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The Eclipse Roadtrip … ‘Totes’ Phenom!

August 24th, 2017 · Tags:Arts · Cities · Wi-Fi

 Sometimes the road trip is all about the destination.  More often, the journey makes the road trip.  Once in a while the road trip is all about the moment.
PingWi-Fi and motorcycle just traveled 980 miles to witness two and a half minutes of solar bliss, the eclipse, in the totality belt … or “totes” as my hipster friends might say.

Fort To Fort

Well, I would say the total eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but I’ve heard there was one in 1979.  Do you remember that one? (No doubt we would, had there been social media …)  I did not, until I saw vintage clips of the news coverage of that era.  Hmmm … ’79 … I was technically enrolled in college so I am sure there were things more important than an eclipse in my limited world view at the time.  I digress …

As we were all planning our eclipse trips and eclipse-glasses-wearing parties, several friends commented that they would just as soon watch the eclipse on TV.  I can see that.  After all, the professional photographers for the networks surely captured better images than all us “regular joes” with our iPhones or Nikons or whatever.  I can see that … totes.  However, there was no way TV could provide an accurate glimpse of the moment when the 100% zone went dark.
Through a lucky twist of fate, I ended up viewing the phenom at historic frontier Fort Laramie in Wyoming.  There were only a couple of thousand people gathered at the fort … nothing like the throngs and traffic jams reported from places like Casper, Wyo., and such.  (More on Casper in a moment …)
Fort Laramie
So …  about that moment … THE moment.  To begin with, everyone at Fort Laramie partied, and picnicked and hung out for hours, occasionally throwing on the eclipse glasses to see if there was any shadow at all, and then after the eclipse started, everyone took periodic status updates.  Surely that was just like every other viewing party outside the totality belt. But at the last moment, when the moon moved directly in front of the sun, it was like nothing I had ever seen … difficult to describe … an eerie combination of instant darkness, a stillness and a sense of awe and surprise among the crowd … even though we knew to expect it and had waited for hours.  At the moment of totality, we were all shocked for a second, with our mouths open … and there was a collective gasp around the park, sort of nervous laughter … “wows” … then applause.

Partial eclipse, cottonwood tree shadow

When I say darkness … that was weird too.  The best description may be that it was as if someone entered a room and hit the light switch … but a little light was still leaking in through the curtains.  All of the sudden, there were no noticeable shadows.  I would compare the level of light to that of a normal evening, thirty minutes after the sun goes down. (But a split second before it was bright and sunny.)  And all around there were pinkish-orange, fiery sunset-like pastels on the horizon.  Everone fumbled for our various phones and cameras and video devices to try to capture the impossible … and then it was over.
Sadly, I was unprepared … with no tripod that would fit in the saddlebags, and no eclipse filter.  Ha … I tried poking a hole in a cottonwood leaf and sticking that on the camera lens for the old “camera obscura” effect … but no luck … I digress …

Totality, Fort Laramie

Funny … the remaining partial eclipse subsiding was then of little or no interest to the crowd, after the total blackout … people started walking to their cars, dazed and anxious to beat the inevitable traffic jam everyone would face on I-25.  If ever I have witnessed an anti-climactic moment, that was it … after the total eclipse … as we all turned our back on the rest of the show.
Half-heartedly, I checked for a Wi-Fi hotspot and found nothing.  Ha … there were places at Fort Laramie where I couldn’t even get cellular service … preventing those instantaneous Instagram shots …
Oh those poor devils who were about to join “the parking lot” that was once the mighty I-25 thoroughfare.  I had just a taste of the 25 after the eclipse, as I tried to backtrack the route that got me from my hotel in Fort Collins, Colo. to Laramie early that morning.  Post eclipse, I hit I-25 for about 20 miles.  It was a hot miserable stalemate, so for the first time ever, I did that motorcycle thing that pisses off all the cars, trucks and hippie vans … I jumped over to the shoulder of the road to bypass all the other motorists.
For the record, I didn’t feel good about it, but the thought of an overheated Triumph Thunderbird on the side of the road out in the vast Wyoming landscape and a case of heat stroke bothered me more.  Yes. I am a cutter:)  Well, for the most part, no one cared. They were all probably sharing comments on burned retinas in the air conditioned confines of “they cars.” Out of hundreds and hundreds of cars I passed from the shoulder, only one person took offense. One brand new, purple pickup truck with Colorado stickers and various left wing anti-violence stickers tried to take me out, intentionally. He whipped over to the shoulder and slammed on his brakes in front of me.  I acted as I were at an impasse … thwarted … totes … I paused for a moment to let him bask in his self-righteousness-ness … I gave a head fake and passed him all the same as he almost took out a traffic sign in my stead. “So long, sucka!”
Even more to that fella’s chagrin, I was soon out of the traffic all together, on a backroad from Wheatland, Wyo., to the city of Laramie (120 miles).  I learned the shortcut that morning through the kindness and camaraderie of a stranger.

