Posts by joy.the.curious

The Jacob Wetterling Documentary

Back in August of 2015, just weeks before Danny Heinrich was arrested as a suspect in Jacob Wetterling’s kidnapping, a local filmmaker approached Patty Wetterling with the idea of making a documentary about Jacob’s story. His name was Chris Newberry and they were just in the early talking phases at that point. After a few more conversations, the Wetterlings agreed to let Chris begin filming later that fall.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

From the very first day Chris began filming, he was right there in the thick of it, recording and watching history unfold as the mystery of Jacob’s 27-year-old disappearance came to a painful and dramatic conclusion.

Now, three and a half years later, Chris Newberry is finally nearing the completion of his documentary film. While filming for the “Jacob Wetterling Documentary” (a working title) is starting to wrap up, Chris and his team will soon begin the arduous process of editing together hundreds of hours of video footage in order to prepare a rough cut for potential distributors.

That takes time. And money.

Chris and his team just launched a fundraising campaign this week with a goal of raising $60,000 to help complete the film. It has been a labor of love – a legacy project for Jacob – and many of us have poured our hearts out onscreen trying to explain how Jacob’s disappearance not only changed the world, but also changed us.

JACOB WETTERLING DOCUMENTARY on GoFundMe

For those of you who have followed Jacob’s story on my blog, this is your chance to support the film and contribute to Jacob Wetterling’s ongoing legacy. I promise I have no financial interest in this film, nor do the Wetterlings, nor anyone else for that matter. It’s simply a story that needs to be told, and with our help, Chris Newberry and his team can enter the final phase of production to get it done.

Click here to contribute to the GoFundMe campaign

When Chris told me he was going to launch a crowdsourcing campaign to help fund the film, I admit I was apprehensive. I know very little about the film industry or how these things work, so I had a lot of questions. He graciously took the time to answer all of them for me and asked for nothing in return. He is a kind, caring, honest person who has put much of his own heart and soul into this project.

I thought long and hard before deciding to write this article. I hate asking people for money, but I so want to see this film get done… and get done right. I also figured if I had a lot of questions, others would, too, so I asked Chris if he would mind if I interviewed him for an article on my blog. Again, he graciously agreed.

This seems like a huge story with a lot of interest. Why do you need funding? Is this common?

We’re an independent filmmaking team based in Minnesota, so we’re not a Hollywood entity coming in from out of town trying to tell a story from the heartland. This is a hometown story for us because we live here. Jacob is one of us.

Being an independent documentary crew, our resources are very minimal. We’ve been working on this project for three and a half years, and, to date, it’s mostly been through blood, sweat, and tears.  We received a little bit of funding early on from the Minnesota State Arts Board, but that was spent long ago.

We believe in Jacob’s story, and we hope that someday it’s going to find a bigger audience on a national platform. We can’t depend on that though. For an independent documentary of such a large scale, it’s pretty common to claw your way to this point and then have to pause and start fundraising when the expenses start to mount.

Our hope is that once we get a rough cut edited, we’ll get to a stage where resources will be easier to come by, once broadcasters and funders can see the vision. There are so many true crime stories out there right now, the field can be very competitive. However, so many of them focus their attention on the more sensational films and series. What we’re trying to do is something with integrity.

Assuming you reach your fundraising goal, how will the funds be used?

We are putting together a high quality film that we want everyone to be proud of once it’s done. That takes a lot of experience, plus the tools to do it, and that’s where the expenses come in. 

Our first step will be to hire an experienced film editor who can help us pull everything together to make this the best possible film it can be.

Why crowdfunding?

From previous experience raising money for films, it takes a multi-faceted approach with many different options for support. Crowdfunding is just one of them. We know Jacob’s story has touched so many people, especially in Minnesota, so it seemed like a natural fit. Many Minnesotans have sort of “adopted” Jacob after following his story for so many years. This is their chance to show their support. We wanted to giving everybody a chance to have a part in the making of this film.

