My dad turned 78 on May 11. Every year, on Mother’s Day weekend, my dad and a group go to Sourdough Campground and do a trail cleanup. I have never gone. I live about 10 hours from Sourdough Campground and May is a busy time teaching and coaching football. I usually go to Sourdough on Father’s Day, a month later, so I always miss the May trip.
However, with some unexpected time on my hands in April and May, I made a late-night, spontaneous decision: I threw my camping gear in a Jeep, my Jeep on a trailer, and headed west on the spur of the moment. I’m not a spur of the moment guy, so this was a big deal. I’d much rather plan and let everybody know I was coming, so pulling the trigger this quick meant I only had time to make one quick list of what I needed to pack. I decided to surprise my dad and not tell him I was coming.
1,128 and 16.4
I drove 1,128 miles of pavement, but forgot to track my dirt road miles once I got off the trailer. Dirt road and rock trail miles aren’t really measured in miles, anyway. I spent three days and two nights on dirt, camping out of my Jeep. And for anybody who has ever spent multiple days and nights on a dirt road in a Jeep, he or she already knows we don’t track those days in miles, but in smiles. They are the best days.
Pulling my Jeep trailer, my 5.9 Dodge got 16.4 miles per gallon all the way across Oregon and back. One of the reasons I decided to implement Operation Surprise Dad was because gas and diesel are so cheap right now. They were basically giving it away! Well, not exactly, but it was one of my cheaper trips home.
I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to surprise my dad, so I enlisted some help. My friend, Alan, called my dad and invited him to breakfast at The Happy Donut, one of the few places that was serving food outside. My dad loves their biscuits and gravy: four of them in a large order. The Happy Donut is right off the I-5 freeway exit with a view of almost the entire valley. I knew my dad would see my pickup and trailer before I could surprise him.
However, I was able to pull around the back of the building the wrong way. I know dad saw the rig, but I could tell that it hadn’t clicked for him. I parked, got out, and sidled up behind him. As he and Alan were working on their four biscuits and gravy on the trunk of Alan’s car, I was able to suddenly appear at my dad’s left elbow.
He looked at me very funny. I said, “Hello, my daddy.” He continued to look at me funny.
“Why are you here?! I knew I recognized that Jeep; I just couldn’t figure out who’s it was. If you had brought the Fire Jeep I would have known it was you!”
He was happy to see me. I told him I was going to Sourdough with him and spending the weekend with him. We left Alan and went back to Dad’s house so he could pack up for the weekend. At his house, we putted around, told stories, and waited a couple hours until everybody was ready to meet up.
One text message from Rodney really set this plan in motion. I saw on Facebook that Rodney was going to ride co-pilot with my dad into Sourdough. Dad and his Jeep are fairly famous, so this was no small undertaking. My dad bought his 1947 CJ 2 in 1966. It was 19 years old when he got it. Since 1966, that Jeep and he have been everywhere together. I learned to drive in it. It has had three different bodies on it. It has been repainted multiple times. My dad and his yellow Jeep are famous — possibly infamous depending on who you ask.
Rodney’s text on Wednesday said my old man sounded really excited to go to Sourdough. This text made me smile. I don’t think my dad had a great winter, and once this COVID crap happened, he thought he had got it. He hadn’t felt well and hadn’t had much fun lately, so this message about him, his Jeep, and Rodney made me want to experience the weekend with him.
Friday and Saturday night we had campfires and stayed up too late telling lies and having fun. My dad always goes to bed before everyone else but he doesn’t really sleep. He kind of catnaps and listens to the lies and BS from the fire. My dad sleeps like an old cowboy — on a bedroll, no air mattress, no pillow. Even at 78, he would rather sleep under the Starlight Motel, as he calls it, on top of some old mule blankets. Watching my dad camp is a sight to behold.
But back to the two campfires. I spend a lot of time around campfires, having a beer and talking to my friends. And I always forget how much my dad likes it. He lays there, listens to everybody, and smiles all night. When I get up in the morning, I always go see him first when we are camped in a big group like this. He tells me how much he liked listening to everybody talk and laugh. He loves listening to everybody having fun. Seeing him smile when he tells me about the two campfires was worth 1000 pavement miles of time.
My Jeep and camp at Sourdough (photo by Virgle Osborne)
One dad. At 78, I bet my dad only has 20 or 30 more years of Jeep trips ahead of him. I’m 44 and I know I have had a lot behind me and a lot ahead of me. I spend a lot of time in the middle of nowhere, Jeeps parked at random angles, standing around a fire, with my friends and family. Some day, I won’t be able to do it with my dad.
That is what made this trip so special to me. My dad and I started going to Sourdough back in the early 1980’s when he and a group started an event called Creek N Trail. I have many special memories of Creek N Trail over the last 40 years. Sourdough is one of my favorite places. I have missed the last three Creek N Trail events because I let time, money, and life get in my way.
That is one of the silver linings for me from this COVID crap — to stop letting stuff get in the way that doesn’t really matter. That’s why this surprise trip for my dad’s birthday is by far my favorite trip to Sourdough. It was so much fun to be able to surprise him and watch him have fun in the middle of nowhere. I have spent my entire life in a Jeep seat, usually close to my dad, and this surprise, spontaneous trip was one of my best ideas ever, and boiling it down to the numbers just doesn’t do it justice.