Written by Jonathan Aryeh Wayne, January 8, 2018
It was about 1:30 in the morning and I honestly thought that I was close to death from sleep deprivation. It was only the second night on our roadtrip down south to chase the solar eclipse in rural North Carolina. I was lying in my tent, flat on my back, wearing my earplugs, desperately seeking sleep but right next to me, amidst the dozens of tents in Wilson’s Riverfront RV Park, there was a party going on and it just happened to take place less than 20 feet away from me. I unzipped the door, rolled out onto the grass and went wandering to find my friend in the middle of the night. I was at my wits end. I couldn’t handle another straight night of limited sleep, even though I knew this trip was going to be a marathon. The grass was wet from the dew and I was already swearing under my breath how annoyed I was having to physically relocate in order to find some semblance of relief so I could actually sleep, after already one sleepless night. Mind you, I could deal with one bad night of no sleep, but two straight nights was another story. With my complaining aside, I successfully tracked down my friend, also known as Mr. Beard.
I said something like this: “Hey man, I can’t frickin’ believe this! I just happened to be camped out next to the only tent in the whole campground that decided to throw a damn party. I cannot believe this.”
I went on grumbling for another minute or two.
Mr. Beard, silhouetted only by the light coming from the outhouse replied: “Dude, you gotta relax and just listen to me. Listen to me, okay? If you want my help, you’re going to have to ask me, okay? You’re going to have to ask me if you want to change your situation.”
Perplexed and confused, I belted out: “What do you mean I have to ask? It’s frickin’ 2 in the morning. This is ridiculous, what the hell am I supposed to do!”
“Dude, dude, I can’t help you unless you ask me nicely.”
This was not making me feel any less agitated than I was already. I had a long day and being civilized at this point wasn’t easy. But I knew that if I was going to get anywhere at this ridiculous hour, I had to use whatever remaining brain power I had to solve this temporary crisis.
“Okay man, can you please come on over and help me move my frickin’ tent?”
Muttering profanity towards the nearby circle of party animals around their little campfire, I picked up one end of my REI tent and Mr. Beard and I walked about thirty feet further away towards the concentrated cluster of other tents comprised of fortunate sleeping human beings.
I ran up towards the camping park outhouse facility and brushed my teeth and washed my face inside. Then I walked back to my tent, crawled inside, inserted my earplugs and rolled onto my side on the thin blowup air mattress as my back muscles compressed downwards.
There were three of us on this adventure: Mr. Emotion, Mr. Beard, and I, Mr. Fringe, making us “The Totally Tubular Trio of Totality Chasers”. We had embarked on this great road trip down to the great American South without truly knowing how our group dynamic was going to play out over a period of 6 days. On a previous trip to Eastern Pennsylvania, I had coined our group “The Bearded Trinity”, a collective of eccentric and adventurous men, but the long, cold Winter gave way to an aromatic Spring and with that the shedding of portions of our facial hair. Now with Summer in its apex, and grasping us by our funny bones, the three of us had not yet finished our wanderlust that began earlier in the year. Was this to be the ultimate adventure that could possibly tear friendships apart or perhaps bring them closer together than ever before? Time would only tell.
When our third day began in the outskirts of Asheville, North Carolina, it began with sweat. After a sleep cut short in the camping park, I awoke in a searing hot tent as the sunshine baked down upon me through my rainfly. I didn’t want to roll over on my side and try and doze off again, because I didn’t appreciate the sensation of lying in a puddle of sweat. I slowly did half a somersault on my sleeping pad as I pulled on my shorts and crawled out onto the grass. I looked over to my left to see if Mr. Beard and Mr. Emotion were up and about. Much of the campground was empty now, as campers had risen early to start a new day. I found Mr. Beard sitting at a picnic bench meditating but Mr. Emotion was nowhere to be found. He had gone for an early morning drive down the road to discover some street art and get himself a coffee. One thing led to another and we found ourselves under pressure in Mr. Emotion’s car, as my early morning constipation had crept up on me. One of the highlights I was looking forward to that day was having a few minutes to myself in a proper bathroom. Mr. Emotion reassured me that I’d have plenty of time to “do my thing” when we drove up to the cafe.
“Dude, I thought you said this place was empty?”
