Like millions of my fellow Americans, I watched Monday’s eclipse with fascination. I live in South Central Iowa, and my dad, who is an amateur astronomer, drove down from Minnesota in the hopes of seeing it on its path of totality.
The night before the eclipse he sat on my couch, scouring weather sites for forecast information. He looked as far west as Grand Island, NE, and as far east as Nashville, TN. Ultimately, he decided we should leave my house at 5am and drive to Columbia, MO, the town closest to my house along the path of totality. From there, we would stop to look at the forecast again and drive east or west along said path until we were in a spot with clear skies.
Prior to this week, neither of us had ever seen a total solar eclipse. We were excited! But not half as excited as we will be in 2024, now that we know what an amazing experience it is. Sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s true.
A lot of the fun of the eclipse was the build-up. We stopped at McDonald’s in Columbia to grab a bite and check the weather. The forecast looked as good as anywhere else within a couple hours’ drive, so we went to the airport, thinking we would find:
- other people
- access to open skies and
- (importantly, since we got there at 9:45am and the eclipse started around 1pm) a bathroom.
First, we had to stop at Walmart to buy cheapo lawn chairs because in our obsession over checking the weather, we forgot to bring some. We saw LOTS of people walking out of the store carrying them, to the point where I wondered if they’d be sold out and we’d have to sit on the ground!
At the airport it was hot and humid, but everyone’s spirits were high. We chatted with the people near us – a family from Branson, MO, a couple from Brainerd, MN, two young women from New York, and a family from Dartmouth, MA, where I went to graduate school – small world.
I brought glow in the dark bracelets, the kind you break to activate. I bought a tube of 20 at the Dollar Tree, so we had a *few* more than we could use. After offering them to our new neighbor-friends, I walked around the parking lot and gave them to families with little kids. Many of the younger kids seemed confused as to why I was handing them a glow in the dark bracelet in the middle of bright sunshine, but they accepted them happily.
The bracelets did work!
As the eclipse drew nearer, the skies began to cloud over. We worried that we were going to miss it. But, lo and behold, shortly before 1:00 a nice gap appeared in the sky right around the sun. We were blessed or lucky – either way, the entire parking lot full of people was grateful! Airport personnel went around with extra pairs of eclipse glasses and everyone shared food. We were offered water, pop (including Sunkist, which was a deliberate purchase, according to Lachelle from Branson!), sandwiches, and moon pies (another clever purchase by Lachelle).
Our spot was excellent. We were within a hundred yards of the line of dead center totality. That means we had a long time to look at the eclipse, though on the video I state that “it felt like 10 seconds.” I’m not even going to try to describe the eclipse to you. I don’t have the poetic chops to do it justice. I failed utterly in describing it to my husband. It was only after he watched my reaction to it (on video) that it looked to me like he understood how amazing it was. I almost cried when I took my glasses off (during the peak), and I still almost cry every time I watch the video! So… even though the video is pretty embarrassing – I had no idea I was so, um… vocal – I’m going to share it with you, too. I hope that sharing my amazement will inspire you to catch America’s next total solar eclipse. April 8, 2024.
Check how far you’ll have to drive in 2024 using this map (plan a vacation around it if it’s a haul!): https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2024-april-8
See you there!