Hi everyone! I decided to share one of my travel stories about seeing a total solar eclipse. Originally, I was planning to travel to see this annular eclipse in Northern Ontario/Quebec in June. Let’s just say it’s not going to work out. So, I wanted to share the story of how I officially became an Eclipse Chaser, plus my recommendations if you ever travel to see an eclipse. Read on to find out more!
Before I start though, I wanted to say that there was data out of sync on my site, which is why my posts haven’t shown up in Reader. Tech support said that you might need to refollow my site, but let me know if this post shows up! Sorry for the inconvenience!
Before The Eclipse:
The eclipse I am talking about happened on Monday, August 21, 2017. Six months before, my Dad noticed that the eclipse would reach totality in Oregon, but sort of disregarded it. When the eclipse date was a month away, we decided to see it reach totality. Planning got a little tight! After all, it’s a major event and people travel all over to see it, so it can be a pinch to get accommodation at the last minute. We figured this might be our one chance to ever see a total solar eclipse. The eclipse was projected to reach 70% totality in the SF Bay Area. Not good enough. We wanted to see 100% totality!
We decided to leave a few days before the eclipse so we could see some sites along the way.
Friday, August 18:
First day of our road trip! We drove from the SF Bay Area to Redding. Our road trips within Northern California generally seem to start by going to Redding first, with the exception of Yosemite. It’s like a base camp for just about everywhere else in the most northerly part of California.
I’m going to cut a long story short about my driving history because it spans different countries! That’s a whole other post. By the time we did the eclipse trip, I had been sharing the driving with my Dad when we did road trips for over a year.
It only took a few hours to get to Redding. We got to our motel and then decided to drive to Lassen Volcanic National Park since it was mid-afternoon. Note, it’s a long, windy road to Lassen from Redding! It took a couple of hours to get there. We didn’t get back to Redding until 9 pm! You might think this was the longest drive we had done this trip… Think again! I love how Lassen is significant both as a volcano and shaped by glaciers! How often do you get that?
We tried this restaurant near our motel that was open late, and ended up loving it! If you are staying in Redding go to Lumberjacks Restaurant after a long day of travelling! Their meals are hearty and warm and their service is great. Since repatriating to the US, I had a problem with restaurants serving large portions. I CANNOT eat everything on my plate in a US restaurant! If you’re looking for a restaurant that doesn’t overload you with food because you can’t get a doggy bag, Lumberjacks is the one! Plus, we appreciated the added benefit they are open late in this instance.
Saturday, August 19:
Today was exploring day! We slowly made our way up to the Oregon border and stayed in a motel in Yreka. Don’t confuse it with Eureka! They are both in the far north of California, but Yreka is closer to the state line. By the time we got to our motel in Yreka, it was becoming clear that things were getting busy because of the eclipse. Our motel was completely full, which never happens! Also, the restaurant we went to that night was bursting at the seams! Let me get back to the things I saw that day though.
I get an eerie feeling whenever I see dams in California. Water wars are legendary there. Little known fact: Most of the energy produced by the Oroville Dam is used to raise water 2,000 ft to go over the Tehachapi Pass and provide water from NorCal to SoCal. California has to think of more sustainable water systems so that there isn’t this war between NorCal and SoCal! Plus, it’s an enormous energy waste!
Six months before, the Oroville Dam had a failure that caused almost 200,000 people to be evacuated. The event was not far from peoples’ minds and there was a lot of talk about it. I have visited dams before, but this one felt different because of what had happened. As I was walking along the dam, I looked into the valley and I saw how exactly the dam failure could have been far more disastrous. I do like walking along the top of dams and taking photos of things as I go. This time, there was a lot I couldn’t see because there was a wildfire going on nearby and the smoke was obscuring the view.
During my walk on the dam, I saw a bird of prey happily eating a fish. The bird looked familiar but I couldn’t place it. I looked it up after my trip and found out it was an osprey! Also, I saw a number of them flying around looking for fish. It made me feel better about the dam seeing that animals are thriving there. I spent a lot of time just watching the osprey eating the fish and it was so close!
