Guest Post | Ki Sung Kim | Road to the 2017 Oregon Total Eclipse

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My good friend Ki returns with another awesome guest post, this time on his adventures returning to the States to catch the solar eclipse in Oregon. It was eye-opening to hear how it all went down. Read on for the complete recap!

Check out his Oregon Eclipse Mix here!

2017 Solar Eclipse Oregon

The 2017 Solar Eclipse

I would like to thank my friend Glen for having me as a guest on his esteemed blog for the second time.

Background Info

Let’s rewind to my first post, my review of Symbiosis Gathering 2015. Towards the end of that year, I received word that a total solar eclipse would grace the earth in 2017, including the west coast, and that a Symbiosis event would be held with it as its centerpiece. Given my positive assessment of the event in 2015, combined with the fact that total solar eclipses are extremely rare, naturally I began planning for my Oregonian adventure in 2017. Initial phases of planning are not typically difficult, and for this particular trip, only consisted of purchasing the plane ticket and event ticket.

If a T.V. show that you like is expected to air new episodes two weeks from now, even that wait can be excruciating. Thus, the year-and-a-half-long wait for the eclipse adventure was, needless to say, exponentially tolling. I will summarize this time limbo by saying it was mostly spent making mixes, working on my chess game, and working, so we can quickly fast forward to August 2017.

Back in the States

My trip was set for the 12th to the 24th, with the eclipse right in the center on the 17th. Upon my arrival to SFO, the repercussions of the Trump administration showed itself immediately, as I found myself being nearly interrogated by the customs official, despite my U.S.A. passport. He kept asking if I worked in Korea, and further asked to see the work visa that allowed me to work there. I recalled Moses’ departure from Egypt, and his claim of feeling like “a foreigner in a foreign land” as he proceeded to name his firstborn son after the Hebrew word for “sojourner.” After my weird welcoming home, I was on my way to visit my friends Nic and Melissa in Berkeley. The ensuing BART delay made me fully cognizant that I was indeed back in the Bay. “It’s so hot,” they proclaimed once I arrived. This confused me, as Korea has two seasons: hot a.f. and cold a.s. I took in the beautiful Bay area weather and its famous slight breeze while thinking, “One season of amazing weather sure beats two seasons of hell.”

Melissa had previous plans, so it was up to Nic and me to spend the rest of my first day back. If you leave two irresponsible males in vicinity of one another, it is organically expected for that duo to get into trouble. Our dispensary hopping was almost too much of a Harold and Kumar cliché, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It was actually my first time in such an establishment, and I must say their thoroughness thoroughly confounded me. It was eerily similar to a quick outpatient doctor’s visit, as the employee behind the counter spoke eloquently and at great length to describe the various strains they had in stock. This was all too much for me, and I quickly purchased some hashish for the Oregon trip and saw myself out.

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I spent the first couple days doing a lot of walking, possibly subconsciously aware of my grave lack of exercise in Korea. On the 13th, I essentially walked the entirety of Walnut St., visiting Indian Rock Park and the Rose Garden on Euclid. This walk was also a homage to my friend Hilary, who introduced me to these places during our “golden” years (for those fortunate enough to not understand the horrific pun, it is a reference to our alma mater). For dinner that same day, my friends Nick and Shelby cordially invited me to their new place in West Berkeley for a classic all-American ribs dinner. Nick is that hospitable friend we all have (and for many of you reading this, it’s probably Glen), and has no reservations about enduring hours near the oven to cook meat for his visiting friend. The meat-packed goodness reminded me that I am indeed American, even if some customs guy blatantly ignores my passport.

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On the 14th, I had lunch with Glen in the city, who sacrificed time out of his busy Monday schedule to catch up with me. He had coincidentally gone to Oregon on a hiking & mountaineering trip the previous week, and gave me tips on how to make the most out of my own northward odyssey. Afterwards, to continue my walking streak, I headed over to SoMa to visit Sightglass. I was about to head home after enjoying my cup, but I think my body wanted to keep up this foreign concept of physical health and I found myself hopping over to the Mission. My go-to spots there are Four Barrel and Taqueria Cancun, and afterwards I went back to Nic’s place with a gloriously greasy bag in hand.

