Wednesday, October 4, 2017

My Great American Eclipse Adventure, August 19-22, 2017

The Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017, was something I'd looked forward to for seven years, when I first learned of it. After seeing the path of totality, St. Louis was my first choice of observing location for the eclipse, with southern Illinois also looking attractive. As the years passed, and I learned more of this eclipse, St. Louis, being on the edge of the path of totality, became less desirable. Carbondale, Illinois caught my attention for being at the intersection of the paths of totality for both the 2017 and 2024 solar eclipses, and being near the point of longest totality for this eclipse, despite admonitions from my friend Chicago Astronomer Joe Guzman to "avoid Carbondale."

It really wasn't until January 2017 that I started seriously looking for eclipse observing locations. I looked for public parks on or near the center line of the path of totality, spaces where I knew I should be able to set up for observing. Right away I found Triple Creek Park in Gallatin, Tennessee. The center line crossed through the park, and was within a fraction of a second of the longest duration of this eclipse. It immediately went to the top of my list, and stayed there until August. I found a few other suitable locations in Tennessee and Kentucky, but really, my heart was set on Gallatin.

Even though I had Gallatin and a few other places in mind as observation sites, my real plan was to have no plan, just contingencies. Since weather could change my plans at the last minute, I thought my best chance for seeing totality depended on being able to get to a wide swath of the path of totality, and I was willing to drive anywhere from Missouri to Tennessee. I thought it would be wise to get to southern Illinois on Saturday, check the weather forecasts along the path, and make my decision to either stay put, or head for clear skies late Sunday, if needed. Since I assumed that I would be alone, I planned on just sleeping in my car at rest stops or truck stops.

In the final weeks before the big day, I convinced my girlfriend, Dawn, to join me on my adventure to totality. With her, sleeping in my car wasn't going to be an option. With a limited budget, and hotels and campsites sold out months in advance, and prices greatly inflated for remaining spots, I booked a camping spot at a private ranch in Ozark, Illinois, that my friends Ian and Anna told me about. The ranch turned out to be less than ideal for Dawn, but there really weren't any better options, and if we hadn't left our campsite, we would have seen two minutes, thirty-nine seconds of totality. That was really all I needed to know.

The week before the eclipse, I started carefully packing the trunk of my car. If need be, we would be entirely self sufficient except for gas on the trip. Dawn and I both worked late on the night of Friday, August 18, and tried to get some rest. I was too excited to sleep much, and spent a few hours in the early morning Saturday with the final packing of my car. I wanted to leave South Bend by noon to get to our southern Illinois campsite before dark.. As we were getting ready to leave, Dawn asked if we could bring our dog, Dalton. Of course. Even with the trunk and part of the backseat of my car loaded, there was still enough room for him. As noon approached, everything (and everybody) was ready and waiting in the Cruze, which was gassed up, and decorated with an eclipse poster in the back driver's side window, so people passing us on the highways would know we were chasing the lunar shadow.

The trunk of my Chevy Cruze before my Great American Eclipse Adventure.

Gassed up, loaded, and ready to go!

Rather than deal with construction and greater traffic volume on I-94 through Northwest Indiana, we left South Bend south on U.S. 31 to Indianapolis. At every stop light I could feel how heavy my car was, both by increased stopping distances, and less quickness getting through the gears. About an hour outside of South Bend, halfway to Indianapolis, it finally hit me. Yes I had been excited for days, and even weeks, but suddenly it was all very real. I was on my way to see the total solar eclipse I'd been looking forward to for so long. This was really happening. I joked with Dawn that if I started crying, she would have to drive (she can't drive a stick shift).

Once I controlled my emotions, the rest of the drive was smooth. We stopped about every two hours to let Dalton out, and top off the gas tank. I had hoped to stop in Carbondale before arriving at the campsite, but with so many stops during our trip, we wouldn't be able to go to the current U.S. Eclipse Crossroads and still have time to set up our tent before dark.

Sunset at the Harris Cattle Ranch Saturday, August 19, Ozark, Illinois.