Next stop: Burney Falls! It was a welcome break from California water wars, drought, and wildfire. The sky was clearer there and the falls were full! After a drought, it’s refreshing to see the falls being so full! It was one of those places where I could stay all day! I couldn’t get enough pictures! I highly recommend walking the park trails too. They are just as lovely as the falls.
I took a photo of the sky with all the smoke. There was smoke going on in Oregon too and we wondered about our chances of seeing the eclipse. Luckily, we planned to see it in eastern Oregon. We hoped it was far enough east to be away from the smoke.
Sunday, August 20:
It was time to cross the state line into Oregon! My Mum explained that state lines tended to be based on natural features, and this was no different. The marker was the Cascade Mountains. I should mention that I have this CD of theme songs from Western movies that have the best arrangments. So, I was driving when we were going over the mountains and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly theme song was playing! That’s one way to remember your experience driving over mountains!
Here’s one important thing I have to say about the Cascade Mountains. If you cross them on Interstate 5, it can be rather hairy, especially in the wintertime. I hadn’t had too much experience driving in mountains, so I stayed cautious as I went over the Cascades. My uncle once hauled a load over the Cascades in the middle of winter and he said, “Never again!” My uncle’s an excellent driver, but he reached his limit there. Plus, he saw more than one truck that had jackknifed on the road. It’s rainy, slippery, and steep and if professional drivers are jackknifing, yikes! Regardless, I would rather drive the Cascades on Interstate 5 than any other road.
The Motel Situation:
Before I talk about what touristy stuff we did, I want to say something about the motel situation we found ourselves in. Because we were so late in planning the trip, motels near Portland were absolutely packed! The one motel we could find was in Shady Cove, Oregon and that was a 400-mile drive to the nearest point in the totality zone, in John Day. The eclipse was about 10 am on the 21st, which meant we had to drive ALL NIGHT from Shady Cove to John Day! That was a lot to plan! Additionally, the motels were STILL full the following night, and we had to go back to Redding to stay the night. That was another 400-mile drive. We were talking about driving over 800 miles in one day!
We checked into our motel at Shady Cove and then drove to Crater Lake National Park. It was a beautiful park, but the smoke from the fires was obscuring the view. It was kind of a letdown, so we decided to drive along and see if there was anything else fun that we could do. I have to make sure to NOT visit Crater Lake during fire season next time!
We decided to meander back to Shady Cove along the Rogue River, and then we came across this area by the road called Natural Bridge. It looked woodsy and beautiful, so we stopped and walked around for a bit. We were not disappointed! It was a loop path and the river was pretty calm in that area. The peacefulness was indescribable! I soaked it up considering what was ahead of me (a night and day of tag-teaming with my Dad on driving and sleeping). If you’re in Oregon, it’s a place worth seeing! I love gems that are off the beaten path!
And then… surprise!
We were driving back to Shady Cove when we came across a place where we could go river rafting! We hadn’t had the chance to raft before because the drought made California suspend all rafting. Now, the Rogue River was full and we thought, “Why not?!” We booked the raft for an hour though because we did need to plan for a nap.
I didn’t get any photos of rafting because I didn’t want to get my tablet wet. The river was full and fast and there were some hair-raising moments where you had to react quickly! Okay, I am not the best at paddling. It takes me a while to get the hang of it. Still, it worked out and I was able to react quickly when needed. I wish I had known the term “Send it!” at the time! The only problem was getting out of the raft at the end because the water was super fast. My Dad got soaking wet because he had to jump back in and stop my Mum from floating down the river! Overall, it was an incredible experience. It’s days like this that are going to drive people to do something about the drought and wildfire on the West Coast.
preparing for the main event:
Once the rafting experience was over, it was all about preparing to get to John Day that night. We got back to the motel, and after showers and food, we double-checked everything we needed for the trip and packed our bags. One part of the plan was to take gas cans for the 400 mile drive. The car we rented was the most fuel-efficient car we could get, but even that would have just BARELY got us to John Day on its tank of gas. We would be driving through the boonies and we weren’t entirely sure of the gas station situation. I will say more about this later because this is not a strategy I recommend. After my Dad filled up the car and the gas cans, we took a LONG nap!