Starting in May, we’ll also be hosting a series of Trailer Release Parties to help raise additional funds for the film. Each event will feature an exclusive sneak peek of the new film, as well as speakers from the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center (or other local child advocacy groups) and a conversation with the filmmakers.

Click here to view the list of trailer release parties and to buy tickets.

Are contributions tax deductible?

For those who wish to make a larger donation and get a tax deduction, we are set up to do that. Larger donors can make their contribution through FilmNorth, our fiscal sponsor. They are a 501(c)(3). More information is available on the Contribute page of our website.

Why do you feel you are the right person to tell this story?

I’m a Minnesota kid, born and raised here. I currently live in Minneapolis with my wife and two daughters. I was 14 when Jacob was abducted, and I remember it well. I watched the whole thing unfold on the news back in 1989, and it really affected me. The mystery of what happened to Jacob was always with me, just like it was for most Minnesotans. 

I’d like to believe I have the compassion and sensitivity to navigate the telling of the story. My first contact was Alison Feigh at the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. There was a billboard campaign back in the fall of 2014 surrounding the 25 year anniversary of Jacob’s disappearance. I researched his case for almost a year before I finally got up the nerve in August of 2015 to send a cold email to Alison. Bless her soul, she got back to me within a half hour, and five days later, I was sitting down with Patty and Alison in Minneapolis and having a “getting to know you” meeting.

What do you think it is about Jacob’s story that made people have the kind or response that they did? Why has it resonated all these years? Why has Minnesota rallied around this family?

Many people told me it had a lot to do with Jacob’s photo… his electric, magnetic smile. That school photo of him in his gold sweater is such a recognizable image, it helped form a connection for the wider public and made us all empathize for Jacob and his family. We all wanted to find out what happened to this boy.

Another factor is the circumstances of the case. Sadly, there are thousands of missing children in the U.S., but very few of their stories involve such chilling details as Jacob’s. He was kidnapped by a stranger, a masked gunman who came out of the shadows and stole Jacob away right off his own street. His younger brother and best friend were with him when it happened, so we knew it was real because there were eyewitness accounts. If you wrote it in a novel, it almost sounds too far-fetched, but it really happened, right here in small town Minnesota.

And, of course, the other key resonating factor is Patty. The story of how this unassuming person rose up and became this national advocate for missing and exploited children may have just as much to do with the public’s attachment to this story as Jacob himself.

Are the Wetterlings supportive of this project?

Yes. It was really important to me, right from the beginning, to get the Wetterlings’ blessing. It was also important to me to hear the story in Patty and Jerry’s own words, and I feel really fortunate that this journey has allowed me to spend many, many hours on several different occasions speaking one-on-one with them. At this point, we’ve formed a pretty substantial bond that’s built on trust. I feel like I have an incredible responsibility to several people in the film who’ve given up their time, and also shared their deeply emotional feelings with me. I feel very honored to have been given all this access.

When will the film be completed?

We hope to have a rough cut completed by the end of the year, with the final version available in mid 2020. We’re doing our best to get it done as soon as possible, and that’s where the community’s support comes in.

Anything else you’d like to add?

When I first started this project, I always considered Jacob Wetterling a household name because it is here in Minnesota. But, when I started interacting with people around the country, I started to realize Jacob’s story wasn’t as familiar to people outside the state. Even though it’s been almost 30 years, this is a story that is still in need of a national platform. It needs to be told.

There are all these inspiring people at the center of the story, none moreso than Patty herself, but there are also all these others who are doing good work in Jacob’s name. They are Minnesota treasures, and people across the country don’t know their stories. So, to me, I want to share Jacob’s story with the world, but also to raise up the profiles of some of these other people so Americans can be inspired by the examples they’ve set. 

