Sunday 20th August – Eclipse Eve

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We all woke up when we wanted to. By the time Dan and I emerged from the Cabana and had another hot shower, the others were up and about at camp making a huge brekkie. We did the same out the back of the Astro cooking up an omelette which we followed up with some banana pancakes. That filled us up the rest of the day. Around the picnic table, we swapped plans for the day. Anthony and the rest of the crew had another night booked at the campsite so they planned to spend the day in Bend and then get up super early the next day to drive out east for a less-populated view of the eclipse. Around 10:30am, we said goodbye to everyone and head off for our day’s plan.

Dan followed me out of camp and we drove north. Google maps took us off the highway more than once to avoid the traffic that was forming. We were heading towards Madras, which was labelled as the most popular place to view the eclipse across the whole of the totality path across America. We stopped in at the Walmart in Redmond to stock up for the next few days. I noticed a huge sign at the entrance making it very clear that overnight parking for the eclipse was not acceptable. Dan’s thongs were pretty well buggered so we hoped to get a new pair but we found the shelves bare. Seemed that the eclipse-goers had cleared out a lot of Walmart’s stock. Despite that, we got what we needed to tide us over. It was another 40 minutes to Madras and again my nav took me off the highway. We didn’t experience any real traffic though, not until we hit the town of Madras.

The town had gone eclipse crazy. Everywhere campsites were offered at the going rate of $75 a night for tents and $100 a night for RVs. This was making me nervous! I was tempted to stop in town and soak up the atmosphere, but we were both keen to secure a camp for much less than $75 and wanted to allow ourselves most of the afternoon to get one. After getting out of Madras, we continued north a short ways through some farmland into Warm Springs Valley. I was on the lookout as we drove, hoping to find a spot as a backup camp. Unfortunately there was nothing of the sort, so we just had to hope the listed free camp was a winner.

We drove down into a valley and I thought maybe this wouldn’t work if it was too deep for us to see the morning sun. Hmmm. We carried on regardless of the sign that mentioned the Trout Creek BLM land was full. With every kilometre, my confidence was dropping. When we got onto the dirt road in the BLM land, I kept a very keen eye out and took the first unmaintained road off to the side of the road.

To my surprise, we came to a spot behind some trees with parking enough for a couple of cars and more room on top of that. We pulled in and got out to discuss. I’d seen one little “No Trespassing” sign on the road in to this spot, but it was only small and looked old. Could it really be this simple? We wandered around to find the source of water nearby and found an old dam-looking thing. Cleo happily followed me in for a swim, almost of her own accord.

Back at the site, we were still sceptical about the legality of the place, we just couldn’t believe we could find a spot like this when hundreds of thousands of people were converging into the area. We left my car parked behind the trees and took Dan’s to go and suss out the actual free campsite we had been looking for.

A short way down the road we came to Trout Creek campground. This wasn’t the listed campsite, but a paid area that was quite obviously packed. Despite the very, very dry land all around that multiplied the sun’s heat, Trout Creek was more like a river and it flowed wide and fast. We drove all the way through the campground, looking for a road continuing on into the valley but the only one we came across was gated and locked. The free campsite was a dud.

As we drove around, I tried to send our camp’s GPS coordinates to my friend Rob and his group of mates driving down from Whistler to Madras. He’d said he was heading this way and so I promised to find a campsite for him if I could and we had a spot big enough for him and his entourage. We managed to find a spec of reception and I got our location out to him. I promised we’d hold him a spot!

We were becoming more convinced about the probability of our camp working out but before mulling things over any further, we needed a swim. We parked and walked down a dirt trail and through some tall reeds to the water’s edge. We stood on a unique shelf of rock only a foot under the surface of the freezing cold water which was a beautiful clear blue. It took a bit of working up to it, but we both jumped in and got straight back out so we weren’t swept away in the strong current. We only wished our campsite was next to the river but we couldn’t ask too much.

