Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Casper Eclipse



Casper Eclipse

By Joseph McCabe 8/21/2017


Going to be lots of stories, probably all boring, about people's eclipse experience. I will be looking for something interesting to say. My current position is in the middle of the North Platte River, on an island. It has a projected 2 minute, 28-second total eclipse a few miles west of Casper WY.  I am in a tent, in a jungle, with mosquitoes ready to jump on board if I venture out. Very stinky, having hauled all the camp gear from the river where it was stowed in the kayak. Tried to entice a few of my friends for the journey, one was "a definite" until a lightning bolt hit a historic tree which was threatening his house. Had to do this river trip alone.

Packed up and ready to roll

Kayaking is a lesson in minimalism. You can only take what you really need. Water, food, keyboard, phone...it evolves over time what is important. I have a couple books stowed in dry bags, canned food (which I really don't need), lots of bottled water. A transparent dry bag with small stuff. Me, not being a very organized person, it allows me to practice being more organized. Guess that is relative. I also brought a bulky telescope with a solar filter to use during the eclipse. I have vague memories of a previous eclipse, must have been when I was 14 years old, the age of my son currently is. He has to be in school for this one.


I hear voices floating down the river. Some may be stopping. Hoping that they don't notice the bright red kayak stowed in the long grass upstream on the left side of the island, port. Hard to tell if the people are floating at river speed, or stopped on the island shore. Voices seem close on the right side of the island, starboard.  
Eclipse Viewing Station



Been reading John Nichols, currently On Top of Spoon Mountain, but also, at the same time Milagro Beanfield Wars, the third time for that one.


Last night I slept in my Prius, having been customized for camping with foam board insulation in the windows and a piece of wood extending the fold down seats to almost accommodate my long frame. I have a low wattage inverter which I used to heat water for coffee and cook breakfast this morning. Frozen spinach, slightly thawed; a can of minced tomatoes with chiles and three eggs. Maybe the unused eggs and cheese in the tiny ice chest will still be good tomorrow when I get back to the car. That will be accomplished by riding my bike about 15 miles after having floated down the river. Things of value will be put on the bike, and I will try to lock the kayak somewhere inconspicuous, kind of like where I locked the bike. IF the bike isn't there, I will hitchhike or look to see if Lyft works back to the car upstream. It will all work out. Everything always works out when you think about it. You made it this far. I made it this far. Things are starting to fall apart, mostly my body as should be expected. Medical technology will come to the rescue when I am ready.


Purchased some powdered instant coffee for the kayak trip. I make sun tea in plastic water bottles, 16.9 oz. Take the label off, open, drink a tiny bit, stuff tea bag in, put the lid back on, put in the sun. In a little bit of time, the water is still clear, but if you shake the bottle, the tea color will diffuse. And a little bit later in the sun, it will be a good tea.

Drinks, solid fuel stove.

I am very careful to go in and out of the tent as quickly as possible, but a mosquito snuck in. Luckily I was able to catch it before being bitten. About 4 bites so far, at least one last night and another few this morning. I put the bug juice on. They love my smell and blood.


Just finished the John Nichols book Spoon Mountain; couldn't help but notice some similarities. An older man trying to do outdoors things on his own.


I am muddy on the legs. My shoes will be thrown out after this weekend. They sink into the mud to reveal a black layer of goop below, which proceeds to get on everything. Some mosquitoes have snuck into the tent and bitten me. I was naked except for shorts but now have a shirt, hunter orange just in case any WY white supremacists mistake me for a bear in the middle of the river. I continuously check the kayak to see that it is still there, wasn't discovered by other floaters, and I tied it to some stalks of plants that I hope have some roots to hold the boat if the river rises. Not much chance of that, except for the black storm clouds on the horizon. Preparing for rain. My tent is high on the island, about 5 feet, but flash floods you know....


I have a tunnel of a path leading to my tent from/to the kayak. Thick 20 foot tall weave of one-inch diameter plants. The kayak in the tall three-foot high grass about 20 yards away. By the sound of it, the island is probably only 50 yards wide. There are three paths around this point in the river, mine being on the left, and towards the end of the spit of an island.  Listening for any ruckus or commotion. People have been floating by all day, perhaps 20 or 30 times. My ears can't hear too much, but the tent is pointed towards the boat in case there are any sounds like a kayak being dragged away. It is hidden in tall grass. I can clearly hear people talking on their journey down the river.


