Preparation and Getting There
I don’t know when I first heard about the Great American Eclipse of 2017. We know the schedules of eclipses for centuries in advance, maybe longer. I may have heard about it back in the 70s in high school (yes, now you have a bracket on my age). But I had never given much thought to making a trip to see a total eclipse. Carly Simon made it sound like a character flaw to see the total eclipse of the sun, after all. That all changed after I read the information about the eclipse that started flooding my social media. There is no comparison between a total eclipse and the partial eclipse that I would experience if I stayed home. I started reading about the crazy effects that occur during a total eclipse and I was hooked. I decided to travel to a viewing spot near Boise, Idaho and experience it in person.
At first I was not going to make a blog about this trip. I had decided to take the trip on 4 wheels, and, well, you know the title of the blog as well as I do. I have a motorcycle that would have been capable of taking me there with no problem. But the route involved crossing the desert for days in August. So I opted for my 4 wheel air-conditioned conveyance instead. I also decided to camp along the way to keep the feel of a two-wheel trip. For quick overnight stays during travel in good weather I prefer camping to cheap hotels. Even in desert heat, overnight lows were forecast to be temperate for the trip. But I decided the trip fit my blog because part of the reason I chose to see the eclipse in Boise was to check out the city. It is a place I am interested in relocating to because it is known for its cycling and outdoor lifestyle. So part of my agenda was to rent a bike when I got there and ride the Boise River Greenbelt bike trail and get to know the area by bike. That sounded like 2 Wheel Lifestyle stuff, eh?
I found a map of the path of totality through the area and I chose Mann Creek Country Store as the place to view the eclipse. It was almost exactly on the center of the path and it was a long way from anything. After a couple of phone calls I found out that they were expanding their small campground just for the eclipse and they would have extra food, live music and other festivities. It was perfect. As long as it didn’t turn into “Eclipsing Man”. And there would be no way to know that anyway.
As the eclipse drew closer I began reading dire predictions of what could happen during the eclipse. Most of the country lived within a 1 day drive of it. If they all decided to go, it would be a logistical nightmare of gridlock, overloaded emergency services and infrastructure. Undeterred, I decided to arrive early, leave late and bring extra supplies. Camping would help me deal with a worst case scenario too.
After months of planning and anticipation (far more than was needed), I finally hit the road. My route took me up highway 395 in California, which I have always found remote and adventurous and I never seem to tire of it, even after spending a few years driving it frequently for business. I stayed the first night in Bishop, CA.
There are several different definitions or categories of “camping”, something that Google with all of its technical prowess cannot seem to deal with. There is at least: RV camping, car camping and backcountry camping. Bicycle and motorcycle touring fall between backcountry and car camping in terms of the gear you use and where you go, and they are my favorite format for adventure. So a car camping trip like this was a real luxury. I got to use a big 2 person tent for just myself, which I referred to as my “condo”. I brought an expansive 2 burner propane gas stove. A cooler and always present ice was something that I really enjoyed. I spoiled myself by not worrying about bringing extras or duplicates of clothes, food, etc. Such opulence!
As I was driving I noticed other people headed for the eclipse. How could I tell that was their destination? They had signs in their windows! It was so totally nerdy that I got inspired and pulled over at a drug store and made a sign of my own so I could fly by geek flag at full mast.
By night 2 I had reached Boise, just a short jaunt from the Mann Creek. I stayed at another RV/tent campground. Tent campsites at RV campgrounds are usually leftovers after allocating all of the good spots to the RVs. This campground was no different, but at least the tiny campsites were waterfront locations.
The Main Event
I struck out early the next day to explore Boise a bit before continuing to Mann Creek. Boise is a lovely mix of urban and rural, old and new, big city and small town. I felt like it was a mix of the small farm town I grew up in and the big city I have since moved to. It ticked all the boxes for me.
I only took time to have a cup of coffee and have a quick look around Boise. I would spend more time there after the eclipse. It was time to head out to my chosen viewing site early just in case the rest of the state decided to show up at the same spot. There was no way to know who would show up where.
The crowds and heavy traffic did not really materialize. In my travels the small village of Weiser had some small traffic jams. It was fun driving through the small town with RVs parked and tents pitched all over the place. I arrived at Mann Creek shortly afterward, and they were ready for the eclipse. They had live music, plentiful beer and barbecue, beach volleyball and a generally festive atmosphere all good to go.
