Shortly after the sunrise on the day of the Oregon Eclipse, I find myself standing on a rocky incline in central Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest, on the verge of tears. It’s not because I’m overcome by the majesty of the outdoors but because I am certain I’m going to lose my footing on the way down a ridge I’ve just recently climbed up, ending in a pile of broken limbs, embarrassing fat, and panic urine.
“I can’t do it,” I declare in a feverish sweat, scuttling back up to safety, where my companions are killing time debating whether or not a card game is actually called Spit or Speed (a quick Google search indicated the names are regional).
As I settle back onto a blanket and look out over foothills carpeted in Ponderosa Pines, I come to a decision. “I just won’t eat or drink until we leave.” There’s a toilet bucket set up in a privacy tent at the bottom of the ridge path and I don’t want nature to call me to use it.
This isn’t the attitude of an outdoorsy, Pacific Northwest-y person with a Patagonia hoodie and some Merrell hiking boots I suspect, but it is the one that feels most likely to keep me in one piece. Some people eviscerate a large animal to make a carcass sleeping bag and other people opt not to enjoy champagne or Ocean Rolls so they can avoid walking downhill.
A week prior to the eclipse, I had no idea that I would be watching it with a small group of strangers in the path of totality or that I would be doing so on a large forested ridge. As a freelance writer, I keep weird hours and I generally spend the majority of my time sitting at my desk and living through the magic of the internet. I mean I have a window in front of the desk that opens onto a parking lot. But, there is a park just past the parking lot and I can see it, so it’s kinda like I am naturey. Kinda.
Point being: When I was offered the chance for a five day stay in Bend, OR for the eclipse, I jumped at the opportunity to get out of my borderline Hoarders apartment and into a new locale. Despite living just over the Oregon/Washington border, I have never been to Bend — though I did once buy tickets to see The Pixies play their first reunion tour at the amphitheater, before skipping the trip at the last second. I’ve always meant to rectify that.
As my father had been calling me daily in fully realized panic mode (seriously, he urged me to bring a first aid kit, blankets, and water — as if I was driving into an active volcano), I was certain that Google’s approximation that the drive would take three and a half hours was a gross underestimate, and I would instead spend ten hours crawling through the small towns that sporadically punctuate Highway 22. My solution was to leave town at 9 am. “In your face traffic,” I thought with no small measure of hubris.
It took me three hours of Tom Jones demonstrating his vocal prowess on the speakers of my tiny Toyota before I arrived. In my face.
As I pulled into Bend, I immediately got lost and everything became a blur of businesses and my cell phone screaming at me. “Turn right on Wilson Avenue. Turn right on Wilson Avenue.” One of Bend’s famous roundabouts later (seriously, they are everywhere and most of them feature amazing pieces of sculpture or historically relevant objects), I pulled up to Springhill Suites, a Marriott property in the city’s Old Mill District. Built on the site of the former Brooks-Scanlon lumber company’s Crane Shed building on Industrial Way, the hotel struck me as modern, with allusions to the former factory that stood on the site. TLDR: It’s all woody and stony.
Truth time: I was captivated by the lobby bar, the complimentary breakfasts, the huge shower, the barn door to the bathroom, the tiny desk where I worked while I was in town, and the enormous bed I luxuriated in like a princess. However, I don’t have a television at home and I have terrible taste, so discovering the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel may have changed my life.
The point at which I felt genuine excitement about sinking into four perfectly fluffed feather pillows and watching Murder, She Wrote should have been the point at which I realized I wasn’t the ideal journalist to send on a trip to an outdoorsy, active city. Having missed that insight my first night in the hotel, it was underscored as I stood outside the next morning with my tour group.
Our guide, Jared, stood in front of a small knot of writers, influencers, and plus ones, reassuring us that the morning’s hike to Newberry Caldera would be no problem. “We are just going to go in a three-quarter mile loop and if any of you need to stop, you can. The only difficult part will be a climb up a staircase, but after that, it’s mostly flat.” I felt hope. Sure, I was the most out of shape person on the trip, but I can walk for miles easily. Just to be sure, I raised my hand. “I have broken both of my ankles in the past. Will I be cool?”
Heads swiveled and every face in the group showed doubt. How was I going to make it through this trip? I could see the worry in their eyes, fear that broken-ankle-girl might slow them down.
The day’s activities began with a trip up Paulina Peak (where I got to pee in the world’s tallest pit toilet, so yay) and a little bit of a walk. I got scared going down a hill, but I fought through it and was able to scramble back up like a slightly arthritic mountain goat. Success!
Then we drove to the obsidian crater that we would be traversing. Breathing deeply (a combination of thin air and low-grade panic), I hopped out of the van and began marching up a hill. With each step toward the staircase, it seemed to grow not only in height, but in width. The clouds came together, casting dark shadows. The chirp of birds receded. Hiker’s faces contorted into strained grimaces. Instead of hearing the guide’s surely fascinating talk about pumice, my head filled with low buzzing.
