Finding out your son had a knife pulled on him isn’t exactly what a mother wants to hear, but for Susanne Landgrebe, hearing from her son Daniel is always a good thing.
Daniel is currently on the road, living off the grid, as research for a fictional book he plans to write. His mother has no problem with it as long as he checks in every two to three days. Daniel hitch-hiked on Interstate 80 out of Newton heading toward Canada. On June 24, Daniel went without contact for 13 days. Daniel didn’t take a cell phone or GPS with him and has relied on payphones and the kindness of strangers to contact his mother.
Susanne filed a national missing person report after five days of not hearing from Daniel. On Saturday, Susanne finally heard from Daniel, who was just in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and didn’t have access to communications.
“Daniel’s highly creative,” Susanne said. “He was a student at the University of Iowa, he was in a writer’s community and as a freshman he had three things published and he had a reading at Prairie Lights Bookstore. He was an avid, avid reader.”
But Daniel isn’t a novice in the wilderness. Susanne said that growing up, she would take him on camping trips and that he knew basic survival skills. She said during parts of Daniel’s trip he has to catch and forage for his own food, something that Daniel is used to and something that she supported. What he’s not used to, Susanne said, is dealing with railway gangs.
“But what I was not an advocate of, he was going to be hitchhiking and train hopping and refused to take anyway for me to check on him,” Susanne said.
In Cheyenne, Wyo., Daniel hopped in a freight train and had a knife pulled on him by a gang member of the Freight Train Riders of America, a gang that’s been around since the 1980s. When Susanne heard about this, she started researching.
“That’s one of the roughest gangs in the United States,” she said. “It’s a transient gang and if you Google about them they’re extremely violent and not easily tracked because they’re so transient.
After encountering the gang, Daniel said he would stop train hopping and start hitchhiking. Susanne also gave him $40 for a bus ticket.
Friday, Susanne said she was going out to Salt Lake City, the last place Daniel was seen, to be more proactive in the search. On her way, she received a call from someone who had seen Daniel, and turned around. Soon after, she heard from him.
While Daniel was in the forest, he asked someone to call his mom when they regained cell coverage to tell her he was safe, and they promised to do so. Susanne said she never received that call.
Staff writer Dave Hon may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.