I set up camp in a field that had just been cut to create a makeshift camp area. The grass had the texture of sticks and many people were complaining about small bugs covering their lower legs as they walked across the field. The site did have a couple outhouses that had external sinks with soap, water and paper towels, but that was it. I felt well prepared and ready for the eclipse the next day. I had even thought to bring a small folding chair, which was very important at a site like this.
The next day was the big one. I had read many times that taking pictures of the eclipse was best left to NASA and the professionals. The total eclipse would only last 2 minutes 20 seconds or so. It would be better to spend that short time experiencing the event rather than focusing on your camera then looking at it through a lens. Many of my campground neighbors were taking the professional photography approach with big telescopes and nice cameras made for taking these kind of pictures. I could not help it, I had to take a couple of pictures, but I decided to limit it to just that. I used my phone with a sheet of “opaque” Mylar to attenuate the sunlight. It is the same stuff I use on the top edge of my motorcycle helmet face shield, so it seemed like it would work for this application. It did, but one one picture I took before the eclipse began was enough for me.
One effect I had hoped to see during the eclipse was the shadow of the moon racing toward me just before the total eclipse started. The shadow was moving at 1600 mph or so, so you needed to get a view of a large area in order to hope to see it. Those who have seen it describe it as and awesome and even frightening effect to behold. In order to see it I needed to find a high vantage point where I could get a good view. Fortunately one was nearby.
I was not the only one hoping to see the shadow of the moon approaching. I made a few new friends at the top of the hill, and it turns out we were all there hoping to see the shadow of the moon too.
In the last few minutes leading up to the total eclipse, things got really weird. The light from the sun was dimming noticeably. It was very strange to have the sun overhead on a clear day but for the day to get dark anyway. It was like the light of the sun was more like a silvery or gray moonlight effect. For my group on the hill looking for the shadow, it was a bit of a commitment. You had to be looking at the ground to see the shadow, which means we would miss the onset of the eclipse and the first diamond ring effect. But those would happen again in reverse order at the end of the eclipse, and the receding shadow of the moon is not an effect to watch for anyway.
The eclipse finally started, cheered on by the crowd at the cafe below. But none of us were able to see the shadow of the moon effect. The dimming of the sun suddenly turned into night in the middle of the day: no advancing curtain of darkness. I think we needed a view of a larger area if we wanted to see the shadow. So it was time to look up at the eclipse itself. Even after all the hype and preparation and pictures, I was still unprepared for what I saw when I looked up.
It is hard to describe what the eclipse looked like, but I will say that I have never seen a picture of an eclipse that captured what I saw that day. The sun was replaced by an impossibly dark disk, and the corona stretched out with arms of light about the intensity of a full moon that covered a huge part of the sky. The sky went dark and a sunset effect took place 360 degrees around the horizon. The temps dropped immediately by what seemed like 10 degrees or more: a warm August day suddenly turned into cold unnatural sunset. I thought I had become jaded about all of the amazing things that would happen during the eclipse after reading about them so much. But even after all of that, it still blew me away. I took one last pic: a video actually.
The eclipse ended with an astounding diamond ring and the re-emergence of the sun, greeted by another round of cheering from the cafe. All of the strange dim light from the sun that took place before the eclipse happened but in reverse, steadily returning to a normal day as if nothing unusual had happened. I waited a long time before I broke camp hoping to avoid traffic, but not too long, the partial eclipse was still ongoing. I encountered more traffic leaving that I did getting there, but I expected that. People trickled in all morning, but tended to leave at the same time. A little creative use of Google Maps did save me some time. The eclipse was over. It was time for what I was calling my post eclipsolyptic bike ride in Boise.
Out and About in Boise
I rented a bike from a shop just north of downtown Boise that had good access to the Boise River Greenbelt and rode south on the greenbelt as far as Eckert road and back. It was a great place to ride.
The Trip Home
The time had come to say good-bye to Idaho and head home. I really enjoyed my stay. I took a different route back, taking me through Las Vegas, where I sought out some Route 66 as an alternative route between Vegas and Los Angeles.
The Great American eclipse had not disappointed. Total eclipses happen on the Earth somewhere about every 18 months on average, but this total eclipse ended a long dry spell decades long for the continental US. Now that I have had a taste, I want more. The eclipse in 2024 will be a destination for me for sure. While the eclipse did not result in the disastrous crowds it was predicted to do, I predict the 2024 will, now that so many people like myself know what they are all about. I will review the path of totality for that eclipse and pick another viewing location with good cycling in the area.