Oregon & The ApocEclipse

Oregon and the ApocEclipse

My journey into the wild had but two requisite achievements at the time of conception. Hike to Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park and see the 2017 Solar Eclipse in one of the most highly sought after areas in the Nation. With Grinnell and a host of other incredible treks under my belt, the upcoming eclipse grappled for my thoughts. I made my way South towards Oregon to my yet, unidentified, observation location. Thus, the need for such an early arrival. Campgrounds and hotels in the path of totality had been booked out for almost a year and I had no reservations and no plan. I was armed only with the notion that I would be somewhere near Madras, Oregon and would have to scout out the perfect spot. It was quite an alien place for the contingency-oriented planner in me. I would not have imagined events unfolding as they did over the course of the next month and in retrospect, could not imagine them Happening in any other way. It was a month of new friends, new scenes, an epic phenomenon and fire…lots and lots of fire.

I departed from Alder Lake and found a good recovery camp just off Interstate 5 along the Toutle River, just North of the Washington and Oregon border. I got set up and established electricity and water-pressure then made a much needed sojourn to the facilities in the Ruck Rig. As I sat…uh…contemplating deep thoughts, I felt the Rig begin to vibrate subtly. I was immediately reminded of the cliff face in Glacier (Glacier National Park II) but there was no mistaking this occurrence as things began to vibrate. The shaking intensified and I thought to myself “what are the odds I would experience two earthquakes so far away from one another in such a short span of time”? The shaking intensified again and seemed to be growing in presence and force. My jesting spirit quickly changed to an unease and then just upon the cusp of genuine concern, a train whistle split the quiet and low rattling of loose objects. I released my breath in a guffaw. It became abundantly clear that my site lay a mere two hundred feet away from a heavily used track. It wasn’t until the third occurrence while compromised on the throne that it solidified in my mind as a harmless string of railcars rather than an impending apocalypse. The perception is a funny, yet powerful, thing.

Note to self: The rear-view and the rear-cam reflect different images

On more than one occasion, while on the road, I have glanced up at the rearview to check on the trailer only to realize that it is gone and only open road can be seen behind me! My mind refused to register that I was looking at the rear cam monitor of the trailer mounted next to the rearview mirror. What I thought was open road behind the truck, thus indicating the absence of the trailer was actually the open road behind the trailer itself as seen from the cam monitor. I would think “how the holy hell did I loose the trailer without hearing it” before it clicked and I re-adjusted my line of sight to the actual rearview mirror and reflection of the Rig’s hull behind me. I did this a half dozen times before that leap of adrenaline stopped hitting my system on the first mistaken glance. Marvelously entertaining if not a little bit frightening. Never ride behind an RV. Aside from regularly losing gear and parts, operators generally have a lot going on and are hauling a great deal of weight. Perhaps all the hype of the eclipse was going to my head. I spent nearly a week at Toutle catching up on logistical activities and researching everything from where to stay to how to film the event as the trains passed every twenty to thirty minutes. After gathering my intel, I left the routine rumbles of the rail behind and struck South towards the Columbia River Gorge.

Since I still had a few weeks to burn before the event, I wanted to take in some of Oregon’s sites while I prepped in the area. I settled on a central spot in the North along the Columbia River Gorge named Crown Point and was fortunate to meet several wonderful locals including Erin and Scott, the couple operating the campground and my new neighbor, Teresa. They provided me with some maps and insight on the local features and shared their time to my enjoyment. I struck out each morning and scouted a few hundred miles in the three areas best suited for the Eclipse. I hit the peak of Larch Mountain and several falls along the historic highway 30 corridor as diversions during the quest. It is a treacherously narrow road along the ridgelines overlooking Multnomah Falls and a host of other aquatic drops along the stretch of road that parallels Highway 84 and the Columbia River.

It didn’t take long to realize that Madras was not going to be the location to be, for me. Tens of thousands of viewers were predicted to occupy the town and now with wildfires ablaze throughout the state, It simply did not look logistically possible. Over the next few days, I expended every resource I could think of and still came up dry in every area I searched. Then it occurred to me to jump on Craigslist. Perhaps, some progressive farmer with an internet signal will have a spot I can lease. I combed through the ads and found three properties offering various amenities. I responded to each. Only one ad sounded like it would afford any sort of privacy or worthy surroundings for filming but it seemed the least likely a success. I was certain the ad was scribed by some old curmudgeon that might prove to be difficult. It read to the effect of: Got some land…no fires, no noise, no parties, no heavy breathing, no loud heart-beats. just go away already…name your price. I was sure to share that I was capable of meeting all the requisites and really only wanted a quite place for some great photos and named what I thought was a fair price for the intrusion. A short while later, I learned the old curmudgeon was not a he or well-worn. It was a young lady named Chris who had crafted the ad to be received as it was thus ensuring the right clientele. We laughed with one another upon meeting as I shared my impression and she revealed her scheme. We both agreed the approach was effective. I drove the two hour route from the Gorge to her land, just South of Salem a week before the event to ensure it was feasible. Chris had built up an area along a slope to accommodate a trailer sometime in the past to accommodate friends out to camp routinely. A large tree provided some privacy from the house and the view through the trees to the East was spot on trajectory with the sun and moon’s expected paths during the event. Everything about the location and host was perfect with the minor exception of access. The opposing grades of the main road and that of the shared gravel drive, created an angle to short to accommodate the length of some rigs. Chris, shared that some of her friends with trailers had issues, while others did not. The gouges in the pavement told the tale of more than one experiencing issue. There was no way for us to know with the Ruck Rig until we tried.

