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July 10, 2013


Tama, IA


Missing in Action, Part One


Her question was well-intended, but it has planted the biggest doubt in my mind regarding the wisdom of my trip: “I don’t care about your own safety, honey, but how is your dog handling it?”


As my girl and I rolled past cemetery after cemetery when first crossing into Iowa, I had, admittedly, underestimated our water consumption, a mistake that she and I both deeply felt as we crossed into the wooded hills surrounding Tama.


The early morning thunderstorm and mud-wrestling episode had altered our usual travel pattern of riding only early morning or late evening to avoid the heat.


To make up lost time, and in a spurt of fatefully ill-planned optimism since the temperatures were mild and the sun was obscured behind cloud cover and we were both dripping wet from the shower, I decided to push onward, knowing that our gallon and a half of water would quickly run dry. With careful rationing, I believed we could still make it to the next city. Plus, every time she and I crested yet one more wood-covered hill, she would emerge with ticks crawling in her fur. Since I had applied tick and flea medicine just before leaving, I was rather certain she would be fine.


She had taken to walking since I was unable to handle pulling her up the steep hills, and she loved the freedom of romping in the grassy fields, chasing who knows what through the grass that would hide her for several minutes at a time. I admired and envied her ability to sense the coolest path and enjoyed watching her cavort in the fields while I panted my way up the next hill.


Throughout the day, she emerged a few times covered in mud as well as the aforementioned creepy-crawlies, so I was relieved knowing she had respite from the increasingly hot temperatures and may have even found a few laps of water. I also knew, though, that while she was protected from ticks, I was not, since the same creepy-crawlies began migrating up my body if I took even a few minutes to enjoy the shade she had found under a nearby tree.


By two in the afternoon, some of the layers from my early morning mud bath had begun to crack and fall off my skin, not because it was drying, but because I was sweating so profusely from Iowa’s high humidity that the dirt couldn’t help but slide off my skin. She was no longer finding the mud puddles, and her ire with my determination to continue walking mounted. She was unable to understand why I kept insisting she “Come along,” and hesitated with increasing frequency as I would try to rouse her out of whatever comfort she had found in the shade of yet another tick-infested cove.


Just about the time I thought I couldn’t take another step, an SUV was awaiting us at the next dirt road intersecting the highway. As a woman, awaiting vehicles along infrequently travelled roads make me uneasy, but under the circumstances, I was a bit relieved to see something other than ticks, litter or bogs.


She was the first of three Good Samaritans I met that day, bringing back two gallons of water, a bag of doggie snacks, and a bag of candy, a protein bar and two apples for me as well. She offered to take me into Tama, adding that the hills were rather steep. For the sake of my trip’s integrity, I declined, but took her advice to take a circuitous route, thereby allowing me to skip at least three of the relentless hills.


The ride was beautiful, and because the hills were again manageable, my panting girl had been tucked and zipped back into her trailer. As we rounded yet another curve, I noted two things: I was back in the hilly terrain, and yet another SUV had pulled off the side of the road.


Admittedly by this point my girl was overheated in spite of the ice water we had been given three hours earlier.


The SUV happened to belong to a former dog breeder, who rather adamantly insisted that she take Stink the last few miles, adding that the hills only got steeper the closer I got to town.


Exhausted and frustrated that I couldn’t stop because of the ticks, I consented, calling the breeder to check on my girl as soon as I hit the edge of town.


For the first time on my journey, I checked into a motel, anxious to at last shower away all remaining traces of the morning’s dirtier rain shower. I was streaked with mud, sore from too much sun and disgusted with my poor planning.


With the assurance that Stink had been a well-behaved guest for the second Good Samaritan of the day, I anxiously peeled off my crusty clothes, knowing at once that I would be lightening my load, tossing my shirt and socks straight into the trash, only to realize immediately I had left my cell phone sitting in my dog’s trailer.


Unwilling to pull the dirty ones out of the trash or dirty yet another outfit by slipping a clean one onto my filthy body, I made another stupid decision. I would retrieve my phone, I thought, AFTER my shower.


As soon as I emerged from my room, clean and fresh, I knew I had once again chosen poorly. My phone was no longer in the trailer, but the dog breeder who had rescued my girl was awaiting me.


My girl and I had a happy reunion, and she looked almost as refreshed by the car ride and air conditioning she had enjoyed as I did from my shower.


Before departing on my journey, my daughter had insisted upon an app that allows her at any given moment to identify within 15 feet where I am. Or at least where my phone is. I would strongly suggest anyone embarking on any long trip download a similar app.


Because of it, we knew the phone was still on the premises, so together the motel manager and owner launched an investigatory recovery team, carefully searching every cranny in my room as well as the area outside where I had been. The blip indicated it was located right next to my room, so the local police were called, and a voluntary search ensued.


The four of us—the owner, the manager, my dog, and me sat on the motel’s porch for hours following our fruitless search, munching some of the candy provided earlier by the first Good Samaritan, watching to see whether or not the signal changed. Right before we were about to call it a night, one of the residents joined us, and shortly thereafter my daughter sent her last image.


My phone had seemingly moved a few feet.


Unwilling to disclose that I was aware at that point of its movement, I grabbed a flashlight, feigning one last search before heading to bed, not revealing to my other two treasure hunters (as well as the other resident) that the phone had moved. My search yielded nothing, but I was sure with the morning light, it would.


The following morning, the resident was gone, but luckily, my phone signal wasn’t, and the manager, after just a few minutes search, found it tucked into a plastic drainpipe at the side of the building.


Three Good Samaritans in twenty-four hours more than made up for the one sour apple in the bunch. 

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.