From the 15th to the 17th, I visited my friend Beau in Richmond, with whom I also shared many irresponsible days during the golden years. Richmond is known for its tacos, and I had the opportunity to try them for the first time at Tacos La Raza and Los Mexicanos Deli. That familiar taste of al pastor is one that invokes nostalgic synaptic connections in my brain, and nothing else makes me feel more at home. During this time, I also visited my go-to places in Oakland, Kingston 11 and Homeroom. I love how these places are very different from each other, yet still elicit that Oakland vibe in their own ways.

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A Quick Step Back

Before I plow forward to the 18th, I must quickly mention the weeks prior to landing in SFO. July finally came to a close, but I was honestly too stressed to be excited. With less than two weeks to go until the big day, there was still no word from my friend Jacob, who was supposedly going to Symbiosis with me (he is also mentioned in my first guest post). I’ve known Jacob to be a sketchy planner in general, but this was extreme even for his standards. A weeklong festival ordeal, essentially the West Coast equivalent of Burning Man, requires absolute meticulousness for it to be a successful, smooth experience. Transportation, camping gear, a week’s supply of food and water, emergency sources of electricity, protective eyewear – these are all things that ideally should have been planned out and ready to go before I even landed in SFO. However, my endless attempts to get in contact with Jacob proved futile.

Finally, roughly a week before my departure, Jacob contacted me and nonchalantly mentioned that he wouldn’t have his car, in reference presumably to Symbiosis, and ended the message with “We’ll work it out.” A wave of panic instantly swept over me. “No Jacob,” I thought, “Somehow hauling a tent, sleeping bags, weeklong food and water supply, and a bunch of other necessities without a vehicle is not ‘working it out.’” I felt a little betrayed, especially since I had more than pulled my end of the bargain, purchasing event tickets (and the vehicle pass) and compiling immensely detailed lists of schedules and necessary items for Symbiosis, all to make the festival experience as comfortable as possible. I think I was most upset with the timing, and I probably would have been far less anxious about my trip if he had mentioned this earlier than T-1 week.

“No time to panic,” I thought. “Symbiosis is moot, but I can still go see the eclipse.” In my office, I immediately stopped doing work and went on an Expedia/Orbitz binge to set Plan B in motion, frantically reserving rental cars and hotels. During my credit card frenzy, I noticed something very off. Hotels in Portland ran for over $420 a night. After abruptly changing my tenuous plan of three nights in Portland to one night, it dawned on me why hotel fares were so high – of course, the eclipse! This made me even angrier with Jacob. If he had told me the unpropitious news earlier, I could have booked hotels earlier and saved a bunch of coin. Now it seemed I would have to squeeze my entire Portland itinerary into less than 24 hours.

Suffice it to say, the weeks leading to my trip were taxing, but with this backdrop we can chronologically return to the 18th. Shortly before, Jacob contacted me out of nowhere saying he could be in the Bay “within a couple days” because he now had his girlfriend’s van. By then I had removed Symbiosis as a possibility, and I sure as hell didn’t want to be responsible for all the planning again, because in my mind he could bail at any point in the trip and leave me stranded. Instead, I told him he could come along on my Plan B journey, to which he obliged.

On the Road

On the morning of the 18th, I went to go pick up my rental car reservation. Half of me was expecting Jacob not to show up to Richmond, but miraculously, he was there. Despite my frustrations with him, he is someone I have known for over ten years, and my negative vibes instantly subsided upon seeing him. We decided on a meeting point for Rockefeller Forest in Garberville, Humboldt County. I was nervous about long distance driving because I had never done it before, but it was rather serene and gave me an opportunity for introspection.

