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Friday, August 25, 2017

Don't look now, but it's over.... really over.

Corvallis Coeds with eclipse head gear
Things don’t start out well.  Max and Harry show up 15 minutes late.  Harry has already claimed the shotgun seat. I put my sleeping bag into the trunk and carry my bag of munchies into the car.  I notice that Max and Harry have identical bags of potato chips, peanuts, and cheezies.  It’s going to be a healthy road trip

“Everyone got water?” I ask.
“I just bought a few bottles for the trip,” Max replies. “We won’t need any once we get there.  Tom bought a 40 bottle pack at Costco before he left.  He’s afraid they’ll be a run on water.”
“Okay,” I reply. “Food – check.  Water – check. Everyone got their passports?”  I ask holding up mine as I get into the back seat. 

Max waves his at me.

“I packed mine last night,” Harry says as he digs into his suitcase.  The casual digging becomes more frantic, much like a dog digging in the garden for a bone, and ends with Harry dumping everything in his bag onto the car seat.  Still no passport. He roots around his underwear and socks – no passport. I have visions of having to drive back to Vancouver and search for his passport at his house.  That would probably put us an hour or more behind schedule. 

“I know it’s here,” he says to no one in particular.
Finally he locates it in his cosmetic bag.  I issue a sigh of relief as I settle into Max’s fancy expensive BMW and immediately spill my coffee all over the back seat.

We’re not off to a good start.
Despite the predictions of “the mother of all traffic jams,” the trip precedes remarkably well for the first half hour until Max announces:
“I gotta pee.”
And so it goes:  Three old men – three old prostates. We’re like dogs that can’t pass a fire hydrant without marking their territory. I thought travelling with small kids was bad, but between the three of us we manage to hit every rest stop between Vancouver and Florence, Oregon.  (Did you know there are 10 rest stops between the border and Salem?  I can name them all.)

Even counting pee breaks we make the trip in less than nine hours – a tribute to Max’s driving skills.  Max believes he was a Road Warrior in a previous life and is determined to get us there in record time.  The problem is Max also likes to multi-task while driving.  He continually is searching for the best radio station, adjusting the air conditioning, opening the window, closing the window.  The problem is that every times he takes a hand off the wheel the car fishtails briefly – not terribly noticeable to those in the front seat, but knocking me back and forth like a bobble head every few minutes.

We arrive in Florence just after 5pm.  Florence is about ninety minutes south of the zone of totality.  We’re lucky to find accommodations that close at the last minute.  We find there is another couple along with Tom and Fen sharing the house as well. The house has  three bedrooms and we're allocated one bedroom and two couches.  Harry and I decide that Max did all the driving so he deserves the bedroom.  We’re relegated to the couches.

We drop our bags and head into “downtown Florence – a seaside tourist town best known for its sand dunes and dune buggies.   We have a decent meal and head back to the house and bed by nine o'clock.

We decide to hit the road by5:15am, still concerned everyone will be heading into the zone of totality early.

Several weeks earlier Tom offered to find the “perfect” spot in Corvallis to view the eclipse.  He’d been pouring over Satellite pictures of Corvallis for days and informs me he’s found the ideal “spot” to view the eclipse. We program his coordinates into the car’s GPS and head out in a three car convoy.

 There’s absolutely no traffic on the road.  We pull into Corvallis Oregon in a little over an hour.  The town is so quiet you could go to sleep on the road and not worry about being run over.

We follow the GPS instructions to Tom’s spot which end up being smack dab in the middle of a forest.

“Tom, you can’t see the sky from here – let alone the sun.  We’d have a better chance to see the eclipse from the inside of a fallout shelter.”

Alaska student NASA balloon
We leave Tom and the other couple in the forest while we try and find another spot – one where you can actually SEE the sun.  We find  a park in  Oregon State University.  Not only has it great site lines,  but NASA is sponsoring a student contest to launch balloons to film the eclipse from the sight. If the spot is good enough For NASA it's good enough for us.

We  retrieve Tom and company and return to the site which has rapidly filled up in just the few minutes we’ve been gone.  There’s now about an hour till the eclipse.