The Harris Cattle Ranch where we were camping was basically having a festival that coincided with the eclipse. There were bands every evening, and a bonfire and drum circles every night. I didn't mind, but since it wasn't the peace and quiet that Dawn wanted, we camped towards the edge of the property, as far from the party as we could get. Ian and Anna saw us drive in, and walked over to say hi, and invited us to hang out later. We'd had a long day, though, so I set up the tent, we made sandwiches, and settled down with Dalton for the night. A few times I went outside the tent with a pair of binoculars to admire the superb night sky, but mostly we watched old episodes of "Game of Thrones" on DVD before going to sleep.

It was hot all weekend, so despite having little sleep the previous few days, I woke up Sunday morning before sunrise. Immediately I went outside to see if I could find the thin crescent Moon, my last look at it before the big eclipse on Monday. Some clouds to the east slightly hindered the search for Luna, but I did see it. The clouds in the east started turning pink from sunlight while the Sun was still below the horizon, and in a few minutes, clouds in the southwestern sky became illuminated in pink. It was a glorious morning.

I woke up Sunday to the crescent Moon, my last look at it until it crossed the Sun on Monday.

Shortly after sunrise, I set up a shade canopy, so that while we were at the campground, we would have some cover from the blazing Sun. After that I got out my Coronado solar telescope to have a look at our star. The Sun had been rather inactive most of the year, as it neared the minimum part of its eleven year cycle of activity. I was surprised to see quite a few sunspots on the solar surface, but what better time for them to appear than the day before millions of people would be viewing the surface of the Sun?

Dalton watches me set up a shade canopy.

Setting up my Coronado solar telescope to look at the Sun.

Since Sunday was pretty much a day to kill time, in the late morning we took Dalton for a ride to Carbondale. I wanted to see what activities were happening in Eclipse City, but my main purpose was to look for postcards. Earlier in the summer, the United States Postal Service had issued stamps commemorating the total solar eclipse that was about to cross the nation. I had bought two sheets of stamps: one to keep, and one to use for postcards I intended to send immediately after the eclipse ended. I just needed to find someplace that sold postcards of Carbondale or southern Illinois.

I was not having much luck with my search for postcards when a chance encounter outside a shopping mall led me to the Carbondale Tourism office. The tourism office had postcards and Carbondale eclipse glasses (more on that later) for sale, as well as free eclipse related handouts and brochures. When the lady in the office saw Dawn and Dalton waiting outside in the heat, she said, "Bring that sweet puppy inside." Everybody was so nice, and I took several selfies at what felt like the Carbondale eclipse headquarters. We walked down the street, checked out some of the vendors, but since I had fulfilled my main reason for coming into town, we were eager to get back in the air conditioned car.

Most of the electronic billboards in and near Carbondale had eclipse messages.


Welcome to Carbondale.

Eclipse merchandise was everywhere in Carbondale, the current Eclipse Crossroads.

Carbondale eclipse glasses for my collection.

We went back to campsite to eat lunch, sit in the shade, and figure out what to do with the rest of the day. Since we were just outside the Shawnee National Forest, a few sites nearby looked interesting to visit. But first, after we ate, I thought I would take a few minutes to start addressing the postcards I had bought. But there was a problem: I could not find them anywhere. I had everything else from the tourism office, but no postcards. Where were they? I had sixteen eclipse stamps, so I picked out sixteen postcards. The man at the checkout said they were 3/$1, so I might as well buy two more. Since I had picked up sixteen of the same design, I set them down on the counter, and went to pick up two other designs to keep as souvenirs. I must have set them down with the other postcards while I was paying for them, and then left them at the tourism office. Cell service was at best spotty at the ranch campsite, and I had no service at all while we were there. I couldn't call to see if my postcards had been found, or even to find out how late they were open.

Instead of visiting the nearby Tunnel Hill or Shawnee National Forest, we now had to spend the afternoon driving back to Carbondale, about 45 minutes away. I didn't even care if I had to pay for the postcards again as long as the office was still open. I don't know if Dawn was upset with me about having to waste our day driving back to Carbondale, but I wasn't too happy with myself about it. Luckily they remembered me, and had my postcards waiting for me as soon as I walked in.

While we were in town, we stopped at a McDonald's, mostly to take advantage of free wi-fi. We both had plenty of pictures to post to Facebook, and I really needed to find updated weather forecasts for the eclipse. While we were back in Carbondale, it looked like a thunderstorm was moving in, and I really needed to know where I needed to be for a clear sky Monday. The one thing that seemed most certain was that the forecast for Nashville looked good. I was already thinking about leaving for Tennessee.

