Posts by joy.the.curious

Finding the Ocean – Chapter 7

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

 


I left Stephanie and Conrad’s house in Roy, Utah around 10:15 AM and started making my way back toward Salt Lake City. As I got closer, I started wondering what this lake actually looked like. Where was it? Would I go past it on my way?

I zoomed out on my car’s GPS screen and noticed that I would indeed be passing along the south end of Salt Lake. Awesome! I couldn’t wait to see it. I wondered if people could swim in Salt Lake. How salty was it? Were there beaches? Could Zoey go for a swim? I had no idea.

About 45 minutes later, I caught my first glimpse of the Great Salt Lake. There was a barbed wire fence that separated the road from the lake, and I noticed a lone railroad track that cut between the prairie grass and scrub brush that covered the ground for several yards. Beyond that was a long stretch of white. What was that? Salt? If so, where did the salt end and the water begin? Hmm. This isn’t exactly what I’d expected.

What I didn’t realize at the time, is that the place I was staring at was very near to the original location of “Saltair – the Coney Island of the West.” I learned this when I noticed a marker on Google Maps that said “Historic Saltair Location” while writing this article and decided to click on it. Next, I Googled “Saltair” and found this great little video that explains a bit about the history of what I was looking at. So, in answer to my own question, yes, apparently people could, and did, swim in the Great Salt Lake.

Interesting.

I continued driving and happened to notice the time. It was 11:09 AM. In two minutes, it would be 11:11, and in that moment, I immediately thought of Jared and the Wetterlings. When I first met Jared in 2013, he always used to point out when it was 11:11 and say, “Make a wish!” I never knew what he was talking about at the time, but always thought it was sweet. Of course, after Jacob was found and the #11forJacob movement took off, 11:11 took on even more meaning for me. Now, I marvel at how often I notice when the clock says 11:11, and every time, I make a wish, think of Jacob, and say a little prayer.

Now, in this moment, I began to feel very alone on this long stretch of road ahead of me. When I’d taken off on this impulsive road trip, I hadn’t told a soul what I was doing except my husband. I didn’t want to explain anything to anybody, and I didn’t want anyone to worry about me. I just wanted to get away and not think for a while. I especially didn’t want to think about what had taken place on this holiday weekend exactly one year earlier. But now, I felt really disconnected and lonely. I wondered how Jared and the Wetterlings were doing. Even though it was all painful to remember, this incredible journey was something we all went through together and we would be forever connected because of it. And in that moment, on 11:09 AM on September 3rd, 2017, I realized how much I missed them.

I pulled over to the side of the road and took this picture at exactly 11:11 AM. I sent it with the caption “11:11” to Jared, Patty, and Jerry.

I explained that Zoey and I were on a road trip and headed to the ocean. I told them I’d made it to Salt Lake so far, and when I happened to notice it was 11:11 AM, I pulled over, took a photo, and wanted to let them all know I was thinking of them.

Jared texted back to let me know that he and his girlfriend were spending the day together with their kids at Sibley State Park, not far from my home in New London. Patty and Jerry were also spending the weekend with family, and I was so happy and relieved to hear from all of them.

Next, Jared replied with the following text:

“I learned how to drive a semi-truck at age 20 on the Utah flats. Take care and safe travels everyone.”

Hmm. I never knew he’d learned how to drive a semi in Utah. I wondered what he meant by the “Utah flats.” Was I on the Utah flats? I had no idea. I got back in the car, feeling much more at peace, and continued on my way.

Oh my.

It is hard to explain the weirdness of the next 37 miles.

Again, I must stress that even though the spontaneity of my trip was, in part, the very glory of it, my incredible lack of a plan or any knowledge of where I was at any given moment in time was certainly a detriment. One year later, as I relive this road trip on Google and Google Maps, I am learning so much about what I saw (or should have seen) along the way.

Apparently, the stretch I was just entering is known as “The Bonneville Salt Flats.” Having never heard of such a thing, I can only say that it felt like driving across a frozen lake in Minnesota in mid-January. The flat ground looked like it was covered in snow for as far as the eye could see. Here’s a quick snippet from Wikipedia that explains all this a little better:

The Bonneville Salt Flats is a densely packed salt pan in Tooele County in northwestern Utah. The area is a remnant of the PleistoceneLake Bonneville and is the largest of many salt flats located west of the Great Salt Lake. The property is public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is known for land speed records at the “Bonneville Speedway“. Access to the flats is open to the public.