One thing that happens on trips is that certain details are overlooked because they don’t seem important at the time. Once I arrived at Rockefeller, I was eager to call Jacob and observe the majesty of Humboldt old growths. “No service,” read my phone. With mosquitos flying all around me, I desperately made every attempt to remain calm. “How do I get through this one?” I thought. “If I can’t find him before daylight recedes, this day will be a complete waste.” I concluded that the only possible way out was to drive back to civilization because other people might have a little bit of phone service. Thankfully, a nice man let me borrow his phone, and Jacob gave me directions to his location. Upon driving towards his van, I realized that I had been extremely close to him during my “no service” ordeal. Upon sharing this detail, we shared a laugh and generally agreed that life could sometimes be very strange, and we also agreed that we were lucky to have resolved this issue before sunset.

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I actually lived in Humboldt shortly after graduation, so it was really nice to revisit its lush forests and infinite canopies. I was only there for a short time, but the region had a profound impact on me. Once in a while, we all need reminders that there are forces out there much greater than us, and that we are but a small speck in the universe. Thousand-year-old trees are a great way to receive such a reminder. Soon, we were on our way to Arcata (one of the only cities in the county).

Prior to arriving in Arcata, I had underestimated the value of Jacob’s van. It turned out that the bed in the back could be folded to form a makeshift couch, a great place to eat dinner and hang out in general. Jacob had even installed electrical outlets in there somehow, meaning I wouldn’t have to worry about my phone or computer running out of power. He was also nice enough to let me sleep there on the nights I didn’t have a room reserved, on the floor opposite the futon.

Entering Oregon

On the 19th, it was time to head to Oregon. I had butterflies because I had never been there before, and it was a place I’d wanted to visit for a while now. Jacob and I decided on a rendezvous point for Grants Pass, with the final destination for the day being Crater Lake. After a while of driving, I finally saw the “Welcome to Oregon” sign, and I felt so happy at that moment because all my Portlandia dreams seemed to be coming true. I wanted to snap a photo of it, but I wasn’t about to risk playing with my phone on a state highway as a novice driver.

Beyond my wildest imaginations, I got a taste of Korea upon my arrival to Oregon. I rolled up to a gas station, turned the engine off, and got out of my car to pump the gas. An employee ran up and told me that I don’t have to leave my car. “Oh my God,” I thought. “This is just like Korea.” I guess it was a reminder to not get too comfortable here, as I would have my return flight to catch in a week’s time. At Grants Pass, I got back in touch with Jacob. Being a very logical person, he said to me, “I have some bad news, neutral news, and good news,” and naturally opened with the bad news.

His acquaintance in Oregon, Mike, had tipped him off with news that all roads to Crater Lake were extremely crowded, which meant that there would likely be no more daylight by the time we arrived. The neutral news was that Mike had invited us to his home in Medford, which was not too far out of the way of our next destination, Portland. The good news was that he had also offered to take us on a nature hike near Ashland should we choose this alternative. After crisis talks with Jacob, we decided it was best to head to Medford. My emotional side was upset because I really wanted to see Crater Lake on my first ever visit to the state, but my rational side shut it off because we may not have been able to see it even if we tried.

As I was trying to leave Grants Pass towards Medford, I accidentally took the wrong highway. Frustrated and exhausted from long-distance driving, I made a sharp u-turn and hit a curb. I was also not in the mood to pull over and see the damage, so I pushed on to Medford. “Did you hit something?” asked Jacob once I arrived. The rest of my energy for the day was expended on trying not to think about rental car damage fees. After showing us his pot plants in his backyard (I guess the typical Oregon welcome?), Mike took us on a nature trek. I let the beauty of Oregon distract me from my curb incident, and it was enough to overpower it. My only mistake was that I had forgotten to bring along the dinner I packed earlier that morning. While it was true that hunger and rental car apprehensions took a bit away from the state’s illustrious display of nature, I managed to swing by with good vibes intact.

