A few weeks ago, we told you about Operation Frodo, a pet project of automotive journalist Nik Miles to bring four rescued Beagles from Omaha, Nebraska back to the Pacific Northwest to find new homes. In addition to saving the dogs, Miles arranged to donate a 2018 Nissan Titan XD pickup truck he had modified into a go-anywhere animal rescue rig to Bassett and Beagle Rescue of the Heartland.
The plan was simple enough: drive the truck from Portland, Oregon to Omaha and pick up the Beagles. Leave the truck behind and drive back across North America in a borrowed Jeep Grand Wagoneer. What made the trip special was that several automotive journalists, including this reporter, volunteered to share the driving and the expenses of the journey.
Donations sufficient to pay for the fuel required came in from members of the journalist community, while drivers were responsible for getting themselves to their location to pick up the truck, and home again when their leg was finished. Volunteers also paid for their own food and lodging along the way.
The Detroit Bureau’s Jeff Zurschmeide and Harvey Briggs of Rides & Drives took the first leg of the trip, leaving from Portland and taking two days to drive through Boise, Idaho and on into Salt Lake City, Utah. Briggs and Zurschmeide flew home from there, handing the truck off to Elizabeth Williams and Javier Mota at the airport. Miles and his husband, Lowell, joined Mota in Denver, Colorado for the final leg to Omaha and then the long ride back to Oregon.
As the team was handing off the truck and loading the dogs into a 2023 Jeep Grand Wagoneer loaned to the project by Stellantis, one of the most severe winter storms in a generation swept down from the Arctic, pushing temperatures below zero and wrapping the plains states in a blanket of ice.
“The weather was really, really cold in Omaha, and that was tough,” Miles said. “We left about noon and our plan was to get to Laramie, Wyoming, which we did. It went smoothly, but we should have continued driving. We knew the weather system was coming in, but we had an extra day to get home by the 23rd.”
When the team woke up the next morning, Interstate 80 westbound was closed. Looking for an alternate route home, the team went south toward Colorado.
“It got really bad,” Miles recalls. “We were at high altitude with no cell service and the road at some points was solid ice. We would go 20 or 30 minutes without seeing another vehicle.”
It was on this road that the team was glad to have a Jeep.
“The Grand Wagoneer saved our lives,” Miles insisted. “We stopped at the top of the mountain, and as we stopped the wind blew the Jeep off the road and into the ditch. We were head first into the ditch in about two feet of snow.”
It’s a situation familiar to many people, but instead of a tow truck, modern traction controls came to the rescue.
“I put the Wagoneer into Snow mode and backed right out,” Miles related. “The wheels didn’t even spin — it was crazy. I couldn’t believe it! A lot of vehicles wouldn’t have done that.”
With the Grand Wagoneer back on the road, the team headed back towards Rawlins, Wyoming, where they stayed for a day waiting for the weather to ease up.
“The freeway was blocked up with hundreds of semi trucks,” Miles said. “A state trooper told us that the wind had blown trucks onto their sides all up and down the freeway.”
Faced with blizzard conditions, Miles and the team found a motel room in Rawlins. The motel owner allowed them to bring the dogs in from the cold, which had reached 40 degrees below zero. The team got back on the westbound road the next day.
“It was pretty straightforward from there on,” Miles said.
Bringing it home
Miles and his team arrived back in Portland on the evening of Dec. 23. Mota flew home to Florida on Christmas Eve. Reflecting on the entire trip, Miles is generally positive, and happy with the results.
“The value is Bassett and Beagle Rescue of the Heartland got a rescue rig, we saved four dogs, and we had a great adventure,” Miles recalled. “So yeah, it was worth it, but I would never have put our lives at so much risk had I known.”
The original plan was that Miles would adopt one dog, Frodo, out of the bunch. Two were intended to end up in Seattle where a Beagle rescue would find homes for them, and one would be adopted in Salem, Oregon. Things mostly worked out that way, with one exception.
“One of the dogs, whom we’ve named Galadriel, just fell in love with Lowell,” Miles said. “The whole way home, she would cry unless she was in his lap. She chose him as her human. So she’s staying with our family.”
A new holiday tradition
The industry response supporting Operation Frodo was overwhelming, so naturally Miles is looking at a second round, and at options for how that might look in the future.
“Will we do it again? That depends on the support we get,” Miles said. “There’s a want but there’s no formulated plan. We’ve had so many people who say they wish they’d come along on the trip, so this time I think we ask multiple automakers to participate and have journalists drive dogs home to their own states. Maybe it becomes a national event.”
However it works out, Miles remains committed to saving dogs and finding homes for them. With the support of the automotive journalist community and the automakers behind him, it seems likely that Operation Frodo could become an annual event.
“Blessings on all of those who helped,” Miles said. “This needs to be done. If I have to do it myself, I’ll do it myself. But if people ask to be involved, we’ll embrace you.”
To help out with the next phase of Operation Frodo, donations can be routed through Animal Rescue Rigs.