Totality Snapshots

by Jonah

We were listening to this podcast on our way down to Mexico this spring and thought, hey, maybe this total eclipse thing is worth seeing. We’d both seen partial eclipses before and were like, that’s pretty cool, but it didn’t really seem worth going out of the way to see.  But if all hotel rooms were booked a year in advance all along the path of totality and all we had to do was drive a few hours north to Wyoming to see it?  Why not?  So as soon as we got back from Mexico, I put on my company calendar that I would be out August 21.  Berck ordered some eclipse glasses from Amazon.

A couple weeks before the eclipse, our friend Andrew called Berck to ask about flying up to the path of totality.  Berck told him there were too many variables involved in flying, and besides, we had already planned to drive Frances the Land Cruiser to Wyoming the day before and find a good place to camp, or at least park, and watch the eclipse the next day.  And that we had an empty back seat.  He decided to join us on our adventure.

Berck got an e-mail from Amazon saying that they had been unable to verify from the manufacturer that the eclipse glasses they’d shipped us were safe, despite saying all over the package that they were (it also said they were made in China).  By now we had tried them out by staring at the sun with them on. Fortunately, he Thursday before the eclipse, one of Berck’s coworkers gave him two certified eclipse glasses.

Saturday I baked buns, and Berck cooked brats in beer.  Berck cut up and gathered two plastic tubs of wood for a campfire.  Then he checked one more time and saw that a fire ban had been put in place for Wyoming.  He took the tubs of firewood back out of the Land Cruiser.

Sunday morning we got up early and packed up.  Berck had me buy 60 pounds of ice, only 50 of which we could fit in our cooler and mash tun (which also happens to be a cooler).

Stopped in Boulder and had a delicious brunch with Andrew and his girlfriend Kayleigh, who was also able to come.

Andrew made me check if we were in the path of totality yet every five minutes or so of driving.

Stopped in Laramie for ice cream and beer.  Had to drive a whole block away to find a parking place.  Guy at the brewery said they were slammed with all the out of town traffic.

Stopped at the Medicine Bow VOR, which Berck had flown over countless times but never seen from the ground.  Kayleigh was mostly amazed at the amount of cow hair stuck to the fence from them scratching against it.

We gassed up in Casper in the middle of horrible dust storm, but it was the last gas until Shoshoni.  We pulled off in the thriving metropolis of Moneta for Andrew to take a photo next to the unincorporated municipality sign then headed south from Highway 24 down Castle Garden Road.  Our research had told us that this area was likely to have clear weather and that all the land we were on was BLM land, on which it is perfectly legal to camp anywhere, as long as you’re 100 feet from any water source and bury your poop at least six inches.  I’d bought a shovel the week before at a military surplus store.

Andrew and Kayleigh set up their tent, and we blew up their air mattress from the cigarette lighter in the Land Cruiser; then we blew up ours.  We set our air mattress out on a tarp on the ground, after a search for the area with the fewest cacti.

 

Andrew and Kayleigh thought that was such a great idea that, after stuffing their air mattress into their tent, they extricated it and laid it out in another area relatively free of cacti.

Berck set up the camp stove and heated up the brats.  We opened the cooler and popped open bottles of beer and sat in our camp chairs and ate, eventually turning out the lantern and admiring the Perseids streaming out of the north sky. The weather was perfect, and the biting flies only bit so much (I got a nice bite on my right hand and side of my neck). We slept under the Milky Way.

I awoke just as the sun was rising.

Everyone else stayed asleep, so I went for a walk and then read my book.  Once Berck and Kayleigh were awake, I cleaned the brat pot to heat water for coffee and make bacon and French toast.

Andrew set up a pop-up, which was awfully nice to be under once it started getting hot.

As the partial eclipse started, we put on our glasses periodically to watch its progress. You can’t see anything else wearing them.

Totality was getting close, so we decided to hike up to the top of a nearby hill to watch.  Here’s the darkness approaching from the west.

Finally, the last little bit of sunshine disappeared, and we took off our glasses.  We’d been listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon play on a Bluetooth speaker Andrew was carrying around.  Andrew had set the album to start playing so that the final song “Eclipse” would come on right at this moment, and it did.

For the weeks prior to the total eclipse, the news media had been doing stories on the eclipse non-stop.  I listen to a lot of Public Radio, so I’d heard story after story of eclipse chasers and people who say it’s an amazing experience.  The media had played recordings of people watching past eclipses, and the sounds of rapture were amusing and alluring all at once.  People just couldn’t seem to be able to keep from shouting when totality happened.

And that’s what happened to us.  Despite the fact that the four of us were standing close together atop a hill, watching something we had come here specifically to watch, we started shouting in amazement anyway.  I’ve seen lots of photos and videos of totality, and nothing seems to be able to truly capture it.

Here’s a picture I tried to take with my phone.  It’s blurry because it was pretty dark, like dusk, but the sun’s corona is still really bright.  What you can’t see is the black hole where the sun should be.  It was dark enough that we could see Jupiter clearly.  It wasn’t quite dark enough to see stars.  After much fiddling with the settings on his SLR, Berck was able to take this photo, which is closely cropped.

It didn’t look like that because the sky was still blue.  The air got cold.  And then it started getting light around us and the sun poked out a tiny ray of sunshine.  Our bodies cast shadows again, and warmth came back.  And right then Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” ended and the next song Andrew had set to play came on, Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”.

The total eclipse was definitely worth seeing.  Even if we had to sit in traffic on two lane highways for three hours in the Wyoming sun on our way home.  Because we were willing to take backroads, we probably had to wait in traffic for a lot less time than a lot of people, and Andrew’s plan to take the west route home instead of back through Casper turned out to be an excellent decision, as I later heard from my friends trying to get back to Colorado Springs from Casper (a 13 hour trip). But we’d gassed up in Shoshoni, and I’d brought enough water and snacks for a small army.

Once we got to I-80, things got a lot easier, and we even had time to meet our friends Laura and Jared in Ft. Collins for dinner at an excellent Afghan restaurant, where Andrew got to exclaim, for the very last time this trip, “The difference between a partial eclipse and a total eclipse is LITERALLY night and day!”

2 Responses to “Totality Snapshots”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Great blog. We so enjoyed experiencing the eclipse with your parents

  2. Cara Putman Says:

    Loved following this on Facebook and now reading it all in one place.

Leave a Reply