Finding the Ocean – Chapter 4

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.

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

 


It was Day 2 of my road trip, and after receiving an alert about low pressure in my left rear tire, I also realized I was almost 2,000 miles overdue for an oil change. I exited in Rapid City, and immediately began searching for an oil change place. I found the one closest to me – Super Lube – and waited for it to open at 8 AM. I was their first customer of the day, and they took great care of me, even letting me bring Zoey into their customer waiting area while they changed my oil.

I struck up a conversation with another woman who was waiting… a fellow dog lover who wanted to know all about my crazy cross-country road trip. She told me she was also from Minnesota, but had lived in Rapid City for many years. She and her husband had raised their family there and absolutely loved it. She tried to convince me to stay and see some of the amazing sights, and though it all sounded incredibly tempting, I knew I wouldn’t have time if I wanted to fit everything in and still meet Ross in Whitefish, Montana by Thursday.

When my car was ready, Zoey and I said goodbye to our new waiting room friend, and I went to pay. I asked the service man if they had checked my tire pressure, and he said yes… all was well. But, when I mentioned the alert I’d seen on my dashboard, he went to check my left rear tire again.

“I see the problem,” he said.

I went over to see what he was looking at.

“Right here. You have a nail in your tire,” he told me.

And sure enough, I did.

“So now what?” I asked him. “Do I need a new tire?”

“Oh no. You can get that patched up. There’s a place right across the street.”

He pointed to Hills Tire & Supply, which was, literally, right across the street.

“Do I need an appointment?” I asked him.

“Usually,” he said, “But I’m sure they’ll be able to fit you in.”

I thanked him and headed over to Hills Tire & Supply. They were incredibly nice and worked me into their schedule so I didn’t need to make an appointment and come back. While I waited, Zoey and I went for a walk. It was a beautiful September day and it felt great to get outside and move around a bit.

It was September 2nd.

September 2nd.

Exactly one year earlier, I had received a call that would change my life forever.

……….

I was at work when Patty called.

“Can you talk?” she asks me. Immediately, I can tell something is wrong. “One sec,” I tell her. I get up and shut my office door. I sit back down.

“Danny Heinrich confessed,” she tells me.

I am jarred beyond words.

Through tears, she continues.

He’s buried on a farm in Paynesville. They’re digging. Trying to find him. It’s been three days. They found Jacob’s jacket. Trying to confirm that it’s his. Can’t find his name that was on it. Found a jaw bone and some teeth. Ran tests. Not human. Went back and talked to Heinrich some more. Brought him out to the site.  He showed them where to dig. Now they’re digging again. They’ve been digging all day. Still digging.

I struggle to process what she’s telling me. I’m on speaker phone. Jerry is with her. It’s part of a plea deal. We can’t say anything. They are on their way to the Cities to be with their family.

“Is this really it?” I ask them in disbelief. “Are they going to find him?”

Yes. This is really happening… go home… take the rest of the day off… we’ll call you.

The world is moving slowly. I’m shaking, crying. I don’t know what to say. I care about these people so much, but in this moment, I can’t think of a single logical thing to say. I’m just so deeply… painfully… profoundly sorry.

I hang up.

I need to get out of here.

I tell my co-worker I’m sick, and by this time, it’s the truth. She can see that something is very wrong. She asks me if I’m OK. I don’t remember if I answered her. I leave.

I wait for Ross to get home from work. When he finally comes through the door, I tell him. He holds me as I fall apart. Together we wait. Late afternoon turns to early evening. Still, we wait. I can’t take it anymore. I tell Ross I want to drive by and see what’s happening. We won’t stop or even slow down. I just want to see if they’re still digging. Or if the media is there. Please God, don’t let the media be there. We get in the car. Drive by. I see a lot of vehicles… maybe eight or so. All unmarked. Nothing seems out of the ordinary. No media. No helicopters. So far so good. Except that they’re still there. Still digging. They still haven’t found him.

