After many weeks of planning, the eclipse finally arrived yesterday. We considered going as far as Grand Island,NE or Knoxville,TN to see it with hotel rooms reserved in three locations for easy access to all points in between along the path of totality. Though as time passed, we shyed away from the possibility of going to Carbondale, Illinois. While it was the closest to Chicago, we realized that it would likely be very crowded due to all the chatter we heard from those around us and on media. So I scouted out locations out in the country away from cities so that we would have the potential to sidestep any stray clouds that might appear. I looked on Google Maps to find places that had parking lots where we might set up camp. Most of the places were church parking lots since I figured they’d likely be empty on a Monday save for some locals or church patrons.
As the forecast progressed, it became apparent that points in Kentucky or Tennessee would be the best bet. The morning of the eclipse, we were originally planning on going as far as a town north of Nashville, but the forecast cleared up closer to Illinois and we settled on a location west of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. I had found a small church named the Sinking Fork Baptist Church during the week before and it looked like a good spot. The morning of the eclipse, I was in touch with my friend, Colleen, who was also down there with her family and they went there first to scope it out. Turned out to be the perfect location. It was in the low 90’s and very hot and humid. The church had opened their air-conditioned recreation center with tables for people to sit and offered free snacks and refreshments. They only asked for a thank you note and a donation of your choosing.
As the moon moved slowly in front of the sun, we occasionally looked up and took some photos (see above), but largely went about other tasks as needed. We had solar glasses, but I also outfitted all of our binoculars and my telescope with solar filters. We also bought solar filters for our SLR cameras. We used them all to get a closer look. At about ten minutes to totality, we started to notice the light diminishing very slowly. Also the oppressive heat had disappeared. Those tendencies increased exponentially as totality approached until a marked drop in light when totality arrived.
It lasted two and half minutes and after all that planning and thinking of what I’d do during that time, it went all too fast. First, I soaked in the experience. It was quite surreal. This glowing ring high in the sky. The surrounding area darkened creating silhouettes against the sunset-like skies on the horizon. I took a 30 second video of those skies, and of course took many many photos of the aura (see above). But there were a couple things that I wish I had done. Look at the aura through both the telescope and the binoculars. After looking at the photos, I see that there were a few solar flares visible during totality (see below). But maybe I can do that in seven years.
After totality ended, everyone started getting ready to leave and return home. We left their parking lot at 2:15PM. There was already traffic heading into Hopkinsville, but we headed in the other direction. There was no cellular service, likely due to the huge increase of people in the area. So we had no access to see where to avoid traffic. We went old school, using paper maps and following the signs, but we quickly found ourselves at a standstill on a back road that was not on our maps (the sign said to go that way). After about thirty minutes of inching along, we turned back and eventually got Google Maps to work. It suggested that if we go through Illinois instead of Indiana, we’d save 45 minutes. Since I had to be somewhere at 8AM the next morning, I figured every 45 minutes counted even if I-57 in Illinois might get a bit more traffic. We fatefully headed back to Illinois while watching the ETA in Chicago on Google Maps creep higher each minute. At times it seemed our estimated remaining travel time stayed the same even after an hour passed on the road. We did our best to search out alternative routes and side stepped a number of traffic jams that were 90 minutes to go 10 miles. There was also a torrential rain after midnight with lightning striking to either side of us. What should have taken 7 hours, took 14 hours in the end and we arrived at 4:30AM this morning. The drive back was an adventure, but it was definitely worth it for experiencing an amazing natural phenomenon.