Our Northwest

PEMCO intern witnesses total solar eclipse

Thursday, August 31, 2017by  Carolyn Qi

Total solar ecliupse over Oregon on 8/21/2017"The dragon is going to eat the sun!"

That's how the 4-year-old girl sitting next to me described the solar eclipse as I sat with my solar sunglasses on, watching "the dragon take its first bite."

It ended up being a lot more exciting than watching a dragon enjoy its meal.

August 21 began for me at 2 a.m. when my friend Steven called to say he was outside my apartment. I rushed outside with my backpack filled with snacks and water bottles, holding a queen-sized fleece blanket. My plan was simple: I would sleep the entire way to Oregon, where I would watch the total eclipse.

Naturally, with that plan in mind, I wore the most comfortable snoozing outfit: long stretchy leggings, T-shirt, and flip-flops. We were headed to Madras, Ore., the epicenter of the eclipse. But we ended up going to a whole different area.

We picked up Steven's friend, Jonathon, and I fell asleep around 3 a.m., waking up briefly to see the amazing stars in central Washington and, later, for Steven to order Starbucks at around 6 a.m. in Pendleton. Steven steered south on U.S. 395 past the tiny town of Fox. When I finally woke for good at 8:30 a.m. I found myself in the middle of Malheur National Forest, east of the Oregon Cascades.

People gather to watch the solar eclipse in Malheur National Forest, OregonIt took us a while to find unmarked, obscure National Forest Road 131, where we watched as dozens of cars turned onto a dirt path. We assumed that must be it and started the incline, watching people set up their cameras and telescopes on our way up. I thought we were going to stop and join them, but Steven was ambitious, determined to drive to the very top.

Once there he made me scale a 60-degree slope to find the highest clearing. It took me a while to get there, clutching branches and roots to pull myself up, regretting my decision to wear flip-flops.

By the time we found the perfect clearing, it was 9:15, about 10 minutes before the partial eclipse began. We set up our tripods and cameras, waiting for something to happen. Then we watched in awe through our eclipse sunglasses as the moon slowly began to cover the sun. With the glasses on, it seemed like I was looking at a picture.

The sky darkens during totality at the Oregon solar eclipse, August 2017The sky began to darken, and shadows took a very odd form. The temperature dropped slowly as we anticipated totality. The moon blocked more and more of the sun … and suddenly it was pitch black.

We took off our eclipse sunglasses and soaked in the spectacle with our bare eyes. It felt very real. The moon appeared as a dark sphere, surrounded by white flames gushing from the sun. It was as if a mystical white fire burned on the moon, cloaking us all in an eerie dark vibe. The landscape surrounding us was dark, yet the far-off edge of the horizon was lit like it would be during a sunrise.

And just like that, sunlight burst through. It was over. Five hours of driving, one hour of waiting, all led up to two minutes of total eclipse. And that was it!

Carolyn's friend Steven shoots the solar eclipse in OregonWe slowly walked (or slid) back down the hill and climbed into our dusty car. Then we began the 11-hour drive back, stuck in traffic, wanting to get home. It wasn't until midnight that I ended my 22-hour adventure to watch the total solar eclipse.

Was it worth it? Yes! The entire eclipse was a rare opportunity that I'm glad to have witnessed. Despite enduring 16 hours of driving and waiting, it was one of my most memorable experiences. The anticipation, the buildup, and the wait made the moments of totality all the more exciting. The journey only made the experience better.

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