Of course, I knew nothing about any of this as I continued to drive across this hot, white, not-frozen, not-lake. After a bit, I passed a big building with a logo I instantly recognized… Morton Salt. Huh. In all my days, I guess I never wondered nor realized where Morton got its salt. And now, there it was… a big white mountain of it… piled directly behind that little girl with her white umbrella and yellow dress. I took this quick picture as I flew past at 80 miles per hour (because that, my friends, is the speed limit on the Bonneville Salt Flats).

As I drove along, I kept noticing small groups of things… pipes?… sticking out of the white ground. What could that be? I passed these groups of pipes every so often, and finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to stop and see what these things were. Why were there pipes sticking out of the ground?

I pulled over again and walked over to one of the pipe groupings. Turns out, they were not pipes at all, but beer bottles turned upside down and stuck into the salty ground. What in the world was that all about? I took a picture and got back in the car.

Now that I knew what these things were, I kept spotting them more and more often. Seriously, what in the world? I could come up with no logical explanation, and made a mental note to Google it once I got home.

A year later, I don’t have much of an answer. Apparently people sometimes write their names or messages using empty beer bottles, but that’s obviously not the case here. Maybe someone stopped at each of the places where there were bottles strewn about and decided to poke them into the ground to create a series of cheap and quirky art installations. Hmm. Interesting. Again.

And, speaking of quirky art installations, holy crap. How do you explain this? I could see this odd monstrosity coming up on my right for miles, and once I finally got close enough to get a good look at it, I still had no idea what it was. I was sure it must serve some kind of purpose, like a satellite antenna, cell phone tower, or radio transmitter, but no. It’s art… in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

“The Tree of Utah” (aka “The Tree of Life”) was designed and built by Swedish sculptor, Karl Momen in the 1980s. The pieces lying on the ground (which I assumed were broken pieces of cement balls that had crashed to the ground, thus resulting in the installation of a safety fence) are actually intentional and supposed to represent leaves that have fallen from the tree. Oh, and ironically, the inscription on the trunk of the tree is from the song/poem “Ode to Joy.”

You can read more about it here.

 

By the time I reached “The Tree of Utah,” I had been driving for over three hours and just happened to glance at my gas gauge. It said I had 35 miles to go until empty. Hmm. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen a gas station since I’d started my journey across this not-frozen, not-lake almost an hour and a half ago. Oh well, no worries. I was sure I’d hit the end of it soon enough.

I clipped along at 80-85 miles an hour with cars passing me like I was standing still. Another half hour went by and there was still no end to the not-frozen, not-lake. I was starting to panic a little bit. What if I ran out of gas? It was almost 90 degrees outside. There was no way I could walk, nor could I stay in a hot sweltering car with no air conditioning. Maybe I could get a ride from someone to the nearest gas station, but what about Zoey? Would they take her, too? I couldn’t leave her alone in the car in this hot salty desert.

Another fifteen minutes went by. I glanced at the gas gauge… 15 miles until empty. OMG, this was really happening. I was going to run out of gas in the middle of a desert. This is the stuff that happens in horror movies and you don’t even feel sorry for those stupid people because they deserve whatever happens to them because they should have planned better.

By the grace of God and my own dumb luck, I reached the Sinclair Truck Stop just outside of Wendover with only 13 miles left on the gas gauge. Phew! Lesson learned. After taking Zoey for a quick walk on the salty ground, I chalked it all up to a learning experience and vowed to be a little more pre-planny and logical than free-spirited and curious.

Next time… a long stretch of nothing and a creepy white van

 

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Finding the Ocean – Chapter 6

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

 


According to the clock, it was officially Day 3 of my road trip, and as I lay in the back of my Ford Explorer… not sleeping for the second night in a row… I was seriously starting to question the sanity of my plan (or lack of one). Maybe if I was 25 this would have been a good idea, but honestly, what was I thinking?

I fumbled around for my ear buds, hoping I could overpower the dog’s snoring with the white noise app on my iPhone. I found them in a side pocket of my purse, then climbed back onto my double-stacked self-inflating air mattresses and tuned in to the comforting sound of a commercial air conditioner. Zoey watched me with mild curiosity, then immediately fell back to sleep. If only it were that easy. After several more tosses and turns, I finally managed to drift off for a few hours.

I was awakened by a cold nose to the face and the flapping of ears. Zoey needed to go out. Sigh.