Mr Emotion had visited just an hour or so earlier and there was hardly anyone there.
There was a line of about a dozen people going out the front door in what seemed to be the only cafe in this rural part of Asheville. Furthermore, the only restroom just happened to be a one person bathroom. After it took me about 1 minute to lay down toilet paper on the seat, I already heard a knock on the door a few seconds later. This was not going to work for me. I needed time and straining myself was the last thing I wanted to do. There are just two things that I find to be mandatory in life: Time to sleep and time to shit. When both are taken away from me, I become really irritable.
I felt this day was going to be a game changer. Not long after, maybe a few hours, Mr. Emotion was still searching for any available store open that might sell solar eclipse glasses, or even a welder’s helmet with number 14 glass. We drove a few miles away, further from the city limits. The temperature outside was a very comfortable but warm 85 degrees. Along Smokey Park Highway, we pulled into Northern Tool & Equipment. After 30 minutes of Mr. Emotion talking to Mr. Beard and the male employees at Northern Tool about their opinion on creating a do it yourself welding mask complete with a MacGyver style hack using a glued on TV remote control to create a pulse of infrared light to “trick” the welding window to darken, I had just about enough at this point. I needed a bathroom badly and all of this testosterone in the store triggered my bowels in a good way. I walked to the side of the mostly empty hardware store (that was about a quarter of a size of a typical Home Depot) and discovered quite possibly the greatest bathroom stall in my entire life. To my absolute joy, the restroom was not only empty and clean as a whistle, but the back stall had its own sink and mirror too! After a good 35 minutes later, I walked out revitalized and reborn again. I walked around the hardware store looking for my two amigos but they had vanished.
“Had they driven away and left me stranded?”, I thought in my head.
At this point, not much else had mattered since I had been relieved (literally speaking).
I walked out through the front door only to encounter two extremely disgruntled human souls in pain and anguish. Mr. Emotion was thoroughly stressed out, sitting in the driver’s side of the car on the cellphone arguing. I looked beyond the car and up on a grassy knoll I witnessed Mr. Beard sitting in a lotus position barefoot. He seemed to levitate in the air, unperturbed by the unfortunate and pitiful scene before my eyes. Here I was, reborn again, only to encounter the rest of my Totally Tubular Trio in total trauma.
“Come up and take off your sandals and sit here with me.”
Who is this guy? Is he a shaman now or something?
I didn’t feel like getting attacked by swarms of mosquitos and black flies out here along the side of a highway on a neglected grassy cob overlooking a small parking lot next to a hardware store. But this was to become the moment that changed the course of our trip.
The two of us, Mr. Beard and Mr. Fringe, sat together in agreement despite my initial reservations about this whole silly ritual. But then I opened up and his momentary manipulation had somehow worked. Mr. Beard called for Mr. Emotion to come and sit with us but he didn’t want any part of it. A few minutes later, he reluctantly approached us and sat for a few moments. Afterwards, Mr. Emotion went on a 10 minute Visionquest of his own, and he disappeared into a grove of dense trees. He returned with his sacrifical lamb: A yellow brick with 3 holes in it, one for each of us. He told us a short story about this brick symbolizing something in his backyard as well as our current quest. Minutes ago, we were mentally broken down gladiators, but now the pieces of our spirits had coalesced and we picked ourselves up and forged ahead into the great unknown, with egos bruised and battered.
It was there along the rocky beach at the lake that I once again found myself staring out into the abyss. Just minutes ago, I found myself standing waist-high in a freshwater lake somewhere near the southern border of North Carolina and Georgia. I saw Mr. Beard and Mr. Emotion wading around for what seemed to be hours on end, swimming around in trance states. Mr. Beard held two bells attached by a string he had obtained while he was in India a few years ago. I saw half of his body submerged and other half holding these bells, clanking them back and forth while he talked out loud to himself. I laughed at them for eons. I felt like a beached whale, grounded along the sand, my head heavy from the wonders of the day, while my friends took to the waters, floating weightlessly, in a daze. I was a land creature while they were liquid monsters. Earlier, I watched Mr. Beard burn a stick of Palo Santo wood while Mr. Emotion read from a book of science as he stood in the lake, like some prophet from Biblical times.
