Monday 21st August – Totality

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There were a few cars on the nearby road in the night and with each one that passed, I stirred, thinking it might be Rob and his mates. When I looked at the clock and saw 3:30am, I assumed they weren’t going to make it. I didn’t think anything had gone wrong and in any case Rob was a capable guy so I wasn’t worried, I assumed they’d just changed their plans. By the time 5am rolled around, the early morning sun was making the top of the mountains glow and I was too excited to go back to sleep. Meanwhile, Dan and Cleo were both passed out. After a quick in-bed cuddle with Cleo, I got out of bed and left Dan to have an eclipse sleep in.

Cleo joined me on an eclipse morning walk. Not a single cloud in the sky, conditions couldn’t have been better. As we walked past the family camp nearby, I wished our neighbours good morning and Cleo said hello to their dog. They were leaving, going to spend the eclipse on their boats, not a bad idea! Cleo and I wandered down the dirt road, back to our usual swimming spot. No need for a dunk now, but we found a trail that ran parallel to the river towards the official campground.

When we arrived at the campground, we walked all the way around it, me enjoying the stickybeaking at everyone’s camps. Cleo was accosted by three dogs all at once and it was too much for her antisocial nature so she lashed out a bit to make her mood known before we moved on. At the boat ramp, Cleo discovered that foamy stuff that washes up at a water’s edge and decided she didn’t like it. Staving her off from playing with the dead racoon in the shallow water, we carried on our way. The day parking area was packed with campers that had spent the night, probably illegally but there didn’t seem to be any law around to care.

By the time we walked back to our camp, I had taken my shirt off it was that warm. I was happy to see that the sun was shining brightly right above our camp when we got back to the vans. I gave Cleo her breakfast which she was super-excited for and Dan woke from him slumber. I jokingly told him that he’d missed the eclipse, it was all over. While he still rolled around in bed, I got started on our brekkie – eclipse brekkie burgers. Dan had made coffee and hot chocolate by the time I was done. I hate to say the egg, bacon and cheese rolls were perfect but they were.

We sat and admired the significant lack of any other human around us and I reminisced outloud about how I’d wishingly said a few days ago, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could see the eclipse somewhere in the middle of nowhere with no one else around?” It would appear I got my wish. The nearby hippie camp had gone elsewhere to view the eclipse so with them and the boating family gone, we were the only humans in sight.

Breakfast done, I decided we needed a soundtrack to this great event so tried my luck at finding a local radio station. Warm Springs FM, the only available option, shared current eclipse news with us and soon got into their eclipse playlist which was full of songs that referenced the sun and the moon like “I’m Walking on Sunshine” and “Walking on the Sun”. When I was in the middle of doing the eclipse dishes dancing to the eclipse music, I thought I’d better have a look through my eclipse glasses to see if an eclipse was happening. I shouted out to Dan as soon as I had a look through. A small area of the sun was blacked out by the moon already. I think it was around 9:15am, about an hour before totality. Dan scrambled to grab his glasses to have a look too.

Since this was our first time seeing any evidence of the eclipse, we watched for a while, trying out photos through our glasses without much luck. Knowing nothing was going to happen in a hurry, we continued our morning chores, periodically peering up at the sky through our special spectacles. Still with plenty of time, I gave myself an eclipse hair cut, trimming the front while Dan performed his first ever wield of the scissors by cutting the back for me. It was the perfect way to kill time waiting for some action to happen.

As totality drew near, we looked around us to see if we could notice any change in the light. Nothing yet. We watched as a truck climbed up a steep road opposite the railroad tracks, getting to the ridge so that had a view into the valley. Twenty minutes before totality (about 75% coverage), things started getting interesting. We both noticed the temperature change. Neither of us were wearing shirts and we soon had goosebumps covering our skin. It was some time after this that we could tell it was getting darker, but only by the slightest amount.

Two minutes before totality, the birds came out of the trees looking for a place to sleep for the night. Even Cleo seemed to know something weird was happening, decided to crawl under the car for safety rather than be interested. The light at this stage probably represented the time about an hour before sunset. It was by no means dark.