You can show your support for this film by making a contribution of any amount to Chris Newberry’s GoFundMe campaign…

Thank you for your support!
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Finding the Ocean – The Final Chapter

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


Today is Jacob Wetterling’s 41st birthday, so I thought it would be a fitting day to wrap up my “Finding the Ocean” story. Here goes.

In my last post, Chapter 13, I shared what I had written on September 6, 2017. It was exactly one year to the day that Danny Heinrich had confessed to killing Jacob and I was still trying to block all of it from my memory. It’s why I had taken off on this cross country road trip in the first place. I didn’t want to think about it… didn’t want to remember.

Looking back now with some fresh perspective, I’m glad I was able to be there. It was devastating and traumatizing, but I went because I felt I was somehow a part of it all. I wanted to see it through to the end, but there was definitely no “closure.” There was just raw, painful, deep SORROW for all that poor boy had to go through on that night in 1989 and all his family had to go through in the 27 years after. It was just so utterly devastating, and again, for the millionth time, I wondered whether this was better. Was the knowing better than the not knowing? Logically, I knew the answer was yes. But there, in that moment, in that courtroom, the answer was definitely no.

I’m going to finish my “Finding the Ocean” story with a journal entry I wrote on the last leg of my trip. This was the first time I had ever written about any of this, and as I read back over it now, I realize how long overdue this catharsis was.

Thank you for taking this journey with me, and for all your kind words and support. As you have probably gathered by now, Jacob is pretty special to me. He came into my life at a time when I was desperately searching for purpose, and he was my light through a very dark tunnel. He renewed my faith, my spirit, and my hope.

This journal entry picks up just after I had made it out of the Federal Courthouse after Danny Heinrich’s confession on September 6, 2016. I had finally made it back to my car after getting locked in the stairway and nearly passing out.


Journal Entry – Days 6 & 7

Somehow I made it back to my car. I sat in the parking ramp and tried to tune in to WCCO on my iPhone so I could listen to the press conference. I could have stayed, but chose not to. I just needed to get out of there.

The reception inside the parking ramp was terrible, so I started the car and headed out. I found my way to 1st Avenue and started heading northeast toward the freeway entrance on 3rd Street. I just wanted to go home. I had my iPhone connected to the Bluetooth stereo on my car, so by now, I could hear that the press conference had started. Sheriff Sanner from the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office and Andy Luger, the U.S. Attorney, had just finished speaking, and now Patty was going to make a statement. I couldn’t believe it. I was in such a sorry state, barely able to drive or think, and here she was, about to make a public statement in front of millions of viewers, just moments after hearing Danny Heinrich confess to her son’s kidnapping and murder.

I wanted to see it, so I pulled over and parked across from the Loon Cafe, just as Patty was starting to speak. I was watching on my iPhone and had tears streaming down my face when all of a sudden, someone started pounding on my driver’s side window. It startled me so much, I screamed and threw my phone across the car. I turned and saw a biker pounding on my window and yelling at me to get out of the bike lane. I’m not sure if I said anything to him; I’m not sure I needed to. Between the scream and the tears, I think he felt it was best to just get back on his bike and keep going. I scrambled to retrieve my iPhone, which had landed under the passenger seat after hitting the door.

Patty spoke through tears. What hurt the most is when she said, “To us, Jacob was still alive… until we found him.” It didn’t matter that it had been 27 years. To her… to all of them… Jacob had just died that day, and with it, the hope that he would ever come home.

I sobbed. I watched life go on around me – people walking, talking, driving, biking – and I marveled at how different life felt, even though it still looked the same. Everything about who I was and who I had been felt different. What I had done had mattered. In the end, the Paynesville cases had mattered. Jared’s case had mattered, and all the research we had done together had mattered.

And then… Patty thanked us. In her darkest and most trying moment, she thanked Jared and me for what we had done. I couldn’t believe it.

After she finished speaking, I pulled back onto 1st Avenue and continued heading toward the freeway entrance on 3rd Street. Suddenly, I felt the need to hug my mom. More than anything, I just wanted to drive to her house and let her wrap her arms around me. I wanted to feel safe, and loved, and normal again.