Dave In Lingle

You see, on E-Day morning, around 4 a.m., against all better judgement I headed out north on the unfamiliar backroad 287 from Fort Collins to Laramie … Despite deer and moose and elk and what have you. Well, I rode high in the saddle, eyes peeled, avoiding close encounters with any thing with hooves. Awesome. Hours before sunrise there was still enough of a glow to see the immaculate landscape … Only a few trees in a valley or riverbed, here and there, but immense mesas, jagged cliffs, breathtaking vistas … Oh my! And no traffic to speak of, only an occasional car, readily available to call 911 and scrape me off the pavement if that moose encounter became a thing.
Well after the initial morning bliss I pulled off for gas in tiny Laramie and then parked to the side to look at the map again. At that point, my plan was to continue north to Casper.  Two days prior to E-Day, I thought this was brilliant. Who goes to Casper with The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone and Glacier National Park in the vicinity? Well, the day before E-Day, Eclipse Eve, the national news led off with the astounding number of skywatchers who had descended on the rodeo clown of Tasper … er … rather the rodeo town of Casper. A multitude. Crud. “What to do?” I had resigned myself to “make the best of it” and “just get as close as you can.”
Then it happened. A moose encounter! A motorcycle roared up to where I was standing at the gas station and this bearded, leather-clad, slightly older dude hops off, smiles and says, “Where ya headed, brother?” I shared my Casper plan and my apprehension about the crowds.
“Well hell. You’re welcome to follow along with me.”
Prudently, I asked him if this was a ruse to get me out in the country, kill me and fashion a new lampshade and a drum skin out of my hide, for his sweat lodge or mountain lair. He scratched his beard and laughed, and said, “Not really.” With that affirmation, I said, “Let’s go!” He then went in detail about the road to Wheatland and then further north, near the Nebraska border, with a loop around the Grayrocks Reservoir … yada, yada, yada … “Dude. You’ve obviously mistaken me for someone who gives ‘a rat’s ass,’ as some would say. No matter what your plan, it’s better than what I have.”
Grayrocks Reservoir
I trusted this guy, he was on a bike (the ultimate ice breaker for guys who no longer share a locker room or chase a leatherball …) We shook hands and I learned his name is Dave. (I have never heard of any mass murderers named Dave … okay one David … but regardless …) I thought he probably checked out … And then the moose sighting, referenced above. Dave is the president of The Moose Lodge for all of Wyoming … (you see what I did?) … What a cool, chance meeting … And his story checked out. I verified it by reading his license plate frame on the bike. It said “Mighty Moose” or “Three Moose-cateers” or something like that about the lodge. Seemed legit. Most important, he was a local with good eclipse intel — EI.
I know now that I had never really been on a motorcycle ride before that trip!  Dozens of “twistees” through semi-treacherous, indescribably beautiful, pristine mountain passes and endless drops down into the cottonwood valleys, all at 75 to 80 mph. Wow.  I seriously thought, “Can the eclipse top this?” Soon we circled one of the most beautiful reservoirs I have seen … A small “inland sea” of blue, gentle waves guarded by a ring of massive whitish-gray rock formations and a few dozen campsites and tents here and there.

Pre-eclipse Ride

What an excellent place to view a “clipse,” I thought. Wrong! We rode on. We passed Fort Laramie — the town and the historic military installation — and continue toward Nebraska.  Rugged terrain turned to tame Field-of-Dreams cornfields. What happened to the cliff and mountains and scenic views with twistees, I was thinking??? (“Maybe Dave — The Most Highest of Moose men — has a cool spot in mind.”) Finally we pulled over in a tiny town with a main street, a few 1930s retail storefronts and a small local crowd orbiting around the swimming pool at the city park.  It looked like an excellent place to unleash my best watermelon splash dive, but not really the picturesque landscape I expected for  Eclipsing. Well, Dave was just stopping to huddle up. He was going on to another town — Torrington — or some place, to meet with other Mooses for brewskis during the spectacle. Not knowing the secret handshake and no longer partaking in Moose brewskis, I passed … And sought other options.
Ha … I saw the town name. It was one of my earliest considerations for eclipse watching, when I first saw its name on the map. I thought it would be fun for Pingel to eclipse in Lingle … Lingle, Wyo., but that idea had lost its novelty, after the morning of scenic terrain.
One option was to ride another hundred miles through Gillette, Wyo., and hit Sturgess, the home of the mother of all motorcycle rallies … A week after all the bikers had packed their saddlebags, and headed through the Black Hills and on home. So, should I head to Sturgiss just to say “technically, I have ridden there?” Pass.  (Maybe I will return some day while the rally is live and kickin.)
I said farewell to Dave and retreated, back to the fort, with just enough time to claim a ruined pedestal of the old army fort hospital for my perch.

Hospital Ruins

My fancy eclipsy shades? … Ha, a lens from a welding mask clipped nerd-like in the center of my cheap sunglasses. But my eyes live too see another day:)
“Bring on the eclipse, baby … Clipse! Clipse! Clipse! Clipse! Clipse! …”
(next up on the blog, more about the road trip)
Know what I sayin?