Prior to the moment when the moon eclipse the sun in its entirety, we were joined by two brothers whome we met up on a tall mountain the evening before. As we ascended the 5,000 foot high Whiteside Mountain, the universe aligned for us to meet Thomas and Oscar. As the sun set over the sweeping wilderness, they mentioned they were also trying to figure out a place to camp for the night. With uncertainty in the air, we wished them well and descended into darkness. Later, while driving around the town of Highlands desperately seeking a place to camp out, we ran into these boys again at the only visible bar open around here, shooting billiards while a DJ was blasting music outside along main street.
“Well, would you look at that! There they are again!”
Was this meant to be? Thomas and Oscar had discovered a place hidden in the woods off of a secondary road for their guerrilla camping spot. The three of us were still determined however, to find a spot of our own. After another hour of getting lost searching for a small body of water we could possibly guerrilla camp in, we returned back to the bar and the boys were nowhere to be found. Famished with hunger, we walked into a pizza parlor that had just closed for the night and begged for a fresh pie. The owners took pity on us and baked an extra large pizza while we chatted with them about the town. We tried to get a hold of Thomas and Oscar again. After several texts and phone calls, there was no answer. Suddenly, Mr. Emotion’s cellphone rang and we were told to drive to an undesignated location to follow the boys to their guerrilla camping spot! We parked the car and entered the forest, down an embankment into a small clearing where the boys’ shared tent was already perched. With the light of our headlamps, we stared at caterpillars and spiders crawling on tree trunks, we stared at the dark night skies to witness the multitudes of stars and galaxies, we stared at each other and wondered if nobody, including the local police, would discover our hideout. Mr. Emotion and Mr. Beard slept soundly in their tent, while I slept well in mine too.
The fresh air and sounds of nature welcomed us to an early rise of a new day. Unlike the previous morning, I was not bombarded by the powerful sun, but by the sheltering shade of the trees and leaves, as a light breeze shook my rainfly. I grabbed my tissue box and walked a bit further into the woods and like a bear, relieved myself as nature intended. The southern birds’ exotic chirps were not completely unknown to me, but the sight of our tents were. The five of us packed up and headed back to Whiteside Mountain to try and ascend the summit to catch the eclipse. With only 3 or 4 hours until the beginning of this grand cosmic event, we had less and less time to prepare ourselves for this momentous day. The roads were not jammed as we had feared, though as we approached the road leading up to the mountain, we saw many cars parked alongside the road. Hundreds, if not thousands of people already had a head start on us. With only an hour or two left, we calculated and explored our remaining options. Should we return to that big lake we saw the previous day or explore a few other, smaller watery spots? After returning to the town of Highlands, and seeing throngs of tourists on main street surrounded by shops and human pollution, we needed to escape before it was too late. Our mission: To find a secluded, natural and open vantage point. Finally, we all realized Lake Glenville would be the final pick. As the moon was already in First Contact, as the very edge of the moon started overlapping the edge of the sun, we knew it was now or never. We parked our cars along a bluff overlooking the lake and descended down to the beach. The wide open scene was perfect! Totality was forthcoming.
“Stand tall and don’t fall, build your wall, throw your ball, hear your call.”
That’s all I could remember for a long time as I joined Mr. Beard at this beachside fortress he was building. Mr. Beard erected a small beachside zen meditation spot along the rocky sand and I entered his realm to seek refuge from the sun’s revenge. The eclipse had already occurred and I needed to protect myself from sunburn.
Mr. Beard kept repeating himself over and over again: “I’m building a wall.”
Yes, I noticed that.