So, that’s what I did. I drove to my parents’ home in Oak Grove, and when I walked in, my mom was standing with her back to me listening to the radio. Frank Vascellero was on WCCO Radio talking about the live press conference which had just ended. My mom turned just then, seeming to sense I was there. She wasn’t startled; it was as if she just knew it was me. She had tears streaming down her face, and so did I. All she said was, “Oh, Joy,” and then we hugged and cried for a long time. As we stood there, I heard Frank Vacellero say my name. He credited me for helping find Jacob, and then I cried harder.

My mom had been out running errands and had also been listening to the live press conference in her car. She had raced into the house and turned on the radio to catch the rest, and that’s where I found her when I walked in.

“Were you there?” she asked me.

I nodded.

I couldn’t talk about it… any of it. I didn’t mention being locked in the stairway, or almost fainting, or the biker who made me scream and throw my phone across the car. I just sat there and let her make me a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk. Later, we opened a bottle of wine, and maybe I shared some of it. All I remember is feeling safe and loved, and so very grateful to have someone to cry with.

Later, around sunset, I was on my way home and driving through – of all places, Paynesville – when Patty called. She and Jerry were also on their way home, and they had called to check on me. They told me they were worried about me because they hadn’t seen me after the court hearing.

They were worried about me.

I marveled at these kind and caring people. In their deep grief and sadness, they had called to check on me. I didn’t tell them much, but I did mention I had gone to my parents’ house because I needed a hug from my mom. “This was the hardest day of my life,” I remember telling them.

I know that sounds hard to believe, and even harder to explain. I had been through death before – the loss of children, tragedy and grief – but nothing like this. I had never been through evil before. A child – a happy, smiling child with blue eyes and a yellow sweater – was gone because of one man’s evil and selfish act. And to have lived with it for all this time without telling anyone – to watch this family suffer for 27 years – that was incomprehensible to me.

Patty thanked me then. She said if it wasn’t for me, this day would have never come. Through tears, I said something then that even surprised me. “It wasn’t me, Patty,” I said. “It was God.”

I couldn’t believe I’d said it, but I believed it all the way down to my core. And, in that moment, I knew they believed it, too.

“It was God, and you, and me, and Jared, and everyone,” she said. “We all helped bring Jacob home. We all mattered.”


I’m done with this chapter now. After sitting at that picnic table on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation – after finally telling this story and putting all these words and feelings down on paper – I can finally think about that day without crying. (Well, without crying as hard or as often, anyway.)

I made it to Jackson Hole around 7 PM and had a great time drinking wine with Inger and her daughter, Annika. We laughed and reminisced and watched our dogs play. All felt right with the world again, and it was such good therapy on a really hard day. (Thanks Inger and Annika!)

One more thing, and probably the most important thing. I left Jackson Hole on Thursday, September 7th and started heading to Whitefish, Montana to meet Ross. He and his brother, Rob had driven their 81-year-old dad out to Whitefish to visit his sister who was suffering from Alzheimers. I pulled into the Rocky Mountain Lodge where they were staying just before 10 PM. Ross was waiting for me in the parking lot as I arrived, and as I rolled down the window to talk to him, Zoey leaped all the way from the back seat as soon as she heard his voice. Her tail wouldn’t stop wagging.

I parked the car, got out and gave Ross a huge hug and a kiss. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so grateful and excited to see him. He is so supportive and understanding of all my “crazy.” I can’t think of another husband who would be so understanding when his wife tells him on the Friday of Labor Day weekend that she is taking the dog and going to find the ocean. How truly crazy is that? But, he gets me, and he let me go.

So, off I went, without telling a soul because I didn’t want to explain it to anybody. Honestly, I couldn’t even explain it to myself. It started as a bucket list thing and ended up as something so much deeper.

