Jen’s World: Trip to totality is a story to tell

August 24, 2017

I was among the droves of people who hit the road for the solar eclipse earlier this week. Here’s my when, how, why and “what the —?” of that experience.

8 months before eclipse

October 2016: Co-workers Lisa and Steve are geeking out over the solar eclipse coming August 21, 2017. They’re reading websites, researching “path of totality” charts, and booking hotel rooms in Nebraska. I decide I want in on this action.

3 months before eclipse

May 2017: My mom asks if I’ve heard about the eclipse. “Heard about it?!” I ask. “I’ve booked a hotel in Lincoln! Want to go?!”

“Isn’t that kind of a long drive?” she asks.

“Oh, it’s not so bad!” I answer. “Lincoln’s only 6 hours away.” I am oh-so-very wrong. But we’ll get to that later.

1 day before eclipse

10 a.m.: My mom has come down to join me for the eclipse, and weather is our primary topic of conversation. Nebraska is covered in cumulus. “Is it worth it to make the drive to Lincoln if all we see is clouds?” I ask for the 12th time that day.

10:47 a.m.: The weather maps haven’t changed. “You only regret the things you DON’T do, right?” I say.

“It’ll be a good story either way,” my mom says.

We start loading the car.

6:30 p.m.: When we check into our hotel, the clerk says: “Some people made reservations for this back in October! Can you believe that?” I make no comment. Up in our room, there are Moon Pies on our bed pillows.

Day of eclipse

7:30 a.m.: Down at the continental breakfast, Bonnie Tyler is being interviewed about her plans to sing Total Eclipse of the Heart on a cruise ship during the eclipse.

7:41 a.m.: Lisa and her husband, Hal, join our breakfast table for a strategy meeting. We study cloud charts and maps of totality, trying to match the least amount of cloud cover with the longest duration of eclipse.

8:07 a.m.: We decide on a small town called Crete, NE. We know nothing about it except that it takes us farther south for greater totality, and is just 39 minutes away.

10:30 a.m. We buzz around Crete, population 6,960, exploring our viewing options. Lisa texts to tell us they’re at Armory Park. “There’s a car here with a Tom Kadlec sticker on it!” she writes.

10:32 a.m.: We arrive at the park, a grassy square dotted with maybe 150 people in camping chairs. Some have telescopes. Their cars have license plates from Texas to Washington. I meet the people from Rochester.

“How did you pick Crete?” they ask.

“We looked at a map of totality and projected cloud cover,” I say, like the eclipse geek I have become.

“Yeah, us, too,” they say.

10: 47 a.m.: It’s a bona fide eclipse fair. We buy postcards and stamps and have them canceled with the official USPS “Solar Eclipse” seal. We buy can coozies with the total eclipse time — 1:03:36 — printed on them.

11:01 a.m.: We settle into a spot in the middle of the square. It’s warm with a slight breeze. And while it’s mostly cloudy, the clouds are wispy and don’t hide the sun.

11:36 a.m.: It’s started! Through my funky cardboard glasses, I see a tiny black crescent of moon bite into the sun.

12:46 p.m.: Several planes fly overhead.

12:55 p.m.: Now we know why. The tiny, dark spots soaring overhead in the path of the eclipsing sun aren’t birds — they’re skydivers.

12:58 p.m.: Someone is playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

1:01:36 p.m.: Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Oh, wow. The sky is dark, the air is cool, and the MOON IS COMPLETELY BLOCKING OUT THE SUN. I remove my glasses to see a halo of light surrounding a shadow of a moon.

1:02 p.m.: This is so damn cool, I don’t even know what to tell you.

1:03 p.m.: And it’s over. My mom and I load up the car to head out. We have a 400-plus mile drive ahead of us, after all.

2:30 p.m.: “Wow, eclipse traffic’s pretty heavy,” I say. “At this rate, we won’t get home until after 10.”

Technically, the day after the eclipse

2:03 a.m.: 12-1/2 hours after leaving Nebraska, we pull into our driveway in Rochester and kill the engine.

Today, we have seen a sea of eclipse traffic, detours, highway back-ups, endless construction zones, more eclipse traffic — and a complete darkening of the sun.

And true to our word, we have a story to tell.