My Total Solar Eclipse Adventure, 2017

In 1998 I booked a cruise on a Carnival ship, that was sold as being an “eclipse cruise”. I was just out of a bad relationship that was limiting what I was willing to do. Now that it was over, I saw this as an opportunity to start exploring things I wasn’t willing to do before. So much of life is really about your mental state when experiencing events, not just the ev That eclipse wasn’t just an astronomical curiosity, or a fun cruise, but it was a time of newly found freedom, of a weight off my shoulders, being around people that valued many of the things I valued, and experiencing new things, like shore excursions to places I hadn’t heard of before.

I’m not the only one who attributes more to these events than an interesting geometrical alignment of heavenly bodies. This cruise was packed with people who had very emotional attachments to total solar eclipses. Many travel to almost any total eclipse that occurs, around the world. People cried when totality occurred, hugged each other, and formed a bond that happens between people sharing uncommon circumstances: maybe not nearly as strong as the bond formed by people sharing dangerous circumstances, but a bond nonetheless.

My 2nd Eclipse, 2017

I was curious how I’d feel when I saw the eclipse of 2017. I’m not a particularly emotional person, but I do feel a connection with eclipses, maybe because I know more about them than the average person, or because of this sense of freedom I irrationally connect with eclipses because of my first experience. Whatever the reason, when there was going to be one near me, I was going to see it; everything else be damned. Luckily, my life is easy enough that I didn’t have to damn many things to see an eclipse.

I didn’t hear about the eclipse more than a couple months before it happened. Astronomy is a nascent hobby of mine. I used to be more involved, but since acquiring more debt and responsibilities, working more, and moving to a populated area with light pollution that makes astronomy an occasional adventure, I’ve simply not stayed up on astronomical events. A presentation at Skeptical 2017 brought this to my attention, and I wondered how I’d not heard of it before. I started looking for places to stay near the path of totality, hoping I’d beat the masses. I didn’t.

Where oh Where

The first decision was where to view the eclipse. Weather is a key aspect of any eclipse. When I was on the cruise ship in 1998, I stayed on the ship because I wasn’t going to do photography, where a stable platform is important, and the weather forecast was variable, so a moving ship had a better chance of finding a “hole” through which to see the eclipse. Many people disembarked at Venezuela (Caracas, I believe) and missed it entirely. Our ship captain did a good job of tracking the weather, moving toward what seemed a good area, and as totality came, maneuvering the ship into a spot where we could see it. I was grateful, something I need to recognize more. My trip was worth it whether we were clouded out or not, but experiencing totality with the people around me definitely made the trip better.

So, where would the weather give me the best odds of seeing this eclipse? My primary source was, and I came up with 2 prime areas: Madras, Oregon, and just north of Boise, Idaho. Eastern Idaho’s weather prospects were worse as clouds tend to form on the east side of that valley (I’m not sure of the valley name, but all valleys in Idaho have very happy names). Western Oregon suffers from the same issue, as moisture from the Pacific butts up against the Cascade mountains.

Madras, Oregon was recognized early on as the prime place to go in the US for this eclipse, and it was booked far in advance by people coming from all over the world. Even though I started looking a month before the eclipse, there were no hotel vacancies. Even empty RV spots were going for several hundred USD/day. Boise was cheaper, and had more availability, but driving to Boise was 12 hours, which made Madras seem relatively close at 9 hours. Plus, the terrain to Madras seemed more interesting to me than that to Boise. So, I focused on trying to find accommodations in the Madras, Oregon area.

Mark, Lynn and Family

As I started looking at places for the eclipse, I suddenly realized these days coincided with my sister’s and brother-in-law’s (Teresa and Dale) trip to California, where I had offered them a place to stay. Some people choose between 2 options: I prefer to try and get the benefits of both, so I called my sister and asked if they were interested in an eclipse trip. They said they were, but maybe they just felt stuck. Since this was my idea, I sprung for the lodging for the three of us. My wife Michelle couldn’t commit to the trip, so we made a decision to go without her. I just needed to find a place for us to stay.

I found a place in Redmond, Oregon with Mark and Lynn. They were great hosts: they vacated 2 bedrooms for us, shared their house and treated us much better than anyone could expect for an AirBnB host. I felt pretty close to them by the time we left, and I hope we can stay in touch, although I’m not very good at that. Their daughter and her husband, Anna and Scott, and their grand kids, Emma, Sam and Liam, were great company.

The Drive to OREGON

The drive to Redmond, OR was nice, much nicer than driving through deserts to Boise I think, but still it was very long. Traffic got congested at times, and our total trip was maybe 12 hours, not the 9 google maps estimated when I first booked the trip.

We stopped at a deli near Lake Shasta and had a bite to eat. They had a tip jar for those driving to see the eclipse, and another for those who weren’t. It seemed the eclipse travelers were in more abundance, or a least more charitable, than the non-eclipse travelers.

Around 9 at night, we finally made it to Mark and Lynn’s house. It was a nice welcome after a long day of travel, and good to meet the family we’d be staying with the next couple of days.