We go into the park to find a place to put down our blanket.  

“Fen and I would like to find a restaurant and have some breakfast,” Tom announces as we’re unpacking.

The Four Amigos
“Tom," I protest, "By the time you find a restaurant, order breakfast, wait for your food, eat, pay the bill and get back the eclipse will be over.  We came all this way, drove hours and hours for the eclipse – can’t you wait until it’s over for breakfast?”

“Maybe just coffee, then,” he counters. “There’s a student Union building just a block away.  We can get coffee there.”

We’re half way to the Student Union Building when Max can’t find his phone.  He’s in a panic – so we stop and wait while he runs back to the park to see if he left it there.  Ten minutes later he arrives back smiling.

“You found it?” I ask.

“Not only that,” Max replies holding up a loot bag. “I ran into a NASA lady who gave me a bunch of stuff.”  He opens the bag to show us the loot.  “Look.  Glasses, a USB stick a portable power supply for my phone. Neat, huh?”
“Did you think to get us anything?” I ask.
“No.  You weren’t there.”

It’s now less than 40 minutes till the eclipse begins.  It’s now getting too close to the eclipse time so Harry and I opt out of coffee and go back to the park in hopes of snaring some NASA loot.  When we arrive the NASA lady is gone.  Everyone around us is playing with their NASA swag.

Ten minutes later Max returns.
“The Student Union Building was closed.” He announces.
Where’s Tom and Fen?”
Oh someone said there’s a coffee shop about four blocks away so they headed there
I begin to organize myself for the eclipse.  I have two sets of eclipse glasses, cameras, filters, extra batteries and a spare SD card.  I’ve been practicing for this moment for months, taking literally hundreds of practice shots of the sun and moon.

Max looks at all my stuff and pulls out a simple point and shoot camera.
“I brought my little camera with me.  Can I take a picture of the eclipse with it?”
“It’s not that easy, Max” I patiently point out. “You need to put something in front of the lens to protect the sensor in the camera otherwise you’ll burn a hole in it. I had a spare viewer but I gave it to Tom because he forgot to buy glasses until the last minute and then there were none left.”

A few minutes before the eclipse begins Tom and Fen return waving several pairs of glasses.

“Guess what!” Tom says excitedly.  “We ran into the NASA lady in the coffee shop and she gave us these.  I won’t need your viewer after all.”

He hands it back to me and I give it to Max for his camera.   Max then hands me back the glasses I bought for him.

“I don’t need your 'fake glasses' – I’d rather use the NASA glasses – I know they’re safer."

  I look at the NASA glasses – they’re the same as the one I bought.

The eclipse begins – just a small bite out of the upper right hand side.  I get some decent pictures.  Max isn’t having as much luck.

“How come yours turn out better than mine?”  he asks.
“Because I’ve been planning for this for months, Max.   I’ve actually taken hundreds of practice shots of the sun and moon.   Like anything – the more you practice the better you get.  Don’t worry.  If you don’t get anything I’ll email you one of mine.”

Over the next hour the cookie bite out of the sun gets bigger and bigger.  Finally about 10:15 almost all the sun is obscured.  It’s still so bright you can’t look at it with the naked eye and it’s still bright outside.

A minute later an excited murmur rises from the crowd:  it’s getting darker… and cooler… a wind picks up. 

I grab my camera.  I put into record to get a few moments of the crowd “oohing and awing” before I take shots of the total eclipse.  I’ve practiced this a hundred times.”

Suddenly it’s arrived!  The moment of totality!  I press the button to end the recording and go back to picture mode…

Suddenly the moment I’ve waited so long for arrives!  The moment of totality.  I press the button to take the perfect picture and my camera jams!!!!  

I frantically press buttons.  The camera gets totally confused and shuts itself off.  I have to wait for it to reboot.  As it finally reboots the crowd emits a disappointed “awwww!” The eclipse is over.  I was so busy trying to fix my camera I missed it!

I am totally crestfallen.  But it get’s worse.

Max's eclipse picture
“Look at this great shot I got, Max crows waving his camera around.  