Life is, indeed, a journey. Every milestone I’ve passed up to this point, every bump in the road, every missed turn, and every sweeping breathtaking view has brought me to where I am now. It all mattered, and it all made a difference. And sometimes, by running away for a few days, you actually end up closer to where you’re really going.

Biggest lesson? Follow your heart, believe, and focus on the love. These are the things that have brought me to where I am today.

I’m not sure what my next story is yet. I spent a long time researching the names on that big rock, thinking it might be fun to find those people’s descendants and see if they knew about Register Rock along the Oregon Trail. I didn’t get very far though, so not sure on that one.

We’ll see what comes up…

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Finding the Ocean – Chapter 13

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


First, I know it’s been a while since my last post… almost a month, in fact. Sorry about that. I think I’ve been putting off this post because I knew it would be hard to write, but for those of you who have followed me on this journey, I sincerely thank you for hanging around and being patient with me.

Second… JAYME CLOSS. I get goosebumps just typing her name. At the end of my last blog post (published 12/27/2018), I mentioned Jayme, the 13 year old girl who had gone missing from her small Barron, Wisconsin home on October 15th. For almost three months, everyone had been frantically searching and praying for Jayme, whose parents had both been found shot to death in their home on the same night she went missing. The details were frightening and her successful recovery seemed grim, but still… hope remained.

Eighty-eight days later, my husband and I were watching Mom on CBS when I noticed a crawler going across the bottom of the TV screen. I though I’d seen something about “Barron,” but that’s all I caught. I grabbed the remote from Ross and rewound the DVR, carefully reading the entire news crawler from the beginning.

Jayme Closs had been found. Alive.

Ross and I stared at each other in complete shock and amazement. I couldn’t believe it and was overcome with sheer BLITHERING happiness. I just kept repeating, “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it! I’m so happy!!”

Minutes later I received a joyful text from Patty: “Jayme Closs found alive! I was right! I knew she was alive!” She and Jerry just happened to be in Washington D.C. when they got the news. Patty was there to attend a Board Meeting for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, so just imagine her excitement the next day when she got to enter that building and celebrate with all her NCMEC colleagues. Patty said the energy was absolutely electric. It’s what these people go to work for every day… to bring kids home safe and alive.

Score one for the good guys!!

To Jayme’s credit, she was the one who finally found the courage to escape and save herself. For this brave act, Jennie-O Turkey, who had been the employer of both Jayme’s parents before they were killed, donated the $25,000 it had offered in reward money to Jayme, herself. I just have to say, Jennie-O is an amazing philanthropic company founded and headquartered right here in Willmar, Minnesota, and I am so proud of them for their unwavering support and generosity throughout this highly emotional rollercoaster.

Today, I send continued prayers for Jayme as she continues to heal and navigate her way through a new normal. She will probably never know how much her safe return meant to all of us who followed her case and desperately prayed for a happy outcome. Kudos to all. We really needed this.


OK. Back to September 6, 2017.

Ugh. September 6th. Talk about swinging the pendulum 180 degrees in the other direction.

I began writing my “Finding the Ocean” story on Labor Day Weekend, over four months ago now. It’s all been leading up to this… that horrible day in the courtroom on September 6, 2016… a day that I desperately wanted to forget. It’s the whole reason I took off to go find the ocean in the first place. I didn’t want to dwell on what had happened that day. Instead, I wanted to replace those bad Labor Day memories with good ones, so with very little planning or forethought, I packed a bag, a few groceries, and my 5-year old black lab, then hopped in the car, and started navigating my way west until I hit the ocean.

Here’s the rest of that story.

I woke up on September 6, 2017 at a Super 8 in Twin Falls, Idaho. I was on my way to meet my husband Ross in Whitefish, Montana the following day (Thursday), but first, I was hoping to swing through Jackson Hole, Wyoming to visit my friend, Inger. I sent her the following email at 9:03 AM that morning:

Hi Inger!
Are you busy later today? I’m currently in Twin Falls, ID and will be swinging through Jackson Hole later today. I’d love to have a glass of wine with you if you’re around!!