By the time Jared said “Just tell my co-guide Jeremy if you need a timeout at any point,” I had already mumbled “I am tapping out, co-guide Jeremy,” and was trying to run back down the hill.
It wasn’t going up that was the issue, it was walking back down the stairs, you know, the thing I was doing when I fell and broke my left ankle years ago, which required two surgeries, six screws and a metal plate. I could just see myself pinballing down those stairs with my limbs snapping over and over.
As everyone else traveled the slick obsidian surface (where every astronaut who walked on the moon trained at some point), I sat on a rock. Now, this might seem sad, but I wasn’t alone. Sometime after I felt the sun burning my scalp, but before I had full-on tender-butt caused by rock-sitting, a ground squirrel took to scampering around my rock pile and flirting with me. I accept this was likely because I was seated twenty feet from picnickers and gave off a very “I will feed you” vibe, but I really think it’s because I am Disney princess AF.
What would have happened had we next gone to the site where we would watch the eclipse, I can’t say. It’s a fifty-fifty chance I would have curled up on the ground and wailed about inclines and declines or would have nimbly leaped up the uneven ground in an attempt to show everyone I could be a model adventure writer who embraced physical activity and had no fear of broken bone surgeries. It is, however, most likely I would have tried for more squirrel time. However, we spent Sunday in a gallery making art prints, so it wasn’t an issue.
To round out eclipse prep, I spent the day before the event at the Bend Art Center, situated across from the hotel and a few doors down from Atlas Cider, which crafts apricot cider that makes you question the point of making any other type. The walls of the gallery were lined with lunar images that used a uniform circle in a variety of ways, including intricate wood blocking and graphic monoprints. A friendly, but firm artist explained the pieces to my group before teaching us some basic printing techniques and setting us loose to coat ourselves and her studio in ink. “This is fun,” I mused. “This I can do. Maybe I am a Bend artist type and not a Bend outdoorsy type. I can move here and write and print and never use stairs.”
The following morning, as I trudged to the lobby with a hotel pillow gripped to my chest, I didn’t want to be a Bend anything. But, I joined my eclipse viewing party in a van and watched as streets turned to highway in the darkness. After an hour, the vans wheels rotated from asphalt to gravel and the shaking began. By 4:30 am, a sleep-deprived group ambled out of a series of vehicles and proceeded to blind one another with headlamps before following Jared and Jeremy (yep, our guides from the day before came back) down a path littered with random intrusive branches. As I trudged through the darkness, being smacked in the face with nature, I felt fairly confident. Then, we hit a steep, rocky incline that was more slide than path and I was asking everyone to pass me, so I could relax and take my time.
I am not proud to say that I made a lot of stops on my way up that hill and may have had to hold a guide’s hand the entire time I climbed, which I don’t believe adult women are supposed to do. But, I made it and I settled in to kill five hours before the start of the eclipse. From an excellent spot on the edge of a ridge, we watched the sun rise, painting the sky in oranges and purples created with the smoke from the many fires in the area. Once it was light, the unevenness of the ground came into full view, I felt like I should pee, and with a little help, surely I could make it down the hill. Nope. Between the lack of sleep and the sheer terror I was lowkey terrified.
Instead of eating, drinking, or peeing, I enjoyed being outside and around people until I relocated for the eclipse viewing. During this time, the sun challenged my sunscreen, rocks pocked my knees with bruises, and my hands grew dirtier and dirtier (making me feel both like a woodsman and a small child). Less than two dozen people sat on that ridge with me and watched the moon smoothly ease itself in front of the sun. Murmurs and gasps of appreciation were punctuated with requests for sangria and champagne. A man we inexplicably took to calling Rasputin (his name is Ryan) played a themed playlist, blasting “Black Hole Sun” and “Blister in the Sun” across a canyon lush with trees.
Once the total eclipse had passed, people began comparing pictures and toasting one another, but I was thinking it was almost time to go down the decline again. Instead of eating lunch with the others, I excused myself and took on the hill alone. The entire way, I gave myself permission to be scared when my feet slid in the loose dirt or shifted atop a loose rock. If I was going to make it down, I needed to be Bend-y, to embrace the setting and its challenges. When I reached the point where I turned around earlier, tears weren’t welling in my eyes. I just wanted to keep moving forward. I was a person who watched an eclipse in the woods. I was outdoorsy.
And I did it.
Of course, like the drive to Bend, I anticipated my trip would take much longer, so I killed time until the rest of the party scampered down by sitting on a pile of rocks and communing with another ground squirrel. They fucking love me. Maybe they sense I belong there. And maybe I do. Maybe I even belong there in ways I wouldn’t have been able to see before this trip.