Made It to Portland

Mike was nice enough to let us leave the van in front of his house to recharge for the night. He also walked out the morning after to give us some coffee. We thanked Mike and were right back on our routine of early-morning sleepy driving, this time to the tune of the Dream of the 90s. To be frank, this leg of the trip was particularly fatiguing. I probably should have stopped to rest along the way, but my near-future time in Portland was too precious to do so, and I pushed on with every element of my being. When I arrived to the Japanese Garden, I almost didn’t have the energy to walk around. There was a line of tourists there to explore it, and this was my first sight of the tourist frenzy, one in which Oregon’s public sector was absolutely unprepared for, as we’ll see later on in this post. As a disclaimer, I’m not pleading innocence in this, as I was just as much a tourist as anyone else.

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Afterwards, I parked my car at the $420 hotel where I’d be staying that night. Time was of the essence at this point, and I quickly did some tourist hopping, i.e. Deschutes, Stumptown, and Heart. At Deschutes, I ended up spending nearly $130 on six bottles to gift to people back in California and Korea. “I guess you pay for quality,” I thought as my wallet went on a Slim-Fast diet (as a side note, I did not drink any when I was there because I was driving). My first-ever cold brew at Stumptown was as climactic as anyone might expect. The fatigue from all the driving went away all of a sudden and I was revitalized enough to take in Portland.

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Jacob picked me up at Heart, and I asked him a huge favor. As a backdrop, he is not the type to do “touristy” things, which is why he did not join me on anything I mentioned above. I asked him if we could go see the Portlandia statue, to which he strongly disapproved. Eventually, I convinced him and was able to snap a photo. Looking at the statue gave the city a “human” feel, almost like saying hi to someone you drove so long just to visit. After thanking Jacob, I perused through Glen’s Portland post to glean the most I could out of my one day here. I saw a mention of Screen Door, and it was approaching dinner time anyway, so we decided to head over there with the expectation of an excruciating wait. To our surprise, the wait was manageable, and I found myself eating fried oysters and chicken, perhaps the best I’ve ever had.

Perhaps it was the amazing oysters, or vibes from Portland in general, but Jacob suddenly undertook the act of planning. He suggested that I return my rental car at PDX and just head south in his van, so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. It ended up being an amazing idea, and the rental car clerk told me I wouldn’t have to pay damages because I had purchased the full insurance plan. Afterwards, we decided it was best to get a good night’s rest prior to the eclipse the following morning. Totality was set for approximately 10:18 am, so we planned to leave around 6 am because it would take roughly two hours of driving without traffic.

On Google Maps, I showed Jacob the two potential viewing locations I had researched beforehand, and to my surprise, his planning senses kicked in again. He observed that both of my spots only had one highway leading up to it, and should there be congestion, there would be no alternative routes. This did not surprise me, as I am a novice driver and not wary of such details. I decided to trust Jacob for the first time on the trip, and left it up to him to take care of the most important element of the entire journey.

My hotel room ended up a lot nicer than I expected, which was a welcoming surprise given that I churned out over $420 for the night. It came fully decked with a couch and TV, which made me feel out of my element because I’d assumed it would just be a standard no-frills room. I sent some photos to my co-workers, who subsequently made fun of me and said I had “entered the upper-middle class,” which is far from the truth. There was a notepad on my desk, and in that moment I wrote down, “This is really nuts” and “So lucky to be here.” As I laid myself down to sleep, I could feel my body melting into the oversized bed, and I held nothing but optimism for the big day ahead.

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Catching the Eclipse

We left on the dot the next morning (21st), and our decision to leave early proved more than worthwhile. Traffic was minimal, and we were able to locate a sweet open field for maximal totality. We were the first ones there, and as time passed, more cars started rolling in. Eventually, it was time to bust out the protective eyewear. “What is that?” asked Jacob. When I answered, he smirked and retorted that my purchase was unnecessary, suggesting I was a sissy of some kind. It is ironic to mention that Jacob knows far more about science than I do, and studied a very technical major at Stanford University. However, he somehow failed to understand that it is not okay to stare directly at the sun for extended periods of time.

