Excitement filled the air as we traveled the high road to Bellingham, it is a place that holds much meaning for the national tour and why it even exist today. See, Leah Roberts became missing while on a cross country trip and she was searching for herself, to make some life decisions and find who she was or maybe even dig deep as to who she has become, something we will never be sure of because she vanished. Days later her vehicle was found wrecked off a lonely logging trail up on Mount Baker, a very odd place leaving more questions than answers. We could not get any help with her story, feeling like we needed to do more, CUE decided to set out and travel her direct path.
We were so excited of the unknown, I wonder many times if that is how Leah felt leaving on her trip, excited of the unknown? Selina, me and four others set out cross country, we stopped and talked to so many people at exits, the homeless, folks at rest areas, it did not matter we wanted to let everyone know Leah had passed through there town and the fact that she was a real person, putting people with her name and missing poster...media was crazy....we called into every radio station of towns we were going through, meeting TV cameras on the side of the road or at exits coming up, it was a whirlwind, we never stopped. Our goal was to obtain national media for Leah and we in fact landed people magazine and much more, we felt accomplished!
We were packing to leave and head home after being on the mountain where Leah was last seen and spending time there, we buried a box with mementos, secret written notes with a promise to return in a road side ceremony we fought back tears leaving that day; then the call. A call of a meek woman requesting we come to her town and feature her child who was missing, she had seen something on the news, it took all of two minutes to say why not, yes we will come. So in real time our plans changed from the route coming we had planned to take home, leading us to North Dakota and across the top haven of the United States doing the same things, but now telling more stories and adding Leah's legacy to the trip; we did not know at the time that was what was happening though. More calls began to come in and later that night when we stopped at a hotel where the emails flooded in, so we just kept going until we found our way back home some two weeks or more later. Exhausted but excited about all the folks we met, sights we got to see, but most importantly knowing we had made a small difference in the world.
It was days before I could even walk and get back into the routine of working cases and such, then I went to check the CUE Center mail...there I had a moment, I was handed a key. I opened the largest cargo box the post office had and right before me was this huge tub of mail, I recall looking back at the postal attendant, he smile and said thats not all we have their is more behind the desk. So he helped me load the mail in my car, I called a few CUE members and by buddy Selina, of coarse she was at my house with in minutes of my arrival. We all sat on my living room floor sorting the mail and began to read, sharing highlights of letters and request, reading heartfelt stories written to us and about the tour. Five hours later (not realizing the time that had passed) we shed tears, we talked about our experienced, we just knew....it was on my living room floor the decision was made to make the tour an annual event. So, that is why "On the Road to Remember" continues today.
For all of us it meant more than people will ever understand, the legacy of a young woman who was searching for her soul, her life's purpose...in that trip we took because of her, we were to the same and God helped us find another way to better ourself and bring a meaning to hundreds of families who suffer a missing loved one. I have to admit though when Selina died unexpected a couple of years later I never thought I would find anyone to help me keep the tour alive, I was so wrong. I secretly honor Selina's memory with the tour, she adored it and it was all she looked forward to, it was her that help helped me create it, encouraged me in it and pushed me outside of my comfort zone to do it! So, needless to say it has a deep meaning for me on three levels. The families fight for HOPE, Legacy of Leah Roberts and my dearly missed friend and long time CUE member Selina.
We meet with Kara and Holly in Bellingham, we all spent the day with the Detective and visit the law enforcement compound that still housed Leah's vehicle, for me it was a familiar site, but it bothered me her car was now outside and no longer in the garage. This meant to me they were done with it, it was a sad time for me, but I remained silent with my thoughts. So much time has passed, she is still missing, we need a jump start, something has to give, just a few emotional thoughts that ran through my head. Yea, I know I think to much at times. But, I know I am stubborn and we will not give up, I truly believe that every missing person case does find a resolution, sometimes it is the length of the journey that can wear on us for sure, but I do believe. To not believe says their is no hope in suffering here, not the way I could ever think nor could I except that way of thinking, ever!
We then made the drive to the mountain, I wanted so badly for everyone to share in what Kara and I had years ago, to be were Leah's car was found, see this beautiful mountain ridge, but mostly I wanted to find the box we had placed there years ago, I needed that for many reasons, but the road was blocked. Huge rocks set in the roadway, it was so overgrown, it was not the same place I recalled, time had visited that place. We made the decision not to hike it up while we were walking up the road, we would loose light soon and we had no decent protection from the wild, it would not have been smart to keep growing, we were all disappointed. I felt bad for Holly the most, she needed to see it, she needed to share this part of Kara's past with her because it is still the present time for them both, a little part of me was selfish that day, I needed to find that box and see what Selina had written to Leah and knowing a note in there for me existed as well. God has other plans that day.
We had already planned to replace the box and had things we were going to put in the new box to bury, we still did that. In a clear box I wrote Leah's name and that days date, Kara brought rocks with her for all to write a message and place in the box; I brought from home a necklace that had great meaning to me, an item Susan Murphy Milano had sent me a long time ago with a private message. We added a button, flyers, our rocks and the necklace and just like years ago Kara and I wrote a private message on paper and placed in there, we were now ready to bury the box. In a small ceremony Holly and Kara looked for the perfect spot, I stood back a bit, it was there time to have something together, I watched like a guess a mother would, proud of who Kara has grown into, I have grown to love her over time as I do many of my families, but today, flooded with so much time, people and memories, it was confirmed of the love our families have for each other.
We lingered around for awhile, then as hard as it was we drove out at dusk was leaning in the mountain. Everyone knew that feeling....not wanting to leave, that tug it does to your heart, because everyone in the tour vehicle has had a life experience of a missing person. Elisa was her son, Lisa was her sister and Harlan, his nephew and the list goes on. Then someone said something funny and laughter lighten the moment, conversation began to hide what each one of us were feeling.
The next morning was Leah's rally stop, the police wanted us to come in early and have donuts and coffee, etc. to meet with everyone on Leah's case including the Sheriff, it was an awesome meeting. Kara fought back tears a few times asking questions in need of long time answers, of coarse I had a few of my own as well. All and all we all left knowing that each person in that room that morning did care, they all wear Leah's case on the shoulders and hearts, again I believe. That meeting reinforces my trust in law officials and humanity, we enter the rally stop, it all went well. Many things will follow this stop in time to come, it is a renewed hope. I remain humble and honored to serve the missing, I am reminded daily of the importance of that; we are all God's extended branch of hope, it's just that simple.
We say our goodbyes....and begin to travel to our next rally stop, again on a journey of the unknown.