When news of the 2017 total solar eclipse first hit mainstream media in Oregon, it spoke of people flying from as far as China and Japan to our little known state for a two-minute spectacle. They called them Eclipse Chasers. I thought they were crazy.
I knew I wanted to see the eclipse and that I wanted to be as close to the path of totality as possible. After all, I only had to drive a few hours to achieve that goal; this sought-after phenomenon was practically coming to me. But I didn’t really know what to expect.
On Friday, some friends and I drove four hours east from Bend, Oregon to the little-known Strawberry Mountains. We parked at the Strawberry Basin trailhead and backpacked 1.5 miles to Strawberry Lake where one friend had graciously arrived several days early to secure the best spot overlooking the small wilderness lake to the south, surrounded by rocky peaks.
The first night we watched the Milky Way on the lakeside and enjoyed the silence of nature, despite the crowds who continued to make their way into the forest in search of any space flat enough to place a tent or two trees close enough to hang a hammock.
By day, we watched Osprey fish in the lake, went for morning hikes to Little Strawberry Lake and nearby peaks, enjoyed afternoon swims, and drank around a red light placed in the campfire (none were allowed, and rangers from as far as Washington D.C. had flown in specifically for the event) telling stories to our hearts’ content.
On Monday, the day of the eclipse, we rose before dawn and hiked the 3,000 feet in elevation to the peak of Strawberry Mountain, the tallest in the range at 9,100 feet above sea level, offering views for miles in any direction. On the summit, we joined around 250 others and we laughed that we may never again see so many people on a mountaintop at once. We had tried to avoid them by coming to the wilderness, but we knew it was a lost cause when we heard through the grapevine that Strawberry Mountain was recognized as one of the best places in the country from which to view the eclipse.
We easily found space to sit with our small group and await the spectacle. Eventually someone behind us made the first exclamation — “There’s a little dip!” — to which everyone excitedly donned his/her specifically designed eclipse glasses and stared as the moon began to cross in front of the sun.
We cracked open our Eclipse beers and toasted the event.
When it was close to totality, we rose to stand on the summit and watched what became the most memorable two minutes of my life. With a 360-degree view of the valley below, I watched the west turn slowly darker until it reached the most magnificent twilight. I turned around to see the sun completely covered by the moon — no glasses needed — creating a black circle surrounded by a beautiful and intense ring of light, hanging in the dark sky like something I thought only existed in movies and Photoshop. The mountaintop was at first completely silent, and the cheering started at once, then tears and champagne were flowing while people did their best to capture this moment with their cameras and memories forever. I stared with a giddiness and awe I probably hadn’t had since I was a child first understanding how the world around me works. I turned in circles, trying to take it all in at once, though it was nearly impossible. I watched as twilight moved across the valley swiftly, caught another glimpse of the burning black sun, and then, slowly, daylight returned.
It was hands down the most incredible, otherworldly event I’ve yet to witness. In short, neither words nor photos will ever do it justice (though our friend Cooper did a great job trying, as shown here), and perhaps knowing that is why it was so special. Nevertheless, as soon was it was over, I wanted to see it again.
“Can someone press rewind?” I joked with my friends.
And then someone we didn’t know announced that there would be another eclipse across North America, moving from New York to Texas, in 2024. It’s on April 8, 2024, to be exact; the day before my birthday.
“I’ll be there,” I said. And I meant it.
All images provided by Cooper Verheyden.