It is a totally amazing shot.  Even the professional NASA photographers are amazed.  People are actually taking pictures of Max’s picture.  Perfect strangers are asking him to email the picture to them.

“How did you manage to take that incredible picture?”  a NASA guy asks him.

“Practice,” Max announces.

I pack up my gear and trail behind the guys out to the parking lot.  There’s a University student selling eclipse t-shirts.

“How much are they?”  I ask.

“Twenty dollars,” he replies.

“I’ll take a large,” says Max handing here a twenty.

“Large for me too,” says Harry handing her another twenty.

“I’ll take a large too,” I say holding out a twenty.

“Sorry, sir.  We’re all sold out.”

So didn’t see the eclipse, didn’t get a picture– didn’t even get the t-shirt!   At least things can’t get worse.

Wrong! It ain’t over till it’s over.

We decide to leave before the eclipse is totally over to get a jump on the traffic.   The jump lasts exactly ten minutes.  Everyone has the same idea.   It takes us four and a half hours to go just 50 km.  We’ve arrived in the predicted “mother of all traffic jams.”

Max valiantly tries to get ahead of the rush switching lanes every twenty seconds or so.  I doze for about 15 minutes; when I awake the same car is in front of us and beside us that was there before I nodded off.   

Max’s irritation is compounded by the fact that we are miles and miles from the next rest area.  Max’s road rage isn’t helping his bladder.  He finally can’t hold it any longer.  He pulls onto the median, pulls down his fly and….

“Ahhhhhh!”  he sighs. 

Cars creep buy honking and giving him the thumbs up!  Max now has a new nickname – not the Road Warrior, but now the Road Urinator. 

Now this was an amazing feat on many different levels.  On previous trips Max has been somewhat shy about his body functions.  When we went on fishing trips where there were outhouses….
“I can hold it for three days if I have to,” he announced once.

Even when we had to share a motel room, he was the same.

But give him a highway and an audience of about a thousand drivers……

Harry and I hang on – just barely  - until we finally make the next rest stop.  The re the parking lot is full of people leaving their cars anywhere and bolting  for the washrooms.  Max just stands beside the car smiling and pronounces, “Better to bear the shame than bare the pain.”

The traffic is stop and go for the next eight hours.  Around six o’clock Harry and I begin to make noises about stopping for something to eat.

The word “Stop” (except for bathroom breaks) is not in Max’s vocabulary.

“Maybe we’ll stop in Olympia,” he concedes.

Olympia comes and goes.  

“Maybe Northgate Mall,” just outside of Seattle.  “I just want to get in a few more miles.”

Northgate comes and go.

Finally around 11:00 pm after we’ve been on the road for 13 hours he agrees he too might be a bit peckish.  However by this time most of the roadside restaurants are closed.

“There’s always Denny’s or McDonalds or Berger King,”  I suggest.  “They’re open 24 hours.”

“I don’t want junk food,” Max states firmly.

The car is littered with cookie packages, empty chip, peanut, and cheezie bags.

“What do you think we’ve been subsisting on for the past two days,” I ask.  “When did you become such a health food nut?”

“Never mind,” he replies. “We’re almost home.  Suck it up,” he replies and speeds up.

Finally around midnight we reach the Canadian border.  Twenty minutes later we pull into my driveway.

In one and two-thirds days we have driven for over 25 hours to see an event that lasts less than two minutes while subsisting on a diet of potato ships, peanuts and cheezies and bottled water.. 
The great eclipse of 2024

As I step out of the car I turn to Max and Harry.
“Hey guys, there’s another eclipse in seven years.  Are you guys up to it.”

Max lays rubber half way up the block leaving a cacophony of barking dogs in his wake.  I’m not worried. He’ll come around in year or two.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

From Ec-lipse to Apoco-lipse: The Grump Old Men's Last Great Road Trip

August 19, 2017

It’s been a few months since my trip to China and I wasn’t really planning anything major for a few more months; but then I saw the light – actually the sun.   There’s going to be a total eclipse of the sun on August 21st (in two days) and I thought it would be a great idea to see it.   It’s the first in North America since 1979.  I’m probably not going to have another opportunity in my lifetime. 

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