Totality Awesome

As you all know, the continental U.S. experienced a total or partial solar eclipse this past Monday, August 21. I am lucky to live just outside of the path of totality which made traveling to experience the full eclipse very easy. After stressing out about logistics for weeks now, it was amazing to have had the trip go off without a hitch and to have seen the most amazing sight I've ever witnessed. (Warning: Long post and some not-so-great photos ahead, but I just had to document these 24 hours!)

iPhone photo courtesy of his parents

iPhone photo courtesy of his parents

My boyfriend (I guess I should introduce him now, ha—his name is Korri!) and I had been planning to travel to the path of totality (only ~30 miles outside of Boise), so even though I started my new job just over a month ago, I worked extra last week and this week to make up for taking Monday off. We debated a ton about where to go; we heard that traffic was going to be bad in eastern Idaho and just to our northwest in Weiser. We furiously researched potential locations in eastern Oregon and in the mountains just to our north and northeast. I had a couple of dreams/nightmares regarding the eclipse in the days leading up to the event. You could say that it was all I thought about, and the unknown is what stressed me out the most! We had no idea what to expect regarding traffic, clouds, etc. We were trying to prepare for the worst and have a few different plans before heading out the door. We both kept an eye on the traffic cameras, social media, and weather forecasts the couple of days leading up to it so we could better understand what we were likely going to deal with.

At our viewing location looking southwest

At our viewing location looking southwest

At our viewing location looking west-northwest (taken about 15 minutes before the eclipse started)

At our viewing location looking west-northwest (taken about 15 minutes before the eclipse started)

After keeping an eye on things, we decided to head out either in the evening on Sunday (his preferred plan) or very early Monday morning (around ~3 am; my preferred plan). After much deliberation, we decided to head to the tiny mountain town of Stanley, ID—right in the centerline and about a three hour drive if there's no traffic. I originally did not want to go to Stanley because I assumed everyone else from Boise and Twin Falls (a smaller town southeast of Boise) was going to go there; it's stunningly beautiful with the Sawtooth Mountains in view. We watched the traffic cameras and they were never busy. Ever. Pretty much no one was on the roads. (I had imagined bumper-to-bumper traffic all weekend!) After chatting with his parents since they were going to join us, we ended up leaving Sunday evening just after 7 pm... and I think we only saw one other car heading the same direction (it had British Columbia plates). 

After a relatively uneventful drive on the winding two-lane highway (we saw a couple of deer and hit a bird that didn't move out of the way...RIP, bird), we pulled into Stanley at around 10 pm. For a tiny town of under 100 people, it was definitely busy! Parks were full of cars and a few open fields had signs welcoming eclipse-goers to claim a prime viewing spot. Korri had found a trail that he wanted to hike just east of Redfish Lake, so we wandered down the highway to see if we could find it and a place to crash for the night.

A dirt road off the highway led us to the Boundary Creek trailhead—and, luckily, a couple of open spots to park and sleep for the night. The trailhead was already full of cars! The odd thing was that it seemed like no one else was sleeping in their cars or any place nearby, but we still kept it quiet when we pulled out the chairs and admired the stars overhead while sipping on wine. My absolute favorite thing about being in the wilderness is the number of stars that are visible when there's no light pollution. It's unreal! I saw one shooting star and possibly a rocket/space debris, so that was sweet. :)

Korri and I turned the back of my Prius into sleeping quarters for the night. I imagined myself sleeping a lot better than I ended up; when I was younger, I don't recall having any problems sleeping on the ground when camping! (I never had a sleeping pad, haha.) But I'm not going to lie, even with some padding, it was a rough night. I couldn't even stretch out all the way so you can imagine how well Korri slept, too. I think I got maybe two solid hours of sleep? I woke up a bunch! (This is exactly why I wanted to leave at 3 am. We would have gotten the same amount of sleep either way, haha. Oh well... it worked out because we found parking!)

The next morning, Korri was up at 6:30 am and decided to head out and explore. I finally felt like I was actually getting some sleep, so I stayed snuggled in the car as the sun made its debut on a perfectly cloudless morning. His parents were also trying to sleep in a little bit, but we were all interrupted by cars coming in looking for a place to park and the extremely loud revs of motocross bikes. I figured we would be heading up the mountain relatively early so we could get situated before the eclipse started at around 10:15 am, but Korri came back and declared that we only had to hike up the hill just to our north and we'd have a pretty good view. The downside? Smoke from the fires in Montana had filled in the valley overnight and obscured the beautiful Sawtooth Mountains... They were the whole reason we came to Stanley in the first place!

Even though we had a pretty good view of the sky from the trailhead, we wanted what little part of the (smoky) view we could get. Korri convinced his parents to hike up with us so off we went at around 9:15 am up the mountain. It didn't take us long to get up there but after he had to swipe off some ticks I was ready for this thing to be over with! (Haha, I really don't like bugs, especially the ones in the wilderness...) But seriously though. I also didn't haul my camping chair up with me and was too afraid to sit down, so I was in for the long haul. It ended up being worth it in the end. ;)

The Sawtooth Mountains, five minutes before totality — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Still bright out five minutes before totality (unedited)

Still bright out five minutes before totality (unedited)

There were a number of people at the top of the hill. A few were local to Idaho but there were license plates from all over the west (California, Washington, Oregon, Utah) and even Canada (Alberta) parked at the trailhead. There was a group of people at the top with us that we think were from France! Later we met a couple that had traveled all the way from London. Pretty cool, right?!

