A rhythmic whooshing dragged me from sleep. It was a large, dry sound which, in my dozy state, brought images to mind of both an elephant sighing and a steam locomotive hissing to a stop. The tent about me glowed a gentle apricot from dawn’s first light. As the throaty whooshing fully woke me, David lumbered out of his sleeping bag beside me, unzipped the tent flap, and peered out across the dew-dappled grass of Sportsman Airpark, where we were camping under the wing of our Cessna 172. Moments later, his head popped back in and he fumbled for his camera. A whole bevy of helium balloons was just lifting off from the end of the runway, not far from where we were camped. Unfortunately, all I wanted to do was die. We’d ended up at Sportsman Airpark, in Newberg, Oregon, after marine fog had forced us to divert from our planned route down the west coast of the USA. We’d landed in Chehalem Airpark (17S), which once had welcomed camping-under-the-wing pilots onto their picnic-perfect grounds.
New airport management, however, proved to be decidedly camping-pilot unfriendly. With dusk rapidly approaching, we scrambled to find an alternative night-stop. Using Foreflight, we located nearby Sportsman Airpark, fired up our Skyhawk, and zipped the 9 minute distance over to the welcoming strip, where we were greeted like old friends & shown the location of the camper-convenient restroom & water tap.
Alas, shortly after setting up the tent & whipping up a creamy risotto camp-stove dinner, my insides turned out with the worst case of food-poisoning I’ve ever suffered. Earlier in the day, I’d wrestled a rotting fish from our co-pilot dog at Toledo State airstrip (5S4), & stupidly went blackberry picking right after—consuming the succulent berries hot & sweet from the bushes with my no-doubt-salmonella drenched hands.
So after an interminable night knelt before the porcelain throne at Sportsman Airpark, I wasn’t quite able to appreciate the beautiful helium air balloons launched by Vista Balloon Adventures come dawn. The folks at Sportsman were terrifically kind when they learned of my plight, and they didn’t hesitate to shuttle us to a local hotel, where I spent the next 2 days getting acquainted with the plumbing while on my hands & knees, as I recovered.
Located in Newberg, the gateway to Oregon wine country, Sportsman Airpark is a delightful little field that is a perfect spot for under-the-wing camping. The picturesque Champoeg State Park & Heritage Area is only an 8 minute drive away, and is home to a museum, campsites, cabins, yurts & pet-friendly hiking trails. Vineyards, wineries, & wine-tasting estates abound in the area… and next time we fly to Toledo & back to Sportsman, I’ll let the dog eat any damn rotten fish that he finds, & I’ll consume summer-sweet blackberries from a wine bottle instead of off the vine!