Exploring and Planning

Mount Hood, obscured by smoke

At the center line of the eclipse totality lasts about 2 minutes, but it dropped off to zero not far south of Redmond, where we were staying. As we were close to the southern end of totality, I believed it best to find a more northern location. But, the more obvious places were packed with people. Madras was way over capacity; there was a field that was rented to over a thousand campers, and parks were packed. Where could we go?

We drove around and explored the area. After giving up on the parks and other areas, we found a country road between some fields near the center line.

Oregon waterfall

We setup our cameras and took some sample shots of the sun (through welder’s glass, which makes for lousy images) and other shots of the area. The road was out of the way enough that traffic was minimal and no one seemed concerned that we were there, although I wasn’t sure that would be the case tomorrow. Another car pulled up and, thinking we were experts at this (fake it until you can make it), asked us for advice. Sadly, we didn’t have much.

A survivor

This was where we planned to watch the eclipse the next day. There was smoke in the area from a forest fire, and we had some concerns about that interfering with the eclipse.

We did some more exploring, checking out a park area, seeing a waterfall, and some of the beauty of Oregon. It’s a volcanic area, and everything seems built out of volcanic rocks. Then we headed back to the house to get ready for the next day.

Eclipse day

Dale and I working the camera

Finally, it was eclipse day. The night before we had discussed our trip back to the country road we found, but I downloaded an application for the eclipse that calculated totality for our location. Based on that, it would last almost 1 minute at the house. I was surprised, since we were close to the southern limit, but the duration of totality is not linear, which makes sense when you think about 2 circular shapes occluding each other.

So, we could drive a half our (or more: I didn’t know what traffic would be like) and experience 1 more minute of totality, or we could stay at Mark and Lynn’s, have coffee, and enjoy their company. We opted for the latter.

First contact

First contact started around 9 AM. We didn’t pay too much attention to that, as it’s not discernible, but we did pay attention to the clouds and smoke from the fires. There was a slight haze, but nothing that seemed like it’d be a problem, and the haze cleared as time went on.

Finally, totality

Totality occurred around 1.4 hours later. There was quite a bit of excitement leading up to it. Darkness accelerated quickly during the last few minutes. When totality happened there were yells from the neighborhood, and the day plunged into a “light night”. It wasn’t as dark nighttime, because the corona (the atmosphere around the eclipsed disk of the sun) is still fairly bright, but it was pretty dark. The disk of the moon looked very black against the brightness of the sun’s corona. To me, it looks like a hole to another universe, infinitely deep. Maybe if I could believe that more, I’d be more emotional about like so many people on the cruise almost 20 years before, but that’s just not me. I enjoyed the view, the knowledge of the geometry, and was glad I made the trip to Oregon to see it.

A couple minutes past totality we were quick to lose interest. Once the climax is over, it’s time to move onto other things. We did some races, horsed around, and just had a good time. When it was finally over, we packed up the cameras, and officially declared the eclipse over.

We had another good night of socializing with Mark & Lynn’s family. I got some great book recommendations (e.g., “The Last Kingdom” by Bernard Cornwell), had great discussions, and realized I was going to miss them when we left the next day.

The trip home

We had a light breakfast with the family before we hit the road. They even packed a Styrofoam box with yogurt, water and snacks. Their courtesy was constant and always finding new levels. I really cannot say how enjoyable they were to be around.

I’ve wondered why they rented out their place. While it wasn’t cheap by AirBnB standards, it was much cheaper than anything comparable in the area. They treated us constantly while we were there, and never asked for anything extra. I meant to leave a financial token of our gratitude, but in the commotion to leave, simply forgot. I hope they realize my gratitude.

Crater lake in smoke

I think they’re just good people, who want to help others. They were fortunate to be in the path of this eclipse, and they wanted to share it with others. I couldn’t have had better hosts, and I hope they feel we were gracious guests.

The drive back was faster than the trip to Redmond. I think waiting to leave until the next day avoided much of the traffic. We stopped by Crater Lake National Park on the way back. My friend Rimi mentioned she always wanted to go there, and it was nice to see it on the way home. It was shrouded in smoke from forest fires, so we couldn’t see as much as we’d like, but it was a nice detour. BTW, it’s not a crater, but a caldera. There’s a difference.

Teresa and Dale were amused by the name of Weed, California. California was at the forefront of marijuana legalization (although special interests have slowed full legalization), and I think they found that connection humorous. According to wikipedia, the name is from a local businessman who started a lumber mill, which is not nearly as humorous.

Dale, drove all the way home. My sister and I offered to relieve him, but he was content driving. I’m sure I would’ve been very worn out had I driven all the way back.

As comfortable as Mark and Lynn made us feel, it was great to be in my bed again. I enjoyed my eclipse trip, but it was expensive and wore me out. Home never feels as good as when you get back from a long trip.

The Future

I like total solar eclipses, and I plan to see another one. The next, most convenient total solar eclipse is in 2024, through the eastern US. But, there’s no need to wait for an eclipse that happens to pass over the US. There are eclipses every year, although total eclipses are less common. Some day, as the moon continues to move away from the earth, they’ll end altogether, so don’t wait too long. Check out 21st Century Eclipses and find one that you can combine into a vacation somewhere. Just be warned that eclipse chasers are a determined breed, and you will be surrounded by people even if you’re in a remote place. And, you had better book early; two months likely won’t do.

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