I stowed the dirty cutoff pants and my Grateful Dead shirt which was drenched in sweat earlier. Also, the sensitive telescope gear was put into the same dog food bag for water protection. Will it rain? I didn't bring the sleeping bag to save space in the kayak using the previous night temperature as a guide to tonight's requirements. But you never know do you?


Waiting for the eclipse. Hiding from the authorities. But I heard they aren't enforcing too much because of all the people. I am very close to the BLM land. And the river has public access on both sides, so the center is (must be?) also public access.  


My plans are to wake up in the morning, put the telescope together, make a good breakfast on the rocky shore. I have some solid fuel and cook-kit that can heat up some canned food. Plus the instant coffee. Addicted again. Starting new messages with cut and pasted content from other writing. Worried about losing off-line edits.


What is it about the eclipse? It is free. No corporate sponsorship, yet. Anyone can view it with a piece of paper pinhole viewer, or for a few bucks, some special glasses (that aren't counterfeit). For me, I have the solar filter for my telescope, which I hope is ok to use with the magnification of an eclipse. I know it is fine for the sun, for which I love to view the sun in real time. Well, the time it takes the sunlight to leave the star and reach my eye, 8 minutes and 20 seconds?


The eclipse is a great lesson in math. The known paths of the objects spinning in space, moon, earth, sun, and how every so often a thing one 400th the size of the sun, 400 times further away from the sun than it is from the viewer, will match up perfectly on parts of our globe.


Lost lots of good story content because of my lack of internet signal. Subjects about not having a "Trump fuck-up's" news feed. About the river, the birds, the lack of people, isolationist. How filming the leading edge of the eclipse looking down at earth from a plane would be interesting, seeing all the people looking up, worshiping the sun, the moon, and earth dance as they lineup once in awhile. Lining up children so they can view the lining up of the celestial bodies. An extraterrestrial looking down on the spectacle would think we are worshiping the dance of the celestial bodies in space.


Darn, some good writing was lost. Will try to find it when I get to some kind of signal. Good to have no signal, not good that I wasn't able to save that content. Yin and yang. I had also written about a bee and if it will think it missed a day from light to dark to light again. Did it miss seventies, or elevensies? I had blasted the bee off my pants with a toxic breath from my stinky mouth and it was resting on the tarp for 15 minutes putting its body back in order. Dazed.


One motor boat traveling upstream, one raft with three boys, who met up with two other larger boats downstream after the island. One cloud in the sky heading this way. Can't find the moon and it is 40 minutes away. Ate some beans. Thorny plant got my finger as I tried to remove it so the solar panels so they would work best. Survival of the fittest.


Thinking about meditating on the clouds. One exercise is to dissipate clouds through meditation. Wonder if it works for personal reasons? Just sitting in the shade, waiting for the eclipse to shade.


Lots more planes, private small planes in the air than I would have expected.


The eclipse will have started in other places by now. I have a half an hour to go and am looking up. Perhaps there will be a shadow coming towards me like the start of a rain storm. How fast are these bodies moving towards each other? The shadow passes over WY starting at 11:36 and ending at 11:48. Not much time. Tthe Moon’s shadow (also called the “Umbra”) is moving 2,410 mph in Western Oregon, 1,747mph in central Nebraska, 1,462 mph in Western Kentucky, and 1,502 mph near Charleston SC. Will the winds change?

Panorama of riverscape.





The next day.