Her reply a few minutes later:

OMG! Would love that! Keep me posted as to when you’ll be “swinging by”!!

I love spontaneous friends.

Around 11 AM, Zoey and I hopped back into the Explorer and set our sights on Jackson Hole. I couldn’t wait to get there… to be able to sit and unwind with a glass of wine and have a real face-to-face conversation with someone besides my dog. Heaven.

I smiled as I remembered all the fun and crazy times I’d had in Jackson Hole over the years. It began in college when my friend, Betsy, invited me to go skiing with her over Christmas break one year. I said sure, without asking for any further details. It wasn’t until we were in the car somewhere in the middle of South Dakota that I found out we were actually on our way to Wyoming and not Colorado. I had no idea people could ski in Wyoming, but… whatever.

A few years earlier, Inger had also gone on a ski trip to Wyoming with Betsy. The thing is… Inger fell in love with Jackson so much, she never left. She just stayed. For many years to follow, Betsy and I would return to Jackson Hole to visit Inger for skiing, two-stepping, card-playing, pool-shooting, tire-changing, moose-spotting, START-bussing, sight-seeing, mountain-hiking, horse-riding, wine-drinking, talking, laughing, and all around poor decision-making.

Man, we had fun.

Over the years, we have all raised our kids to also love Jackson Hole, which is why I would be returning to Minnesota with a snowboard in the back of my Explorer. It had been left at Inger’s house the previous winter when my son, Jordan, went to visit Betsy’s daughter, Lainey, who was living with Inger’s family and working in Jackson at the time.

I love Jackson Hole, and it was the perfect place for me to be on this horrible day. I was sure it would bring me much healing and happiness, but first, I needed to get there.

Around noon, I had to go to the bathroom, so I veered off on an exit for a state park. At the top of the exit ramp, it showed picnic grounds to the right, with a sign that said “Register Rock Historical Site.” Perfect. I had no idea what that was, but I figured picnic grounds would have bathrooms, so I hung a right and hoped for the best.

After much winding around and heading back over the freeway, I finally found the place. It was remote and I was the only one at “said picnic grounds,” but I quickly found the bathrooms and prepared to head out again. I decided to let Zoey out for a few minutes, so while she was doing her business, I ended up glancing around a bit. What was this place? I noticed a pavilion in the distance, so I walked over to check it out.


Under the pavilion was a rock. A REALLY big rock. I moved in a little closer to read the sign.


Register Rock
After their meals were cooked and their livestock grazed, early pioneers took time to record their presence on this and other rocks in the area. The land around Register Rock was a common camping area along the Oregon and California trails. It has been preserved by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation so that the modern visitor may enjoy a landmark of the past.

Huh. Well, would you look at that. Without even realizing it, I had found myself on the Oregon Trail.

Next, I took a closer look at that rock and noticed all the names that had been carved into it. Without really understanding why, I stared at that rock for a really long time.

I wondered what life had been like for these early pioneers. From what I could recall of my days playing “Oregon Trail” at the Brooklyn Center Public Library back in the late 70s, the challenges were many. Between having to type “P-O-W” to ward off Indian attacks, trying to stay nourished to ward off dysentery, and keeping my horses fed to avoid the impending doom of foot travel, it was rough work.

I decided that these people who had inscribed their names on this rock were MY people… dreamers, doers and risk-takers. Just as I had asked myself before starting my own journey, I’m sure they had asked themselves the very same thing before starting theirs… “How hard can it be?” I liked their spirit.

As Zoey and I headed back to the car, I stopped to read one more small sign.

The Indian head and preacher head carved on this rock and dated 1866 is the work of J.J. Hansen at age seven. At this time he was traveling along the Oregon Trail with his parents to Portland, Oregon. In 1908, after becoming a sculptor, he returned to review his work. During this visit he again dated the rock under the Indian carving.
Indian head
Preacher head

Time to move on, but I will come back to this later.