Seconds before totality, everything seemed to happen all at once. We kept switching between looking up at the sun with our glasses and looking around us at the changes in the light. With seconds to spare, I looked down at the ground and saw light waves running across the wheat. It was like what rippling water looks like when reflected on a wall only it covered the whole ground. The waves disappeared when the sun did.

Totality.

We could hear cheers from the nearby campground, I made noises with my mouth to represent awe and excitement and held on to Dan. No glasses needed now, we were staring up at a huge black moon completely blocking out the sun. The only light that remained were flares of white the moved around the rim of the moon, as if in a slow dance around the thing that was blocking it. From the mountain top, we heard someone shout, “Yeeeaaaahh! That’s why I live in fucking Madras!!” We laughed. All around us, it seemed like twilight and we could see a couple of bright stars appear in the sky above us. All the while, “Black Hole Sun” played on the local radio station.

It was all over too soon. After about 2.5 minutes of totality, the moon shifted to allow a slither of sun to shine through and the world was lit back up in an instant. It was just like turning a light back on in a dark room. Glasses back on, we talked about how people back in the day would have been going about their daily business, working out in the fields or going about town. They couldn’t have noticed the slight temperature change or the dimness of the light. All they would have known was a sudden darkness, then to see what looking like a flaming black ball in the sky, they’d have been terrified! I’m sure people killed themselves thinking that such an event represented the end of the world.

Warmth slowly came back to us and even within minutes after totality was complete, we could see and hear cars making their way out of the campground to get back to wherever they came from. The whole experience gave me an appreciation of not only how powerful the sun is, but also how perfect everything has to be for our whole planetary system to work.

The playlist on the local radio diminished after the event, descending into terrible techno which kind of killed the mood. As the moon crept away from the sun, we pondered what to do with the rest of our day. We had no intention of sitting in the traffic but the idea of hanging around camp for another day was not too appealing, especially when the heat was rising. With the moon still covering the lower third of the sun, we packed up camp and moved off. Our idea was to get to Madras and chill out somewhere we could watch the madness happen without necessarily being a part of it.

We had no traffic leaving the campground and the farmland roads were sparsely populated. There were a few cars parked off to the side of the road, most with cameras set up but others with their drivers’ faces up to the sky shielded by glasses. When I got into phone range, I got a message from Rob. They hadn’t made it into Madras thanks to the day-before traffic coming south from Vancouver. I don’t know where they ended up, I just hope they managed to see the once-in-a-lifetime event as I had. I could see the traffic on the highway and soon afterwards, we got our first taste. It was about 12noon and it was eight miles to Madras.

It wasn’t long before we saw a van pull over so that two young boys could pee on the side of the road. Despite supervision from their grandfather, they faced the road, instead of pointing away from it so the whole line of traffic got views of their nether regions. Sitting in the line of traffic, there was plenty of van porn to ogle at with every second or third vehicle being some form of mobile home. We eventually hit the highway where traffic still crawled and 1 hour and 15 minutes later, we came into Madras. Thank goodness, we were both well and truly sick of the crawling, especially in the heat.

I stopped at the first shady park I saw and we got out to relieve ourselves in the shaded green grass. We made a salad for lunch and ate it watching the traffic roll through the back roads of town. Even though Dan had somewhere to be in a few days, we knew it was pointless trying to go any further so it was Dan’s job to find us a place in town where we could go have a few beers and some rounds of pool to kill the rest of the afternoon. He pegged a place around the corner and we were off. I followed Dan to a shaded spot where we could leave Cleo in the car for a stint. We walked hand in hand to the bar.

Rialto’s Tavern was not the sort of place I’d have walked in to along. The front façade of the building consisted of worn our brickwork, two tiny darkened windows covered in LED beer signs so you couldn’t see in and a timber door that had signs with big letters saying to “HAVE ID READY”. I was pleasantly surprised when we walked in to a nicely lit dive bar with fancy casino-style carpet and a pretty well populated bar. I’m sure this registered as “happening” on their business scale. There were two bright blue pool tables at the front of the bar and one of them became ours.

