Cycling into the umbra
With all the media coverage leading up to the event, the eclipse had quite the hype to live up to. And whether it met the hype was dependent on your geographic location when it happened.
The spectacle-aided view from the metro area was "neat," but otherwise unimpressive, according to overheard coffee-shop banter and reports from friends who didn't make the trip into the totality's path. Without solar-viewing glasses, one might not even notice that the cosmic event had occurred, but instead be left to wonder who had dimmed the lights.
It turns out, the smidgen difference between 99 percent and 100 percent coverage is everything. Passing the geographic threshold into totality is the distinction between "neat," and an experience that is utterly unreal.
Our destination was a hillside farm in Amity, only 11 miles farther from the McMinnville living room we quietly crashed in late Sunday night. Despite no obvious signs of abnormal traffic, my partner and I opted to ride our bikes, which gave us the chance to admire the golden backdrop of Yamhill Valley farmland. Past a golf-course-turned-campground and pastures of frolicking alpacas, we shared the shoulder of Highway 99W with motorcycles as we overtook the cars that had earlier whizzed by us but were forced to slow to a mile-long crawl on approach to Amity's town center.
Pancakes cooked on the griddle as the moon made first contact — a tiny nibble on the upper right quadrant of the sun. Shadows altered in strange ways and eyes strained to see in light that did not resemble the glow of dawn or dusk at all, but was simply dim in an eerie, uncomfortable sort of way. This is the extent of what was seen by those not in the totality's path. What happened next was odd, disorienting, and what I have heard many people describe as "moving."
In a matter of seconds, the sky darkened dramatically and the air cooled. When only the tiniest sliver of orange remained, a second before total eclipse, the diamond ring effect flared spectacularly — I whipped my glasses to off to see it a second before it disappeared. And then it was suddenly night.
The rural hillside rang out with exuberant hollers of disbelief, not only from the field we stood in, but from all directions — a bunch of humans howling at the moon. Stars and planets — including ones not normally visible because of their proximity to the intense light of sun — appeared. The sun's corona came entirely into view and only a slim strip of orange light was visible on the horizon. With less than two minutes to drink it all in, I didn't know what to focus on. My senses were completely saturated with stimulation, adrenaline rushed in my blood and language was much reduced to awed statements of the obvious.
Just as soon as it began, it was ending. Another diamond ring flashed as we either donned our glasses or turned away to study the ground as the elusive "shadow bands" — strange ripple-like alterations of light and shadow—slithered across the plowed field we stood on. While historical references to "shadow bands" date as far back as the 9th century CE, they are so fleeting and unpredictable that scientists still don't know what causes the strange undulations. And we saw them.
And just like that, it was over.
So, did it live up to the hype?
Unequivocally, it was even better.
However, my expectations were very different from reality. Having heard the experience described as "spiritual," I was convinced that the knowledge of what was to take place, combined with the visual display would induce a sort of perspective-changing epiphany. I expected to feel humbled, reminded of my smallness in the vastness of a universe. That didn't really happen.
If anything, the experience was a primal one. The eclipse was stunning in its beauty and confusing to my senses, which were clearly telling me that the world must be ending. I wondered what folks a few thousand years ago must have thought.
The prevailing feeling throughout the experience, and for the rest of the day, was one of connection with others, whether friend or stranger, for a short time. As we rode our bikes back home, we grinned like idiots at other people, who greeted us likewise. For a while, the knowledge that we'd all been craning our heads towards the heavens and experiencing something incredible together, felt strangely unifying.
On Tuesday morning, people were sharing their experiences, whether underwhelming from the metro area, or entirely-worth-it for those who made the trip. I overheard someone say "We're all just one for a little bit," in describing the experience to their barista. I like to think that that sentiment traversed from coast to coast along with the Great American Eclipse.
Briana Bayer is a summer intern for The Times and a student at Portland Community College.