By the time Coy Lothrop discovered the treasure map, many others had already been at the hunt for four months.
A massive prize was on the line, so the Kilgore College graphic design instructor wasted no time: “No one had it, so I thought maybe I could make this happen.”
The clues were buried in the pages of “Breakfast Tea & Bourbon” by Pete Bissonette.
The Minnesota author teased his “treasure hunt within a treasure hunt” in Fall 2016, announcing the book's looming publication through his Learning Strategies company, which has worked for the past three decades to help others maximize their potential.
“'Breakfast Tea & Bourbon' is a contemporary adventure novel, an intriguing puzzle, and even a bit of a guide for a more meaningful and joyous life," Bissonette said. “Woven within its pages are clues leading to an actual treasure hidden in the United States worth $50,000,” in addition to a $5,000 donation to a charity of the winner's choice.
The hunt officially began with the book's publication earlier this year, and the timing – 5:08 p.m. CST on Feb. 9, 2017 – was one of the myriad keys in the search, narrowing the range to the Central Time Zone.
“It’s a book about these five friends that kind of go on this treasure hunt together,” Coy said. “Woven into the story are these clues for a real treasure hunt. As you’re following their story, you’re doing your own. You kind of follow in their footsteps.
“You solve these clues and you try to find the city where this treasure is hidden. That’s what we were tasked. That’s what we ultimately did.”
Bissonette buried his magical flute, a Balinese suling, under a certain stone, behind a boulder, off the Sunset Trail in Hot Springs National Park.
Following literary breadcrumbs from place to another, “You had to follow all of these exact instructions when you finally found the city,” Coy said, with more to follow: “It put us right on top of it, to the letter. All we had to do was brush some leaves away,” and there was the stone: “It was petrified jasper, which wasn't indigenous to that area. “We knew this was something different. This was it.”
That was the finish line, however.
The author had hidden his prize well-away from his Minneapolis home, and his readers couldn't hope to find the cache without first following Bissonette's clues to narrow down the United States playing field.
Before they arrived at the final destination, the Lothrop family – Coy; his wife, Amy; daughter, Bailey; and son, Aiden – would, like so many others, find themselves deep in “Breakfast Tea & Bourbon,” with Coy taking the first crack at the book, recommended by a friend.
“I'm off for the summer from Kilgore College, so I had lots of time to dedicate to it,” Coy said.
He picked up Bisonnette's novel June 24 and finished it in a couple of days.
“It took me another couple of days to hash the clues out I was looking for,” Coy added, two in particular: “I needed one, and then I needed one to confirm it.
“I came in to this four months late... 'I've got to get moving if I'm going to find this.'”
Clues in hand, buried in the pages of Bissonette's novel, Coy found his X-marks-the-spot: somewhere just off the Sunset Trail.
“I was pretty certain I knew where this was. I wanted to be certain, 100 percent,” and he used every available resource to pinpoint the goal: “I started watching GoPro videos of that particular trail in that particular national park on YouTube.”
There was enough footage available of the popular hiking spot that Coy could trek, virtually, almost to the finish line.
“I could see landmarks. I knew the stuff was there. I was certain at the time, 100 percent, that it was going to be there – unless someone had found it.”
He ran his theories by Aiden, and the 12-year-old Kilgore Middle Schooler concurred. Coy recruited Amy and Bailey, and the hunt was on for real.
Bissonette's literary quest turned into a family vacation.
“If we didn't find it, that's fine – we had a good time hiking and being together and being out and getting away from our screens and devices,” Coy said. “But we had a treasure to find. That made it so much more cool.”
Four days after Coy first cracked the book, on June 28 the family was following the Sunset Trail, and “As we started seeing those landmarks and those things happen in real life, it was so exhilarating.”
The first attempt was a dead-end.
“We scoured that place. Absolutely scoured it and didn't find anything,” Coy said.
Back home, he soon realized his first error – one that likely plagued other treasure seekers.
“One of the final instructions was to turn left,” Coy said, if a reader discerned the clue. The alternative led to a promising but ultimately fruitless destination: “There's a really popular rock formation at the end of that trail called Balanced Rock. I think everybody thought that the treasure would be there.”
Unless they turned left.
There was another piece missing, one the family had missed the first time through. They found their answer in Chapter 13 of “Breakfast Tea & Bourbon,” an anecdotal aside that turned out to be crucial. It provided a navigational clue, a compass bearing.
Coy re-read portions of the book, just in case, and when the next opportunity came, July 14, they hit the road again, retraced their steps, turned left and – using an iPhone compass app – found their way.
From there, Coy said, the clue instructed hunters to look 68 feet away “as the mockingbird flies.”
The Lothrops found Bissonette's boulder.
“Literally within two minutes of arriving on the scene had found it based on that last bit. It’s just what everyone was missing,” Coy said. “We got down there, and we brushed it away, and there it was.
“The book was completely accurate if you did it all in precisely the correct way. We just happened to.”
The hunt began Feb. 9. It ended July 14. It was another month – mildly torturous, the family four keeping the secret – before they received their prize Monday.
The $5,000 charity donation will go to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children: Bailey was born with severe scoliosis, Coy said, and she's eager to hand over the check to the same doctors and nurses who have cared for her for years.
“They did an absolutely excellent job,” Coy said. “It's a great way to tie all that up.”
The prize money ties up another loose end of that hospital journey – the family is grateful for the means to pay off some of that medical debt.
“It's just kind of been an albatross,” Coy said. From what remains, “We've spent it a thousand times in our minds,” and they'll start by picking out a reliable, reasonably-priced car for Bailey. “A good part of whatever's left, and it should be substantial, we're going to try to invest … let it grow and have a better future because of that. It's enough to put us in a better place for sure.
Of course, “We're going to have some fun with some of it.”
One treasure found, Bissonette's not finished.
“Mr. Bissonette has been incredible. He is just the nicest guy, a true gentleman,” Coy said. “If he wanted to change people’s life, he’s done it. He found that family.”
There's more to “Breakfast Tea & Bourbon” than has been released, Coy hinted, and there's more hunts and more loot ahead.
“The prize amount is only going to get bigger every time. As soon as he gets all the logistics worked out... As soon as he releases those chapters it will unlock and activate those treasure hunts.”
The Lothrops will be on the trail.
“We're go to after that too. We're not excluded. I made sure to ask.”
Learn more about the book and future hunts at breakfastteaandbourbon.com.