I'd been to Carbondale twice, leaving behind some of my money, but coming back with three eclipse T-shirts (two were a matching pair for Dawn and me), nineteen postcards (must have miscounted, I only paid for eighteen), two pairs of eclipse glasses, and a twelve pack of Pepsi in commemorative eclipse cans. It was late afternoon, and we finally had some time to explore the natural scenery of the area.

The Bell Smith Spring in Shawnee National Forest seemed to be the most interesting local site to see, and it was one of the closest. The twelve mile drive felt much longer, as much of it was down narrow, winding gravel roads. It was still hot and very humid, and neither of us was really dressed for a long walk in those conditions, but we hiked through the gorgeous ravine to the spring. A large rock overlooked the pool below, and people were taking turns jumping off the rock into the water 20-30 feet below. It looked like certain suicide to me, and even if I had been dressed for swimming, there is no way I would ever THINK about jumping into the water from that high. Since my phone was almost dead, I held Dalton on his leash while Dawn took all the pictures on our hike. If I end up in Carbondale for the 2024 eclipse, I'd like to go back to the Bell Smith Spring again.

Bell Smith Springs, Shawnee National Forest.

We arrived back at the campsite just as the Sun was setting, but much of the sky was still overcast with cirrus-type clouds. Soon I would have to make a decision. Do I stay at the ranch campsite and hope the sky will be clear tomorrow? Do we need to leave to find a clear sky? It felt like the biggest decision of my life, with no room for error, and not enough information to make a good decision. I took down the shade canopy, and packed what I could in the car, just in case we needed to leave later. Around 9:00 PM my friends Jayde and Mike arrived and set up camp next to us. More importantly, Jayde brought news that there was a 20% chance of rain by 3:00 PM Monday. While that was only a small chance of rain, I thought it meant a high likelihood of cloudy skies during the eclipse. It was all I needed to hear. Well worth the bottle of wine I'd brought her. I was going to leave for Gallatin, Tennessee in the middle of the night.

Dawn tried to sleep, but I stayed up with Jayde and Mike for another hour. We watched the stars through the haze and few scattered clouds, tracked an oddly behaving satellite (or aircraft?), and talked about the excitement of what we would experience in a few hours over a glass of wine. Before it got too late, though, I said goodnight and wished them luck. I needed to get some sleep, and fast. I needed to be two states away when the Sun came up again. (Jayde said on Facebook just after I arrived at Vol State that she and Mike were leaving for better skies in Kentucky).

Somehow, I slept. Not long, and not well, but I did sleep. I woke up before 2:00 AM, and as quietly as I could in our small tent, I started packing what I could, letting Dawn sleep a bit longer. With everything loaded, we were ready to make our escape to Tennesse just before 3:00 AM. But with my car so heavy, and the grass of the ranch soaked with dew, it took several tries to drive up the steep hill near the exit of the campsite. Finally the car made it to the top of the hill, and there was nothing that would stop me from getting to Tennessee by morning.

Getting on I-24, there were several semi trucks parked on the ramp. It's not unusual to see trucks parked on highway entrance or exit ramps at night, especially in rural areas, but this seemed more than usual. And at other exits, I noticed the same thing. I wondered how many truckers were going to take advantage of being in the path of totality, and try to see the eclipse tomorrow?

It wasn't long before we crossed the Ohio River into Paducah, Kentucky. We got off at the first exit, and stopped at a Pilot truck stop. I bought ice, pumped gas, and let Dalton out for a bathroom break while Dawn took "the best shower this side of the Ohio." While I was waiting with Dalton, a man from Milwaukee noticed the eclipse T-shirt I was wearing, and asked what my plan was. He had been driving to Nebraska in his old VW van, but turned around because of storms forecasted there. He'd stopped in Paducah because of a vibration in one of the wheels. He thought it could probably be fixed in the morning, but if not, was happy to be in the path of totality, and would watch the eclipse there at the truck stop if he had to. But when he asked if I-24 stayed in the path of totality through the rest of Kentucky, I pulled out a map and told him that it looked like it was completely in the path. I learned a lesson, although it had been in the back of my mind all along: once you are in the path of totality, stay in it. If unexpected car trouble or anything else threatens to end your trip early, it's better to settle for less time of totality, or worse weather prospects than to be caught outside the path, with no chance of seeing totality.

