I got to see a full solar eclipse. The journey ended being an adventure in itself. If you have never had the opportunity to witness the astronomical phenomena, I suggest you add it to your bucket list.
When I learned the August 2017 solar eclipse would sweep across the continental US in a swathe of completeness from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina, I knew I had to see it. Not just part of it. Not just the funny crescent-shaped shadows cast on the sidewalk through the leafed-out branches of trees lining the street. I had to see the whole thing.
I did some calculating. The path of greatest darkness was only an eight-hour drive away. This needed some forward thinking and long-term planning. I spent the night on the northside of Wichita, Kansas—halfway between here and there.
The goal destination was Grand Island, Nebraska. The Sturh Museum would be hosting an event that included the launch of a NASA observation balloon. Well…that was the plan. Though I am not a mouse, I am definitely a man—needless to say, my plans went awry.
Soon after I crossed into Nebraska, the traffic came to a sudden stop around Hebron. I rolled down my window and spoke with a state trooper. No one expected the kind of volume they saw. I ended up jumping off and skirting the town down rural country lanes that brought me back to US Highway 81. The traffic was still thick, but at least it was moving.
I nervously checked the time every few minutes. Traffic wasn’t moving fast enough. I quickly decided that I wasn’t going to make it to Grand Island before the totality passed over. A quick call to the home base assured me that Fairmont, Nebraska was in the cone of darkness.
Cars lined all the side roads for miles. I turned east down Road F and was lucky enough to find a spot just long enough to fit the Chevy Impala. While I waited the next hour, I met all kinds of interesting people. And I even sold three books to the young ladies in the car next to mine.
When the darkness descended, it was otherworldly. It seemed like we had sidestepped the real universe and walked into a negative film version. Frogs started singing. Nightjars called to each other and left their camouflaged places of hiding to fly about. Coyotes called from one rise to the next.
I had acquired a lens used in a welder’s mask the previous week. This enabled me to watch the phenomena from the beginning to the end. And those images are something that I will never forget.
Afterwards, I finally made it to the Stuhr museum: an institution with the purpose of preserving the memories and accomplishments of the pioneers that settled the plains of central Nebraska. From there, I went to Hastings, Nebraska—the home of Kool-Aid—and visited the Hastings Museum of Natural and Cultural History that houses the largest collection of mounted birds in the US.
I took US Highway 6 east out of Hastings. A very straight road with undulating hills. That Impala had some power. Luckily, the state trooper felt lenient and let me off with just a warning. I did not tell him how fast I really was going when he clocked me at 70 in a 60. And neither will I tell anyone else.
That trip is one that I will always remember as unique and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That is until I create new memories with the next total solar eclipse in April of 2024. This one will just be a few minutes away to get into the cone of darkness.