Posts made in December, 2018

Finding the Ocean – Chapter 12

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


After spending a few hours hours walking the beach and admiring the views at Crissy Field, Zoey and I headed back to our hotel room. I was looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep, then getting up early and seeing more spectacular views of the Pacific Coast as I drove north toward Oregon on US 101.

We made it back to the Hotel del Sol around 7 PM and I immediately slipped into my pajamas, excited beyond words to finally sleep in a REAL BED and not in the back of my Ford Explorer. I turned on the TV, plugged in my iPhone and decided to check-in and see what was shaking with the rest of the world.

I texted my friend Stacey (Stephanie’s mom from Chapter 6) and sent her a few videos of Zoey playing on the beach. She asked me where I was heading next, so I told her I was heading north on the Pacific Coast Highway into Oregon, then cutting across through Idaho, and up into Montana so I could meet Ross in Whitefish on Thursday. I was planning to go to bed early so I could wake up and get out of town before rush hour started. It would be the Tuesday after Labor Day… a work day… and I had seen enough of the crazy traffic in this town to know I wanted to avoid that scenario at all cost.

Stacey texted back:

They evacuated the other side of the lake where Mitch lives and then sent him and two other guys to the evacuated area to protect the boats.

What??

Stacey’s youngest son, Mitch, lives in Montana and works for Glacier Park Boats on Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. After telling her my plans, she gave me an update on the Sprague Fire that was devastating Glacier National Park at the time. By that evening (September 4, 2017), the fire had spread to over 13,000 acres and was only 35 percent contained.

I asked Stacey how in the world Mitch was supposed to protect the boats. Shouldn’t he be evacuating, too??

Mitch had told her the plan was to take all the boats into the middle of the lake and stay with them, swabbing them down to make sure the sparks and ashes didn’t start the boats on fire. Included in the fleet were at least 3-4 historic wooden tour boats that were each over 100 years old. Mitch was in charge of guarding the DeSmet, the flagship vessel in the company’s wooden boat fleet.

Here’s a very cool picture Stacey sent me of Mitch guarding the DeSmet. It may look very tranquil and peaceful, but it wasn’t. Normally, there would be beautiful views of the mountains and glaciers behind him, but the smoke was so thick you could see none of that.

Good Lord. I asked Stacey if she was a nervous wreck.

“Yep,” she replied. “Maybe you should skip Montana on your way home.”

She sent me one other photo that Mitch had sent to her. How incredibly amazing is this?

The Northern Lights and Sprague Wildfire from the shore of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park Montana. The Sprague fire was started on August 10th 2017 by a lightning strike. This shot was taken in late August just days before this wildfire burned the historic Sperry Chalet. Photo credit heavenspeakphotography.com.

OK. Wow. Perhaps it was time to reevaluate my plan. By now, I had caught a few news updates on TV that told me Montana wasn’t the only state experiencing wildfires. In fact, the reason the sun was so hazy over San Francisco Bay was because of the wildfires burning throughout northern California and Oregon.

Crap.

That’s exactly where I had been planning on going. I got out of bed, pulled out my laptop and started searching for more details about these wildfires. I learned that the wildfires in Oregon had shut down several roads, and I worried there would be no way to cut across the state without driving right into the thick of it. Even worse, I worried I might find myself trapped as the winds were constantly changing and whipping up the intensity and direction of the fires.

Here’s a map from September 5, 2017 that shows the smoke forecast from the wildfires. As I studied the wildfire map and compared it to all my route options on Google Maps, I realized there was no way I could get to Whitefish, Montana by going up the Pacific Coast Highway through Oregon. It was time for a new plan.

Photo credit: wildfiretoday.com

Wine Country!!

I took another look at Google Maps and figured out I could still follow US 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge and get to Napa in about an hour. From there, I could cut back across Nevada, then head north into Wyoming and maybe drop in on my friend Inger in Jackson Hole (which just so happens to be one of my very favorite places on earth). Perfect! It was about as good of a Plan B as a person could hope for.

I set my alarm for 4:30 AM and was up, showered, and ready to hit the road by 5 AM. I fed Zoey, took her out for a quick walk (it was still dark), then packed all our belongings back in the Explorer and prepared to hit the road. Before pulling out, I entered “Napa” on my car’s GPS and started on my way.