Korri set up his new camera while the rest of us kept an eye on the sky (wearing our eclipse glasses, of course). The moon started crossing in front of the sun at around 10:16 am. It was incredible to see a tiny bite taken out of the sun! It was at that moment that I was like—okay, this is really happening. The scientists were right! (I say that as a scientist myself, haha.)

Taken the moment before totality (unedited)

Taken the moment before totality (unedited)

When the moon had obscured the sun by about 50% (at around 10:50 am), you could tell that the air was cooler. The sky itself didn't look any different, though. Someone who didn't know about the eclipse wouldn't have known anything was happening unless they physically looked at the sun through eclipse glasses. We grew anxious as the minutes inched towards totality; the waiting was the longest and hardest part!

Around 10 minutes before totality (11:18 am), the sky was slightly dimmer, and the air was quite brisk. I remember the wind picking up slightly. A few minutes before (11:23 am), you could tell something weird was happening; it was dim like there were clouds, but you could still see your shadow. Everything around you kind of took on a sepia tone. It's very odd to describe but it was very eerie to witness in person. I think this is the extent of what people witnessed in Boise where there was 99% coverage. It's nothing like true totality...!

Total solar eclipse (unedited)

Total solar eclipse (unedited)

...at 11:28 am, it happened: the moon completely obscured the disk of the sun! I CAN'T EVEN DESCRIBE TO YOU WHAT IT'S LIKE!!! I wish I had a picture that looked exactly how I remember seeing it with my eyes because none of my pictures do it justice. (The first photo in this tweet is pretty dang close...) The corona was simply breathtaking. There was even a planet out to say hi (but it wasn't dark enough to see other stars).

During totality, it was cold! (We met someone who said the temperature dropped over 20 degrees according to their personal weather station.) I was shaking from a combination of the cold and pure excitement, which is why none of my photos turned out the way I hoped they would. (My camera does not do well in low light, and I was in flash-off mode to make sure the flash wouldn't go off on accident.) The silhouette of the Sawtooth Mountains came into view as it looked like the sun was setting all around the horizon (a weird thing when the sun is right above you). The smoke make the "sunset" very orange and red. I heard a coyote in the distance but no birds chirping. We heard people from who knows where cheering!

We had a little over two minutes of totality and I wished it could have lasted forever. I felt so bummed when the diamond ring appeared on the other side signaling the end of totality, but I'm so happy I got to witness a total solar eclipse. There really is nothing like it! (And yes, we are already making plans for 2024, 2033, and 2045! Haha.)

When it was all over, we couldn't believe that it had really happened. It was such a surreal experience. 

Sawtooth Mountains at totality — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Sawtooth Mountains during totality (unedited)

Sawtooth Mountains during totality (unedited)

We lingered at our viewing location for a little while longer as we watched the rest of the people on the hill head back down to their cars. (The traffic was predicted to be worse after the eclipse so we hoped other people would get a head start.) I noticed that the smoke that nearly obscured the mountains before the total eclipse had settled into the valley a little bit which is something that typically happens at nighttime. Pretty cool, huh?! I also glanced at the sun every once in a while to see the moon slowly inch its way across and imagined the people at locations to our east cheering and wailing as they experienced totality.

A little after noon, we started making our way back down the hill, which was much more difficult than heading up! The hill suddenly seemed much steeper, though it didn't help that there wasn't much of a path to follow. I tried to rush down as much as possible to avoid bugs. 

At the bottom, we pulled out our camping chairs and some wine to celebrate the eclipse (and caught a glimpse of the partial eclipse one more time before the moon had passed by). The people that had parked at the same trailhead started making the way into their lot (many had hiked to higher peaks). 

We talked to nearly everyone who came by. We met someone else from Boise, people from Wisconsin, a lady from Salt Lake City, a young couple from Montana with their dog, and a young couple from London on their long-awaited honeymoon. America was their first stop to see the eclipse, and they drove over to Stanley after seeing that the Tetons were crowded. The next day, they had a flight back out of SLC to New Zealand (!) followed by a bunch of other places; their honeymoon was 4.5-months long and they won't be back in London until December 30th! How crazy and amazing is that?! I wish I could take that much time off of work and not be fired, haha. #goals

Smoky Sawtooth mountains after the total eclipse (sun about 50% obscured; notice the lower smoke level)

Smoky Sawtooth mountains after the total eclipse (sun about 50% obscured; notice the lower smoke level)

Our viewing location in Stanley, Idaho

Our viewing location in Stanley, Idaho

At around 2 pm, we loaded up the cars and went back into Stanley to grab pizza for lunch before getting on the road home. The highway heading south towards Sun Valley filled up quite quickly but was still moving at normal speed. We opted to take the same way back as the way we came (through Idaho City instead of Sun Valley) since it was less busy. There were a number of cars heading back but no slow downs, thank goodness! (And we didn't hit any animals on the way back, either.)

I would do it all over again for the next eclipse! It was an experience I will never forget, and I highly, highly recommend seeing totality if you didn't get a chance to do so this time. 99.5% isn't good enough, seriously. Make plans now! ;) (And thank you so much for reading this post! I know it was a long one, and I hope you enjoyed it! Sorry my photos didn't really turn out, haha...)

Below is a tweet with the time lapse video Korri got with his new camera during totality!