Venturing into the Path of Totality as Eclipse Apocalypse grips the nation in the final days of our 2017 visit to the U.S.
A Small Get-Together
Several months ago, when we first heard that our visit back to Oregon would coincide with the total solar eclipse, we were intrigued. “That’s cool,” we thought. Some months later when we further learned that the eclipse’s 70-mile wide “Path of Totality” would cross the entire state of Oregon, over exciting destinations like Depoe Bay, Salem, and Madras, again, we were like, “Rad. Totality. Right on.” Lori and I had never experienced a total solar eclipse and thought it would be cool to see one. How lucky, we thought, to be visiting family so close to the center of the action.
Yes…the center…of…the action… Cool, right?
Then, a few weeks before the event, the apocalyptic headlines began appearing:
“ONE MILLION ADDITIONAL VISITORS TO OREGON.”
“OFFICIALS EXPECTING CHAOS ON THE RAODS.”
“THOUSANDS RUSH TO STOCK UP ON FUEL AND SUPPLIES.”
“ECLIPSE EVENT WILL PUT OREGON’S CASCADIA EARTHQUAKE PLAN TO TEST.”
And so on, and so forth.
Suddenly, being in the Path of Totality didn’t seem all that appealing anymore. After all, we’d be in Tigard staying with my sister and brother-in-law, and Tigard would experience more than 99% totality. 99%, I thought. That’s good enough for me. Turns out the difference between 99% and 100% with solar eclipses is like night and day…literally.
Nevertheless, we settled for happily hunkering down in Tigard for the event and that was that. Until, that is, my brother-in-law, Matt, told me he had decided to head for the Path of Totality after all, and had a plan, to boot.
Cover Your Eyes!
Days before the eclipse, Lori and I realized we didn’t yet have our eclipse glasses. When we first arrived back in the U.S., they were everywhere! You couldn’t escape them if you tried. But by the time we got around to getting ours, mere days before the event, we couldn’t find any! We enlisted family members to help in the search, but they weren’t having any luck either. Nothing like being those procrastinating schmucks who didn’t get their eclipse glasses when the gettin’ was good.
Pairs of the stupid paper glasses were starting to appear online for 10x, 20x, 30x the going rate. Several reports began to emerge about counterfeit glasses that provide zero protection. Here we were, 10,000 miles from where we live, so close to seeing this once in a lifetime event over our home state, and we wouldn’t even be able to properly view it! We’d be forced to do something lame like cut a hole in a cereal box and ooh and aw at a fuzzy speck of light surrounded by Cheerios crums. Dagnabbit all. I had nearly lost all hope, but thankfully my wife wasn’t about to go quietly into the darkness.
While in the small coastal town of Florence, two days before the eclipse, Lori called around to all the usual suspects, and got a hot tip from the store manager at Bi-Mart. He said he thought he may have heard that Freddy’s (Fred Meyer) may or may not have received an early morning shipment of Grade A stuff that very day. It was just past 7am and Freddy’s had just opened. I put down my fork full of scrambled eggs, hopped in the Camry and whizzed off to meet my destiny.
Minutes later, I rolled into the the parking lot and burst through the front doors where I was met by a thunderous round of applause by two dozen store employees, which would have most certainly commanded my attention if it hadn’t been for this:
“I’LL TAKE ‘EM ALL!” I yelled, throwing both display boxes into my cart, and speeding like a madman off his meds to self-checkout. But seriously, as satisfying as that may have been, I wasn’t about to do that. Self check-out would have taken FOREVER. And what was I going to do with a hundred pairs of eclipse glasses. You can’t even see anything through them! Except extremely bright objects…like the sun…which is I guess is the point. Which only makes the warnings on the side of these things sound even more ridiculous, such as “DON’T DRIVE OR OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY WHILE WEARING.” Again, YOU CAN’T SEE SH*T WITH THESE THINGS. Why would you even try that? And if you did, I don’t think you’re going to get very far in your car before realizing YOU CAN’T SEE SH*T WITH THESE THINGS.
So, I took ten. Two for Lori and me, two for my parents (who had also waited and were, therefore, having difficulties), two for Lori’s parents (who also waited…okay, I think I see a pattern here…runs in the family, I guess…), and a few extras…just in case. And YES, I took them through self-checkout, okay? Not the smartest move, and not something I’m proud of, in hindsight. The things don’t weigh anything, meaning I had to get a manager’s override like ten times (I’m not sure why she didn’t just come over and manually input the purchase, she just sat there at her booth pushing the button every time the machine got angry, each time saying, “Yep, your an idiot,” with her steely gaze in my direction.
And as for the thunderous applause? Well, it appeared I had walked in on a rousing early morning pep talk by the manager to his employees and he had just told them all they would all be heading outside for the eclipse when the time came — but I’d like to think it had something to do with my commanding entrance and decisive action that day. Perhaps it did. We’ll never know.
21 August 2017: THE END OF DAYS (of waiting…)
Just before dawn on E-Day, with our sights set on the Path of Totality, my brother-in-law and I loaded up his pickup and hit the road south…sort of.
As the crow flies, their house was a mere 15 miles north of the Path, but if the reports we were hearing were credible, any attempt to drive directly into the Path (via Interstate 5 — even at this early hour) would almost certainly end in disaster. The next most sensible route would have been to head Southwest for 20 miles along 99W, the major highway linking Tigard and Dundee, which was on the Path’s border. Being a major highway, however, that route was also out of the question. It was clear to Matt that we were going to have to outsmart the masses by outflanking them, and outflank we did.
