First off, I need to point out that I was told that there was a non-zero chance that the eclipse would set off the Yellowstone Caldera. I’m pleased to announce that it looks like that that didn’t happen.
Anyway, Sunday rolls around and here’s the plan: drive up to Fort Collins and stay at the hotel where we have a reservation. Get up at some horrible hour in the morning, drive north into Wyoming, then stop somewhere around the middle of totality. Do the eclipse, then turn around and go home.
Easy peasy, right?
Sunday rolls around and it’s noon and we get in the car and drive, drive, drive to Fort Collins. We get there at, like, 3ish. The hotel tells us that our rooms are not quite ready yet (DANGER! DANGER!) and we can go get lunch and check in after they’re cleaned up. Okay, fine.
Anyway, when I was a kid going to college in Fort Collins, I didn’t have a whole lot of pocket cash. Occasionally I would go with friends out, but I couldn’t afford anything to eat. So I’d get water and sit there and enjoy their company. But, in the back of my head, I thought “Someday, when I have money, I’m going to eat here.”
So we went to Avogadro’s Number for lunch. It was okay. College fare. But I hadn’t realized that that was a ghost that was still haunting me and it was nice to exorcise it. Even if they put mayo on my cheesesteak despite being asked not to.
After lunch, we drive back to the hotel and ask if we can check in now and they say “sure, the room is ready now” and we all exhale.
I mean, seriously, we thought we’d have a 50/50 shot of just driving up to the middle of the path and sleeping in the car.
So Dark Knight is on one of the movie channels and Summerslam is on the WWE network and the television allows for USB transfer of data so we are sitting pretty. 20 minutes after the PPV, everyone is fast asleep and awake FAR TOO SOON. We wake up at 4 and are showered and in the car by 4:30.
We hit a Burger King about 90 minutes north of Fort Collins right as it opens and THEY HAD NO IDEA. There were amateur astronomers in line out the door and the people behind the counter were running around frantically and calling in every extra worker they had. Who, of course, had to drive through the thick amateur astronomer traffic to get to Burger King. A half hour later, we got our breakfast sandwiches and got back in the car.
I tried to think of when the busiest time for that Burger King was likely to be up to that point. Friday night after the football game at the high school? The Wednesday night before Thanksgiving? I’m sure that the people in charge of scheduling didn’t even think about the eclipse and just thought “hey, it’s Monday morning… Earl and Becca will be coming in to get their pancakes and coffee and we’ll slowly get ready for the lunch rush the way we always do” and, next thing you know, there are 10 cars in the drive-thru, 50 people standing in line inside, and the chairs in the dining area are still flipped over and sitting on the tables.
And then Tuesday hits and there’s NOBODY there. Well, Earl and Becca.
Anyway, with nutrition in hand, we get back in the car and make our way to the Orin Junction Rest Area. We were there with approximately one kajillion other people there. We managed to find a decent parking spot across the bridge from the rest area itself and settled ourselves in.
When we got there, the place was exceptionally crowded for a rest stop in Wyoming, but not particularly crowded for a rest stop in the path of a total eclipse. I took a nap in the shade of the car, sat pleasantly, and basically enjoyed waiting. I walked across the bridge to visit the rest stop and passed people arguing with the Wyoming Rest Stop people about whether they could do anything about the solar-triggered rest stop lights that were likely to ruin the eclipse. “Isn’t there a power switch to just turn them off entirely?”, the guy asked the lady behind the counter.
The guy drove 1200 miles to be here. He didn’t want to drive 1200 and then have to walk .5, I guess.
Anyway, the main thing that I thought as the morning progressed and more and more and more and more cars packed themselves into the rest area parking lot overflow was “I should have rented a shaved ice truck and driven it here.”
I figured that the second the eclipse would start, I’d hear a clamor and, golly, was there. “It’s started!”, several people yelled and everybody put on their glasses and looked up and, yep, there was a tiny nibble taken out of the edge. Time passed and the dark disk started covering more and more and more of the bright disk and I had the most banal observation:
Golly, the sun is really, really, really bright.
I mean, it hit 50% coverage and you couldn’t even tell. Around 60% coverage, there was enough light missing for me to say “yeah, it looks like a cloudy day instead of one where there isn’t a cloud in the sky.” Even when there was 90% coverage and everyone was making pinhole cameras with their thumbs and forefingers, it looked like sunrise/sunset.
Now, totality… that was a trip. Boom, midnight at noon. A corona around a black disk in the sky. People cheered. I looked around the horizon and everything was dark. We lost about 20 degrees in a matter of seconds. The sun looked like one of the scary moments in The Ring. I thought about how this was the sort of thing that got written down by ancients. Two-minutes and twenty-some seconds flew past and we went from totality to 1% and the brightness returning felt like the sun was sprinting back. Night and day.
We didn’t stick around to watch the moon leave for the second half of the eclipse and just got in the car and discussed going home by way of Nebraska and looping back around to Fort Collins to miss out on most of the traffic. Of course, we were stuck in a very large crowd of people who did stuff like “drive to Wyoming for an eclipse” and so we were stuck in the middle of a state where we were surrounded by people with a similar bright idea but we somehow managed to make it home 11 hours later.
On the drive home, one of my friends talked about the old man in his astronomy club back home and how he had almost an hour of total eclipse time under his belt.
Colorado Springs has a total eclipse coming in 2045. Fingers crossed, I’ll be here. Get close to 5 minutes.
All in all, a wonderful moment of primal terror and awe and wonder.
I was skeptical beforehand but now I am delighted to have been part of that, even if only for two-minutes-twenty-something.
So… what did you do for the eclipse?
(Image is “Play” by Clare Briggs. Used with permission of the Briggs estate.)