Once back on the road, we made good time through Kentucky, and once we crossed into Tennessee, made even better time as the Sun was rising off more or less to my left, despite traffic increasing. In fact, it seemed that as the traffic increased, so did speeds. I probably averaged 72 MPH through Kentucky, but at least 82 MPH on I-24 through Tennessee until we exited for I-65 north. From there it was a quick trip back up to Gallatin, and more relaxed as most of the morning traffic seemed headed for Nashville.

Although Triple Creek Park in Gallatin was my initial preferred location for the eclipse, in early August I found out there was going to be a concert there on eclipse day. I didn't want a lot of distraction for the biggest astronomical event of my life, so despite being on the center line of the path of totality, Triple Creek Park lost most of its appeal. Instead, I found an observing event across town at Volunteer State Community College, so I made "reservations" there. Although the reservations were only for the college to get an estimate of how many people to expect on eclipse day, they sent out an email to respondents stating that the parking lot would open an hour earlier than the official opening of campus at 8:00 AM. We arrived right at 7:00 AM, and found parking rather easily. It was eclipse day morning, I was in Gallatin, Tennessee, and there was a blue sky all around. I could not have been happier.

Information tent. And eclipse glasses.

My 15th pair of eclipse glasses, and probably my favorite.
My first nine pairs of eclipse glasses. And then I got SERIOUS about collecting them.

Since we had Dalton with us, and weren't sure if the campus was dog friendly, we staked out a spot near my car in the grassy median of the parking lot, near a tree for shade. I explored the campus first, and found that the school was giving away Vol State eclipse glasses. I took a pair for my collection and one for Dawn. I later saw that they were giving away NASA glasses, and took a pair of those as well. In the month before the eclipse- and really all year- it became an obsession to collect as many different pairs of eclipse glasses as I could. I started the year with two pairs I used for the 2012 Transit of Venus at Conway Observatory in Lowell, Indiana, and another pair from the October 2014 partial solar eclipse at Valparaiso University. Early in 2017 I got a pair of plain white eclipse glasses from Michiana Astronomical Society at a science event at the downtown South Bend library and another from the Notre Dame physics department. As the eclipse approached, I got a pair that came with the August issue of Sky & Telescope, and bought several pairs at Lowe's, Toys 'R' Us, and Walmart. I gave away five pairs to family, and ordered two pairs from Great American Eclipse so that Dawn and I would have matching glasses. I ordered yet another pair, a Tyler Nordgren design, through my Ozark, Illinois campsite, and bought a pair for myself and my friend Joe in Carbondale. With the two pairs I got at Vol State, we had 19 pairs with us during the eclipse, 16 of which were mine. I used them all during the partial phases both before and after totality.

Since I had not slept much or well since the start of eclipse weekend, I knew that I should take a nap before the eclipse began, but I was too excited. Dawn fell asleep with Dalton on a blanket in the grass, but I spent the morning addressing the postcards I had bought in Carbondale and affixing the USPS eclipse stamps. When I was finished, I took one more stroll through the campus to see what activities were happening. There were speakers and demonstrations inside and outside. As much as I would have liked to have heard some of the talks, I doubt if I would have learned much, and it would not have been fair to leave Dawn and Dalton out in the heat alone for long. Having got a feel for the building excitement around campus, I went back to my car and finished my own preparations.

Postcard I sent later, and my sheet of USPS Total Eclipse stamps.

My glasses from Great American Eclipse.

I want this 90mm Coronado hydrogen alpha solar telescope!

The serious astrophotographers were set up near the campus entrance, just on the other side of the trees from me.

I've been a solar observer since 2011, partly in preparation for the Venus transit in 2012, partly because solar maximum was approaching, and partly because of interest in NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory mission. Working third shift most of that time, it wasn't always easy to keep an eye on the Sun, but when I acquired a used Coronado Personal Solar Telescope in 2015, observing in the hydrogen alpha wavelength really renewed my interest. I'd been watching the Sun regularly all year, but with solar cycle 24 winding down, the Sun had been fairly quiet all year. In the days before its big American show, sunspot activity ramped up. There were at least five good sunspots visible in my Coronado, and a couple of nice prominences. Two brothers, one from Texas and one from Florida, were observing near us, and took an interest in the funnel screen on my table top Dobsonian. I showed them the view of the sunspots and prominences in the Coronado, and told them where I thought to look for the prominences later during totality.

