Our Experience at the Great American Eclipse & What We Will Remember for 2024!

August 24, 2017

Well, the Great American Eclipse came and went as expected.  The sun is shining brightly again and the moon is still having its way with the tide.  And, I am eternally thankful we drove several hours to see the totality on August 21st.  It was a full two minutes and 36 seconds and worth every hour we spent in the car.

At the end of totality, my eight-year old hugged me and emotionally said, “Mommy! I am so glad you brought me here!”  Then, he told his dad it was, “total-ity awesome!”

Get it? 😉

We drove almost three hours out of our way to stay in a hotel close to totality that would then be covered in clouds the day of the eclipse.  We could have stayed much closer to home, but the hub bub of the media made us think it would be too insane.  Plus, with the few more hours we were at the beach!

The weather was in charge though and it caused us to have to leave at 6:30 a.m. on eclipse day to beat the traffic as we escaped the clouds.  Except, there was no traffic that early and we zipped to our new destination in just over two hours.

We started off our eclipse chase, just outside of Charleston, South Carolina on Kiawah Island, at the swanky Andell Inn where my daughter made herself quite at home in the lobby.

Swanky Lobby - the Eclipse

We were also able to bide some time at the beautiful beach.  This picture of my three littles is better than most.  Usually one is smiling beautifully but the other two look mad/angry/like newborn mice/etc. 😉  I like to think that in this photo they are all smiling gleefully and beautifully, eyes wide-open as they ponder the ocean.

Kiawah Island - the Eclipse

We had planned to head to McClellanville, SC (population 499) to capitalize on as much eclipse totality as possible, but when the weather forecasters were calling for 70-80% cloud cover there and anywhere close to there we aborted our plans.  We woke up at 5:30 a.m. and packed up the kids, who were none too happy to be woken up at 6:00 in the morning, and drove to Lexington, SC.

Thank goodness for the internet and smart phones which afforded us the opportunity to research alternate destinations.

Lexington was having a totality festival in an outdoor amphitheater complete with live music.  We parked at the amphitheater bright and early and headed off to the Haven Coffee House to burn a few hours while we waited for the moon to slide closer to the sun.

It was a great coffee place.  The folks there were more than hospitable, although I think the eclipse challenged their staffing model just a smidge.

While there we feasted on free eclipse cookies 😉 and since we don’t really do screens, the kids slurped on smoothies, munched on muffins and played checkers while talking with two teachers from Virginia.

Free Eclipse Cookies

Checkers before the Eclipse

When it was time, we sweated our way back down the street and picked a spot in the amphitheater.

It was hot.  But as the moon slowly sauntered its way further and further over our great star, the temperature fell offering us some relief from the heat.  The kids stayed mostly in the shade of the stage close to the band, but frequently ran up the stairs to where we were to grab their glasses, so they could take a peek at the progress of the eclipse.

Eclipse amphitheater

They were interested and infinitely intrigued.  It finally became clearer to the younger two that ‘the eclipse’ was not a destination, thus their prior pleas to go to the eclipse the day before had been impossible for us to meet.

I doctored up their glasses with a paper plate as I described here, so it wasn’t as stressful worrying they were going to blind themselves by looking straight at the sun by accident or because curiosity got the best of them.

Modified Eclipse Glasses

We collected the children about 10 minutes before totality and sat together for the rest of the time.  We watched in awe as our surroundings darkened and the voices of those around us started to muffle from the insects and frogs beginning to chirp and croak.

Eclipse Family

As the last sliver of orange was overtaken by the moon, we could see Baily’s beads – the sun’s light showing through the topography of the moon as it shines through the moon’s valleys.  Then, it was totality.  The crowd cheered.  We removed our glasses and gazed up in amazement at the corona.

I would like to say that totality was stellar, but I am not sure you can call a star covered by a moon “stellar.”  I wonder if that would be lunar?  Perhaps I am overthinking my adjective choice. 😉

It was amazing, fantastic, remarkable, marvelous, astounding and incredible.  To say the least.