By 5:30 AM, downtown San Francisco was already a madhouse. I was happy I’d made the decision to leave extra early, but even still, I marveled at the crazy amount of traffic in this town. It was still dark, but I was hopeful I’d be able to snap a few photos of the Golden Gate Bridge as I was going over it. I continued to follow my car’s GPS, completely oblivious to where I was or which direction I was heading. And then… there I was… going back over the BAY BRIDGE instead of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Noooo!!! How did THAT happen?

I was so mad. I thought about turning back and trying again, but the line of cars heading into San Francisco on the Bay Bridge from the other direction was at a complete standstill. There was no way I was going to try and navigate that fracas, so I decided to just keep driving.

So, again, here’s what I missed.

Upon arriving home, I was told by countless people that the scenery on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge is absolutely stunning. This is the site of Muir Woods National Monument, and home to the coastal redwood trees… the tallest living things on the planet. The tallest one in Muir Woods is 258 feet, which is almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty. And I missed it.

Photo credit: nps.gov/goga

I also missed the Muir Beach Overlook which provides expansive views of the Pacific Coast…

Photo credit: nps.gov/goga

…and I missed the Marin Headlands, with their beautiful hiking trails and spectacular views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Photo credit: nps.gov/goga

Ah, well… next time I promised myself I would do this trip better. For now though, I was off to wine country. Napa, baby!

It only took me about an hour to get to Napa from San Francisco, so there I was at 7 AM. Everything was closed and it was too early to tour any wineries, so the best I could do was just drive around for a while. It was still hazy because of all the smoke from the wildfires, but I imagined this place would be absolutely gorgeous on a clear sunny day with the sun rising over those beautiful vine-covered hills. I tried taking a picture out my driver-side window, but it’s not pretty. This is not the beautiful Napa Valley I had envisioned in my head for most of my adult life.

Once again, I felt like I was zigging when I should have been zagging. I figured it would be at least noon until any of the wineries opened, but I wasn’t willing to just wait around for five hours. The drive to Jackson Hole was at least 10 hours from here (not including stops) and I wanted to make it as far as I could before having to stop for the night. A five hour delay just was not in the cards. But, by God, I would not be leaving wine country without any wine.

I started Googling again. The best I could find was a Safeway grocery store about 10 miles away that was open 24 hours. Good enough. I hit “start” on the GPS and found my way there.

I spent the next half hour wandering the “Spirits” aisle at Safeway, studying the wine labels and trying to decide which ones I wanted to buy for gifts. This is one of my favorite things to do, and while most people probably pay more attention to things like vintages and critical reviews, I spend the majority of my time looking at the labels. I love the ones with a creative name, a cool design, or an intriguing backstory.

In particular, I wanted to bring back a bottle of California wine for Patty, so I narrowed it down to six labels that reminded me of her. In the end, I couldn’t decide on just one, so I bought them all… along with a few others to help fill the case.

As I got back in the car, I promised myself I would return to wine country one day and do this place justice. I would have a plan, an itinerary, reservations, discretionary income, friends, and no dog. In the meantime, I was grateful for a 24/7 Safeway and a full case of wine in my backseat.

Now then… on to Jackson Hole.

(Incidentally, there was a terrible wildfire that hit wine country about a month after I returned home. It started northwest of where I was, near Calistoga, and moved quickly south, propelled by dry conditions and high winds. The worst area hit was Santa Rosa, where several people lost their lives after being trapped by the flames. As of October 31, 2017, the Tubbs Fire had burned 36,807 acres and had a death toll of 22. Altogether, there were at least 43 fatalities in the 2017 fires in northern California.)

I drove back the way I had come… over Donner Pass and across Nevada on I-80. When I reached Wells, I hung a left on U.S. 93 and continued north until I reached Twin Falls, Idaho. It was dark and I didn’t want to drive the pass into Jackson Hole at night, so I decided to stop and find a hotel. I figured I would get a good night’s sleep and be able to take a shower in the morning before heading to Inger’s house. I hadn’t told her I was coming yet and wasn’t even sure if she’d be around, but I figured I’d email her in the morning and see if it worked out.

I found a pet-friendly Super 8 in Twin Falls, so Zoey and I stopped for the night and took a much-needed break. I had been driving for over 11 hours and had covered 700 miles. That was a lot. I was happy to stop driving.

As I got into bed, I opened my laptop to plot my route and see how long it would take me to get to Jackson Hole. I opened a browser window and noticed a bold red “Breaking News” banner running across the top of my default home page… the West Central Tribune… my local newspaper in Willmar, Minnesota.

Jasmine Block had been found.

