A Trip of a Lifetime: Solar Eclipse, Aug. 21, 2017   

by Ed Mizzi

My wife, Bari, and I have driven out to the West coast several times over the past few decades. We have also flown out, but driving allows one to see just how vast and beautiful Canada is. When we were planning our summer of 2017 trek, I suggested that maybe we could fit in the eclipse, either on the way west or on our return trip, and the rest (as they say) is history.

After luggage, we did not have a lot of room left in our small SUV, but I was able to fit my small 80ED, F5.5 scope, my DSLR, two other cameras and 3 tripods, along with a few accessories, including, of course, solar filters. So off we went and on the third night (after long days of driving), we arrived at Bari’s sister’s place in Calgary, where we stayed for 3 nights. Then on to Banff for a one night stay at my wife’s cousin’s home and then 3 nights at a  cottage south of Penticton, in the hot, dry Okanagan Valley, where the skies were filled with smoke for most of the time. However, what I did not expect was a visit to “The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory”, which just happened to be a 15 minute drive from the cottage we were staying in. When I went to their website I was delighted to discover that they were having an open house on August 12, to celebrate the Pleiades Meteor Shower. I was fortunate to hear two great presentations, one on meteor showers and one on asteroids. I met Ken Tapping ( a researcher) after his asteroid talk and he agreed to send me his Power Point Presentation for my outreach events. So more than a week before the eclipse I was already half way to heaven with this experience.


From the Okanagan we travelled to Abbotsford, B.C. (near Vancouver), where we stayed for several nights with relatives. During that time, on August 18, we heard reports that petrol stations south of the border were already running out of gasoline, water was scarce and the highways were clogged. But not allowing any of that to deter us, on Aug. 19 we drove 9.5 hours to Redmond, Oregon, where we had a room booked in an Air B&B (and all the doomsday rumours were unfounded). The next day we drove north to Madras (a 30 min. drive) on the centre line of totality, where all we could reserve was a spot for our car ($50) on the eve of the eclipse. However, the owners of this big, open field gave me lots of extra room to set up my tripods. We were surrounded by people from all over the western United States and you could feel the anticipation and excitement building through the evening. The weather forecast was good, but we were all concerned about nearby forest fires and which way the wind would carry the smoke. Of course, sleeping in a car is never comfortable, especially at our ages, but it was well worth the sacrifice. (We found out the next day that the population of Madras had exploded from its 6 800 permanent residents to well over 150 000 people…wow!)


With the eclipse beginning at approx. 9:25 and totality at 10:21, we had plenty of time to set things up. However, I kept thinking back to what Alan Dyer mentioned (more than once) in his eclipse book, when he said not to focus on the photography but instead focus on enjoying the moment and savouring the experience. So I did not set my expectations high for imaging and convinced myself that capturing this event with a camera was secondary to witnessing it.

So we waited for the start (some call it the “kiss”) of the eclipse and you could hear several people already getting excited. Seconds before totality people starting hooting and hollering, and clapping and cheering. The excitement in the air was almost palpable and I suddenly realized why people back home had told me NOT to miss an opportunity to see a total eclipse of the Sun. The air temperature dropped significantly and the sky turned a dark twilight blue. When totality struck we took off our protective glasses and looked in awe at what seemed like a hole in the Sun, with a beautiful corona around it. We could also see Venus and Regulus along with a few other stars, and at that point I realized that the 6 000 km trip was trivial in comparison to this event and well worthwhile. The 2+ minute length of time in totality went by too fast but it was a memory I knew I would have for a lifetime. Bari and I stayed until almost noon so we could witness the entire event and the last “kiss” and then began to pack up for the long journey home.


Of course, the journey home was dramatically different than getting to Madras. With everyone leaving at about the same time, the 2-lane roads leaving the town were now clogged with vehicles and it took us 5 hours to drive the first 40 km. before then things started to clear up. This was definitely a good example of the saying “patience is a virtue” and it seemed as if everyone had resigned themselves to the long, hot wait times.


We arrived home 4 days later and I could not wait to share my experience with neighbours and friends, many of whom I had given sun glasses to before we left Ontario. I finally got up the courage to look at the photos I had taken and ended up with a few half-decent images, although experiencing the eclipse far outweighed the importance of photographs. I have included a few with this article and I hope you enjoy them.


Of course, since getting back to Waterdown, all I can think of is 2024, in hopes that I will be fortunate enough to witness another total eclipse of the Sun.


* An earlier version of the post did not include “The” in the name of “The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory”

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