Unity, Oregon, was deserted, except for the lone old man on the porch of a ramshackle building who tipped his hat in my direction as I passed by with a terrible screeching under the hood. I turned my camping gear-packed rig around pronto, struggling with the sudden loss of power steering that accompanied the burning rubber smell and puff of smoke that signaled the demise of my serpentine belt.
I had driven down to the middle of nowhere Oregon several days ahead of our eclipse crew to score a prime path-of-totality camp spot, which, given the deteriorating state of my vehicle, was about to get more challenging. I beelined it to the dirt road turnoff just in time to watch a burst of warning lights flash across the dash. Before the Isuzu overheated, I needed to find a campsite with shade, good eclipse watching and tent pitching spots, and enough parking for half a dozen vehicles. I blasted the heaters and coasted in neutral when I could, and eventually drifted into a prime canyon campsite with the temperature gage threatening mutiny.
Before I knew an eclipse trip was on the top of my wife’s list of things to do for her 40th birthday, I had no interest in fighting the traffic and swarms of people expected to arrive in Oregon to watch the sun go dark for a couple of minutes. But that was before I knew what I was in for.
The days at our camp leading up to the August 21 eclipse were hot and dry but never lacking for adventure of one sort or another. We set up a sprawling camp and cooked meals in our open-air kitchen under a pair of gnarly juniper trees. We hiked through sage and rabbit brush, fat biked rutted desert roads, and drove to the mountains to splash in cool streams to beat the heat. We slept under the stars with coyote and owl call serenades, and finally, the day arrived and it was time to gather up our chairs, eye protection, backpacks, and children to make the trek up the plateau to the prime eclipse-watching spot above our camp.
Maybe the intense multi-day lead-up, the pre-eclipse whiskey shots, or the adrenaline rush from the mad dash up the hillside to a last-minute better viewing spot had something to do with it, but the whole thing was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Over a period of about an hour, the moon began to blot out the sun and eventually the August air grew chilly. More minutes passed and the morning light took on an out-of-place, late-in-the-day eeriness. A few stars appeared in the darkening sky, and that was just the beginning. We were about to have our minds blown by staring at that nearly blotted-out ball of burning gas that makes each day on this amazing planet warm, well-lit, and possible.
It was a good reminder to take advantage of new road trip experiences whenever you can, since you’ll never know what you’ve been missing until you give it a try. You may have missed the eclipse, but there’s still time for September adventures. Head out on the International Selkirk Loop, take a small-town tour through central Idaho, bounce around the Cascades day-hiking chunks of the PCT, find the darkest places possible for star gazing, drive across Montana for the best mountain-top sunsets, and start planning now for the next nearby total eclipse in northern Mexico and Texas in 2024. //