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A Week to Prepare for The Great American Eclipse

August 13-19, 2017
Written August 15+
Dear Diary,

I am not at all sure this diary deserves a "public release", as it is mostly just a record of what needs to be done before we fly up to Oregon for the Great American Eclipse. (GAE)  This trip has become a focus for our summer, more so that I might have imagined.  It accounts for sleepless hours as I wake with one more thing to worry about.  Maybe writing about preparation will settle my head.  I will also work in any diary-worthy activities of the week as well.  Activities first.
d170813_04_cake.jpgSean's birthday.  On Sunday, August 13, grandson Sean had his fifth birthday.  We miss being able to spend much time with the distant Maryland family, but at least we were able to Skype a greeting and enjoy the family pictures from Facebook.  Good use of  technology.  Not like being there, but something nonetheless.

d170819_02_memamo.jpgd170819_04_smiles.jpgOur only other "event" this week was the Saturday dinner out with Marianne's mom.  She has been a bit under the weather lately, so this really was a special send us off for us on our way to the GAE.  She chose Cheesecake Factory, one of her regular haunts.  I think she likes the place because it is active and noisy, although she claims it is the varied menu.  (A claim belied by the fact that she generally orders the same thing, as do I.  We are just creatures of habit.)  We must have been enjoying ourselves, because even the guy at the next table smiled for the picture.
We were also monitoring Gabby's 40th Birthday party, from a distance.  She was having a crowd over for a friends party and we were able to show Mamo her granddaughter's dress on the iPhone.  This is one of the good uses of technology!

Next event: Fly to Oregon and all that follows!

The plan is pretty basic: fly to Portland, fly in a smaller plane over to drier Eastern Oregon, watch the sun go away (and come back, I hope) on the 21st, visit with friends, come back after a week. So far, each of these steps has had complications.  The first came when "we" (=me, John) somehow selected the wrong day for GAE.  Why I thought the eclipse would be on the 23rd is beyond me, but I did.  I ordered airplane tickets and Marianne made hotel reservations.  It was easy.  When I discovered my error, correction was not so easy.   Alaska Airlines would give us new tickets, for a small added charge, but ALL hotel rooms in Eastern Oregon had been booked for months - if not years.

Then there was the question of driving over to Eastern Oregon.  Almost all Hertz (and Avis, and Nationals, etc) cars had likewise been reserved for a long time.  The few remaining cars would cost at least $2,000 a week.  Ouch.  Time for a new plan.

Fortunately, our friend Connie lives part-time in Bend, near where we wanted to go, and we had convinced her to join us on our adventure.  All we had to do was arrange the last two seats on a Portland to Redmond (near Bend) flight and she could pick us up Sunday afternoon.  OK, just a few hundred dollars more.

Connie advised that driving from Bend up to the "totality" may not be practical on the day of the eclipse, because a zillion people were descending on the two-lane roads of the area.  Since there were no hotels available, we needed camping space - or at least safe parking space.  Looking on the Madras, Oregon, Eclipse website, we located a facility organized by Oregon State University in Culver where, for the price of a nice hotel room, we could camp.  OK, it is all part of the adventure.  I guess.

Since then, we have been exchanging lists with Connie, as she needs to be the one getting camping gear for the team.  She is an admirable Sherpa, and our lists have converged.  Now, everything just has to fit into her Volvo.  People too.

For my part, much of my preparation has centered on photography.  It's not easy, mostly because it is a once-in-a-lifetime shoot and I have no precedent experience.  One does not normally shoot directly into the sun!  I have gone to some of the advice websites (there are dozens) and have picked up magazines as well.  I bought a nice filter for my long lens and simpler cardboard and foil "caps" as well.  The buying part was easy.

Next came practice.  I reported on my first session a couple of weeks ago, an experience that made me worry that I would even be able to FIND the sun on the appointed day.  It is a (slowly) moving target occupying a relatively small part of the sky.  With the dark filter or cap, nothing else is visible to give any sort of frame of reference.  Trust me, it is no trivial matter. 

d180813_20_filter.jpgd180813_22_cap.jpgd170811_02_morepractice.jpgOn Sunday (13th) I tried again.  This time, things went better.  Somewhere along the way, I heard about the trick of throwing a cover over the whole rig, in order to keep the gear and photographer cooler and to be able to see the camera screen better.  It looks geeky, but it works.  More than that, the second practice session trained my hands to enable better tripod movement.  Tricky, but doable.  I still don't understand why the shots with the glass filter show a white sun and those with the cap a yellow one.  More to learn.

d170818_02_pinholes.jpgLater in the week, I made a pinhole camera - the classic view-the-eclipse-safely apparatus.  This particular design is based on paper plates and aluminum foil.  It sounded simple enough, just make a big hole in the plate and tape foil over the hole.  Then poke the "pin hole".  The advantage of the foil is that the hole will have the sharp edges needed for a "camera", but the disadvantage is that making a small hole in thin material is harder than one might think.  My first pin hole became a tear.  Oops.  And, then there is the question of how big a hole?  Hopefully, I solved this with a small hole and a smaller one.  We will only know on Monday, I guess.

d170818_04_carryon.jpg Then, there is the whole task of packing.  Two challenges: First, we need to be able to enjoy the eclipse, including the overnight before, even if our checked bags do not make it.   For me, that means having enough camera gear, no small feat since my large lens and tripod will not fit in carry-on.  I need plan A (with bag) and Plan B (no bag).  Different picture selection, but doable, as long as they let me carry my big backpack.  Meanwhile, Marianne needs to do the same for her survival stuff.
We each have just one bag to check too, and mine is already half full with camera gear.  I will defiantly have to limit clothes, especially shoes since, for me, that is a big part of packing volume and weight.  Not such a big deal, I figure, since Connie reminded me she has washing machines and, besides, this is America, I could always buy more.  Of course, we will have limited Volvo space too, so there is a limit on the size of our checked bags too.  Hopefully, we won't have to tie them on the top of the car.

d170818_10_prineville.jpgWe keep getting horror stories about Oregon traffic.  An estimated 200,000 people will join us in the Eastern Oregon desert.  Thirty miles east of Prineville there will be a major gathering that will squeeze in almost 40,000 folks.  Kind of Woodstock-for-sun-worshipers.  This caused a 30-mile opening-day traffic jam on Wednesday. We definitely hope our Orange and Black festival in Culver is much more modest.

(I have checked back on Oregon traffic, and it seems the Prineville jam was a one-off, and solved that first day.  That's no guarantee of our Sunday/Monday traffic between Culver and Bend.  I hope all these people do not decide to LEAVE exactly when we do.  We'll see.)

We had a Friday conference call with Connie, our chief-and-only Sherpa.  She had already made it to Bend, despite two flat tires. She sounds remarkably calm, maybe on the basis that all the bad luck has already happened. She is also well organized and will be testing the air mattress inflater and the borrowed tents, in addition to survival food preparation. What a Ground Crew!

I think all we have left to do is finish packing, reserve a taxi, and worry.

Stay tuned.

John (mostly) and Marianne


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