And, as the moon slid left, a white diamond sparkle shot at us from the right side of the moon, alerting us that the totality was over.  That was my favorite vision, known as the diamond ring effect.

The eclipse totality was worth the drive.  It was worth the second drive.  It was worth the traffic on the drive home.  It was worth pausing at the CVS as we left town, so we could take one last look – through the sunroof of course.  After all, isn’t that what a sunroof is for?

Sun Roof View of the Eclipse

It was so fantastic that we are already planning to view the next totality on April 8, 2024.  It is being called the Great North American Eclipse because it will visit Mexico, the United States and Canada!  Isn’t it amazing there are models which predict future eclipses down to the millisecond?

So, when we head off to the middle of Ohio in the spring of 2024 to stay at the sister-in-law’s house of my second cousin’s nephew, twice removed 😉 , here are six things we will try to keep in mind.

1. Be Flexible

Traffic may or may not be an issue, so you need to have a flexible schedule.  This also includes on the trip home when you are sitting in lots of traffic and driving the remotest routes to avoid sitting at a standstill on the interstate.  The weather may also dictate that you change your plans, so you have to be flexible to migrate!

2. Watch the Weather

Eclipse visibility is completely at the mercy of the weather, so watch the forecast.  If the weather is calling for heavy cloud cover, you will not see totality.  You will experience totality (darkness, night sounds), but you will not see it in the sky.  If you are able to traverse to a location that has a better forecast, then definitely do it.  It is worth waking your grumpy children up at 6:00 in the morning if necessary.  And it is worth the regret of waking your children up extra early, only to realize the traffic you expected is non-existent.

3. Take an Umbrella

As a dog says in the Dr. Seuss book Go Dog Go, “It is hot out here in the sun.”  You will be sitting in the sun….so you can see…. the sun (with proper glasses of course).

An umbrella will come in super-handy for the early part of the eclipse to shade you from the hot sun (before the temperature starts to drop as the moon covers more and more of the sun).  It also might rain at your initial destination, so the umbrella will keep you dry as you pack your car at the crack of dawn, while balancing your hotel coffee in one hand, so that you can relocate to a location that is not calling for heavy cloud cover and rain.

I speak from experience.  Take an umbrella.

4. Do Not Try to Take a Picture of Totality

I read the advice of those with sage eclipse wisdom.  They said, ” do not try to take the picture of totality.  It goes by too quickly.”  Bah.  I said.  I shall take a picture of totality.  Well, I only had my iPhone, yet I still tried to take a picture and then took the time to check and see if it came out.  It did not.  It was a waste of time!  I could have been staring at the sun and moon for 10 more seconds!  Listen to the sage wisdom.  Them and me.

5. Modify your Kids’ Glasses

The cardboard eclipse glasses do not stay on your face.  And, they definitely don’t stay on the face of your children.  Modify your children’s glasses by adding a paper plate to them as I outlined here.  I also saw some folks who made robot helmets for their children with built-in eclipse glasses, which are very cute, but I imagine very, very hot!

6. Go For It

Go big or go home!  If you are close enough to get to totality, then you may as well go for it and travel to a location that offers substantial totality.  No matter what, the totality goes by pretty quickly, but there is quite a difference between 30 seconds and two minutes when you are staring at the sun’s corona.

We met two teachers from Fredericksburg, Virginia at the coffee shop and spent about two hours chatting with them.  They had the mindset that if they were going to do it then they may as well go to full totality potential.  As such, they decided to drive ten more minutes to Red Bank, SC for three additional seconds of totality.  Apparently, all that is in Red Bank is a tractor store.  They didn’t care.  They were planning to just sit on the side of the road and experience the maximum totality available.

Three extra seconds could not compete with an amphitheater, restrooms and a live band for us.  Good for them I say!

Journey on to the next total eclipse!  Maybe, I will see you there!


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