For someone who loves exploring every corner of the globe, I hate people a lot. I don’t just hate everyone – I hate stupid people. And sadly the world is full of a lot of stupid people these days. Even when intelligent people get together en masse, they turn stupid. So tell me why I was migrating with roughly 3 million people to the middle of Oregon to watch an eclipse that would only last 2 minutes and 1 second? Because TOTAL ECLIPSES ARE COOL, that’s why.
On August 21st, 2017, all of North America turned their eyes toward the heavens to witness the Great American Eclipse. It was the first eclipse to go across all of the U.S. since 1918. So it was a big deal.
I was pretty indifferent to it and was content sitting at home in California where there would only be 75% coverage of the sun. But then my dad told me that he had booked a hotel in Portland for us and that we were going to the eclipse. At first I thought he was crazy. At second I also thought he was crazy. But gradually I began to realize that there were millions of other crazies just like him. It wasn’t going to be just the Great American Eclipse. It was now the Great American Migration to See the Eclipse and Cause Mass Chaos in the Process. And I was in the middle of it all.
Even though I have no official photography training, I consider myself to be an excellent photographer (read: I use Instagram a lot). Capturing an eclipse and the sun’s corona (different from the beer FYI) seemed like it would be fun. So I brought two DSLR cameras, two tripods, a GoPro, and enough batteries to last through a zombie apocalypse.
The eclipse wasn’t until Monday so my parents and I spent Saturday and Sunday running amok round Oregon and Washington. We were able to visit Seattle, where I took my ultra-basic picture in front of the original Starbucks and saw the flying fish at Pike’s Place. The highlight of the pre-eclipse trip, however, was visiting the Boeing factory where a lot of the Boeing planes are built. I could write an entire post on that (and I probably will) that’s how cool it was. But you didn’t come here to hear about Boeing. You came to read about my eclipse experience because I’m clearly such a talented storyteller.
So on Sunday night, my parents and I made the drive from Seattle, Washington, to Salem, Oregon. The original plan was for us to stay the night at a hotel in Portland and drive to Salem early Monday morning so that we could be in the path of totality. But the news stations had a field day with the impending eclipsealypse. They were stressing everyone out like it was Y2K all over again. According to the news, stores in Oregon were running out of food and there was no gas at the gas stations so freeways were backed up for miles. My parents and I don’t like to be unprepared so we decided to skip Sunday night’s hotel. We had driven all this way and weren’t going to miss the total eclipse just because we were stuck in traffic.
That’s how we found ourselves homeless driving around Salem looking for a place to sleep.
Initially, we were going to spend the night at a Wal-Mart. For those of you who are foreigners or who just didn’t know, Wal-Marts are heaven for road trippers. Wal-Mart allows people to sleep in their parking lots as a marketing gimmick to get road trippers to go inside and spend money. It’s company policy and it’s wonderful. Sadly, the Salem Wal-Mart knew that around 1 million people were coming. So it posted signs that said people couldn’t camp there overnight for the eclipse. We had absolutely no idea where to go because we had planned on staying at a Wal-Mart. Our plan B was now ruined. We quickly went inside the Wal-Mart to get some supplies and had about 500 other people in there that all had the same idea. Wal-Mart employees were kicking people out of the parking lot left and right and we still didn’t have a plan. So via unanimous decision, we started driving out in to the rural country, looking for an inconspicuous hiding place.
After lots of debating, we finally found a little driveway that led to a fence that hadn’t been opened in ages. It was almost midnight and I would have sold my kidney to have a bed in which to sleep. I was still running on about 4 hours of sleep from the night before and 3 hours from the night before that. I was so desperate for sleep I would’ve probably even have considered selling my liver.
But this little paved driveway was good enough to call home for a night. It was surrounded by signs that read “DANGER – STAY OUT THIS IS AN ACTIVE MINE” and “STAY OUT TO STAY ALIVE”. We were clearly in the safest spot that Salem had to offer. Nevertheless, I curled up in an uncomfortable fetal position and kinda slept for a few hours.
Every hour or so I would wake up and look outside to try and find the moon. I never did so I was convinced that the eclipse wasn’t going to happen and someone had lied to us. Sleep deprivation is real, guys.
At 8:00 in the morning, my alarm rudely woke me up. Somehow, we had managed to stay at this mining site all night without getting kicked out by Oregon State Troopers. I went pee behind some bushes (wasn’t the first time, won’t be the last) and then proceeded to start setting up my cameras. The eclipse was supposed to start at 9:05 so I had about an hour to get my life together before the eclipsealypse began.
As I was setting up my tripods, a woman and her husband drove up. They had been eying our spot and decided that we had the right idea and that they should join us. Their names were Suzanne and Gerard (I think, I was busy setting up my command center) and they were extremely friendly. Thank God, because I was not about to share my coveted piece of land with just anyone.
I must have looked like one of those crazy people who run out into fields to capture tornadoes that have all sorts of contraptions on their cars. I had my two cameras with big lenses: one of which had a homemade solar filter made out of cardboard and blue Scotch painter’s tape. Whatever works, right? My GoPro was attached to one of those cool suction cups and I put it on top of the car to capture the whole event. I also set a video camcorder from like 10 years ago on top of the car to try and record everything. It was my backup in case my GoPro failed me.
At 9:05, all five of us donned our solar eclipse glasses and welding masks (we’re improvisers) and stared at the sun. Gradually, in the top right corner of the sun, we could see the moon peeking over the surface.
The Great American Solar Eclipse had begun.
This solar eclipse was going to take nearly three hours from start to finish. Totality was expected at 10:16 so we had over an hour to sit and take pictures of the partially covered sun. I had only witnessed a slight solar eclipse a few years prior so I really didn’t have any experience with them. All I knew was that if I looked at it for too long, I would go blind and have little eclipses burned into my eyes. Didn’t sound appealing.