I got up and took Zoey for a quick walk. It was dark and chilly, but I could see the hint of a sunrise behind me in the east. It had been dark when I’d pulled into the Echo Canyon Welcome Center the night before, so I was excited for the sun to come up so I could see the mountains all around me. Rather than wait around, I decided to get going again so I could find somewhere beautiful to stop and watch the sunrise.

The GPS took me south, along the shores of Echo Reservoir (which I couldn’t see because it was dark) and around Lewis Peak (which I also couldn’t see because it was dark). I imagine both of these places would have been beautiful sights to see, had I only known they were there.

Here is a lovely photo of someone else’s dog sitting on top of Lewis Peak. (Sorry Zoey.) If you want to read more about it, click the picture.

As the sky started to brighten, I found myself driving faster and faster, trying to get past the annoying foothills on either side of me that were blocking my view of the mountains. Completely unbeknownst to me, I was just seven miles north of Park City, Utah… a place I have wanted to visit my entire adult life. But, in a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees (or, in this case, the mountains for the foothills), I kept racing down I-80, trying to beat the sunrise and hell-bent on finding somewhere beautiful to watch it.

The sky kept getting brighter and brighter in my rearview mirror, and at my mad pace, I started to worry I was going to miss the sunrise altogether. I pulled off at the next exit, turned right onto a frontage road, and found myself traveling alongside a beautiful little golf course, nestled into a canyon at the base of a bluff. I pulled into the parking lot, hopped out of my car and took this quick video of the sunrise. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it was still pretty!

I watched the sunrise show for a few minutes more before I was interrupted by Zoey flapping her ears at me again. She was hungry. I was afraid to letter her out at the golf course because she tends to get a little OCD when it comes to retrieving balls of any sort… golf balls included. So, I got back in the car and travelled a little further down the frontage road until it started to narrow and meander its way down into the canyon. The road was so narrow and secluded by this point, I started to wonder if I had mistakenly wandered onto someone’s private driveway. I was just about to turn back when all of a sudden the road opened up to a small parking lot, and just like that, without even trying, I had found somewhere beautiful – Washington Park, in Parley’s Canyon.

Mine was the only car in the parking lot, so I let Zoey out to run while I filled her bowl with dog food. This place was gorgeous. It had a big beautiful pavilion with a stone fireplace, perfect for weddings and events, plus several cozy fire pits for people to gather around. There was a playground, softball diamond, horseshoe pits, volleyball court and a separate building with large, clean restrooms.

Zoey and I strolled around a bit, admiring the beautiful little park. It was a nice break, and we were both happy to get out of the car for a while. But, after 15 minutes or so, I  was ready to get going. I was excited to surprise Stephanie and Conrad at their house in Salt Lake City, so I loaded Zoey into the back of the Explorer and got back in the driver’s seat.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Zoey started howling in pain. Panicked, I ran back and opened the liftgate, terrified of what I might see. Somehow, she had managed to get her foot stuck in between the two stowaway seats. She continued to howl and scream as I tried pulling her foot out, but it wouldn’t budge. Finally, I pulled the latch on one of the stowaway seats to loosen it and her foot slipped out.

From the way she’d screamed, I was sure Zoey’s foot was mangled and broken. My mind jumped ahead to how I was going to find a veterinarian on Labor Day weekend, but on closer inspection, her foot seemed to be just fine. I helped Zoey out of the vehicle, and though she was favoring that foot a bit, she seemed to be putting weight on it. I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to inspect the problem with the stowaway seats.

I figured out that one of them must not have locked into place when I folded it down into the stowaway position, so when she got in, her weight must have caused the seat to buckle then lock tight with her foot caught in the middle. Poor thing. I positioned the seats into a backseat again, then helped Zoey back into the car. With my heart restored to a normal rhythm, I decided to take a quick video before we took off again.

OK, exhale. Back on the road.

According to my GPS, I was only about 15 minutes outside of Salt Lake City, but I figured it was too early to pop in and surprise my niece and her husband. I needed to kill some time, so I decided to just follow my GPS to the “city center” and see what there was to see.

I continued cutting my way through the foothills on I-80, finally catching my first glimpse of the mountains after crossing under the I-215 bypass. Beautiful! I love the mountains. I kept following my GPS, and eventually found myself right in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City.

I drove around a bit, noticing that Salt Lake was a clean, beautiful city that reminded me a lot of Minneapolis. There was a light rail system, artwork on the sidewalks, and a lot of pretty landscaping and green spaces.

