For more than two years Al Bauer hoped and prayed that someday soon, he'd see his son again.

Even as the days became weeks and the weeks months, Bauer never gave up hope that his son, Shane, 29, would come home from the notoriously evil Evin Prison in Tehran, where he had been held captive on charges of espionage.

So when a thin but smiling Shane Bauer raced down the plane's steps in Muscat, Oman, last week after 26 months in prison, into his fiancée's arms, his father stood back and soaked in the moment.

"You almost can't describe it," an exhausted but relieved Al Bauer said Monday, his voice cracking as he recalled the joyous reunion.

Seconds later, Bauer said, he and other relatives wrapped their arms around Shane. "We just said, 'We love you,'" Bauer recalled. "And I told him, 'I missed you.'"

Bauer, 54, reflected on the moment Monday after returning home to Shakopee, where he repairs engines and sells large machinery. He and other relatives had flown to Oman last week after word that Iran was ready to release his son and Shane's friend, Josh Fattal.

"It was just a big load off of me" as his son walked down the steps of the plane, Al said. "It was a sigh of relief to see that he was fine. He's lost weight. He's a lot skinnier. His voice is just like when he left. His personality is still caring and loving. His laugh, it's deep, it's meaningful."

A hike in the mountains

The family's nightmare began in July 2009, when Shane Bauer, a freelance journalist working out of Damascus, Syria, took a break for an eight-day hiking trip in the lush, scenic mountains of northern Iraq.

Joining Bauer were his girlfriend, Sarah Shourd, who taught English in Damascus, and Fattal, a friend from their days at the University of California, Berkeley, where all three graduated.

At some point, the hikers met Iranian officials on a trail leading from the Ahmed Awa waterfall. A short time later, the officials jailed them for allegedly crossing into Iran illegally.

Whether they ever set foot in Iran they will never know, Bauer and Fattal said Sunday in New York.

Bauer's family and the relatives of Shourd and Fattal have repeatedly maintained the hikers' innocence, calling the charges ludicrous. They said the three were pawns in a high-stakes game of international politics between the United States and Iran.

Despite providing no evidence to support an espionage charge, Iran wouldn't budge. As months passed, relatives grew desperate. But Al Bauer said he never lost hope. "You just keep going and going and going," he said. "You never give up. You don't give up on your children."

Bauer, Shourd and Fattal called home several times, but the conversations were brief.

A ray of hope came in May 2010, when the hikers' mothers were permitted a visit. Four months later, hopes rose again when Shourd, who had health problems, was released in exchange for $500,000.

Bauer and Fattal weren't so fortunate. A trial set for February was moved to May, then July. In late August, the two were sentenced to eight years in prison for espionage and illegally walking into Iran.

The nightmare came to an end last week when Iran released the men in an a $1 million bail-for-freedom deal. Within hours, Bauer and Fattal were on a plane to Oman, where Al Bauer; his former wife, Cindy Hickey, of Pine City, Minn., and their daughters, Nicole and Shannon, waited with open arms.

Future plans uncertain

Sunday night, after five days with his son and family, Al Bauer flew home. Shane's mother and sisters remained in New York; they could not be reached Monday.

Al got home shortly after midnight and was back at work five hours later. By 7 a.m. Monday, more than 200 motorists had driven by his house, honking their horns in celebration of Shane's freedom and Al's good fortune.

Al Bauer isn't sure what his son's immediate plans are, saying that he will simply take time "to figure things out." While in prison, Shane Bauer proposed to Shourd.

Al said Shane, who grew up in Onamia, Minn., but moved to California when he was 14, likely will be back in Minnesota to visit him soon. The two have yet to talk about the hardships of prison. "He can tell me that when he's ready," Al said. "Right now, I told him to take care of himself."

For now, Al Bauer's life will begin to return to normal. "I woke up at 2 a.m. every night after he was captured," he said. Once he was freed, Al slept through the night.

The angst of not knowing when he would see his son next is over. "It's just so good to see him," Al Bauer said. "I just love him." • 612-673-4788 • 62-673-4425