Great American Eclipse 2017 – Corvallis Oregon

| September 1, 2021 | 0 Comments

One of the advantages of working for a multinational is the chance of work trips to interesting places. I usually take a few days off at the end of the work part and explore wherever my job has sent me. That was the case when I was sent to Portland, Oregon in August 2017. Portland is a fantastic city and I loved every day of the week I spent there, one of my favourite American cities after Boston. I might do a short write up on it in fact so stay tuned. Despite how much I enjoyed Portland, my focus was on a one-in-a-lifetime event that just so happened to be happening in Oregon on August 21 that year – I’m referring to the full solar eclipse now known as the Great American Eclipse.

Anticipation of the event had been building for months before and the state of Oregon, with a population of four million, braced itself with an influx of a million visitors for the event. Accommodation along the narrow corridor where the full eclipse could be observed, known as the path of totality, had been booked out years in advance in some cases. My hopes of even securing a camp spot looked bleak. That’s until I reached out for advice to the good people at the Tripadvisor forums and someone informed me that Oregon State University (OSU) in the town of Corvallis, about 2 hours drive south of Portland  has opened their student dorms to visitors and were hosting a week-long activities centered around the eclipse. I couldn’t believe my luck when they had availability – three hundred USD for three nights accommodation plus breakfast and supper included. I was headed for OSU!

Beware of High Beds and Benders

I rented a car in Portland and drove two hours south towards Corvallis, the town where OSU is located. After I found the campus and got checked in, I found a little bar/restaurant for supper and a few beers. I fell into conversation with a guy named Scott from San Francisco and we hit it off right away. He was also up for the eclipse so we were both happy to find company and a drinking buddy. So happy that the night turned into a bit of a bender. Stupid, I know. Going on a booze-up the night before such an event.

The following morning, I stumbled out of bed in a groggy haze and I chose the word stumbled deliberately. The dorm beds are raised about four feet off the floor and it took a bit of a running jump to catapult myself into it the night before. In the morning, I forgot about the height and almost ended up in a heap on the hard-tiled floor. Scott wasn’t so lucky when I met him for breakfast in the canteen shortly after.

“Forgot the beds were so high off the floor and took a tumble this morning,” he said, gently rubbing his puffy right eye. “Rips don’t feel great so I sure hope I haven’t broken one. Maybe I need to go see a doctor.”

I glanced at the time nervously. Total eclipse was scheduled to happen at 10.15 that morning. I fretted I’d have to help Scott that day and miss the show of a lifetime. Not very noble of me, I know.

“Your eye doesn’t look too bad to me”, I lied. “I’m sure you’ll be fine. Why don’t we head off and see the eclipse and I can help you find a doctor afterwards.” Scott nodded painfully and we made our way slowly towards the celestial show.

To The Soccer Pitch We Go

OSU had arranged for people to view the eclipse at a number of venues, one of them being the soccer field. Luckily, the morning sky was cloudless and promised excellent viewing. People wandered towards the field with black and white OSU blankets tucked under their arms, part of the welcome package we all received on arrival. A few hundred people had already gathered at the field when we got there. Television reporters set the scene for viewers watching at home, people took selfies, others beat small drums which added to the sense of anticipation.

All around me, people prepared to enjoy the event in their own unique way. Some had setup cameras pointing skywards to record every second of the event. Others lay on the ground, relaxed and happy with whatever came. One seriously aging hippie sat cross-legged, staring upwards towards the sun with a smile so wide it couldn’t be produced without significant chemical assistance.

I donned the special glasses that OSU had given each of us and looked up at the sun. I could clearly see the moon had already begun its journey across the face of the sun. It was an amazing sight. Despite its diminishing size, the sun still shone brightly. Without the glasses, you’d never know an eclipse was imminent. Nearby, large balloons were released into the air, carrying a payload of scientific measuring equipment and cameras.

Total Solar Eclipse

Slowing but surely, light drained from the sky as the moon gained the upper hand. A shrill voice momentarily broke the celebration. “Can everyone please be quiet for the next twenty minutes? This is a spiritual event.” I first thought it was some official from OSU but it turned out to be the chemical hippie. If he wanted to experience the eclipse in peace and quiet, he should probably have picked a spot with less than a thousand people.

About fifteen minutes before the total eclipse, the air became noticeably cooler and a breeze blew up from nowhere. Not long now, I thought as the moon took over more of the sun.

As I prepared to experience my first ever eclipse, an older man in front of me rose from his chair and approached me.

“I heard your accent and just had to just come over and say how much I love Ireland and the Irish,” he beamed as he shook my hand. I smiled thinly. Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing praise for my country but with minutes left to one of the biggest celestial events in history, this wasn’t the time. However, he returned to his seat and I resumed watching the sky.

People then started clapping and shouting and this spread to the entire field. It was like we were waiting for a much-anticipated rock group to take the stage. With a minute to go, the anticipation was unreal. The dark shadow of the total eclipse had hit the coast of Oregon and was now racing across the state at a speed of seven hundred miles per hour, twice as fast as a F-16 can manage. It was like the scene from the movie Independence Day where the alien mothership casts an ominous shadow across the earth. People squealed with delight, others clapped and shouted, others became visibly emotional. When the moon finally conquered the last sliver of sun at 10.17, day suddenly became night. An outpouring of deep and primeval awe poured from everyone as the moon obliterated the sun, revealing the sun’s corona, one of the most amazing and intense experiences I’ve ever had. People shouted in awe, wonder and shock. Others screamed and cried aloud in unison. Looking back at the short video I shot, too poor to share, I can hear the mass hysteria. It had struck something deep within the human soul, something ancient. I don’t think anything can prepare you for this. With the sun totally blocked, I safely removed my glasses and gazed at this most incredible sight. I laughed and stared at the dark disc in the sky, adorned by a crown of flaming lights.

Total solar eclipse – just wow!

The total eclipse lasted a full two minutes before the sun began to peek around the moon, bringing its light back to this corner of Oregon. With that, people began shouting and clapping again, cheering in celebration at the return of our sun, without which no life would be possible.

And with no fanfare, it was over. People gathered up their possessions and left. Even though the partial eclipse was still in progress, the main event had passed and people quickly left to join long traffic queues. I lingered a little longer, glasses across my eyes, as I watched the sun fully emerge.

This video captures the pure excitement I experienced watching the solar eclipse

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Category: Oregon

About the Author ()

John Dwyer is a travel writer and blogger. His first book High Road to Tibet: Travels in China, Tibet, Nepal and India became an Amazon best-seller. His latest book Klondike House: Memories of an Irish Country Childhood recalls his years growing up on a rural farm in Ireland.

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