We knew we had to leave by midnight at the latest if we were going to get to John Day in time. I set an alarm for 11 pm, but we all agreed that if one of us woke up before then to get the others up too. I woke up just after 9 pm and noticed my Mum was up, but like me, my Dad was awake but staying in bed as long as possible. The two drivers need sleep after all!
Since I felt pretty fresh, I decided to take the wheel first. I hadn’t driven at night since my driving lessons, so I had to readjust. Luckily it was country roads. I had the idea of if it was an 8-hour drive, my Dad and I could switch off every 2 hours. Of course, plans never work out that way. Environments don’t work in your favour.
Monday, August 21, 2017:
I handed my Dad the car at midnight, according to my plan. By then I could tell that my schedule of sleeping and eating was going to be thrown off. We stopped along the road at one point and had some food. It was then when we saw the Milky Way! I was mesmerized! I might have seen the Milky Way as a child, but I don’t remember it. The night was still and pitch black because there was no moon (my Dad said that makes sense for an eclipse). When we got back on the road, I continued napping. I tried to drive at one point because I was pretty restless, but it didn’t work. I needed more rest.
Here’s why you don’t carry gas cans with you:
It was between 4 and 5 am when we arrived at this little town to try and fill up on gas. As we suspected, there were no name-brand gas stations around and the local ones are not 24-hour ones. This little town had a population of 7 and its distinctive feature was a gas station. That made it the perfect place to try and fill up! Lol. So, we were trying to fill up the car with limited instructions, no internet to help us find any further instructions during a COLD night with no moon in the boonies! It was a perfect recipe for an Eclipse Flambe!
We realized we didn’t have a necessary piece of apparatus to help us with filling up the car. Because we had some spillages, we ended up needing to keep the gas cans and try to find a gas station that had graveyard shifts. So we were driving in a car that stank of gas fumes with cans in the back HOPING we wouldn’t get pulled over or go up in flames! I took the wheel because I drive more attentively and felt able to keep my eyes peeled for a gas station. Every street I went on I kept thinking, “Please have a gas station!” I found one in a larger town when we were almost running on empty after 8 hours of driving. I honestly never thought I would be happy to see a gas station!
The sun was rising as I was cruising down the road to John Day. I drove with a certain spring in my step! We had cleared the major hurdle of having enough gas and we made it to the totality zone!
We got to john day!
I thought I was going to explode with happiness when I saw the sign that welcomed us to John Day! I drove around to see where we could get breakfast and scored an ideal parking spot! The spot overlooked this grass space surrounded by a fence and you could see the sun clearly! As long as I live, I will never forget that I scored a perfect parking space for a total solar eclipse!
We got breakfast at The Outpost Pizza Pub and Grill. It was exactly what we needed after driving all night and eating car trip food. Sometimes, only tasty, hearty grub will do! The atmosphere was electric with anticipation for the eclipse and there was an Eclipse Menu!
We finished breakfast around 8 am and we decided to lie the car seats back and sleep for a bit. The relief of an uninterrupted 2-hour nap surpasses all understanding. I woke up at 9:30 am, saw my Mum was already awake and acquainting herself with other people around the area. I decided to join in and wait for the eclipse to start.
The Best Half hour ever!
Even though I knew the timing of the eclipse stages, to see it actually happening was exhilarating! Just before 10 am when I saw the moon start to go in front of the sun and I squealed! It was really happening! If you look at the sun directly, the moon was starting to go in front of it from the top right corner. We dug out the equipment we were going to use to see the eclipse stages. My Mum had brought some lenses to project the sun onto the ground. We didn’t have eclipse glasses, but someone offered some to us. They sounded as rare as gold dust and my Dad was skeptical if they were any good. We gave up Mum’s scientific experiment and tag-teamed on the glasses.
As the eclipse got closer to totality, I could feel the excitement building! It was about 70% totality when it became clear on earth that the moon was going to blot out the sun. You know when the sun sets, the temperature drops a bit and there’s a little wind? That was the first thing to happen. We looked on the ground and noticed the leaf patterns were semi-circles, which is another sign of an eclipse on a grand scale. Not a lot of people know that unless they have read how astronomers describe eclipses, so we went around pointing out the leaf patterns to people. I didn’t have sophisticated camera equipment to photograph the stages, so this was the best I could do.
