Friday, September 07, 2012


I keep a separate, private blog, where I put my musings for my upcoming book. But since it's acting up, and well, this blog will become a platform for advertising what's to come - I figured this is an appropriate spot to put down some of my thoughts.

For those who don't really know me or my story - I am 34 years old. My childhood was spent in Eugene, Oregon, teenage years in Seattle, university in Bellingham and then back to Seattle until about a year ago when I moved to Colorado. I had a great life - and adoring husband. We married young at 22 and lived an amazing and fulfilling life. Life was going according to plan until four years ago, to the day Ryan took his last breath.

The following is an excerpt from what may be in the book:

The hike up to the base of Goat Wall left him wiping his brow. The load in his backpack was much lighter this time since he wasn’t burdened with the weight of climbing hardware. He had only brought his climbing harness, shoes, rope and a few carabiners for the rappel descent. Still, the 20-minute steep approach was not for the faint of heart nor out of shape.

Makiah, their 25 pound miniature Australian Shepherd, was panting too.  The big steps he had to take during the scramble up in the talus field were enormous leaps for her. Yet he didn’t need to assist her, she had made it up on her own. He contemplating shaving her – especially since she was miserable in the late season summer heat. But fall was just around the corner and she’d be more than a little humiliated without her signature shaggy coat.

He quickly found his route, Prime Rib a moderate 11 pitch 5.9. He knew exactly where it started since he had researched the climb quite a bit. That morning he had spoken with Brian, the routes originator, and gotten more than enough information on the climb. He was so confident in his choice of climb that day, he left the climbing guide book back at the cabin. He was, after all, an accomplished 5.13 grade climber and a 5.9 was well within his ability, rope or no rope.

He set his backpack down, pulled out his climbing harness, shoes, rope, chalk bag and took a big swig of water. Sitting down on a flat rock, he took off his approach shoes and carefully slipped on his tight climbing shoes.

“You stay here, Makiah.”

He didn’t even bother to tie her up. He didn’t need to. Makiah was well trained and did as she was told. Plus she rarely wandered and always stayed within earshot. He stashed his backpack near the base of the climb and left Makiah with some water. He slung a 70-meter rope over his shoulder, crisscrossing it around his chest and securing it with a series of climber knots so it wouldn’t impede his ascent. He chalked up his hands and with that, he started to climb up the loose adventure route. This was it, one last climb before heading home to Seattle after spending a week in Mazama. One final climb to top a fun filled week full of recreation in the Pacific Northwest.

Makiah watched as her owner started the ascent up Goat Wall and once he was out of sight she dug herself a comfortable spot to wait and keep careful guard over her owners backpack.

She was the last being to see him alive.


She had just completed a successful week of track racing down in San Jose. She was weighed down by her own hardware – two golds and one silver and a best all around rider jersey and trophy. Her successes made her happy and she couldn’t wait to share it in boring detail with her husband.

They had talked the day before for over an hour, enthusiastically sharing with one another their weekly adventures. His involved the wonders of the Pacific Northwest and deciding how best to spend his last day in Mazama. Hers’ involved going in circles at the velodrome as fast as humanly possible.

Both were excited to see one another. Both were missing one another and making plans for the following weekend when they would reunite to finally celebrate their 7th wedding anniversary. They talked of biking in the San Juan’s and ferry schedules were checked.

Before calling it a day, she had one last race, the team sprint with Jane, a friend from Seattle. They placed 4th overall and quickly packed to start the long 16 hour trek back to Seattle.

She felt part excitement, part fear. So much lay ahead of her and she had a strong sense that things after Nationals wouldn’t be the same. But she had no idea to what extent that would be true.

The drive from San Jose to Seattle was long. Certainly doable in one long stretch but since Guy was unwilling to share the drive burden, she insisted they stop and stay the night with her brother and family in Brownsville, Oregon.

They left San Jose around noon and it was around 100 degrees. A quick stop for a burrito along the drive had them speeding along the highway and passing through Redding, California around sunset. They passed by a large forest fire, washing the sky in pinks, reds and greys. She had a strange feeling but ignored it. She had lots of excitement from the previous week to recall and quickly put that funny feeling to rest.

The stop at her brother’s house was full of commotion. Coleman, her nephew, demands full attention and consumed her thoughts of worry. By bedtime, she was tired from the day’s event and was concerned she hadn’t heard from Ryan. He always called.


The next morning, the whole family and Guy headed to the local breakfast spot and ate together before she and Guy departed for the final 5 hours to Seattle. Once on the Interstate, she started to panic and called the office to find out if Ryan had showed up. No one had seen or heard from him.

Panic set in.

Oddly, exactly a month prior, Ryan told Jennifer what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency. He was climbing with his friend Fitz and told her if she didn’t hear from them by a certain time to call the sheriff’s department and search and rescue.

She called the Okonogan County Sheriff department and reported Ryan missing. She reported his last known where about was in the cabin in Mazama, potentially headed out on a mountain bike ride. By strange coincidence she had the VW Golf license registration paperwork with her so she was able to describe the vehicle with 100% accuracy.

The drive between Brownsville and Seattle took about 5 hours. Time came to a standstill. For once she and Guy didn’t have anything to say to one another.