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Shortly after 9 am, the first phases were noticeable. A plethora of text messages flew in from my co-workers, informing me that the eclipse was all over the news and internet. Some of them admitted they had not been aware how much of a big deal this was. Nearing 10 am, it started to get dark quickly. It took me a while to realize that it was no longer clear daylight, and when I told Jacob, he responded with a tone of “You’re just now realizing this?” I saw him take out his camera, and it was my turn to retort. “Even some professionals aren’t going to be able to take a good photo of this, so spare the trouble,” I told him. He probably said something sarcastic back, but I don’t remember exactly.

It got really dark, and when I looked up, the sun was nearing totality. Some of the more gregarious types in the field started clapping and woohoo-ing, and I knew it was time. At our spot, totality lasted a minute and 40 seconds, which is only about 30 seconds less than the maximum possible viewing time. I suddenly felt so privileged and got really emotional, and in that short timespan I was made aware that I was alive, much like when a baby looks in a mirror for the first time to realize its own existence. I remember hugging Jacob just out of sheer emotion. It was part 2 of the reminder that we are all but a speck.

I wondered what an experience like this is capable of. In the days of antiquity, when tribes were warring against one another, could an eclipse let them make peace on the battlefield in the realization that they too are aligned as members of the human race? Could it induce people to acquire a new religious faith? I also wondered how much this would confuse the animal kingdom. As a leopard lay down to sleep because of darkness, it would soon find itself in clear daylight again. As totality subsided, it was still dark, and I realized I would be just as bedazzled as the animals when it became light again.

It turns out that we were both wrong about our skepticism towards one another. The safety glasses meant that Jacob could keep his vision, and the photo he took ended up magnificent (above). “Sorry for shitting on your glasses,” said Jacob. I was really glad he took the photo because it was akin to taking a piece of it with us, much like how some people kept vestiges of the Berlin Wall.

As we headed south; wait, we weren’t heading south, we were standing still. We saw bikers blaze past us. Jacob checked his phone, citing articles titled “From Totality to Futility.” The state of Oregon was unprepared for a tourism scale of international proportions, and Google Maps looked like the battlefield after the first scene of Gladiator, blood red in every possible direction. We joked about a hypothetical guy from Seattle who decided to visit his friend in the Bay, and realized there was at least one guy out there in the sea of cars in such a situation. Before saying goodbye to Oregon, we visited another forest and walked through to get some closure on this adventure.

Back to the Bay

On the 22nd, major problems ensued. We were less than four hours from Richmond, and stopped at an exit to pick up a bite to eat. As I was enjoying my lunch, Jacob let out a sigh that was perhaps the most despairing sigh I have ever heard. “The van won’t start,” he said. I was reminded of the opening scene in Insomnia when Al Pacino says, “There goes my lunch.” I was genuinely hoping it was a one-off deal, but the van refused to give after multiple attempts. This is when my pessimism kicked in, with clauses like, “You might not make it back to the Bay in time.”

However, for a third and final time, Jacob’s planning senses kicked in. “There might be a way for you to transit back,” he said. My pessimism had clouded my mind to the point where I had not even considered that, and even if I had, I would have concluded in my head for it to be impossible. After all, we were in Redding, the most random city imaginable. For those reading this, if you happen to get stuck in Redding or another obscure place in NorCal, there is in fact a way to get to the Bay. There are strategically located Amtrak bus stops, and the bus takes you to the Amtrak station in Sacramento, at which point you can go to your destination.

Jacob’s early realization of this possibility allowed me the privilege of enjoying my last few moments in the Bay. In fact, on the same day, I arrived to Berkeley early enough to enjoy a second dinner with Nick (and his friend Bobby). We went to Café V, known for its signature duck fat fries. As avocados are hard to come by in Korea, I ordered a Mexican-style sandwich filled to the brim with them. I also got to see Shelby again, who asked, “So Ki, are you a changed man now?” I jokingly replied, “I thought I was, and then I had to take public transit back here.” All jokes aside, I was thankful to even get the chance to see my friends once more before my flight. When I contacted Jacob that evening, he said the mechanic had told him there were serious issues with the van. It was as if the natural order of the universe was returning to equilibrium, balancing out our extremely good luck of witnessing the eclipse.