Not going to lie: I got a little worried when I saw these clouds starting to pop up. It didn't matter that they're fair weather clouds.

Before first contact.

At 11:59 AM CDST, the tiniest dent was seen in the solar disk, signaling first contact. Between my cell phone and a cheap point and shoot camera, I knew I wasn't going to get quality images of any detail on the solar surface, but I could at least capture the march of the Moon across its disk. I'd seen a partial eclipse of about 40% magnitude in 2014, so the early stages were somewhat familiar. But as the Sun became a crescent, and steadily diminishing, things got interesting. I was surprised to notice the sky appeared darker much earlier than I expected. It was more than just darker, though. The sunlight was less intense. I've read that colors seem more dull as the Sun gets dimmer, but I disagree. It seemed they were more natural without the glare of the midday Sun. We noticed the shadow crescents on the pavement beneath the trees. The pace was quickening, and I thought I was ready for what was about to happen, but I wasn't. There is no way to be ready until you've been through it, and maybe not even then. I don't know yet.

Tiny bite out of the Sun. The eclipse is under way.

The optics of my two telescopes inverted the image differently.

Highest temperature reading of the day.

Shadow crescents through the tree on the pavement.
About fifteen minutes before totality, I started my car, and turned up the air conditioning. After it cooled down, I put Dalton in the back seat. As much as I would have liked to have seen his reaction to totality, there was a risk that he might get out of control. He was in an unfamiliar place, after all, and the conditions were about to get very unusual. I did not want to take a chance of losing precious seconds of totality because of a bewildered dog. I'm pretty sure he slept right through it. When I started my car, the headlights came on, as they always do, but I didn't notice them at all. In the last few minutes before totality, it was dark enough around us that they caught my attention, and I turned them off.

Poor Dalton slept through totality.

The sky is starting to look darker, not as bright.

I started recording video a few minutes before totality to capture my reaction. I had bought a phone app to tell me exactly when second contact was coming, but I had forgot to turn it on. As the crescent Sun got very slim, I took one more look in the Coronado. What I saw was amazing. I called Dawn over to see, but it was too late. I realized it was Bailly's Beads, and then I heard cheering from the campus, and looked up. I just stared for quite a few seconds, mesmerized. I should have known better, but I was expecting the corona to look like the processed and polished photographs I've seen. Instead, it was a glow around the perfectly round, perfectly black disk of the Moon blocking the Sun. I don't remember seeing the spikes and streamers that I've seen in eclipse images since, but it didn't really matter. It was absolutely amazing. As my eyes adapted to the darker sky, I remembered to look for Venus, and found it easily enough. Jupiter took a few seconds, but I found it, too. I had thought about looking for Regulus, Mercury, and Mars, but they didn't seem worth wasting precious seconds of totality for, now that I was in the lunar shadow. I don't regret not looking for them.

I looked around, seeing the famous 360° sunset all around me, with the horizon relatively bright in all directions, and only the feeble light of the corona overhead. I was staring at the black hole where the Sun should have been again. I don't know if I remembered to look for prominences, or if I just happened to notice them as they became visible before third contact. I did see the one I'd pointed out to the brothers earlier, and called out to them that I could see it, but that was it. The Diamond Ring and Bailly's Beads were shining through the Sun's western limb. Totality was over. I put my eclipse glasses on right away, but what I really wanted was to take them off, and see that black disk surrounded by shimmering light again for a few more seconds. In the seconds and minutes after totality that's all I wanted, and it's all I want thinking about it again now. I want to see it again.

Totally eclipsed (over-exposed) Sun, and Venus at right.







Venus during totality.

Nearing end of totality.

Temperature reading right after totality.

I had brought a weather station with me to document the temperature changes that come with totality. Above 80°F, I don't trust its accuracy, but at least it would give me objective data. Plus, it was so damn hot, I didn't know if I would even notice if it dropped a few degrees. Periodically I took pictures of the display to record the data. I haven't really looked at all the readings, but I may have recorded whether or not there was an "eclipse wind" that can sometimes accompany totality. The highest temperature reading I saw before totality was 103°F. Less than a minute after totality it read 93°F. While I don't think it was actually that hot, the available evidence- unreliable though it may be- says there was a ten degree temperature drop through the eclipse.

