Recently I came across a small, pocket notebook that I had used as a journal on a kayaking/camping trip in the Sea of Cortez off the Baja Peninsula. Upon coming across the journal, I forgot the task at hand and sat down to read. It was a dozen or so years ago, but suddenly it all came back like yesterday.

Nancy and I paddled together in a tandem kayak.  There were eight other folks in our group. The trip was sponsored by the Science Museum of Minnesota. The intentions were to explore the Sea of Cortez, find migrating whales and hike in the adjacent Sonoran desert. I was employed with the museum as a naturalist at Warner Nature Center and one of the benefits was that I often had opportunities to help lead various eco-trips to destinations around the world.

Our flight took us from Minnesota to Los Angeles and then south to Loreto, Mexico. On the first night, as we all gathered after supper for a brief orientation by the kayaking company guides, we each were asked to share our paddling experience level and to express a goal for the trip. This was an excellent ice breaker as none of us knew each other before the trip.

Most of the clients were from Minnesota, were you are practically born with a canoe paddle in your hands.  Consequently most had either kayaked or canoed. But there was one woman, a sprite gal in her early 40s, from Greenwich Village in New York City. All eyes locked on this black belt urbanite. She wasn’t shy about sharing her experience. “I’ve never paddled. . . anything.”

In all my years leading Science Museum trips, I had never met someone like Beth; the lady who lived in the handsome Brownstone that was aired at the beginning of every Friends episode.

Beth was a highly successful businesswoman and one of the most curious people I have ever met. She had learned of this particular kayaking and camping adventure while reading a random magazine on a business flight. She thought, “Now that would be different and push me out of my comfort zone.”

How many of us deliberately choose a path that leads us away from personal contentment? This attribute of adventure seeking had steered Beth toward a highly successful business career. She had founded Code Inc., an architectural expediting firm that helps architects understand and comply with New York City building codes

Somewhere lurking in Beth’s genotype was a gene that pushes her to new experiences. What would I be willing to do to step out of my comfort zone?

Throughout the week we explored islands and coves of this unique landscape where arid desert interfaces with the Sea of Cortez. Beth exuberated a childlike wonder over almost anything.

One clear night, Nancy and I decided to forego the tent and we slept on our tent drop cloth out under the stars. Without nearby light pollution, the black sky was awash with stars and the cloudy path of the Milky Way. And when we sat up in our bags to look around, the quiet shoreline was ribbed  with a glowing ribbon of bioluminescence washed up at the edge of the beach. It was magical.

At breakfast the next morning we exclaimed about the light show of the night before. Later that day after we paddled several miles to a new campsite, Beth strolled over to us and quietly inquired, “How do you sleep under the stars?”

I was taken aback by the question. I almost blurted out, “Are you serious?” Thankfully we used better judgment. We told her about sleeping on a tarp, and shaking footwear before putting them on in case a scorpion found your shoes a perfect hideout.

Throughout the week, Beth continued to push her comfort boundaries. Her eager willingness to try new things was an inspiration to both Nancy and me. And both of would grow fonder of this bright and articulate New York City girl with the passing of each day.

At another remote campsite, there was a shallow cave in the impressive rock feature rising just off the beach. To enter it you had to scrunch over. It was only about ten feet deep from the entry but it was still pretty dark during the day. Imagine what it would be like in this narrow haunt after dark.

Beth looked closely at the rocky sanctum. She walked over to me and declared, “I’ve never slept in a cave before.”

I’m betting that no one in the group had and that no one in the group, other than Beth, had any desire to do so. We wished her a good night’s sleep as she pulled a tarp and her sleeping bag into the cave. Somewhere inside the dark abyss, we heard a cheerful “Good night all!”

Near the end of the week she reveled in the fact that she did not have to take a shower daily and that she was capable of peeing on the beach in front of others. We were witnessing a metamorphosis.

One day we discovered a dried out corpse of a kit fox. Late we came upon a dead tarantula. At each corpse Beth asked if she could touch them. And she did. She learned to identify a dozen bird species that we commonly saw over the course of our trip. And she learned a handful of constellations that prior to the trip she had only read about or seen mundane images of.

Beth was such a fearless and curious rock star that Nancy and I developed a tight friendship with her. And now having experienced kayaking, she was curious about canoes. So we casually threw out an invitation to come to Minnesota some time to join us for a canoe outing.

Less than six months later, Beth flew to Minneapolis, rented a car and found our house. We paddled the St. Croix River. She reveled in spotting eagles. On the drive back to our house, she was ecstatic upon spying roadside ditches full of wildflowers. It was delightful to have someone point out the party-colored flora, even if we see these blooms routinely. It mattered little to Beth that some of these, like yarrow, orange hawkweed and dandelions are considered invasive aliens. She was still seeing the world through new eyes.

Back at the house, we learned that Beth loved to cook. Without a recipe, she whipped up her mom’s famous apple pie. Her mom and dad lived on Nantucket Island off Cape Cod. After we did real damage to that memorable pie, she wrote down the recipe for us.

Over the course of the few days of her first-ever Minnesota visit, Beth expressed how she was going to sell her business in the next few years and move out to Nantucket Island. Repeatedly she insisted that we come out for a visit sometime.

Over the next couple of years we exchanged letters and cards but we were all too busy to have a reunion. And then I bumped into Beth in a horrifically unforgettable way.

I was waiting in line at the grocery store. I scanned the cover of People Magazine, and my gaze froze. On the cover was a lovely smiling woman who looked just like Beth. When I read the bold print on the cover “Murder in Nantucket, Every Woman’s Nightmare,” I grabbed the magazine and added it to my groceries. I was so stunned I cannot remember even paying the cashier. In the car, I flipped to the story. I was shocked and saddened upon learning of the gruesome murder of Beth Lochtefeld.

She had fulfilled her dream of selling her share of the multi-million dollar business and moving out to Nantucket Island where she was enjoying living close to her parents and involving herself in various arts related non-profit groups.

A romance-gone-bad. I could not comprehend the fear this normally fearless woman must have felt as she encountered a darkness far greater than a Baja cave and was stabbed twenty three times with a knife.

Beth, you still inspire us to step brightly in pushing boundaries towards new experiences. Thanks for giving.

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