The Ruck Rig was too long to cut the angle of inclination

By the time moving day arrived, I had pretty much pulled my plan together. In a last minute effort, Melissa was able to score a flight to Portland to join Me, Chris and others for the viewing and I hit the road to set up before I ventured to the airport to retrieve her. When I reached the crux at the junction of the driveway, I took the angle Chris and I had thought optimal and metal hit concrete way to early. I took it slowly so I was still able to back out without hanging, after the first sounds of contact. I tried the next angle after some maneuvering and again, the rear metal strut guards on the trailer met asphalt and dug in. It was clear that there was insufficient clearance to make it. I walked up the hill towards the house to find Mo, a friend of Chris’, who had also set up a rig on the property for the event. I caught her at the worst of times. She was Mid-action in a WarCraft endeavor and pointed me to some wood slats while battling on bravely without a negative impact which was as relieving as the presence of the boards. Any fellow gamer can appreciate the true nature of bad timing and I was kicking this first impression in the ass all around. I positioned the wood under the wheels to give the trailer enough lift to clear the crux. While the wood worked and I got over the dip, I then lost traction in the gravel and was unable to pull the trailer up the grade. Each time I would accelerate, the wheels would spin and the engine would lose power. After a trapped neighbor and my spinning created a dusty ruckus, Mo abandoned her battle efforts and emerged and offered assistance to what I imagined was a combination of entertainment, annoyance and pity. Not unlike Chris, I liked her can-do/make-it-Happen spirit from the start and Chris fondly referred to her as The Sarge. I soon came to appreciate the loving jab with mutual fondness. We sorted out that the anti-slip mechanism in the truck safety system was causing the engine to lose power in the gravel. After disengaging the function, I was able to haul the rig over the crest of the grade. We thanked the neighbor who had been blocked in as she had been patient for quite some time and was in route to retrieve a tractor to pull me out had we failed. I was more than a little relieved as Mo guided me in to park. She introduced me to a herd of small terrier-spinoff pups who yapped and strutted about seemingly everywhere. Taking into account the area wildlife, along with the goats, chickens, rabbits and other dogs already present, one had the makings of quite the menagerie of fur and feather. It was a little slice of paradise. Chris paid me a visit when she arrived and we nailed down logistics for the big day and I retrieved Melissa from Portland . We prepped our camera gear the night before, checking off lists like Santa in the small hours until the day finally arrived.

I was up early on August 21st and busy setting up cams as the sun slowly climbed over the tree line. I was greeted each morning by a hoard of strutting pups and eclipse day was no different. Each member of the pack came down and expressed their good mornings in their own way as I lay out my equipment. While the gear I was using was totally inadequate for filming the event, I hoped that I could at least salvage some sort of video by sheer volume of footage. I planned to run three Go-pros, five I-phones and a low-end Canon SLR. I failed to procure Solar lenses for the SLR or my Handy-cam so I intended to shoot with these during totality alone. In the end, the Handy-cam never left the table. The other cameras bore little concern of damage due to the sun and I ran them with direct exposure. To my knowledge, it caused no harm to the cameras and they still shoot with a continuity of quality. A small crowd of friends had gathered at Chris’s over the preceding weekend and now collected in the front of the property and meandered amongst a small fleet of rigs set up on the lawn. Chris was an impeccable host and fed me and kept Melissa pumped with morning Joe. The excitement could be felt as the morning advanced and our anticipation grew. The moon kissed the sun at 9:05:19 A.M. beginning the first phase of totality. The first thing we noticed was the change in temperature and all the dogs lay down and were simultaneously sedate for the only moments throughout the week. We marveled at the subtle changes in the environment while Chris jammed commemorated the moment jamming Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on a set of speakers. The colors and hue of the scene changed into a surreal sepia tone as crazy shadows cast through leaves and trees. Sterling Jays and other birds shot around in confusion. As totality progressed, sounds of Pink Floyd’s Breathe and Time came wafting through the air from a distant neighbor’s system adding a nostalgic touch to the surreal panorama. The two and a half minutes seemed to be timeless and yet pass without time at all. I do not recall getting all the blurry shots that I ended up with and must have been frantically clicking away as I stared in awe. It was an amazing spectacle. The weather was perfect. The perspective was perfect. The company was perfect. It was a perfect experience in many ways not discounting the perfect precision of the inter-stellar alignment we just witnessed.

