Finding the Ocean – Chapter 2

On September 1, 2017, I did something a little crazy. (Again.) 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.

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

 


 

“A general southwest direction and a bird on a sign post”

It’s hard to describe the giddiness I felt as I pulled out of the driveway and began my quest to go find the ocean. I plugged my phone into the USB outlet on my dashboard, cranked the volume on my car stereo, and starting singing along to Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain.” I had put together this “Fourteener” playlist back in July 2016 in preparation for my 14,003 foot hike up Colorado’s Huron Peak to help raise money for the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.

Little did I know at the time, Jacob would be found just two months later. Two months.

Now, as I sat behind the wheel belting out Zeppelin lyrics, I pulled up to the stop sign at MN Hwy 23 and then did exactly the opposite of what I had just told my husband I was going to do. Instead of “pointing my car in a general southwest direction,” I mistakenly turned left and started heading north toward I-94 out of sheer habit.

I suppose I should make an admission here. There is perhaps no one on this planet who is more directionally-challenged than me. For me to believe for even a second that I could “Jedi” my way to San Francisco by pointing my car in a “general southwest direction” was so ludicrous that I may as well have told Ross I was leaving to go swim the English Channel. But, I do love a challenge, and really, how hard could it be…

Well there’s a light in your eye that keeps shining
Like a star that can’t wait for the night
I hate to think I’ve been blinded baby
Why can’t I see you tonight?

As I happily sang along to “Fool in the Rain,” the song eventually blended into “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys, and then into “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire.

Do you remember the 21st night of September?
Love was changing the minds of pretenders
While chasing the clouds away…..

I had the moon roof open, stereo blaring, hair blowing… just grooving along in my happy place. And then, suddenly…

There I was.

Paynesville.

What the hell. As I realized my mistake, I pounded on the steering wheel and squeezed my eyes shut as they welled up with tears. The whole point of my trip was to try and forget all the horribleness I had experienced one year earlier, and now, here I was… Paynesville. Seriously, what the hell. I cursed under my breath, turned around, and started heading back the way I had come.

As I returned to New London, I noticed my gas tank was nearly empty. I rolled my eyes at my own ridiculous self and sheepishly pulled into the Country Stop gas station, about a mile and a half from my house. I filled up with gas – trying not to make eye contact with anyone – and started on my way again. It had been almost 45 minutes and I hadn’t even gotten out of of New London yet.

I had a good run for about 35 miles until I reached the small town of Clara City. It was there I needed to make my first major decision. Before I started my trip, I had told myself I was only going to use the compass on my car to get to San Francisco… no maps, no GPS, no Ross. My plan was to keep driving on the road I was following until one of two things happened: (1) it ended, or (2) it stopped going “in a general southwest direction.”

In Clara City, I came to my first major intersection and had to decide whether to continue on MN Hwy 23 toward Granite Falls, or go west on MN Hwy 7 toward Montevideo. Easy enough. I’d never been to Montevideo before, so I decided to go with the latter.

However, as I sat at the intersection of MN 23 and MN 7, I stared at the compass on my car. It said I was facing south, and logically, I knew that. But, to the right of the “S” was an “E” where the “W” should have been. How could that be? I resorted to my self-taught navigational skills. I pictured myself at the crosshairs of a compass, facing south with my back to the north. I remembered from my elementary years that a compass spelled “WE” across the middle, so I knew that if I turned to the right, I should be facing west… right? But my compass said I would be going east if I turned right. Admittedly, I am no Galileo, but common sense told me that was wrong.

I turned right onto MN Hwy 7, and lo and behold, the compass fixed itself. Suddenly, it showed me heading west, but now the “N” and “S” were flipped. I pictured myself on the mental crosshairs again. If I was facing the W with my back to the E, shouldn’t the N be to my right and the S to my left?? It was completely maddening.

In order to fix the problem, I turned up the music and decided to ignore the compass. Maybe it was broken.