She was the 15 year old girl from Alexandria, Minnesota who had gone missing on August 8th. I’d seen a “Missing” poster for her at a rest area in Lusk, Wyoming, back when I had first started my road trip. Now, she’d been found alive and was finally home safe.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. She’d been kidnapped by a 32 year old man, Thomas Barker, who lived in a nearby town and was an acquaintance of the family. Jasmine was held captive and sexually abused by Barker and two other men for almost a month. She was kept in the back part of a house, often in a closet with her hands zip-tied, and was transported in a duffel bag whenever the men moved her from place to place. They’d even tried to kill her on several occasions, but she managed to survive. Finally, after almost a month, she was able to escape after being left alone for the first time in the suspects’ truck. She ran from door to door looking for help and then swam part way across a small lake until a local farmer found her and brought her to safety.

Read the story here…

I had been thinking about Jasmine a lot on this trip and had been praying she’d be found alive. Now that she had, I was all sorts of happy/sad/confused/angry. Who are these people? Who does this to children? Why hadn’t investigators been able to find her sooner? Why does this keep happening? How can we do better?

As I write this, I’m also thinking of Jayme Closs, the 13 year old girl from Barron, Wisconsin who disappeared (presumably kidnapped) on October 15, 2018… the same night her parents were found shot and murdered in their home. Why? What happened? Where’s Jayme? What are we missing? How can we do better?

Next time… facing September 6th and that horrible day in the courtroom…

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Finding the Ocean – Chapter 11

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


The friendly staff at the Hotel del Sol had my room ready by noon, and Zoey and I immediately made ourselves at home in our cute new digs. I unpacked the YETI cooler bag, rinsed all the peach and strawberry slime off everything, then put the two remaining yogurts, bag of goose jerky, and knee surgery ice packs into the mini fridge. I rinsed out the cooler in the bathtub, gave Zoey a fresh bowl of water, then went to take a shower.

Ahhh…. a shower. The date was Monday, September 4, 2017, and I hadn’t had a shower since I’d left my house in Minnesota three days earlier. It was heaven.

I got dressed and dried my hair while Zoey eyed me with mild curiosity from the other room. I often wonder what goes through a dog’s head in moments like this. Did she wonder what we were doing, where we were, or why we were here? Did she even care? Did she realize we had just traveled over 2,000 miles for no better reason than to “go find the ocean?” I will always marvel at the blind faith and absolute trust Zoey has in me. She goes along with my every whim… never questioning, never judging… and is just so happy to live in the moment. She stares at me with those big brown eyes, with nothing but love on her fuzzy face, and waits patiently for me to make my next crazy move. She is such good therapy. We could learn a lot from dogs.

I grabbed my iPhone and checked the time. It was a little before 1pm (PST), and I was starving. Time to go find something a little better to eat than yogurt and goose jerky.

I popped into the hotel office on my way out to the street and asked where I could get a bite to eat. The nice man at the desk handed me a walking map of the Marina District and directed me two blocks south to Union Street. He said there were all kinds of restaurants and cafes there with sidewalk seating so I could bring Zoey. Perfect. I was starting to love this town.

I headed toward Union Street with a smile on my face and a new skip in my step. Just a block from my hotel, I noticed a message on the sidewalk and had to stop to take a picture.

When I reached Union Street, I quickly saw that my nice hotel man had not steered me wrong. The street was lined with sidewalk cafes, all up and down. Sidewalk cafes and people. Sooo many people. I walked along and weighed my options, stopping to read the menus posted outside the doors and hoping to find an empty table anywhere. No luck. Once again, I realized it was Labor Day and the whole world had apparently moved from Fisherman’s Wharf to Union Street for lunch.

I cruised up and down Union Street a few times, taking in the amazing salads, pastas, and sandwiches people were enjoying while I grew more and more desperate for a bite of real food. Finally, I noticed a pizza place with an open table outside… Extreme Pizza. I sauntered in, ordered two slices of pepperoni pizza and a cold Corona, then went to join Zoey on the front porch. Maybe it wasn’t wine in a REAL GLASS and I wasn’t eating my pizza with a REAL FORK, but I was deliriously happy. Never had pizza and a cold beer tasted so good.

It was just after 2pm and I had gone straight from starving to exhausted. According to my walking map, I was only about two miles away from the beach at Crissy Field, but that was about two miles more than I could muster at the moment. I had officially hit the wall.

I needed a nap.

Zoey and I headed back to the hotel and we slept like the dead for two hours. Finally, around 4pm, I got up, fluffed my bedhead-hair, put on my crooked aviators, and set out to go find the ocean.

