Who knew dents and duct tape were desirable?

I drive an old minivan with more character than market appeal: a 1995 Quest with a dented rear right taillight from an unfortunate incident involving backing into a parked vehicle, a scraped left side from a poorly placed light post and 169,000 miles of experience.

Despite the dents and duct tape, my family's beloved Quest aroused desire in the wrong set of eyes. This summer, in one of the most stupefying car heists in recent history, the old girl was stolen.

It occurred last month at the public access parking lot of South Center Lake in Lindstrom. It was my second-to-the-last day of summer break before returning to St. John's University for my senior year, and I couldn't think of a better way to spend it than to take my buddy Nick out fishing.

We had a leisurely start to our day, putting the boat in the water at 9:30 a.m. and parking the van and boat trailer in the same row I always do. A full stringer of keeper sunfish, half a dozen released bass and a couple hours later, we returned to the dock. Nick held the boat at bay while I ran up to the parking lot, only to be shocked at the absence of the van.

I stared at the spot for a while and wandered around the parking lot, halfway expecting to see the Quest every time I looked where I left her.

Finally, I stumbled down to the dock and broke the news to Nick.

I muttered, "Hey Nick, believe it or not, I think someone actually stole the van."

Nick studied my eyes carefully to see if I was joking, then asked, "Do you mind if I look in the parking lot for myself?"

When Nick couldn't find it either, I called the Chisago County Sheriff's Department on my cell phone to report the almost unbelievable news: someone had stolen the van.

Perhaps a bit of background information is necessary to put this in perspective. The Quest has aged gracefully in the last decade, but she certainly has run into her fair share of medical problems. Within the past three years, she's needed a new muffler, fuel pump, radiator, brakes and transmission.

In 2003 the air conditioning died, and given the cost of a new unit and the value of the van, Dad decided not to get it replaced — a decision that makes driving by a bank's marquee thermometer and reading 103 degrees during a six-hour ride home from the Boundary Waters a painfully real memory.

This summer, the Quest failed us when we needed her most. She was all loaded up for our big annual Canadian fishing adventure when she died at a Holiday station as Dad was filling her up for the trip.

His instructions to Mom at 3 o'clock that morning as we hastily reloaded all of our gear into our back-up vehicle, was to only get the Quest repaired while we were gone if it cost less than $1,000. Anything more and it simply wouldn't be worth it.

Much to our delight, the repairs came in at less than a grand, and our beloved Quest, once given up for dead, had been resurrected.

The Quest also has a rather handy feature: keyless entry. A person can unlock the van by punching in a five-digit code on a number pad on the driver's side door. I take advantage of this feature whenever I go fishing, locking the keys in the glove compartment to eliminate the chance of them falling out of my pocket and sinking into the depths of the lake. In a plan that seems equally clever, until you have your car stolen, I also lock my wallet in the glove box to make sure it, too, doesn't fall into the lake.

Standing in the parking lot, waiting for the police to come, I regretted the wallet-in-the-glove-compartment strategy. I also realized I was facing an odd dilemma: I had a boat tied to a public access dock, but I had neither a vehicle nor a trailer to get the boat home.

It turned out that the local police chief's parents actually live right on South Center Lake. So I motored over to their place, tied my boat up to their dock, secured my tackle in their shed and caught a ride from a police officer into town where Nick's mom picked us up.

The rest of the day I spent making phone calls to the insurance agent, shops that might have a trailer for sale and the credit card company (in just a few hours the thief tried to charge items worth more than $300 at several different stores).

I went to bed at the end of the day exhausted and unsure if I would ever see the Quest again. At 1 a.m. I received a pleasant surprise — a call from the sheriff's department saying that authorities had caught a fellow driving my van.

The suspect stashed the trailer in an empty lot and was cruising around Wyoming, Minn., when police recognized the van and pulled him over. After repeated questioning, he finally admitted where he hid the trailer, which, like the Quest, was no worse for the wear.

Amazingly, I was able to pick up the van and trailer from the Lindstrom Police Department, get the boat from the police chief's parents' dock and drive them home the following night. I even stopped and took a few casts to end my summer vacation.

I'd like to think it was the duct tape that helped the police identify the Quest, but I guess we'll never know.

All we do know is that our beloved Quest is back, and, apparently, she's a little more desirable than we thought.

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