On Saturday night (after I survived a harrowing rafting trip that will have to be a story for next time), my roommate, his friend, and I set off for Bend, Oregon, to meet up with his family and a bunch of their friends who had rented a big house for us all to stay in. For months, reports had been coming in warning of apocalyptic traffic conditions for the eclipse, as small, thousand-person towns along its path of totality were expected to receive hundreds of thousands of visitors. Gas stations were expected to run out of fuel, grocery stores would run out of food, and on top of that, Oregon is in the middle of an intense fire season that has shut down significant portions of its roadways and National Forest entries.
To avoid all of this, we spent the day before in Bend, exploring the Lava Cast Forest and preparing our equipment, and planned to be on the road by 3am the next morning to drive to Prineville, a little town in the path of totality. Most people were expected to go to Madras, right smack in the center of its path, but we knew Prineville would get essentially the same view and likely have a fraction of the chaos.
3am on Monday morning rolled around, and we all groggily piled into two cars and took a series of back roads circumventing Bend, watching as Google Traffic showed delays going through the city even at this ungodly hour. We encountered no traffic at all on the back roads.
We ended up pulling into a little town park around 4am that only had a couple cars in the parking lot. It was dark enough to see the milky way arching across the night sky; a big butte dominated the skyline across the river that ran through the park. We threw our sleeping bags on the ground and cowboy camped for the rest of the night in a clearing between a playground and two ball fields. As I laid down, a couple brilliant shooting stars streaked overhead, leaving a trail for a second afterward.
I tossed and turned for the next few hours, periodically woken by the sound of sprinklers coming on in the ball field and half-afraid that we might get sprayed, but our little spot stayed dry. Eventually I was roused by the rising sun and joined the rest of the group heating up coffee and water on little jetboil stoves and setting up their telescopes and camera gear. The eclipse would begin at 9:06am and reach totality at 10:20.
While I waited, I built a solar filter for my camera out of a piece of mylar, a paper bowl, and some duct tape. To my surprise, it worked pretty well!
At exactly 9:06am, the first edge of the moon crept over the sun. Everyone excitedly took turns looking through the telescope, snapping pictures, and peering through our eclipse glasses. It wasn’t until the sun was nearly 50% covered that we could actually start to see a difference in lighting.
Particularly, it felt like the color was draining from everything. It wasn’t like sunset; our shadows never lengthened. They only become fuzzy and loopy. But everything started to turn a strange cross between sepia and grey. I kept taking repeat photos of the butte behind us to compare the lighting. The temperature began to drop, and people put on extra layers.
As the moments drew closer, I watched through my camera lens as the last sliver of orange grew smaller and smaller. Crickets began chirping, and it seemed as if twilight had descended in an instant. Suddenly, the sliver disappeared from view and people started yelling, screaming, crying, and gasping. I pulled off my solar filter and took a few photos, but mostly I stared with my own eyes.
The photo doesn’t nearly capture it. It looked HUGE, magnified in the sky. And the ring around it was so thin, not blown out as it appears in the photo. It twinkled at the edges. Looking around at peoples’ faces through the darkness, they were the most beautiful, honest, open faces I have ever seen, mouths agape with incredulous smiles, eyes watering. Fireworks exploded somewhere in the distance. For one minute and seven seconds, the world stood still, yet I couldn’t possibly look around enough to take it all in.
I had my cell phone recording a video the whole time. The quality is terrible, but it gives you an idea of the sound, emotion, and lighting in the moment of totality.
The light flashing back into the world was the second most incredible thing to seeing the eclipse itself. Within a second, color began returning just as it had gone out, first a greyish sepia, and then slowly gaining saturation again. Someone pointed out that you could see the shadow of the eclipse moving over the foothills, and we all ran out into the parking lot to watch it sweep across the landscape.
“Champagne! Champagne! Champagne!” Some people started calling out as soon as it was over, and the next thing I knew, there was a plastic cup of Prosecco in my hand, and the 9 of us were gathered in a circle by the telescope.
“To the sun!”
“To the moon!”
“And to all the friends that came!”
A perfect toast to one of the most wholesome and beautiful experiences of my life.
We marveled at the color returning to the world as the moon finished its journey across the sun, and stayed until its last corner had disappeared from view.
Contrary to most peoples’ expectations, we only hit the slightest bit of traffic as we were leaving Prineville and returning to Bend. It held us up for maybe 30 minutes, but we made it back to our house by lunchtime, and by about 3:30, my roommate, friend, and I were back on the road to Eugene.
Google Traffic showed delays going back along our original route, so we opted for the scenic byway, which took us through massive lava fields and spectacular viewpoints along the Cascades. And surprise, surprise! No traffic! As we got closer to the city, we could see major traffic jams coming south, and figured we had made the right choice.
All in all, it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Easily in the top 3, and especially much needed after the trying last few months I’ve had finishing grad school.
To the sun, to the moon, and to all the friends that came (and gave us a place to stay, food to eat, and wonderful people to be with), thank you, a million times over.