As I drove along, I noticed a sign with an arrow that said “Temple,” so I decided to see where that went. Turns out, it went to the temple… THE SALT LAKE TEMPLE. I had no idea this was right in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City.

Curious, and with time still to kill, I pulled over and parked in a shady spot so Zoey would stay cool. It was Sunday, so all the meters were free, which was both good and bad… good that the meters were free, but bad because it was Sunday. That meant people were walking downtown in their Sunday finest heading to church while I was on day two with no shower and very little sleep. Oh well. I tucked my hair behind my ears, put on some sunglasses, and decided to go see what there was to see.

Oh my goodness.

I had no idea.

The Salt Lake Temple is ENORMOUS and GORGEOUS! It looks like a shimmering white castle with six towers, each topped by a tall spire. The property is surrounded by beautiful landscaped gardens, bronze statues, water fountains, and walking paths. The Tabernacle, which is separate from the Temple, is also immense. Because I knew very little about what I was looking at, I took a lot of photos, hoping to catch up on the history a little later. However, I did manage to find one sign that explained a little bit about the temple, itself:

“The temple is used by Church members for marriages and other sacred ordinances designed to strengthen families, both now and for eternity. Begun in 1853, it was completed 40 years later. Granite rock used in its construction was hauled 23 miles by ox-drawn wagons from Little Cottonwood Canyon. The walls are nine feet thick at the ground level and narrow to six feet thick at the top. The east center tower is 210 feet high and is topped by the statue of an angel heralding the restoration to earth of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the latter days.”

 

After wandering around a bit, I started taking some short videos and sending them to Stephanie on Snapchat.

“Hey Steph, guess where I am?”

“You home? Wake up!”

Sadly, I knew as much about Snapchat as I did about the Mormons, but since I didn’t have Stephanie’s cell number, I figured this would be the best way to catch her once she woke up. In the meantime, I decided I needed some coffee. In fact, I decided I needed some breakfast. A real one. With eggs, and bacon, and hash browns, and toast. I’d been eating carrots, celery, hummus, Wheat Thins and yogurt for three days. I was ready for a real meal.

Luckily for me, I happened to find a perfect spot, directly across from the temple, and about a block from where I’d parked my car. I walked in, got seated, and continued to send snaps to Steph while I sipped my coffee and ate my breakfast. Finally, she responded.

STEPH: “Where are you? Are you in Salt Lake City??”

ME: “Yes! Can I come visit!”

STEPH: “Of course! But I don’t live in Salt Lake City. I live in Roy, near Ogden.”

WHAT. THE. WHAT.

The minute she said that, I knew it sounded familiar. Roy, Utah… yes… that is where I sent her Christmas card every year, now that I thought about it. However, in my head, Stephanie and Conrad lived in Salt Lake City. Definitely Salt Lake City. And yet, here I was, and they were not. They were 30 miles north, near Ogden.

Honestly, Joy.

Well, no worries. I had driven this far, I could certainly drive another 30 miles to see “my Stephy.”

This girl.

Stephanie’s dad is my first cousin and her mom is my best friend. In 2010, Steph married her high school sweetheart, Conrad, when they were both just 19 years old. He had joined the Air Force right out of high school, and not long after their wedding, Conrad was transferred to Rapid City, South Dakota. They had just started their new life there, and Steph was busy making new friends, working, attending college, and getting used to life on an Air Force base.

Then, she started getting sinus headaches. Severe ones, that she couldn’t get rid of. She went to the doctor, and after several more weeks of being treated for a sinus infection that wasn’t getting better, she and Conrad finally learned the devastating truth.

It was a tumor.

Rhabdomyosarcoma.

All our worlds collided and fell apart for a while. Steph moved back home to live with her parents in Sauk Centre while she received intensive chemo and radiation treatments at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Stacey took over as Momcologist, while I pitched in and helped where I could. I started a Caring Bridge site for Steph and tried to provide regular updates, but the news was rarely good and always scary.

Rhabdomyosarcoma, or “Rhabdo” as it is more commonly known, is an aggressive childhood cancer with outcomes that get progressively worse for patients who are in their teens and early 20s.

But, this girl. My Stephy. She beat it.

Stephanie is an amazing person. She is one of those old souls who is wise beyond her years… the kind of person that people just naturally gravitate toward. She is kind, confident, and fun to be around. Throughout her cancer journey, she was always positive, serving as a role model for other Rhabdo kids on the Pediatric Oncology floor. She played with them, read books, sang songs, cuddled and loved them.

