A story about my journey to see the 2017 eclipse, told in four parts.
1 - Why
Why would I drive over 2,000 miles and spend nearly a week just to see an event that lasted less than three minutes? After all, as one of my coworkers pointed out, "NASA will have way better pictures".
For me the answer was simple, this was about the experience, not just the pictures. Now that I've been inside that dark path called totality, I can say that it was all worth it.
My planning for this trip started eight months earlier. Each January I practice an especially geeky ritual - I read through a list of astrological events for the coming year. When I see something interesting I put it on my calendar. For 2017 the eclipse was at the top of my list. For more detail on future eclipses check out a wonderful article from the Washington Post.
2 - Logistics
Preparation for my trip got more complicated in May when we welcomed our son to the Ingmanson family. Kim could not join us so Mr. Mom got to take Harrison along with him.
Keeping Harrison's supply of milk frozen was the only real challenge. After several tests I opted to pack the 175 Oz. of milk with 34 pounds of dry ice. This kept things cold, as in -109° F cold!
We started South and drove to Maryland where we spent the night with our friends. The next morning we kept driving, spending fifteen hours total one way.
I had to get creative to stay active during our days on the road. Who knew gas stations made such good gyms.
Contrary to the news reports, traffic, for the most part, was not bad. We did run into isolated gridlock and a fair number of bad drivers, but the majority of the driving was fine.
3 - Exploring
Clarksville was our final destination because it fell just 20 miles South of the peak totality point, and we had family to stay with [ Thanks uncle Steve! ].
We got there early to beat the rush and to check things out. One day I drove up to Hopkinsville, KY where peak totality was. The city had literally rebranded itself as Eclipseville.com . There was an eclipse festival and you could even get an eclipse tattoo.
I met people who had flocked from across the country. One had man hitch-hiked from California. We heard about others who flew in from Japan.
Back in Clarksville we spent the last night before the eclipse meeting an astronaut! Dr. Rhea Seddon presented and spoke about the coming eclipse.
4 - Totality
Going into eclipse day I was still nervous. This entire trip hinged on the weather. We heard stories of clouds moving in minutes before an eclipse, only to blow away right after. We woke up at 06:00 and headed to Liberty Park. As we waited for the gates to open we were greeted by the sun burning through a thick layer of morning fog.
Once inside we setup camp and started to cook breakfast. I prepared my gear and performed the final calculations to verify my photography timing down to the second.
The morning flew past and before I knew it we reached C1, the point where the lunar disk [moon] begins to cover the solar disk [sun].
By this point the park was filled to capacity. I walked around and talked to the other observers. I was impressed by all of the MacGyvered camera gear.
Things started to get weird when we reached about 80% coverage. Everything began to get dark, but not "normal" darkness. The light had an eerie quality to it, almost like a tornado was about to touch down.
At 1:25:37 local time darkness swept over everything in sight and the last sliver of sunlight vanished, we had reached C2, the beginning for totality. We would enjoy 2:12 of totality in my location.
I stepped up to my camera and went to work, but found I was so in awe of the event that I nearly forgot how to use my camera. I had to focus and talk through each motion in my head "Focus until image is sharp", "Press shutter button", "Adjust exposure". The same thing happened to Destin from Smarter Every Day [his video is great, check it out].
My hard stop for photography was planned for half way through totality, 76 seconds in. The time flew past before I realized it. At this point I stopped, picked up my son, stood with my gram, and stared up into the sky. Three generations of my family all watching the event of a lifetime.
The thing that stood out most to me was the deep empty blackness of the moon covering the sun. It felt more like I was staring at a piece of modern art than a natural phenomenon.
I realized re-watching the video of those minutes that something special happens when you are there in person. All of my planning and calculations went out the window. It was a moment meant to enjoy.
If you missed this eclipse your next chance in the US is 2024, start planning your trip now, you won't regret it.