Eclipsed

August 21, 2017.

As I’m coming down from the bedroom at my uncle’s house, my attention is on my aunt in the kitchen below. My foot misses a step, and I tumble head over heels to the bottom of their wooden staircase. After a minute at the bottom, I make an assessment. Nothing’s broken – not my laptop, none of my bones. My ankle hurts, and I know I hit my head. I’m shaking, like I always do after a faceplant.

Stupid me! Bad morning to have to go to an emergency room in central Oregon. Thank goodness I don’t need to!

My aunt and uncle surround me, worried. I’ve bent the wrought iron balustrade, probably with my shoulder, and they’re amazed that I’m in one piece. I’m just feeling guilty about damaging their staircase.

I shouldn’t try to multitask before I’ve had any coffee, I laugh. I get my coffee and attend to the ankle, which starts to swell alarmingly. It doesn’t hurt to walk on, though, so I refuse to worry about it.

By 9:06 we’re all set up in the yard – my brother Dave has his camera positioned, we’ve got chairs out on the expansive lawn and family and friends are in place. There is a forest fire raging less than six miles away, but luck is with us and the wind is blowing the smoke in another direction. I sit on a chair, my foot propped up with an icepack, as our friends crack cans of Eclipse beer (yes, I know, it’s still morning, but some things just cry out for a photo-op).

As I’m gazing through the certified protective glasses, watching the moon slide over the sun, I try to put my real glasses over the top of the cardboard ones to see if the image is sharper. The protective glasses slip – for just a microsecond – over my right eye. The blaze of light on my retina is still there when I close my eyes. All the warnings I’d read, all the emergency alerts DON’T LOOK AT THE SUN WITHOUT PROPER EYE PROTECTION OR YOU’LL GO BLIND!!  — rush into my head. What have I done? I start to shake. How long until I go blind in my right eye? Hours? Days? Thank god it was just one eye. I can’t say anything to my uncle. Ever.

I try to remember the press release I’d read about protecting your eyes. Had it said that only a microsecond was enough to cause blindness? Or was it seconds? I can’t remember. I just sit, my ankle covered in ice and propped on a lawn chair, shaking, feeling sick to my stomach with panic. How could I be so stupid? 

The minutes tick by and things start to get chilly, a sort of dusk is seeping over everything. My panic subsides a bit, and I decide to worry later. It’s not like there’s anything I can do about it, in any case. If I go blind, I go blind. At least it’s just the one eye. Every now and then I look up at the Sun, pressing my protective glasses firmly over my eyes. Not a chink of light gets through. The air gets colder and a weird shadowy hush settles in.

Then Dave shouts out, and the moment of totality arrives. We take off the glasses and gaze straight at It. A black disc in the sky with a bright halo surrounding it. There’s a bright red bit at the bottom. And for the third time that morning, I’m shaking. I can’t find the right words, really, to describe the feeling. Unbelievable. Awesome, as in full of awe. Then in what feels like an instant the moon moves past, the glasses are quickly back on, and morning begins its gradual return.

My uncle sums it up perfectly: “Now I get it. I get why people chase totality.”

The day goes on. I keep testing my eye, trying to see if anything is changing. Hard to tell, because the vision in my right eye is a little blurry to begin with. I hit the Internet and find the press release, which says it is an accumulation of seconds over a period of time that could damage the retina irreversibly. Not a microsecond! I relax ever so slightly.

I confess to Dave that I have been panicked. He laughs. There’s no need to worry.

The upside?  In my panic about going blind and the experience of the eclipse, the fact that my ankle was roughly twice its normal size didn’t faze me at all.

UPDATE: Four weeks later, I’m back in Melbourne, my right eye good as ever, but just off a course of antibiotics because the ankle got infected.  An article in today’s edition of the mighty Australian daily The Age tells of a scourge of flesh-eating bacteria plaguing the region. I keep palpating the tender flesh around the ankle…

PCT day 21 – Cascade Locks

August 13
Miles hiked: 24.5
Total trip mileage: 406.9

In the wee hours of the morning, I peek out of our tiny tent window and see the departing backs of Monique, Bert and Todd. How do they manage to get up and out so early and so silently? (I later learn they eat their oatmeal cold). We get ourselves going as quietly as possible. During the night, another hiker has set his bivvy up in a tiny spot nearby. This is a record number of people in a single campsite for us. Continue reading

PCT Day 19 – Mount Hood

August 11
Miles hiked: 24.8
Total Trip Mileage: 360.7

We wake up early today, eager to get on the trail and get to Timberline Lodge. A bed tonight! Dinner in a restaurant!