I can’t go back home and wait anymore. I ask Ross if he wants to go to the Red Onion for a burger. It’s a takeout place. I don’t want to see anyone. He convinces me to go to the bowling alley instead. They have better burgers. I’m afraid we’ll run into someone we know. I don’t want to pretend to be happy. He convinces me nobody will be there. Of course, everybody is there.

We order our burgers. Ross gets up to go to the bathroom and I’m sitting by myself when Patty calls. I pick up the phone and walk outside.

“They found him.”

……….

When Zoey and I returned to the repair shop after our walk, the technician showed me the steel tack they’d removed from my tire. It’s hard to believe such a tiny little thing could wreak such havoc.

“Do you want to save it?” the nice man asked me.

I told him no and took a picture instead. He tossed the tack into a large jar of other havoc-inducing items, then I paid my bill and was on my way again.

I decided to make one more stop before I left the luxury of this biggish town. After my horrible night’s sleep in the back of my Explorer, I wanted to see if I could find a self-inflating air mattress like the one I’d used on the JWRC Wilderness Trek  just five weeks earlier. It had worked like magic. I simply unrolled the mat, and it puffed itself up with no further effort on my part. I was amazed by the brilliance of this thing.

[Incidentally, I hadn’t thought to question the science or witchcraftery of this device at the time I was using it, but today as I sat here writing this blog post, I seriously wondered how this thing actually worked. If you’re curious, you can find out here: https://www.alpinetrek.co.uk/base-camp/self-inflating-sleeping-mats/ ]

I did some checking online and found a nearby Runnings store that carried self-inflating air mattresses. Although I couldn’t picture Ross and me tenting together in our near future (or ever), it seemed like a self-inflating air mattress was the sort of thing a person should purchase in pairs. So, I bought two.

By now, it was just after 10:00 AM and it was already nearing 80 degrees. It was going to be a hot one, and although I had parked in the shade and left all the windows open, Zoey was panting by the time I got back to the car. I let her out, gave her some water, and off we went again. Clearly, having a dog along on this road trip was starting to present some challenges I hadn’t anticipated. No worries though. I was anxious to get back on the road and make some tracks.

With my destination still set as “San Francisco – city center,” I followed my GPS and smiled when I noticed I was on “St. Joseph Street.” (St. Joseph was Jacob’s hometown.) A few minutes later, I missed a turn somehow and had to do a few cloverleafs to get back on the right path again. I’m not exactly sure where I was, but somewhere in that misguided loop, I saw something else that made me smile and wonder. On the back of a metal road sign, someone had spray painted a #11.

I thought about circling back and trying to take a picture, but I didn’t want to be delayed any further. Instead, I kept going and decided to just commit that one to memory.

I still wonder though. Did someone do that for Jacob? Had the #11forJacob movement spread all the way to Rapid City, South Dakota?

I wanted desperately to believe that it had.

Next time… a brief interruption to my story

 

Graphic courtesy of Jacob Wetterling Resource Center

 


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6 Comments

  1. Lori Braegelmann |

    My bet is the #11 painted on the back of the sign in rapid city is a Jacob sign. We are from St. Cloud and my son goes to college in rapid city. There are other local kids that go to college there too. It’s an engineering school called South Dakota school of mines and technology. Rapid city is a great town with friendly people and lots to do.

  2. It is always such a pleasure to read anything you have posted, Joy. I am enjoying this story so much. Looking forward to the next chapter. Thanks for continuing to share your talent.

  3. I am looking forward to more of your adventure.

  4. I am inspired…planning my next Summer trip around Lake Superior. This is something I have always wanted to do. I was going to take the dog but not sure about the logistics. Thanks for sharing and pushing me through your writing.

  5. St. Joseph and # 11? Jacob’s spirit is guiding you along on this trip!

  6. I think you could write a book about your successful hunt for Jacob’s killer. It would make interesting reading!

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