They arrived in Seattle around noon. She had already called her mother and told her something bad might be happening. There were so many unanswered questions in those first few hours, such a whirlwind of emotion, of hope, of loss, of trying to make sense of a senseless world.

Recalling her conversation with Ryan two days before, he had mentioned going on a mountain bike ride of some sort. She hoped and prayed she’d be able to find him with a broken leg or something on a trail out in the middle of the national forest.

Her neighbor, Jo, saw the commotion going on next door and popped over to say hello. She told Jo that Ryan was missing and last seen in the Methow Valley. Jo reassured her everything would be all right. They’d gather some survival items to create a real search party for him: flashlights, First Aid Kit, a climbing rope and an emergency blanket – all hopeful items for a rescue.

Mazama is a three and a half hour drive from Seattle. Her mother Caprice, Guy and Jo all headed to the grocery store together to pick up some food to go. That’s when she got the call.

The Okanogan County Sheriff’s deputy told her to go the local precinct. Unsure of what was happening, but letting that initial lump in the back of her throat build, she went. It all seemed like a dream.

The precinct was by North Seattle Community College, a 15 minute drive away.  No sort of assuring could deny the feeling of utter despair building in her gut. Time was starting to disappear. Moments between actions were completely lost.

They walked in together, Guy, Jennifer, Caprice and Jo and explained to the police officer sitting at the front desk that he needed to call the Okanogan sheriff’s office. He did so, and while he was talking with the deputy over the phone, his tone grew somber. Those moments didn’t disappear. Those seconds between what the officer was being told and what he was about to say came to a stand still. She wanted that moment to freeze, didn’t want to hear what she already knew was going to be told to her.

“I’m sorry, miss. Your husband is dead.”


My knees gave out from underneath me. I sank to the floor, unable to breath, unable to register what devastating news was just relayed but also known. The room started spinning. The officer came out from behind his desk enclosure and offered a hug, giving his condolences, passing along bad news, something that he has to do on a daily basis, part of his job description. I wondered how many other new widows he had to relay this kind of news to. I knew exactly how Emily felt. How the world was ripped out from under her, how everything she knew was gone in an instant. It didn’t make what I was experiencing any easier, but at the same time I felt like I had been here before. That I was in some way prepared for what was happening.

Guy said he was willing to drive us onto the Methow, as that seemed the next logical step. I felt a strong urge to be there – to feel his presence, to find my dog. I remember my mom and Guy talking on the way there but I have no idea what they said. I just stared, numbly, out the window as the trees zoomed by.
The views of the Liberty Bell group took my breath away, but this time for a different reason. I could feel Ryan everywhere. His presence was certainly with me – angry and whirling about. Similar to our living relationship, I was always the calm one. I could take whatever life would throw at us and make sense of it. Ryan, on the other hand, would get upset at things. I felt his anger then, and I knew his accident was an accident, not something he would do intentionally.

We spent that first night at the Methow Country Inn. Normally they don’t allow dogs, but we were able to get Makiah to stay given the emergency circumstances. When I first saw her, she was scared. I don’t think it registered that she was with me, only that she was finally safe. My mom booked us a room with a queen bed, the only one available and we tried to sleep that first night. My mind wouldn’t shut off, I was in complete and utter shock. I cried and cried and cried, asking Makiah what had happened. What she had seen. I had so many unanswered questions.

Over the next couple of days, the puzzle pieces became clearer. On Sunday, September 7, Ryan had gone free solo climbing up a route called Prime Rib. He had left Makiah at the base, unleashed and started up the route. Sometime during the day, another climbing party had set out to do the same route and noticed a backpack and little dog, unleashed, but no sign of a hiker or climber. They started the climb and noticed a plate sized bloodstain on the rock about 4 pitches up. During the ascent and descent they didn’t see anyone else there and thought it was odd.  That night they headed back to their lodging 40 miles down valley. They both felt uneasy about the situation and decided the following day to head back up valley to see if the little dog, back pack and red Golf were still parked at Goat Wall.

At the same time, our neighbor Anne had a house sitter named Kevin that we had befriended on previous trips to the Methow. He was of similar age to Ryan and I and easy going. He had noticed the red Golf parked on the side of the road overnight and thought it odd. He got off his morning shift and stopped at the same time the climbing party convened.

That’s about the same time the deputy rolled up on the scene. She asked the three men what they were doing there and noticed a little dog, unleashed, wandering back and forth between the road and the trail head. Makiah was frantic.

When the deputy mentioned to the climbing party and Kevin that a person was reported missing and she was waiting for Search and Rescue to show up to begin their search, the three men asked if they could start the search. She advised them that the area was on public land and she could not advise them to search but they could look on their own accord.

It took about twenty minutes before they found him. Makiah helped lead the way, running ahead on the path, herding them toward Ryan’s last resting spot.

Once Search and Rescue showed up, the deputy informed them it was a recovery. Ryan had sustained massive internal injuries from his fall, which appeared to be from 600 feet off the ground. It remains unknown if he died on impact or sometime during his fall. It also remains a mystery the cause of his fall – if loose rock was the culprit, a swooping bird or if he simply got off route. The fatal scene was recorded, photographed, described and several hours later, the deputy got back into cell reception range. That’s when I got the call and when my life changed, forever.

1 comment:

Monas said...

Big hugs Jen. xx