The next day, I decided to squeeze in one more city run, this time to Hayes Valley. My go-to places here are Ritual and Chantal Guillon. Along with the Portland beer, I wanted to bring back something else for my co-workers in Korea, which is why I stopped by the latter. I also walked over to Ike’s Sandwiches to glean the most out of the day. When I got back to the Richmond house, I realized Beau was working late. By that point it was already 9 pm, and I was gloomy at the prospect of having to spend the last night by myself. On a whim, I decided to call Nic to see what he was up to. “Melissa is out of town,” he said, “and I’m pretty sure all of my other housemates are out of town too, so you can crash here tonight.” He arranged an Uber for me and I headed to Berkeley.

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I don’t think he will ever understand my gratitude of not having to spend my last night in the Bay alone. I am basically alone all the time in Korea, and I didn’t need the Bay to replicate this feeling right before going back. This was the perfect time to crack open the bottle of Rare Barrel I had purchased earlier in the trip. Enjoying a fine-tuned sour ale with a friend was the most propitious ending to the Oregon odyssey. Nic and Melissa have always opened their doors to me whenever I visit the Bay Area, and it made me wonder if I could be as good of a host when it was time for me to take on that role.

Concluding Remarks

The fact that these photos are my own is a rarity. I never take pictures during shows or trips, as I feel it is a waste of time and draws attention away from what is happening live in the moment. However, my co-workers accused me of never bringing back any photos from my vacations, so this time I made a conscious effort to snap a few shots when I could.

This paragraph would be dedicated to the cliché “once in a lifetime opportunity” stuff, but I’ll skip that because I feel like everyone knows what I or anyone else would say here.

Jacob mentioned a posteriori that had we attended Symbiosis, we would have observed far less totality than we did. I refer back to my first post about life working itself out at times when you least expect it. I had spent so much time stressing neurotically during the weeks prior to and during the trip. This time, however, I managed to keep said stress levels relatively low, as I made conscious efforts to retain positivity, for example my relatively calm problem resolution at Rockefeller Forest or my efforts to forget about not seeing Crater Lake. The rental car problem also worked itself out, thanks to my on-a-whim decision to purchase full insurance.

There were so many things that could have veered seriously wrong in various aspects of my trip. I could have gotten into a serious accident due to my sleepy driving. Perhaps if we had attempted Crater Lake, the traffic would have rendered our time in Portland even shorter. I could have been stranded in the outskirts of Garberville with no service. The rental car company could have tried to gut me for all I’m worth for the curbside damage. I don’t even want to imagine the ordeal I would have endured had Jacob not sent me back to the Bay via transit.

I would like to give a final word of thanks to all my friends I visited on this trip, as you all have been so hospitable in your own way. I am fully aware that such trips would be rendered so much more difficult without the immense help and love I receive every time I swing by. I also extend an additional shout out to Jacob, who, despite being AWOL in the first half of August, pulled through to join me on this incredible journey and handle critical matters. It seems that at the time of writing this post, Jacob’s van is up and running and he is posting nature photos with his girlfriend as usual.

It is unsure when I will be able to enjoy great Mexican food again, or do any of these other things mentioned above, but one thing is for sure: I have an infinitely greater chance of doing those things than seeing another total solar eclipse. In 1984, Smith imagines O’Brien saying, “We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness,” but maybe if we are lucky enough, we will one day meet in a place where there is darkness, namely, approximately two minutes of it.

Once the jet lag subsided a bit, I made a two hour mix consisting of the tunes Jacob and I listened to on our way to totality, and I’ve uploaded it to my SoundCloud page. P.S. Glen, if you’re reading this, let me know how the coffee is.

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