Armed with our ISO 12312-2-compliant eclipse glasses and cellophane-covered bowls of steel-cut oatmeal with homegrown blueberries, we proceeded to follow my brother-in-law’s handwritten notes on a napkin for the next hour, over mountains, through vineyards and across vast tracts of farmland — with nary a soul in sight. On one hand, it appeared his carefully-crafted plan was working. On the other, I wondered if taking 99W and inching along in traffic for 20 miles would have taken the same time or even less.
Be that as it may, none of that really mattered. It was a beautiful morning, and a Monday at that. A great day to be cruising the backroads of rural Yamhill County, and an even better day for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to view a rare phenomena in the Pacific Northwest. We felt fortunate to count ourselves among those relative few who weren’t spending the eclipse behind a desk in a cubicle, and that alone was enough to make the journey worthwhile. The fact that we were about to be treated to something truly extraordinary was icing on the cake.
Once we reached Dundee and traffic appeared minimal, we decided to forge deeper into the Path, knowing that just a few miles farther south could gain us a considerable amount of viewing time. Once we reached McMinnville, we headed west out of town until we came upon a farmer’s field with a couple of other cars parked to watch the event. We pulled in around the corner and settled in.
8 o’clock and in position. Two hours ’til Zero Hour.
Back in Tigard, Lori and my sister found themselves having a slightly different adventure.
Needless to say they weren’t spending the next two hours on a tailgate. Poor saps.
Morning oats from my sister and a canteen full of coffee to start the day.
As 10 o’clock approached, we periodically donned our ISO 12312-2’s to take stock of the impending event. The moon had indeed started to encroach on the path of sunlight. Ten minutes later, seemingly little had changed. Ten minutes later, still the same. I began to wonder if we had been duped, if this was all some big hoax…or over-hyped natural phenomena to bring tourist money into the state. Some time just before 10am, I peered up with my $1.99 glasses from Freddy’s and took stock of things. The moon was essentially covering the sun, but you’d never know it otherwise. My heart sank.
Then, all of a sudden, the temperature plummeted and the sky turned an otherworldly indigo, the likes of which I’d never seen.
Those in the center of the Path of Totality got around two minutes of awesomeness. Here outside of McMinnville, we got around 30 seconds. It could have been more, but it was enough to have the full experience. 20 miles up in Tigard, with 99% totality, they got the indigo, but not the corona that we saw. Nor did they get the black of night above. Turns out that 1% (and accompanying effort to get down here) really did make the difference, and it was more than worth it.
That doesn’t mean that back in Tigard, Lori, my sister, and the kids weren’t having a blast.
Where’s Noe and Cousin Rose? Off having their own fun. Eclipse be damned!
Our last couple of days in the States were relaxing and enjoyable, to say the least.
We all soaked up the lovely weather — turns out it would be short-lived, not only for us returning to monsoon season in Laos, but for everyone across the West Coast as they endured heartbreakingly devastating and historic wildfires across the region and unprecedented air quality issues. But somehow, some way, on Eclipse Day 2017 in the Portland area, it was clear blue skies and one beautiful late summer’s day for the history books.
Our return journey to Laos was easier in some ways and more difficult in others than our inbound flight to the U.S. Coming to the U.S., we’d originally thought that having two back-to-back overnight flights separated by a 12-hour layover would make the journey to the States quite challenging. Yet, in reality, it ended up working in our favor. We were excited not to have such a long layover on the way back, but were a bit concerned as to how it would all pan out with a 14-month-old.
Having only a few hours of layover time on the return trip made our journey back to Laos considerably shorter, but the “night” portions of the flights didn’t line up as nicely with Noe’s natural sleeping pattern. Fortunately, our longest leg (San Francisco to Seoul) was about the emptiest flight we’ve seen in many years. Nothing like having FOUR bulkhead seats (the entire middle isle on this 747 jumbo) to ourselves for 12 hours at no additional cost! On the one hand, Noe was much more alert and squirmy this time around, on the other hand, we had two other seats, his bassinet and floor in front of us — far more space than we could have ever hoped for.
Before our trip, we had even made the tough decision to load our phones with a handful of videos (kids playing with dogs, a fish aquarium, a Raffi concert) in case we got absolutely desperate. We never got truly desperate, but thought we’d try it at one point. We were surprised to find that Noe had zero interest in the screen and just wanted to play with his toys. I even went so far as to turn on a Pixar movie on the built-in personal entertainment system, but Noe had zero interest in that as well (though I may or may not have revisited the movie after Noe was asleep).
And sleep he eventually did, which just happened to coincide with dinner service. Bibimbap time!
Our 12-hour SFO-ICN flight went pretty well, but our Seoul to Vientiane flight was one of the more miserable in recent memory — Five hours of being bounced around by heavy turbulence in the rear of a 737.
A couple days later — over a painfully slow internet connection — we learned that we had flown through the outer bands of Cyclone Hato, one of the strongest cyclones to hit Hong Kong and Macau in the past hundred years. We also came to find that the same storm severed one of the main undersea communication cables between Asia and Australia, accounting for the incredibly slow (and virtually non-existent at times) speed of our internet. Apparently, full service will be restored by mid-October. Welcome back!