We hung a left out of the Hotel del Sol and followed Lombard Street to Fillmore Street where we hung a right and headed north. As I walked along, it seemed to me there was a lot of creative parking in San Francisco. Wherever there was a spare sliver of space, random parking spots appeared… even if they were right in the middle of the road. Crazy, but clever.

Finally, I made it to Marina Boulevard. I could see the bay straight ahead of me and I was so close I could smell the water. I crossed the street and headed left along the walking/biking path, toward Crissy Field.

As I passed the marina on my right, I came to a big grassy field and picnic area with people and dogs everywhere. This really was a dog-friendly town. I crossed the grassy field and headed straight for the water. Unbeknownst to me, there was a spectacular view waiting for me right behind that row of trees.

And then, there it was… the Golden Gate Bridge. We had finally made it.

Zoey was dying to get in the water, and I was dying to see her reaction when she got her first taste of the salty water. I took her off her leash and let her go.

I couldn’t get over the view. While Zoey played in the water, I just sat and stared, mesmerized. The Golden Gate Bridge. I wondered why they called it that, since it was clearly orange and not gold. I would have to get to the bottom of that later. For now, I needed a picture. I stopped a random passerby and asked if he would take a photo for me. He graciously obliged.

As it turns out, it was U.S. Army Captain John C. Fremont who originally coined the phrase, “Golden Gate.” The Golden Gate Bridge is simply the name of the bridge that crosses over the Golden Gate.

On July 1, 1846, two years before the discovery of gold in California U.S. Army Captain John C. Fremont gazed at the narrow strait that separates the Bay from the Pacific Ocean, and said “it is a golden gate to trade with the Orient.” The name first appeared in his Geographical Memoir, submitted to the U.S. Senate on June 5, 1848, when he wrote, “to this Gate I gave the name of “Chrysopylae” or “Golden Gate” for the same reasons that the harbor of Byzantium was called Chrysoceras, or Golden Horn.” (SOURCE: GoldenGateBridge.org)

I also wondered about the name “Crissy Field.” It seemed an odd name for a beach. I found out later that Crissy Field was named in honor of Major Dana Crissy who was killed in October 1919 while participating in a U.S. Army transcontinental demonstration flight. Crissy Field was the military’s first Air Coast Defense Station on the Pacific coast.

According to Wikipedia:

Crissy Field, a former U.S. Armyairfield, is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San FranciscoCaliforniaUnited States. Historically part of the Presidio of San Francisco, Crissy Field closed as an airfield after 1974. Under Army control, the site was affected by dumping of hazardous materials.[1] The National Park Service took control of the area in 1994 and cleaned it up, and in 2001 the Crissy Field Center opened to the public.[2] While most buildings have been preserved as they were in the 1920s, some have been transformed into offices, retail space, and residences.

I found a section of sea wall to sit on so I could just sit still for a minute and take it all in. Throughout my life, water has always made everything better. It is my calming agent, my happy place, and the first place I want to go when things get stressful. I was a swimmer throughout junior high and high school, and no matter how hard (or early) the workouts, I couldn’t wait to get in that pool. It was the one place my mind could just be quiet. No noise, no distractions, no deadlines. Just me and the water, back and forth.

I am still drawn to the water. Lakes, oceans, rivers, waterfalls… it doesn’t matter. Whether I’m swimming in it, floating on it, walking by it, or just plain staring at it… it is the one place I always want to be.

Now, as I breathed in the salty air of San Francisco Bay and stared at the gentle, calming waves, I was happy to be sharing the experience with the one friend I knew loved the water as much as I did… Zoey.

Crissy Field’s East Beach was filled with people and dogs. Zoey fit right in and was soon making fast friends.  She fetched up a paper plate for me to throw for her, and when that didn’t work, she found an empty Play-Doh container which kept her busy for another short while.

I could have sat there and watched the ocean show all evening. It was about 5:15 PM, and as I looked west, I realized the sun would set right behind the Golden Gate Bridge. I wondered what time that would happen. It was hazy, but I could see that the sun still had a ways to go before it sizzled into the ocean. I figured I had a few hours, so I decided to bide my time until sunset.

I walked down to the water and Zoey followed me with her Play-Doh container. I tried throwing it for her, but it was so windy, the container just flew right back at me. To make it heavier, I filled it full of water then threw it again. That worked. Zoey swam after it, then returned and dropped it next to my feet again. I did this a few more times, then started walking down the beach, heading east.

