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Back in a time unknown, because I didn’t put it on the calendar, I heard there’d be a “ring of fire” eclipse in Oregon, specifically Crater Lake National Park.

During that unknown time, I bet a box of huckleberry ice cream sandwiches that my head jerked to the side with a thought so heavy it made one side of my brain gain more mass than the other. 

This is my “what if” pose.

What if I changed my degree to environmental education and interpretation?

What if I bought a vehicle with all-wheel drive so I don’t end up in a ditch after hitting ice?

And what if I drive to Crater Lake National Park to see the ring of fire?

These moments come when I’m doing something that requires action and little thought: washing dishes, running, and waiting 20 minutes for a cup of coffee at Starbucks when I could have made a cup of coffee at home in less than 20 minutes. 

Many times, they’re brilliant questions that demand mulling. This time was no different. 

After mulling, I decided to take a road trip to Crater Lake to see the annual eclipse. 

To get the nerdy juices flowing, I named the trip Craters by Car.

Just like savings accounts, pets, and stadiums, a name has power. This adventure would all the power it could get.

Driving from Montana to Oregon would take 15 hours. I could drive that distance in a day, I reasoned. As I’d driven 12 hours in a day before. This time, however, I decided against it. 

To the relief of everyone I spoke to.

Instead, to break up the road trip, I decided to pack in more craters by spending a night at Craters of the Moon Monument and Preserve in Idaho. 

It was going to be back-to-back craters and amazing.

Craters by Car was my first solo camping and hiking adventure. 

I’d camped and hiked many miles; this was the first time solo. To reduce anxious thoughts about all the alone things I was doing, I planned. 

A lot.

I researched:


Sunrise, sunset, and the weather,

Visitor centers and their hours,

What towns to get gas, and

Hiking trails.

I had established knowledge and skills too:

Clothing for a wide range of weather,

Roadtrip necessities (snacks and audio entertainment),

What to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner without electricity and tap water, and

How to set up and take down a tent. 

Having experience in front and backcountry camping did relieve a few nagging thoughts. I had experience and exposure, but it was with the benefit of a tiny party of two. 

Being prepared is better than being impaired. 

My preparation efforts dictated my success. I had enough food, water, and stuff to ensure that whatever I did was a blinding success. 

When I did get to Crater Lake, I hiked three peaks including the highest, Mount Scott at 8,929 feet. The views were glorious, and the endorphins added to the scenic majesty. I visited all the unique features from the cacophony cascade of Plaikni Falls, to the towering spirals of Pinnacles overlook, and a quick visit with Phantom Ship at Sun Notch right before a snowstorm sealed off the road. 

Each night I slept in a forest service campground near the park, I was lulled to sleep by the trickling rain and the gushing falls. In the morning, I rise to greet the old-growth giants that crowned the campground. 

Despite winter weather rolling into temporary shutdowns of the Rim Drive, when the weather warmed up the roads and my hope, I’d cruise both directions before concluding my stay. 

I saw all that Crater Lake had to offer and I was bewitched by her beauty, perhaps that’s why they call the main island, Wizard Island. 

I’m glad I packed my optimism too. 

The forecast on eclipse day was cloudy. The landscape was shrouded with old-growth forests which is an indication that cloudy is a default more than a forecast.

I’d known the weather suggestion for a while and despite its gloomy tidings. After hours of debate on the virtue of staying or chasing better weather, I decided I’d rather stay and try to see the eclipse at Crater Lake than travel 9 hours south to a desert armpit with a guaranteed clear sky. 

Darkly I mused, the closest I could get seeing the eclipse could be the shirt I bought in the gift shop.

Success or failure, I bound my fate to Crater Lake.

I’d scoped out the ideal wayside parking days before, so when I arrived moments after dawn, I found a spot quickly as the parking was filling up faster than my doubts. I grabbed my folding chair, put on all my warm gear which turned me into a walking sleeping bag, and sat for two hours before the main event. 

It was worth the wait.

The clouds lingered, yet I could see the moon block out the sun in a magnificent display of darkness and light. 

Despite concerted efforts, photos couldn’t relay what my eyes could easily define.

Then, like most events that draw a party crowd, the moon peaked and receded quickly. Afterwards everyone scattered about trying to go back to their normal, rushed musings. 

Despite the scenic delight there were lessons learned too.

The views commanded breath and attention and there were painful moments. 

This solo trip festered toxic thoughts. During the long drive from Idaho to Oregon on country roads with more miles than people, I created a bucket of worry so heavy I’d cry from fear, worry, and concern.

The biggest fear was breaking down in the desert without service and even less hope as the Hills Have Eyes creatures come to claim their prize.  

I missed Mr. BuLL in a strong, sad, mopey way that I’d cry when he called. 

As I type these statements, these feelings seem so small when compared to the magnitude of calamities that are currently happening overseas, yet at the time, it was my whole world and it sucked enough to cry over. 

Despite the fear, worry, and concern that knotted my mind and stomach, I kept driving. From prior exposure, I knew that the struggle is what makes us strong. 

I wasn’t wrong.

Craters by Car was an adventure because of the triumphs and tribulations.  

As I reflect on Craters by Car, another adventure prompted by my life list, I notice many of my prior experiences had challenges too:

Tough Mudder and Color Run was canceled and rescheduled,

I had to go through an ice storm to get to the meditation retreat and a migraine settled in while I was there, and

I got sick on the Northern Lights trip in Iceland because the lady behind our seats was Typhoid Mary. 

Memories that burn beautiful images despite having a harsh crash with reality. 

Time erodes challenging moments and instead of remembering the edges of pain and worry, it’s the happy tales from friendships crafted, loved landscapes, and struggles seared into success.

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