We drove back to camp and went the long way round so we could see if our cars would be visible from the main road. We were happy to find that no one would really see us unless they were really looking. To give us the best chance of pleading ignorance, on our way back down the road, Dan stopped and I ripped the “No Trespassing” sign off the post by the road. I stashed it in the bushes, giving us full deniability. I think this was probably unnecessary considering the age of the paper, it felt like it was about twenty years old.

Right, so we had a camp! It was a super early one for us (for good reason) and only 2pm. Dan put a podcast on in his Cabana and settled into bed for an afternoon nap while I sat under the shade of a tree and caught up on my blogging. An hour later when my eyes were drooping, I put my laptop on charge, left a note for the sleeping Dan and rode down to the camp to see if I could get some phone service again and get in touch with Rob.

I tried to sneak away quietly, but Cleo wasn’t having any of it, when she saw me on the bike, she was up and ready to run. I leashed her up to the Cabana so she could protect Dan while he was sleeping, then rode off. I stopped at the river where there were a couple of cars parked with people contemplating where to camp. No service here so I carried on down into the campground. I rode around until I saw a few bars at the top of my phone then stayed put and waited patiently. Rob had got my GPS coordinates so it was all up to him now. When I heard a couple of campers having an animated conversation about their camera setups for the eclipse, I wandered over to chat. They seemed like experts and I was right. They’d been here a few days so could easily tell me the trajectory of the morning sun and gave me confidence we wouldn’t have to go anywhere to see it, the sun would be above the mountains by the time the eclipse rolled around.

On the way back to camp, I stopped in at the river for another cool down before riding up the hill. I woke Dan when I returned and shared with him all the news I’d gathered. As he was waking up, a couple of cars drove past and eventually made camp, parking their cars and boats on the road. It wasn’t ideal because they were easily seen and if they got sprung, we were likely to get sprung. Another group came along shortly afterwards and made another makeshift camp on the side of the road, setting their stuff up for the night. We were happy to share, but just hoped none of us would get kicked out.

Dan needed a wake up so he proposed another wander down to the river, but instead of taking the road, we did a bit of bush bashing through the dry grass over to an abandoned and half-collapsed house.

It was a gorgeous old barn, coloured dark by years of weather and fire. We explored around the outside and I even poked my head inside for a look. I was thinking that this was right up Jon’s alley, exploring an abandoned place on the eve of a solar eclipse.

With prickles in our feet, we explored the farm yard next where there was plenty of old equipment and animal runs, all in different states of disuse and disrepair.

We came to the creek downstream of our camp but it didn’t look overly swimmable so I proposed we walk back to camp along the creek. That only lasted a few dozen meters before we came to a fork in the creek where it narrowed too much to carry on.

Backtracking, we crossed the paddock to get to a bridge over the river. The road to this bridge was lined with multiple private property signs so when I saw a guy on a quad riding towards us on the private property side of the bridge, I immediately turned the other way, trying to act natural. Dan laughed at me and told me to stop being a sissy but we weren’t bothered. At the end of the road, we were back at our earlier swimming hole so had our cool off dip there.

The evening was starting to cool down, but it was still warm enough to walk back to camp in our swimmers. We met our fellow boating campers on our way back and they were plenty friendly, happy to be sharing the camp spot with us. I got onto dinner when we got back to camp, making burgers which we’d been craving most of the day. Dan contributed some cooked bacon and displayed some finesse when he caught a loaded bun falling to the ground without losing a single piece of food.

We sat in our chairs facing the setting sun, which was gorgeous with the fluffy clouds in the sky. It made us a little nervous to think that maybe the clouds would linger in the morning, meaning we’d have a covered eclipse, but there was nothing we could do about that now, we’d come all this way and found ourselves a spot, it would have to do!

We heard cows off in the distance as the sun was setting, making their evening migration. Cleo was instantly interested but they were on the other side of the creek so she soon gave up. The cows and a few trains that passed by formed the soundtrack for the rest of the night.

After sitting out and chatting a while, we crept into bed and after Dan fell asleep during a TV episode, he woke up again and we continued talking into the night as I poked my head out the back of the Cabana to admire the stars. It was the first time we could see the Milky Way in ages. No more clouds, no more smoke haze.

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