise and a trip to Temple Square…

 


Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Read comments