I moseyed along on MN 7 for another 20 miles or so, admiring the beautiful scenery and the vast corn fields that were just starting to turn yellow in preparation for fall harvest. It was then I pulled into the pretty river town of Montevideo and hit my first major snag. The road that would take me west – US 212 – was closed for construction. That left me with two options. I could either go east on US 212 – which I knew to be altogether wrong – or I could turn back and go north on MN 7 / US 59 toward Appleton. I had no idea where Appleton was, but at this point I didn’t care… I just knew I didn’t want to go east. So, I turned around and hung a left toward Appleton.

I’d been on the road for about 10 minutes, singing along to ABBA’s “Waterloo”, when I went zinging past a small sign that pointed to the left and said “Madison.” Although I had never been to Madison before, I at least knew it was somewhere near the Minnesota/South Dakota border. I hit the brakes, made a quick U-turn, then turned onto Cty Rd 14, finally heading west again.

It was about this time the skies COMPLETELY UNLOOSED and rain began to pummel the windshield of my car. I turned on my wipers as fast as they would go, but still, they could barely keep up and I was having a hard time keeping my car between the rumble strips. As I inched along, it rained hard for a good 10 minutes before the clouds finally began to break up and the rain slowed to a drizzle.

Not long after, I pulled up to a stop sign and saw the most extraordinary thing. Just off to my right, a bald eagle was sitting on top of a road sign facing me with its wings outstretched, feathers ruffling in the wind. I stared at it… completely mesmerized. It didn’t flinch. It didn’t fly away. It just sat there… majestic… staring straight into the wind and drying its feathers after the heavy downpour.

I don’t know how long I sat there staring at that eagle before another car pulled up behind me and I had to move along. It was truly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. I wish I had a picture to share, but I don’t. The best I can do is show you a picture I took last week after retracing my route in an attempt to find this intersection again. It took me a while to remember all the twists and turns I had taken, but I recognized the intersection the moment I pulled up to it. It was just outside Madison at the corner of Cty Rd 20 and Cty Rd 25. The eagle was sitting on top of that yellow sign off to the right.

There is a reason why I’m sharing this story, and I’ll get to that much later. But for now, just trust me when I say this was an incredibly powerful moment for me. I had no tears as I stared at that magnificent bird… just awe and wonder. As I continued on, I felt comforted knowing that maybe Jacob’s spirit was with me on this journey.

I continued straight on MN Hwy 40, passing through the small towns of Madison and Marietta. Finally, I crossed the border into South Dakota, and after a few more lefts and rights, I eventually found my way back to US Hwy 212, heading west into Watertown.

All in all, it had taken me three and a half hours to get to Watertown, South Dakota, a trip that should have taken me less than two.

My phone rang. It was Ross.

“How’s it going?” he asked me with a smirk in his voice.

“Good!” I replied. “I just got to Watertown.”

“I see that,” he said.

Howls of laughter.

“Where are you?” I asked.

It was then he admitted he was having cocktails with our friends Steve and Jane at their house. For the past three hours, all three of them had been watching and laughing as they followed my progress on “Find My iPhone.”

“Hilarious,” I said. “Glad I could provide the happy hour entertainment.”

Honestly, I did think it was pretty funny, and truth be told, I found it oddly comforting that Ross could check my progress and know my whereabouts at any given moment. Of course, I would never tell him that.

After I hung up, I realized I was never going to make it to San Francisco at this rate. I was done with the compass/Jedi method. Maybe I hadn’t found the ocean by just “pointing my car in a general southwest direction,” but I had found South Dakota, and that was good enough. I turned on my car’s navigation system, punched in “San Francisco – city center” and got on the nearest freeway.

About an hour later, I was still on I-29 heading south toward Sioux Falls when I was gobsmacked once again.

Coming up on my right was a huge billboard with only two words… “Be Kind.”

Just days after Jacob’s remains had been found, a youth soccer team from Maryland contacted the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center and asked if they could wear Jacob’s jersey number, #11, to honor him at their next game.

Alison Feigh, Program Manager for the JWRC (as well as a classmate of Jacob’s), called Jacob’s mom, Patty, to get her thoughts. She quickly agreed, but decided that if a team did request to wear Jacob’s jersey number, it should mean something. They put their heads together and came up with the following eleven traits that Jacob both lived and valued in his short eleven years:

  1. Be Fair
  2. Be Kind
  3. Be Understanding
  4. Be Honest
  5. Be Thankful
  6. Be a Good Sport
  7. Be a Good Friend
  8. Be Joyful
  9. Be Generous
  10. Be Gentle with others
  11. Be Positive

The #11forJacob movement took off, and soon it was everywhere. Everyone wanted to honor Jacob and the Wetterling family by wearing Jacob’s jersey number and emulating his eleven traits.