Once the eclipse reached 90% totality, massive changes occurred! The light began to dim and it felt colder. A street light came on right before totality. Birds were flying back into the trees. You instinctively keep thinking the sun is about to set, and you have to fight with yourself on that.
Suddenly, the sun was completely blotted out and there was no need for eclipse glasses! A hush fell over the crowd like everyone was holding their breath. Then the diamond ring happened, which was more brilliant than the crown jewels! Everyone cheered and clapped! The sun appeared and that was the end of totality. Was it worth all the trouble to drive to Oregon, freak out about enough gas and drive all night? You bet your life it was! Once the euphoria wore off, we hit the road. I was amazed to see this massive line of cars leaving John Day.
The long and winding road:
I drove at first, and then the fatigue hit, so my Dad decided to take over for a while and let me sleep. He did tell me to be prepared because when the roadsigns showed certain distances, he stated how far he could make it. I joked that of course I was exhausted, it was a night without a day and a day without a night. Get the Ladyhawke reference?
I passed out so hard, nothing could have woken me. I happened to wake up when we were driving along this cliff face and I was amazed that we had driven that area at night! Sometimes it’s better to drive at night so you don’t see how treacherous the landscape is! I was happy to pass out again.
After stopping to have lunch, I took over driving so my Dad could sleep in the back seat. I was concerned because I had never driven while I was on the verge of exhaustion. Normally, I don’t drink coffee, but I had to have some of my Mum’s coffee beverage at lunch and at the wheel. I kept the radio on low so something could keep me awake. Plus, my Mum was willing to keep a conversation with me. I was hoping to make it all the way to Redding, which was about 230 miles from where I started driving, but it didn’t work. I had to switch with my Dad 30 miles before Redding because my legs hurt. My penguin walk became iconic.
We stopped at Lumberjacks in Redding for dinner. Mum kept thanking me and Dad for doing all the driving and kept saying how she was proud of me. It felt like that scene in The Incredibles when Dash and Helen/Elastigirl work together as a boat to get to shore. She says, “What a trooper. I’m so proud of you!”. I felt exactly like Dash when he says, “Thanks, Mom!”
After dinner and showers, we turned the TV on briefly to see what they said about the eclipse. We saw that the photobomb of the day was the International Space Station in front of the earth when the eclipse was being photographed from space! We must have passed out for about 12 hours. The only comparable fatigue was a transatlantic flight. I woke up and said, “Let’s go home!”
I knew people who were excited to watch the eclipse on HD or were content with 70% totality. Call me old-fashioned, but technology is not going to replace the experience of seeing an eclipse. One science magazine said that if you aren’t sure if you have seen a total solar eclipse, you haven’t seen it. We’re talking the stuff of folklore and superstition in ancient civilizations here. There’s a reason why there was a fear surrounding eclipses before science advanced and explained everything. Even if you know the science behind it, all the science in the world can’t replace the sense of awe you get when you see an eclipse.
Before I give you my personal tips on seeing an eclipse, let me emphasize that you HAVE to go see it for real! You really do! I tell everyone I know they have to go see one! Now, I am officially an Eclipse Chaser. After reading my story, can you blame me?
Tips for Travelling To See A Total Solar Eclipse:
- First and foremost, remember this is a major event and people are going to be visiting in droves!
- Don’t see it in a city. There are fewer people in the countryside, and traffic won’t be nearly as bad.
- Find accommodation early and be aware that prices are going to increase because of the eclipse. I heard that accommodation in John Day was between $500 to $1000 a night right before the eclipse!
- If you can’t find a motel, keep your eyes peeled for other alternatives. Apparently, a school in John Day was renting tents for people to sleep in on their sports field! We didn’t know that, or we wouldn’t have driven all night!
- If you are in a situation where you have a long drive to the totality zone, rent the most fuel-efficient car you can get, and prioritize fuel stops if you’re driving in the middle of nowhere. You don’t want to run out of gas and not make it to the totality zone. Don’t do what I did and get gas cans full of gas though! Eclipse Flambe is not a worry you should have!
- Be aware motels are going to be packed the night following the eclipse as well, so be prepared for a long drive.
- Switch off driving!
Have you seen a total solar eclipse? Are you planning to see one? Let me know in the comments!