I don’t know what it was about Register Rock, or the Oregon Trail, or September 6th in general, but suddenly, I was a train wreck. I got back in the car and started driving, but for the next 45 miles, all I could do was cry. I had avoided thinking about any of it for the past five days, and now, suddenly, after staring at a giant rock in the middle of absolutely nowhere, there it was.

With tears still streaming down my face, I finally decided to pull off the freeway just past Pocatello. I needed to get a hold of myself. I couldn’t show up at Inger’s doorstep in this sorry state. I needed to sit for a minute. I needed to write.

So, for the next hour and a half, that’s exactly what I did. I found a picnic table just outside a convenience store on the Shoshone Bannock Indian Reservation in Fort Hall, Idaho. I went inside, bought myself a Diet Coke and a box of Hot Tamales, sat down at the picnic table with Zoey by my side… and I wrote.

I never really intended to share what I wrote that day at the picnic table, but after much deliberation, I decided to just go ahead and do it. So… here we go.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017 – 1:00 PM

I left Twin Falls, Idaho this morning around 11 AM and have been driving along on I-84 for the past two hours, heading toward Jackson Hole.

I’ve had a lot of alone time on this trip… lots of time to process and think. I am so grateful for this opportunity, but mostly, I am so incredibly grateful to have an understanding husband who supports me in these crazy endeavors. I must admit, this one may just be the craziest.

I suppose that’s why I didn’t tell anyone I was doing this until I actually did it. I didn’t even know myself that I was really doing it until I suddenly found myself piling a few items of clothing on my bed on Friday. That’s how it started. With five pairs of underwear and a swimsuit… and no plan whatsoever. Except, to get in my car and drive until I hit the ocean.

This has been a great trip. A lot of driving… but so worth it. Zoey has been a great companion, and she makes me smile every single day.

I am so grateful. But today… I am so sad.

It snuck up on me. I knew this Labor Day weekend would be hard, which is (I think) half the reason why I decided to just up and do this thing. When I talked to Patty last week, she mentioned that she wasn’t going to let Danny Heinrich ruin Labor Day weekend for them, too. October 22nd is hard enough… that’s all he gets. They’re keeping Labor Day weekend.

I thought that was great advice, so I decided to follow their lead. Instead of focusing on the sadness of this weekend, I decided to do something fun, and memorable. So, I decided to take off and find the ocean.

But today… this day… September 6th.  Dammit. I thought I had a handle on this, but I guess I don’t.

So, right now, here I am sitting at a picnic table on the Shoshone Bannock Indian Reservation in Fort Hall, Idaho. There’s a small grocery store, a gas station, and a casino in this tiny town. And a picnic table. Right now, I just need a minute to sit here with my laptop at this picnic table.

I’m on my way to visit my friend Inger in Jackson Hole. I only told her this morning that I was coming because I wasn’t really sure if I’d be stopping or not. She was so excited to hear I was coming and she can’t wait to hear all about this crazy “bucket list trip” of mine. Soon, there will be lots of wine and laughter. But first, I need to get this out of my system. 

It was exactly one year ago today… September 6, 2016. I was all alone in that courtroom when Danny Heinrich confessed to killing Jacob.

Of course, I wasn’t alone-alone. Jane Straub and Alison Feigh from the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center were on my right, but I had only briefly met them on the day we left for the Wilderness Trek just a few weeks earlier. On my left, there was a random couple who entered late, after the press had taken their seats, so I assumed they were just part of the general public. What kind of people wait outside the courthouse for a chance to witness something like this? I hated them and wished they were sitting anywhere but next to me.

My people… the ones I knew and loved… were sitting in the front row. I had watched them enter single-file from a door behind the judge’s bench. They came in, sat down, and stared blankly ahead.