I started off the competition and though I was playing like usual and Dan was going pretty good, he lost four games by making mistakes, sinking a lot of my balls for me and pocketing the white ball when really he should’ve been making the eight ball disappear. He was almost in a pissy mood when we’d used up all our quarters and I had won our eclipse tournament 4-2. It was near 5pm now and we’d had our fill of beer so it was time to leave. Except! That Anthony was on his way to meet us. He’d driven east with the Bay area lot and while they’d gone south immediately after totality to get back home for work, he was planning to head west to the coast in not as much of a hurry so figured he’d come hang with us for the night.

Knowing Anthony was nearby, we still left the bar to go and give Cleo a break from the car and picked up some beer and ice on the way. Thanks to the heat, I treated myself to an icecream, though I lost most of it to bloody Dan. Back at the Cabana, Cleo greeted us warmly before relieving herself on the front lawn of a vacant property for sale. Taking advantage of the opportunity, we did some porch sitting, me with ice cream in Dan, with a beer. It was almost like a preview of our life in old age, we sat on that porch and talked shit about what was happening in front of us.

Though she didn’t seem too happy about it, Cleo went back into the Cabana and we walked back to Rialto’s. Anthony was sitting at the bar already with a full cup of beer. We joined him in the beer and Dan also ordered a serving of nachos for $7. The whole thing was cooked up in a couple of slow cookers just behind the bar. Simple but effective, me and Dan shared it as we shared eclipse stories with Anthony. Considering he got up at 3am in the morning and spent pretty much the rest of his non-eclipse time in the car, he was surprisingly not completely shattered.

We stayed at the bar long enough to finish our beers, then figured we’d be safe to brave the roads and head for a camp south of us but not quite all the way to Bend. The boys followed me and it was just like old times in Colorado with two vans and the Mazda following each other at every turn. Thanks to the Google Maps navigation, we avoided all the traffic by staying off the highway and were soon in some National Grasslands where we were looking for a horse camp. There were campers dispersed all over, but I was hoping for the established camp so we would have some shade.

After a while on dirt roads, throwing up huge plumes of dust, we arrived at the semi-populated camp. It definitely wasn’t the kind of busy you’d expect on a normal Monday evening, but this was far from a normal Monday. I found us a spot at the back of the camp where we could park in the shade. We had our own horse corral and a picnic table, only the latter of which we made us of. Me and Cleo ran around for a bit and she soon found an old watering trough she was interested in and so that was her occupied for the rest of the evening.

With the light we had left, I got my bike off the roof and we had a bit of a photoshoot to celebrate the hand-off between me and Dan. The bike that had been my most fun on two wheels for the last five years was now Dan’s. The only caviat to him taking my G was that he ride her. It would make me sad to see her kept in a shed to gather dust and Dan understood the notion. After the nostalgia, we did the official handover where I separated my bike gear out to things that would stay with G and those that I would keep. Dan played the good student again as I explained things about replacing spokes, removing the rear cassette and we sorted out bike pumps. It was all very exciting and Dan was a happy man, wheeling the bike off the picnic table and locking it to the ladder on his back door.

Just as we were finishing up with the bike logistics, Anthony noticed that the sky was glowing red with sunset so we wandered off to take a look. There was a band of smoke haze running across the mountains turning the sun blood red well before it reached the horizon. We watched as it slowly went down, disappearing behind the smoke, then reappearing again. What a show the sun had put on today.

Since all of our tummies were rumbling, I got on to making us some dinner. I used all sorts of bits and pieces to put together a white sauce with meats, onions and mushrooms while Dan boiled up some fettuccine. All combined, it was a hearty dinner that we all enjoyed. Not long after our last mouthfuls, we were all keen for bed, Anthony especially thanks to his 3am start. We said our goodnights and retired into our sleeping houses for the night.

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