The green tunnel continues as we hike past Timothy Lake. We see the “designated” camping sites, and are glad we didn’t try to make it this far last night. At one point when crossing a road, we go under this lovely sign, which is a perfect photo-opp: Continue reading

PCT Day 18 – The Green Tunnel

August 10
Miles hiked: 27.5
Total Trip Mileage: 335.9

Somewhere in the pre-dawn darkness, the woman from New Zealand, the guy from Belgium and their US companion vanish into the mist. We never heard a thing. We get up as usual around 5:30. Okay, I lie, Marc gets up at 5:30 and brings me my tea …

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PCT Day 17 – Our heads in the clouds

August 9
Miles hiked: 22.0
Total trip miles: 308.4

Dawn comes and the fog is swirling around our tent. Miniature raindrops —  morsels of the  mist— still patter intermittently on our tent. We want to get to Ollalie Lake today, and it’s 22 miles, so we haul ourselves up and get going.

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PCT Day 16 – the sky is falling

August 8
Miles hiked: 22.5
Total trip miles: 286.4

While we’re drinking coffee this morning, I watch the weather forecast on TV. The heat will be returning later in the week, but for today, there is a chance of showers! The weatherlady in Bend is psyched about this, because it’s been a long, dry spell. I watch the radar loop and see a big, bright blob headed right over the mountains. Oh well. It was inevitable, wasn’t it? Behind the blob things look okay, though. Not to worry.

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PCT Days 14 & 15 – Double zero in Sisters

August 6 & 7
Miles hiked: 0
Total Trip Miles: 263.9

Sleeping in a bed, my head on a pillow.
A shower in the morning.
A cup of coffee (or two!) with milk in it.
Long chats in the garden, with nowhere to go.
Watching the Olympics on TV.
Eating wonderful food in restaurants.
Reconnecting with family and sharing memories of my dad.
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PCT Day 13 – From one pass to another

August 5
Miles hiked: 20.5
Total trip miles: 263.9

We wake up bright and early and head back over to the PCT from our awesome campsite at North Matthieu Lake. Soon we’re walking on lava, winding in and out of ancient flows, making our way to the road and MacKenzie Pass. We’ve gotten an early start because the forecast is for a hot day. Yesterday we saw a very sunburned southbounder, who said hiking over the lava flow in the heat had been unbearable. From MacKenzie Pass I figure we have about 5 miles of lava walking to do, and early morning is the best time to do it.

We can see both Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson in the distance to the north, and the Sisters to the South. We make our careful way across the eerie, desolate landscape, trying to not twist our ankles on the rocky trail.

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PCT Day 12 – black glass and a blue lake

August 4
Miles hiked: 17.3
Total trip miles: 243.4

Today is going to be an easy day! It’s less than 40 miles to Santiam Pass, and only about 20 to the Lava Camp campground at MacKenzie Pass, where I think we’ll camp tonight. We start off bright and early, hiking through one gorgeous flower-studded meadow after another, watching the South Sister slip by us on the right and the middle Sister come into view.

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PCT Day 11 – Elk Lake

August 3
Miles hiked: 21.9
Total trip mileage: 226.1

Marc wakes up, as usual, to the beeping of his watch at 5:30, gets up, makes coffee and tea and starts the oatmeal, brings me tea in the tent. Maybe this is why I like thru-hiking so much: I get to sleep in and someone else is in charge of the food.

This morning we hike by lots more lakes, through lots more forest. We’ve decided to take a detour to Elk Lake, perhaps to call Jim, maybe to eat at the restaurant, maybe buy a few snacks. We’re getting to that “hungry” stage where the ginormous bag of cashews, almonds and pistachios in the resupply box starts to disappear way too quickly.

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