Was he still in a trance state or now possibly deranged? Obviously there was something going on in his head and I knew what it was. I played his game. We lost track of reality that day thanks to the total solar eclipse and now we were in a stupor, as our friend the moon went on to bigger and better things after his close encounter with the sun. But I still can never forget that actual moment when the clouds receded for those 30 minutes leading into the two and a half minutes of totality! What a sight to behold! Like a light switch, the world around us dimmed ever so slowly and then the dimming rapidly increased in those few seconds leading into totality. To the west, it appeared to be a premature sunset as the horizon was light, and to the east the storm clouds blocked whatever blue sky was available to the naked eye. Miraculously, that big patch of open sky held together long enough for us to experience the total solar eclipse. The colors were vivid! Dark, indigo blue sky brought out the twinkling of stars and planets, but the main sight was the sun’s white halo covered by the moon, before and after a diamond ring effect took place around its perimeter. With eclipse glasses off, we directed our naked eyes directly at the safety of the moon’s obscuration of the sun, as our bodies floated effortlessly in the vast freshwater lake, as all four elements came together. There was nobody else in that water except for the three of us, and the other 2 boys, Thomas and Oscar, were somewhere on terra firma out of sight up along the rocky coastline in their own special state of mind. The few minutes of totality were a blur and yet at the same time neverending. I wondered, how would people or animals behave if a total solar eclipse occurred on a daily basis all around the world? Would a new universal spirituality or religion arise from this daily phenomenon if such a thing were possible? Could we create an artificial moon and float it up in the sky to emulate this amazing occurrence so people could experience this more often without having to travel long distances? Would the human race come together and find peace on earth if total solar eclipses became a regular part of daily life?
All of the externalities of regular day to day living were all just an artificial human construct. There was nothing in culture that could still create the awe that nature sometimes provides at its most daring moments.
As the sun was setting and Mr. Emotion and I, Mr. Fringe, tried to persuade Mr. Beard to finally pick up his things off the beach and get ready to leave, I shared a special phone call with my other friend Parker. As Mr. Emotion drove up the road with me searching for adquate Wi-Fi, and as I tried to book a hotel room for all of us and not realizing I had accidentally booked it for a week into the future, I called up Parker hoping to meet up with him back in Asheville but he told me he was still in Kentucky with his spiritual group. Back at the lake, as the sun set, Mr. Beard approached us a changed man, still in a bit of a wistful state, with his mind still somewhere out in deep space somewhere between the beginning of the Big Bang and the formation of our own sun. Clinging to the remaining minutes of daylight, Mr. Emotion throttled our vehicle and sped away up Route 64 towards the city of Asheville, hoping to eat at a delicious restaurant before they closed. Yet, we found ourselves in a predicament. Mr. Beard wanted to stay in slow motion still blissed out, while Mr. Emotion and I were in a rush to eat. Like Thomas and Oscar from earlier in the day who said goodbye and left, we said goodbye to Mr. Beard and left him in the backseat of the car as our bellies’ second brains led our way.
Minutes later, we receive a text from Mr. Beard saying: “Guys, I’m in the back seat of someone’s car with two lesbians! I’ll see you guys later!”
Since we were too hungry to care, we roamed around the streets of Asheville, trying to avoid panhandlers and getting ourselves into any further trouble. I was mostly looking forward to sleeping in a real bed on this night though! After eagerly pulling up to the lobby of Downtown Inn & Suites, Mr. Emotion and I were rejected from the hotel after finding out my reservation was for the following weekend. Apparently I must have been in a clumsy state myself earlier after my accidental booking thanks to a poor wireless signal!
For the next few hours, Mr. Emotion drove his Toyota with me in the passenger seat, searching for any single available motel or hotel with rooms. All 179 motels were booked, stretching to at least 45 minutes outside the immediate city, thanks to the solar eclipse tourists who were staying overnight. I found myself jumping in and out of the car along Tunnel Road, walking into various motels only to be turned down yet again, sometimes by just mere seconds. Exhaustion set in, as well as panic, frustration, and confusion. It was all a little bit too much. I wasn’t sure how much more my body could take it, but it all seemed to not matter so much anymore after these last few days.
Finally, the epic day ended back at Wilson’s Riverfront RV Park, the same place where two nights prior I had a lousy night’s sleep. We picked up Mr. Beard outside a Vegan restaurant on Asheville’s Lexington Avenue, after turning down a request to pitch our tents in someone’s backyard filled with dog shit droppings, and sneaked into a mostly desolate campground this time around. It felt like we had the whole place to ourselves, and Mr. Emotion responsibly paid the front desk in the morning prior to our departure. Yet again though, I did not sleep soundly. It was only until the following night back in Lewisburg, WV, where I checked into a Day’s Inn and a king sized bed just for myself. Ahhhh, I finally had found the peace of mind and sleep that was so elusive to me. Nevertheless, I transcended my own ego, my own discomforts, my own fears, and came out a stronger person as well as part of an eternal collective forever linked as: The Totally Tubular Trio of Totality Chasers!