My weather station. It did not agree with the temperature my car gave.

My car said it was 20 degrees cooler than the weather station, but the car was running, and AC cranked.

Somehow I thought that I would find the egress portion of the partial eclipse just as exciting as the ingress. I was so wrong. There was a huge let down after totality. The parking lot started emptying immediately. I couldn't yet imagine leaving before the partial eclipse was over, but at that point I was only still observing because I felt I had to. It was still a special conjunction, and it needed to be observed and documented, even if my heart wasn't in it. But then Dawn said something.

In the weeks before the eclipse, I told Dawn repeatedly that the two minutes, forty seconds of totality was the only reason for our trip. I was trying to impress on her the importance of totality, trying to make sure she would take it in as deeply as I knew I would. Soon after totality, she said, "You got your two minutes and forty seconds. Can we go?" I could have protested and stayed until fourth contact, but my heart wasn't really in it after totality. We had been more or less cooped up in either my car or tiny tent for over 48 hours, with each day of the trip reaching temperatures over 90°F.  She was ready to go home, and so was I.

My final image of the eclipse.
Before we left, though, I wanted to stage some photos. Before totality I had used every pair of eclipse glasses I had. Now I wanted to get a picture of myself observing the eclipse with each pair, starting with my oldest pair and ending with my newest pair, sixteen pairs total.

Sky News, May-June 2012, Annular Eclipse, Transit of Venus.

Eclipser, Transit of Venus, June 5, 2012.

Partial solar eclipse, Valparaiso University, October 23, 2014.

Plain white, Michiana Astronomical Society, February 4, 2017.

University of Notre Dame Physics, April 2017.

Sky & Telescope, July 2017.

Lowe's, August 2017.

Lowe's, August 2017.

Lowe's, August, 2017.

Toys 'R' Us, August 2017.

Great American Eclipse, August 2017.

Eclipse MegaMovie, La Porte County Library, August 14, 2017.

Tyler Nordgren From Sea to Shining Sea, August 19, 2017.

Carbondale Eclipse, August 20, 2017.

Vol State, August 21, 2017.

NASA, August 21, 2017. 

I started packing, but slowly. I started with items not essential to observing, until the only things left to put away were the Coronado solar telescope and eyepieces. The Moon was about 2/3rds of the way to fourth contact, but for me, that was the end of the eclipse. It was time to leave, but I still had business to take care of in Gallatin.

We went to the McDonald's across the street from Vol State, and the lady at the drive-thru said they had closed for a few minutes to see totality, and she was still excited about it. Next we went a little further to the post office. Dawn was looking for public mailboxes on the streets, but that wouldn't work. Not today. My postcards had to be postmarked in Gallatin, August 21, 2017. I was about to run into the post office when I remembered that I hadn't written a message on the postcard to myself. The other fifteen cards had messages written before the eclipse began, but I left my own blank. I had put away my purple pen, but found a black one in the door of my car. I scribbled a short message to myself on the trunk of my car: I WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN!!! The lady at the counter was happy to stamp each of my postcards, and showed me pictures she'd taken of the eclipse with her phone. They were pretty good. With the postcards sent, it was time to gas up and leave Gallatin.

The eclipse was over, but our adventure continued. Continued far too long, actually. The Great American Eclipse website had published traffic estimates in the weeks ahead of E-Day. There was concern that people might miss totality because of traffic jams. Occurring on a Monday, though, I suspected that anybody who could would make a weekend trip of the event. My guess is that eclipse traffic started trickling into the path of totality Thursday, with more people leaving for their destinations each day. I never really worried about traffic before the eclipse, since I knew if I had to change locations- as we did- most of the final driving would be overnight. The advantage of working midnight shifts. We all should have known the heavy traffic would be AFTER the eclipse, when nearly everybody left for home at once.

Using GPS, we headed out of Tennessee. On U.S. 31W, just before entering Kentucky, we finally encountered a traffic jam. When we crossed the state line, I could see I-65 to my left, a highway that is familiar to me from Indianapolis to its termination at U.S.20/12 in Gary. I wanted to be on that road, and got on it at the first entrance I could. It was okay at first, but then everything came to a stop. For no apparent reason. And then we started moving, slowly, in first or second gear, then 30 MPH, 50, 70, and then...