And now, as I stared at that billboard in disbelief, I knew something was happening that was bigger than me. My goal for this journey had been to forget… to move on, to get over it, to get a grip. I simply could not understand what my problem was. Why did I feel such deep grief for this boy I had never known? I wanted to forget, but no matter where I looked… even here in Nowhere, South Dakota… there was Jacob.

Maybe I wasn’t meant to forget. Maybe none of us were.

Maybe we all are meant to remember.

Next time… a minor setback

Video courtesy of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center


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11 Comments

  1. Claudia Hopkins |

    Oh I am loving your posts. Book in the future??????

  2. Joy, I’m fascinated by the tale you’re telling. Its testimony to your dogged determination to complete your journey no matter how fate attempted to dampen that determination.

    Eagles are incredible creatures. Not only the symbol of this country’s also determined and continuous effort to maintain freedom but for hundreds of years a Native American symbol of great faith.

    I am fascinated by Native American history and culture. In all ways the eagle is viewed spiritually and with great respect. Typically they are seen as blessings of ones efforts and messengers of ones thoughts and prayers to the Great Creator.

    I believe in your case the Eagle was both! So carry on I will be waiting for your next post. Thanks Holly

  3. joy.the.curious |

    Holly… how awesome! I didn’t know any of that. Thanks for sharing.

  4. joy.the.curious |

    Thanks Claudia. No plans for now.

  5. Kristi Weber Montoya |

    Milan is on Hwy 7 & Hwy 40 & is a very interesting town! You should also check out the Meander
    https://www.facebook.com/MeanderArtCrawl/?fb_dtsg_ag=Adxc1ZYBtaPQq-jTAe8-xCnO0-AMewGzusuB0cioHMlDwg%3AAdyxH6cpXkcnypcVJ6qRRR6a1048t1A-JgHHcuS6UTPrmA
    It is a blast!!!

  6. Enjoying your blog, joy. Two questions… You’ve never been to Montevideo before? And where is there a street light in Clara city!? ;). Looking forward to your next one. JP.

  7. joy.the.curious |

    Oops… good catch J.P. Trying to piece together a lot of this from memory!

  8. I was laughing and suddenly I’m crying. Love you Cuz.

  9. Betsy Blackhawk |

    I love your story, I can’t wait to read the next chapter.
    Regarding the Eagle, Holly is correct in a way. Usually on the anniversary of my fathers passing, or when I’m thinking a lot about him and missing him, or when a song that he liked comes on the radio, every single time….I look up and there’s an Eagle above me. Other times when I’m very sad, or praying, or struggling with something, I look up and there’s an Eagle. I know that he is watching over me. That eagle you saw, it wanted you to see him. Whomever may be watching over you, or wanted to see you, they knew what you were reflecting on. I am always grateful and give thanks anytime that happens. They are allowing us to see them, it means something, we pray and say, thank you. And yes, it is comforting. Take it as a wonderful sign, you are on the right path, and doing what you were meant to do. And they are smiling upon you.

  10. Jacob’s spirit is definitely with you on this journey!

  11. Hello Joy. Thank you for taking us along on your trip. I don’t want to put a damper on your trip, but Southwest will NOT take you to San Francisco. You will end up in San Diego. Once you get there, just head North. Along your southern drive, take the time to stop in Bisbee, AZ. It is very south in AZ (an hour south of Tucson and 20 miles south of tombstone) near the Mexican border. Bisbee is one of the most unique cities I have ever been to. Our son teaches college there. Contact him ahead of time, and he should be able to provide you with a tour. He is formerly from St. Cloud, where he graduated from Apollo High School and St. John’s University. A bit of trivia: Alison Feigh’s brother is the guy who tosses his wallet into the Hudson River in the Liberty Insurance commercial on TV. Have a safe trip!!!

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