So I went from camera to camera, taking pictures and sneaking glimpses up at the sun. I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t spectacular. If I didn’t have the glasses to stare directly at the sun, I wouldn’t have even noticed a difference for the first 30 minutes. It looked as bright as any other day. Then, as the moon approached 50% totality, I began to notice a significant difference in the light. My shadow began to turn fuzzy. Most of the time, shadows have crisp, clean edges. But now, my shadow looked like it belonged in a 3-D movie. It was as though my shadow had another shadow. The temperature began to drop and a chilling wind picked up. Everywhere around us, noises faded away. The crickets stopped chirping, the birds stopped flying, and everything went silent. Mother Earth had finally realized that she was about to experience an extraordinary event.
The atmosphere was turning a dim, amber color. It was as though we were living in a sepia picture. I tried to photograph it but the lighting wasn’t something that a camera could pick up. The sun was still shining brightly and burned to look at, but everything around us was turning a rosy amber shade. The world was fuzzy, but at the same time it was crystal clear.
As we turned our eyes to the sun, we all watched as the moon began to race across the surface of the sun. At the beginning it had been very gradual. Now, the moon appeared to be sprinting to totality. I hurriedly took the solar filter off of my camera because I knew totality was near.
Nothing I had read or watched online could have prepared me for what came next. The sun grew smaller and smaller until it was nothing but a thin red line. Even in that moment, the earth around me was bathed in a shimmering, bright amber tone. We were at 99% totality. The sun was 99% covered but the world around us was still bright and golden. Suddenly, the moon blew across the remaining bit of sun and a cold wind slammed into us.
I was in the solar eclipse.
Everything around me was silent, except for my mom’s exclamation of “HOLY MACKEREL BATMAN” and all of our collective gasps. I spun around in fascination as I realized that twilight was all around us. When the sun sets on a typical day, you can still see the golden hue in the west although it is dark in the east. But now, it was 360° of twilight on the horizon.
Straight up in the sky, I saw the moon hanging in front of the sun, as though God placed it there. An immense chill ran through my body as I watched the corona of the sun flare and ebb around the surface of the moon. I had read that you could see the corona with the naked eye but I thought it was a bunch of bull. That wasn’t the case at all. White wisps floated from behind the moon, teasing us with its tantalizingly bright tendrils.
In that moment, God had stepped off his throne in heaven to show his face to his children. The corona was his halo and we were seeing God.
I stared up at the moon and sun, hypnotized by its beauty. Nothing could have even begun to prepare me for this moment. I was standing in the shadow of the moon. The same moon that men had landed on over 50 years before. And in that moment, with the stars shining around me, nothing else mattered. Except hitting the shutter button on my camera, that mattered to me too.
Before I knew what was happening, I saw two red dots appear on the surface of the moon. If we’re being completely honest, they looked like red laser lights from a gun and I thought it was the Death Star or North Korea getting ready to blow up the moon or something. I kid you not that crossed my mind for a split second. But then I realized that I was seeing the sun shining through the moon’s craters. The right edge of the moon began to glow a molten red and suddenly the sun crested and broke free from the moon, refusing to be eclipsed for long.
The total eclipse that I had traveled a thousand miles to see was officially over.
Now, the earth was bathed in an entirely different light. Literally. Before the eclipse, everything had been a golden and amber color. But now, the sun was shining a silvery white light on earth. It almost reminded me of standing in a parking lot with the big LED bright lights shining down on you. It was still the same sun; I couldn’t understand how suddenly everything was a different color. We stood there in admiration as we watched the sun gradually reclaim its place in the sky. The difference between 100% totality and 99% was literally night and day. After totality, the light was 10,000 times as bright as it had been. The sunlight was silvery, almost like the moon was reminding us one more time that it had been there and that we shouldn’t forget about it.
Even when the sun was only exposed by a sliver, the whole world around us began to wake up. The crickets started making noise again and the birds realized that they had experienced a very quick and short night.
I just couldn’t help but think about the ancient civilizations like the Egyptians and the Native Americans. After experiencing a total solar eclipse, I realized that you could only feel the effects of an eclipse for about 20 minutes before it was completely dark. Could you imagine building the pyramids of Giza and all of the sudden it starts to go dark? You’re like oh maybe it’s a sandstorm but in the course of 20 seconds it goes from hazy-looking to completely dark but you can still see everything around you? No wonder a lot of these ancient civilizations sacrificed people to appease their gods; I would’ve thought it was truly an eclipsealypse if I didn’t know it was coming.
As the sun became brighter and brighter, we all realized we should probably pack up and try to hit the road. There was supposed to be a lot of traffic and nobody wanted to get stuck in the middle of it – especially since around 1 million people were all going to try to leave at the same exact time.
News flash, our premature departure didn’t make a difference. We soon became stuck in gridlocked traffic that rivaled the 405 at rush hour. And of course I had to pee. All together, it took us 4 hours to go 70 miles. The roads were full of nothing but stupid and idiotic people. They were all in our way as we tried to hurry home. IT WAS AWFUL.
Would I do it all again? In a heartbeat. Standing in the path of complete totality and feeling the moon’s shadow was one of the coolest experiences of my life, if not the top one. A solar eclipse can’t be described well enough. It needs to be experienced before you can completely understand it. I feel like a changed woman after witnessing it. Yes, I know I sound cliché. No, I don’t care. I recommend all of you to go out and try to experience a total eclipse if you can. Now I completely see why people travel around the world chasing eclipses. I didn’t even know that seeing an eclipse was on my bucket list until I saw one but I am so thankful I did.
Texas, I’ll see you for your eclipse in 2024.