Stop. This repeated over and over again. I only drove a few miles before I stopped at a truck stop. I was tired. It was hot outside. The long weekend with little sleep was catching up to me, and I no longer had the excitement of anticipation to keep me going. I parked in the shade and tried to rest, but it was no use. The noise from the highway and the air conditioning of my car were too much to drown out. We got back on I-65, thinking maybe traffic had eased, but it was just the same as before, maybe worse. Briefly I had a gorgeous view of the setting Sun a little behind me on the left, but then traffic sped up again, and I had to put my eyes back on the road. With darkness falling upon me for the second time that day, I became completely exhausted, and we stopped at a McDonald's to eat and a long rest, but again, I could not fall asleep.

After a couple hours, I tried I-65 yet again, but the situation hadn't improved. And now there were signs warning of construction ahead. I exited once again, determined to find a better way to get home. U.S. 31 was again running alongside the interstate, with hardly any traffic on it. A quick check of a map showed it took a longer route to Louisville, but as long as I could drive in 6th gear, I didn't care. We were finally making progress through the Bluegrass State. I never felt like was going to fall asleep at the wheel, but damn, I was tired. The only thing keeping me awake was the sheer will of wanting to be the fuck out of Kentucky. At last we were approaching Louisville from the west, and when I had to merge onto I-65 to cross the Ohio River, there were very few vehicles on it.

I got off of I-65 in Kentucky at the next exit. I'd had enough of going nowhere.

Back in the Hoosier State for the first time since Saturday afternoon, I made it sixteen more miles before I had to stop at another McDonald's, the fourth one we'd been to since leaving the Vol State campus. This time I managed to fall asleep, although it took an hour of trying to get comfortable first. When I woke up two hours later, I barely had the energy to walk into the truck stop to go to the bathroom and get a large coffee. The coffee was awful, but it would get us home. It had to.

We were back on the road around 4:00 AM. Somewhere on I-465 just outside of Indianapolis it started drizzling, and continued to do so on and off the rest of the morning. Daylight started breaking somewhere north of Indy, although it was a cloudy and dismal light. Around 8:20 AM, I finally parked the Cruze in our backyard and shut off the engine. Home. And our Great American Eclipse Adventure was over.

My odometer when we got home. It was 80,006 when we left. We'd driven 1,190 miles through four states in 68 hours.

For me, except for the trip home, the journey to totality really could not have gone much better. For Dawn, I think she was miserable most of the time, and I'm not even sure if she has a fond memory of totality to make it all worthwhile. Dalton loves going for rides and pooping in new places, so I think he enjoyed the first two days. But being stuck in the backseat of my small car on the long ride home seemed to drain the energy out of him for a few days after we were home. I got some proper sleep, though not nearly as much as I wanted, and went back to work that night. Back to reality. I wanted to be back in totality. At work that night I heard that the sky was mostly clear for the eclipse at our campsite back in Ozark, but I don't regret leaving for Tennessee. With limited information, and what I saw in the sky, I would make the same decision again if I had to.

I've often heard that totality is a life changing experience. At first I disagreed. I couldn't think of any way that it might change my life. I still can't think of any way it will change my life. But I think about it constantly. In the weeks since, I find myself thinking about it all, the planning of the trip, driving down all those highways, the gorgeous night sky of Ozark, Illinois, seeing the thin crescent Luna the morning before the eclipse, the trips to Carbondale, the Vol State campus, and mostly, the brief time that I was directly in the lunar shadow. I think about the total eclipse that will cross Indiana in 2024, and also the annular eclipse of 2023. It all goes through my head, often suddenly and unexpectedly. I read books and articles on the August eclipse that I just didn't have time to read before totality arrived. And if I read too much, or think too deeply, I come damn close to crying, remembering it all. It was two minutes, forty seconds, but it was so much more. It was three days in August. It was weeks, months, years of anticipation, anticipation that was fully justified. It was my first totality, and so far my favorite totality, at least for the next six and a half years. I don't know where I'll be on April 8, 2024, I've only researched a few places in Indiana so far, and there is still plenty of time to figure it out. But as long as I'm still breathing then, I'll be somewhere in the path of totality, waiting for the lunar shadow to find me again.

I'll see you in the shadow!