Throughout it all, she remained steadfast in her faith, often holding us up when it should have been the other way around.

Honestly, there just aren’t enough words to say how much I love and admire this girl.

I didn’t stay long once I finally made it to Steph and Conrad’s house in Roy. I got big hugs from both of them, a tour of their beautiful home, and a chance to catch up and unwind for a bit before I decided to hit the road again. They wanted me to stay (and probably I should have at least taken them up on a shower), but I was anxious to get going. The ocean was calling my name, and I couldn’t wait to find it.

Next time… the Bonneville Salt Flats and more bad planning

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Finding the Ocean – Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……….

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

Patty’s words keep ringing in my ears.

“They found him.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Channel 5 aired the story this morning.”

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

I switch to Channel 5 and watch the breaking news.

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

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

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

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

……….

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

 


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Finding the Ocean – Interrupted

Before I continue my “Finding the Ocean” story, I feel the need to share a few quick thoughts about the press conference and subsequent release of the Jacob Wetterling case file that happened last Thursday, September 20th.

Mostly what I want to say is… wow. That was really hard.

I’ve been sharing this story about my random 2017 road trip because it was something good and happy that turned out to be a very healing journey for me. It brought me peace and helped me replace all those bad Labor Day memories with good, happy ones. However, last week was a jarring reminder of why I’d wanted to take off in the first place. It was hard to relive and remember. In fact, it was like ripping the Band-Aid off all over again.

We have all struggled with the release of this case file… for obvious and different reasons. From my end, I dreaded to think what tips I might have shared in private that were now to be made public. It makes me wonder why anyone would EVER want to submit a tip in a criminal case, knowing their personal (and sometimes painful) information might eventually become public. These were good people who did the right thing. They responded to our pleas for help and shared their tips in good faith. Is it fair to them that their personal information should now become a part of the public record? In some cases, is that even safe?

As it turns out, very few of the tips I submitted to the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office ever made it into the case file. While I’m happy and relieved about that, it does make me wonder why. It also makes me wonder about the Paynesville incidents. They have referred to “eight cases.” Of those eight, Jared and I knew about five of them. That means there were another five cases we found on our own. That makes at least 13 Paynesville incidents in all. Heinrich said he was “involved in a couple, but not all of them.” What does that mean? Was someone else involved? I really don’t even want to think about what that might mean.

As for the press conference itself, I watched the entire thing in shock… with tears running down my cheeks much of the time. Never in a million years did I expect the new Stearns County Sheriff to lay it all out there like that… slide by slide, mistake by mistake, missed opportunity by missed opportunity. While I was happy to hear him admit fault and take responsibility, I thought it was completely unfair to “name names” and throw people under the bus the way he did. Yes, mistakes were made, but it’s not like those early investigators weren’t doing everything humanly possible to solve this case. They cared deeply and tried as hard as they could to bring Jacob home to his family. I felt that was unnecessary and unkind.

When the press conference ended, I was overcome by emotion. It was all just so heartbreaking. I couldn’t help but think, if they had just LISTENED to those Paynesville kids… if they just would have tried something, ANYTHING, to catch that guy… Jared and Jacob would have never been abducted in the first place. How incredibly sad and heartbreaking.

Now, I just want this to be over. More than anything, I just want peace for the Wetterlings, for Jared, for Paynesville, and for Dan Rassier. This has been such a long, hard journey, and I continue to struggle with my role in all of it. When will it start to feel better? I so desperately want it to get better, but right now, it all still feels really bad.

For those of you have been following my “Finding the Ocean” story, I promise chapter 5 will be coming soon. I just really needed to get this off my chest first. Thanks for listening.

Next time… a “missing” poster and a new plan

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Finding the Ocean – Chapter 4

On September 1, 2017, I did something a little crazy. (Again.) On a complete and utter whim, I took off on a 4,700 mile road trip to go find the ocean. Just me… and the dog.

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

 


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

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

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

“I see the problem,” he said.

I went over to see what he was looking at.

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

And sure enough, I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was September 2nd.

September 2nd.

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

……….

I was at work when Patty called.

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

“Danny Heinrich confessed,” she tells me.

I am jarred beyond words.

Through tears, she continues.

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

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

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

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

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

I hang up.

I need to get out of here.

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

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

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

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

“They found him.”

……….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted desperately to believe that it had.

Next time… a brief interruption to my story

 

Graphic courtesy of Jacob Wetterling Resource Center

 


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