The actual eclipse was short. Even though I had the telescope set up, I didn't notice the start of the eclipse, was waiting for the time of the total eclipse. But the moon crossing over the sun, then totality, then going away from the sun takes some time. I thought the light changing was due to a tiny cloud, but the light turning orange was the start of the eclipse. I sent my sister a txt msg to be on the lookout for the beginning because she was also in the path of the totality. The most unusual thing I noticed, which may be different from the mountains of other eclipse observation was the mosquitoes. Man, they started biting. I was in the wind, near the river for a few hours with no problems. As soon as the sunlight began to dim they were out in full force. I splashed myself with some bug repellent but was wondering if I should have some Deet. Nasty stuff, but it works. I watched as the moon covered the sun, and as it was completely covered through the telescope, I started my timer. In doing so, I inadvertently hit the scope and was no longer pointing towards the sun. You can't position the scope if you aren't able to see the sun, it was completely black to this particular filter. So I used the time to figure out when to refocus the position, and at a couple seconds past the time that was supposed to be the totality I was able to get a sliver of light back in the telescope viewfinder. During the passage of totality, I did sneak a peek at the sun and saw a ring of light. These are the wavelengths that are bad for your eyes and didn't show up in my viewfinder. In my scope, the sliver of light disappeared on the bottom of the moon, then reappeared on the top, probably all reversed due to mirrors and optics. Some bold mosquitoes were still attacking me during the passage of half to half eclipse. This must of been their sevenses or elevensies (Pippin: What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? ) It was good to be in the path of totality, but a lot of work for a little bit of time in the dark.

Begining of eclipse
Panorama during total eclipse


The work for the trip was much more than I had expected. I packed up everything and enjoyed a kayak down the river to a point a few hours downstream when I thought it would be good to check the map. What, it looks like I passed Casper. Is it possible I went the wrong way? I took the boat out of the water at the next safe location, a ramp near a park in a residential area. Hid bags I didn't want to be stolen and pretended to lock the kayak to a metal pole, but all I really had was cables. The locks were at the bike which I hoped would still be there. And I hoped this additional time will not cause my car to be towed. Carrying the most valuable stuff and bike gear I would need I began to walk out onto a neighborhood road to hitchhike. Wearing my highway yellow with the reflective vest I was immediately able to catch the next car and discuss, "Where the hell am I?" to the conservative gun toting maxi-cab pickup driver. He let me get in and was trying to bring me closer to Casper. But it turned out that my map was upside down. So after about a half a mile, he turned around and brought me back to my kayak. Then I floated further after helping a couple other conservative fisherman load their raft onto their trailer. My pay-it-forward actions. This all took at least an additional half an hour in the hot sun.


Here is a one minute video of the float with a few of the birds: https://goo.gl/photos/GWaTWy1UKg6tBALU8 . It didn't take me the four to five hours to get to my bike as the driver had indicated. It took about two more hours. Nice float, constant paddle, but I was tied up in worry about time and gear. The whole scenario of what to take, where to put it in the packed kayak, or car. And how to take valuable stuff on the bike, back to the car and how to stow the kayak, with stuff that could possibly be stolen, even though it was eventually locked, it was all a mind/organization nightmare. Wish I had taken a picture of the loaded bike with the Werner paddle bungied to the bike cross bar and horizontal paddle breaking the wind.


The trip had its challenges: mosquitos, WY White Supremacists, missed directions and not enough sleep. I should have used one of my tarps as a sleeping bag the night spent on the river. I didn't bring my sleeping bag on the river because I thought it would be warmer than it was. Plus, I was worried about flash floods that whole night before the eclipse, seeing as I was camped out on an island in the middle of the river and then thunder started.


When I started biking, I went the wrong way, should have updated the location, at least 90 degrees F heat; again death by GPS. So I went up up up a hill, which I didn't need to go up, and it added a few miles to my already long heavy bike ride. Lots of other hills between me and the car. But I made it back to the car. There was a nastygram on the windshield, something about no overnight parking; but the day before all kinds of people were there overnight. Anyway, I got all the stuff managed. And will be more attentive on the maps of the future; saving edited text and maps offline.  


The drive back to Colorado was at least an hour longer due to eclipse traffic. I was at the tail end of the traffic; I could stop, rest and miss the stop and go if I timed it correctly, which I did eventually at Fort Collins. Half hour of traffic showing on Google Maps disappeared because I waited and then drove slower to miss the 20 mph slow downs.


Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that it was my birthday, the day of the Casper Eclipse. I've had this eclipse on my calendar for quite some time, many many years. The next one is in 2024, not on my birthday.  Great to have made it this far, 57 years. Have to remember the good stuff. Like the good person who picked me up and turned me back around and the 35 extra years which I didn't plan on.

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