I watched a bunch of crazy kite surfers for a while. As the wind caught their sail, they would fly out of the water, board still strapped to their feet, then glide along in mid-air before landing back on the water again. I wondered what would happen if they lost their grip and the kite flew out of their hands. As I watched and contemplated all the potential hazards of this crazy sport, I noticed a small island off in the background. Hey… was that Alcatraz?? I pulled out my phone and Googled it. Sure enough, it was. I had no idea. I zoomed in and took a quick photo.

As I watched the kite boarders and continued to throw the Play-Doh container for Zoey, I noticed another black lab swimming off in the distance. It was a little way off shore, and I wondered if it had swum out to fetch something and lost sight of whatever it was looking for. I glanced around looking for the owner, but I didn’t see anyone watching. Then, suddenly, the dog sunk and didn’t come back up.

I panicked. I started hurrying down the shore looking for the owner. I knew Zoey well enough to know that the same thing could very well happen to her. She would never give up if she was trying to fetch something, and maybe the strong current was just too much. As I got closer, I still couldn’t see anyone looking for the dog. Where was the owner?? I was just about to say something to a random stranger when I overheard someone say something about the seals in the bay. Seals? Here? In San Francisco Bay? Again, I had no idea. Sheepishly, I realized my mistake. It wasn’t a black lab I had seen; it was a seal. I turned around and started heading back the way I had come with Zoey happily carrying her Play-Doh container alongside me.

The whole thing unnerved me so much, I took Zoey’s Play-Doh container away and threw it into the nearest garbage can. Do seals attack dogs? At the very least, I knew sharks did, and from what I remembered of Escape from Alcatraz, the waters surrounding that island prison were infested with sharks. I shuddered. Sorry Zoey. No more swimming for you.

I put her back on her leash and headed back to the safety of our sea wall. As the sun started to work its way closer to the water, I suddenly realized maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to walk back to my hotel after dark. I put my shoes on and decided to start heading back. I had at least two more days to drive north along the Pacific Coast Highway into Oregon, so I knew I’d have more chances to view this beautiful ocean shore. I couldn’t wait. Tomorrow morning, I would get up extra early and leave before rush hour so I could drive over that beautiful Golden Gate Bridge on my way to the Oregon coast.

It was a good solid plan. Or so I thought.

Next time… road closures, forest fires, and a missing teen comes home…

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Finding the Ocean – Chapter 10

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


After four days of solid driving and three nights of sleeping at interstate rest areas, I had finally made it to San Francisco. I’d driven almost 2,000 miles in my quest to find the ocean, and now that I was this close, I could practically taste it.

But first, there was one thing I was curious to know.

I’d been staring at that checkered flag on my GPS for four days now. Somewhere around Watertown, South Dakota, I’d finally given up on my fairytale notion of trying to find the ocean by simply “pointing my car in a general southwest direction” and resorted to modern day technology. I had pulled over and typed in “San Francisco – City Center,” not really knowing where that would take me. Now that I was within striking distance, I was really curious to know where exactly that checkered flag was. I figured it must be a pretty important landmark if it was truly considered the “city center” of San Francisco.

I kept following the green line on my GPS, my heart swelling with excitement as I inched closer to that checkered flag. I wondered if there was some kind of monument to mark the center of the city. Maybe it was a historic building, like the Minneapolis City Hall. Or a courtyard with a statue in the middle of it like they have in France. Or, maybe there was an actual checkered flag on a flagpole! Wouldn’t that be cool? I was giddy with anticipation. Within minutes, I would finally arrive at my destination… the CITY CENTER of San Francisco.

Sigh.

Per usual, I had built something up in my head to be a lot grander than it actually was. Gah.

I kept driving north on U.S. 101, mostly out of curiosity. I had no plan; I was just making random lefts and rights and trying to get a general feel for San Francisco. Overhead, I noticed the old streetcar cables and ended up singing the Rice-A-Roni jingle in my head for the next several miles.

At some point, I realized all the signs on the buildings appeared to be in Chinese and I wondered if I was in Chinatown. I took a few more random turns and ended up on streets that went up and down at 45 degree angles. I wondered if this is what they meant when they named that old 70s show, “The Streets of San Francisco.” Hmm. I pondered that for a bit, happy to be driving an automatic and not a stick shift, then started humming THAT theme song in my head for the next several miles.

Finally, I’d had enough.

It was time to find the ocean.