I could launch a blog dedicated in its entirety to Eclipses and there are many quite sophisticated sites out there. The next eclipse to potentially maintain par with this one in the States will occur in 2024. Chris is already considering plans and the Ruck Report has heard murmurs of a potential bid for South America. It took several weeks to review and scrub all the footage that resulted. In the end, I was pleased with the final production and it yielded a great memory of the event. Mo was kind enough to allow one of her incredible photos she captured be included and I feel like it was the highlight shot of the reel. The footage did result in a lingering question, if any of my readers are astute in the arena of ecliptic phenomenon. Although almost 90% of the sun was obscured by the moon and two intersecting orbs could be seen distinctly with solar glasses, the non filtered cameras held the suns circular form until complete totality. The smallest sliver still exposed as seen through glasses was still bright enough to create an aura of light as bright, large and round as the normal sun in the footage. This seems to reflect the sheer power of the Sun’s light in terms of brightness…but what of the sounds? A great deal of the footage was sped up to create a time-lapse effect. While the produced video is scored with music, the raw footage, when played at 1,800 times speed, produces an audible anomaly. The high-pitched squeaks and sounds of the sped up reel have a distinct change in pitch, frequency and amplitude at the precise moment of complete totality. The sound change is very distinct and it is quite noticeable. What is this a result of? An absence of particles or waves from the Sun hitting the Earth once blocked by the moon? Why does it occur only at complete totality and not gradually through each phase? I appreciate any insight to resolve these questions.

After the moment came and departed us, our excitement continued through the day and into the evening as we reflected on the many nuances we witnessed. Chris was gracious to invite us to stay a bit longer which enabled us to take in the Trail of Ten Falls, a short distance East of our location, at Silver Creek. It is surprising that Oregon only contains a single National Park as every corner reveals an exciting topography, stellar view or striking waterfall. Even after a seventy-two day absence of precipitation, some of the falls were robust. I could only imagine a season of heavy rains. We didn’t have to cover a fraction of the mileage of past treks to reach twice the number of features on our Oregon outings. In a single morning and afternoon, we took in Twin, Middle North, Drake, Lower North and Double Falls within a single mile hike.

The following morning, we loaded up and set our sights on returning to the Gorge to take in the falls I had scouted the weeks prior. I confess that after much stress over getting the rig out of the drive intact, I Happened to be in the just the right company. As I hemmed and hawed over angles and trajectories, Chris humbly saved the day with an extensive background in big rigs and hauling. While a part of me knows experience is the best teacher, I also recognize the necessity for the rig to remain ready to roll. I happily yielded the keys to her care and between Chris, Mo, Melissa, myself and the casual observation of her neighbor, the rig was free and on flat pavement in no time. Woman. Power. Rocks.

metal on asphalt makes a nasty sound dragging your house around

We left our mark in the asphalt and sadly bid our farewells to our new friends and returned to Crown Point in the Gorge. It was refreshing to be back in a familiar place and Erin had a spot for me on all days but our arrival day. We had a late start and by the time we arrived, the overflow slot was occupied. The neighboring lot belonged to the local fire response unit and they were generous in allowing me to park the rig in their training lot until my slot opened in the morning. Between the growing fire issues and the lot permission, I have to say that the Oregon Fire Fighters are some very brave, kind and giving men and women. Thank you for your service!

More wildfires were sparking up in the surrounding areas as we continued our exploration. The haze formed a form of smog that enveloped the area. It was not until my second return that winds had picked up and cleared the smog enough to see Mount Hood loom in the foreground along Highway 84. I had driven the same route every day for a few weeks prior and had no idea the mountain could be seen from the highway for the smoke. It was pretty astonishing that an entire mountain that dominates the landscape on a clear day, can be completely invisible behind a layer of old smog. We ventured up to the peak of Larch Mountain and located a viewing area I had failed to find in the darkness of my prior visit. From this vista, one could observe Mount Jefferson peaking through the clouds to the South. Mount Hood closest and to the East. Mount Adams and the blown top of Mount Saint Helens to the North and believe it or not, the mighty Mount Rainier could still be seen in near equal proportion to the other four. Five prominent peaks in two states from one vista. It was quite the sight. Over the next few days, we took in Multnomah Falls, Elowah Falls and Wahclella Falls along the Gorge corridor. We had no idea that much of the area we were snapping shots of would be ablaze in a week, engulfed by the Eagle Creek wildfire.

Melissa caught her flight back to Nashville from the Portland airport and I returned to Crown Point to begin preparation of getting back on route with my National Parkexploration and Oregon’s only claim to such, Crater Lake, was next on the list. As I made my way South, I heard from Chris and she shared that in recognition of our new friendship and my exploits, she had sired one of her chickens in my honor. please meet “the Ruckster”. A strong and sturdy beast according to Chris and I look forward to meeting him one day although I am not currently clear if it will be for kinship or dinner…Chris?

Now Ruck Clucks…

My feathered namesake: The Ruckster


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