I wanted to leave then. More than anything, at that moment, I just wanted to bolt. But, I couldn’t. The room was deadly silent. I was stuck.

And then… it started. That horrible man with his horrible voice. 

“Yes, your honor.” 

“No, your honor.”

That horrible monotone voice. Over and over.

And then… the true horribleness began. 

I stared at that seal on the wall above the judge and tried not to hear what they were saying. It was an eagle. He was holding a leafy branch with one foot and a bunch of arrows with the other. I stared at that eagle with tears streaming down my cheeks. And when I couldn’t stare at that eagle anymore, I shut my eyes and wished I was anywhere but there.

After it was over, I walked out. Everyone was crying and hugging, but I didn’t know anyone. I had never felt so alone in all my life. I just wanted to leave.

I got in line for the elevator, but when I looked up briefly, I realized everyone was looking at me. They were all reporters, and the last thing I wanted was to get stuck in an elevator with a bunch of reporters.

I glanced around and noticed a sign for the stairway, so I made a beeline in that direction. The door closed behind me, and it was blissfully quiet and peaceful. I started to cry again as I began my descent.

I went down four flights of stairs and realized I was still only on the 13th floor. I’d forgotten we’d taken the elevator to the 14th floor. I wasn’t going to walk down 14 flights of stairs (or 56, considering there were four flights per floor), so I decided to get off at the 13th floor and just take the elevator from there. I’d wait a bit to make sure most of the reporters were already down.

I tried the door and found it was locked. Crap. I wondered what was so important on the 13th floor that required them to keep the door locked. I went down another four flights of stairs and found the door for the 12th floor was also locked. Crap, crap, crap.

I turned around and went back up the eight floors to the 14th floor again. As I reached to grab the handle, I realized it was locked, too.

Are you kidding me??! I was locked in the stairway of the U.S. Federal Courthouse.

I sat down on the steps and started to cry.

As I sat there, sobbing and cursing my own stupidity, the lights in the stairwell started to go out. First, the ones two flights in front of me went out. Then, one flight in front of me. I realized they must be on a timer. I stood up and waved my arms, terrified that the light above me would soon go out and I’d be drenched in darkness.

I started walking. One flight, two flights, three flights, four flights. It went on and on. No air conditioning. I was so shaky and nauseous, I was sure I was about to pass out, but every time I stopped to sit down, the lights would go out again. I kept walking.

By the time I finally made it down the last flight, I blasted out the door and found myself on a random downtown sidewalk. I had no idea where I was. I started walking and tried to get my bearings. I walked two blocks before I realized I was going the wrong direction. It was so hot. My ears were ringing. I leaned against a building, and tried not to pass out.

I kept walking. Every time I found a bit of shade, I stopped. When I finally made it back to the courthouse, I realized there were media vans surrounding the entire front of it. I turned and walked several blocks the opposite direction to avoid them. Somehow, I made it back to my car without passing out.

I haven’t been able to think about that day without crying. Still. When people try to talk to me about it, I cry. Every time, no matter who it is.

For the life of me, I just can’t get a grip on this.

I didn’t realize I’d be “thinking Jacob” so much on this trip. I spot references everywhere. “Be kind” on a billboard outside of Sioux Falls. “Create joy” on a brochure they handed me at my hotel. The #11 spray-painted on the back a road sign in Rapid City. 

And an eagle standing on a road sign near Watertown, spreading its wings, facing the wind, and drying its feathers after a brief rain shower.

So now, here I am again, alone on this day, sitting at a picnic table at the Shoshone Bannock Trading Post, with Zoey by my side.

It’s been a year. I want to quit crying. Or, maybe I just want to understand why I can’t quit crying. Maybe I never will.

But, for now, I am just so grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spread my own wings, face the wind, and try to dry off a bit.

Thanks, God. Thanks, Jacob. Thanks for choosing me.

Now, then. 

On to Jackson Hole.


Next time… the final chapter…

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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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