I pulled over, grabbed my iPhone, and Googled “places to see in San Francisco.” I scrolled down to the picture section and my top three choices were:

  1. Pier 39
  2. Golden Gate Bridge
  3. Fisherman’s Wharf

I wasn’t sure what Pier 39 was and I figured I’d get to the Golden Gate Bridge eventually, so by process of elimination, I decided Fisherman’s Wharf was the place for me. At the very least, I knew it was on the ocean.

I  hit the “Directions” button, and off I went in pursuit of my new checkered flag.

Holy wow.

Apparently the entire population of San Francisco had also entered Fisherman’s Wharf into their GPS, because that’s exactly where they all were when I arrived. It was a mad house. I inched along, stuck inside a throng of vehicles all trying to find a parking spot. Suddenly, I remembered what day it was… Labor Day. No wonder the whole world was here.

Even if I had wanted to stop and explore some of the cute bayside shops and clam chowder cafés along my route, I couldn’t. I was stuck in the throng, with no options but to keep inching along with it. Eventually, I came to the final intersection before the land met the bay.

Fifty-fifty chance.  Left or right?

I chose left.

Per usual, I was wrong.

The road was blocked by a fence, and I was stuck again. Blazes all to hell!!

I slowly and carefully turned my monster-sized vehicle around in this tiny space, inching forward and backward a thousand times before I was finally turned back in the right direction.

I stared at all those happy people on the grassy hill next to me and wanted to go slap the happy right out of them. Them… with their clean fluffy hair and their well-planned itineraries. I wondered where they had found a place to park. Probably in all their pre-planny wisdom they’d taken the damn Rice-A-Roni streetcar to get here and enjoyed it immensely.

Stupid, happy idiots.

I parked my car in the middle of the road and grabbed my iPhone again. To hell with the beach. To hell with San Francisco! I needed a hotel. And a nap. And a drink. (Not necessarily in that order.) I started to Google furiously.

I looked up briefly to see a traffic cop walking my way with a book of parking tickets in his hand.

Really? Really??

I rolled down my window.

“You can’t park here, ma’am.”

I tried hard not to lose it completely. “I know… I’m sorry. I’m from Minnesota and I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just trying to find a beach and a pet-friendly hotel.”

Zoey came bounding up from the back and stuck her nose out the window to greet the traffic cop. He laughed and patted her on the head.

“Well, this probably isn’t the best place if you’re looking for a beach,” he said. “You should go to Crissy Field… it’s just a few miles west of here.”

I asked him which way west was and he pointed for me.

“And, if I were you, I’d look for a hotel on Lombard Street. It’s just a few blocks north… that way,” he said, pointing again. “San Francisco is a very pet-friendly city, and you should be able to find a nice hotel within walking distance of Crissy Field.”

I could have kissed him.

In fact, I can honestly say, if it had not been for that friendly traffic cop with his fat book of parking tickets and his dog-lovin’ recommendations, I would have beat it out of San Francisco and never looked back.

Instead, I drove a couple blocks north to Lombard Street and happened upon the most absolutely perfect hotel I could have found in that moment… the Hotel Del Sol.

I pulled into their beautiful little driveway, parked, and went inside the office to see if they had a room for Zoey and me.

They did.

The room wasn’t quite ready, so the nice man at the registration desk handed me a brochure and a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie. (A. fresh. baked. chocolate. chip. cookie.) He invited me to sit in their courtyard while they finished cleaning my room. As I walked back out to my car, I happened to glance at the brochure he’d given me. It was for the hotel’s “Joy of Life Club.” At the top, it said, “Create joy.”

I smiled.

Create joy.

It was Labor Day… exactly one year earlier… when Patty Wetterling had shared this exact same message for an entire state that was mourning right along with her. We were at a loss… devastated by the news that Jacob’s remains had been found… and in the midst of her own grief, Patty put out the following statement on the Facebook page of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center:

“Everyone wants to know what they can do to help us. Say a prayer. Light a candle. Be with friends. Play with your children. Giggle. Hold hands. Eat ice cream. Create joy. Help your neighbor. That is what will bring me comfort today.”

Thank you, Patty. It was exactly what we needed to hear… at the exact moment we needed to hear it.

I parked my car, put Zoey on her leash, then nestled into an Adirondack chair next to a palm tree while I watched a family with young kids play in the pool. I broke my chocolate chip cookie in two, then gave half to my adoring black lab.

Sometimes happiness can be so simple.

Next time… a slice of pizza, a cold Corona, and the real Golden Gate Bridge…

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