Eclipse in totality worth a road trip

“It gets dark every night!” vented a stressed cashier at a sub shop in Ohio on the afternoon of the eclipse. He was complaining about having too much business, that the total eclipse wasn’t special — and that all those who flocked to the path of totality were ridiculous.

My family and I were in that shop. While I can’t argue about it getting dark every night, I will say, experiencing a total solar eclipse is special.

In 2017, when we had a partial solar eclipse, I watched it with my daughter and a friend. We didn’t invest in solar glasses, and just watched the shadow with a homemade viewer. I really enjoyed the experience.

This year I was prepared to do the same thing, but my father convinced me that seeing totality was worth driving a few hours.

So we headed to Ohio, just far enough to be in the path of the full eclipse. We discussed driving farther in, but decided an extra minute of totality wouldn’t be worth an additional two hours driving to get deeper into the path.

We located a small town outside of Dayton, and just a couple weeks ahead of the event found a hotel room to stay in the night before.

The morning of the big day we grabbed a take-out lunch at the aforementioned sub shop and headed to a park.

We were settled onto a grassy spot by our car in the park when the eclipse started. Chatting, and checking the progress of the moon through protective glasses while enjoying our late lunch, took up most of the first hour.

As totality approached, the lighting and air temperature changed.

The hue of the light shifted, and I looked closely at shadows. I’d heard that some would stay sharp while others went fuzzy. I found the clearest example in our car’s shadow: the shadow of the body of the car was crisp and clear, while the shadow of the side mirror was blurred.

I spent a lot of the time immediately before totality alternating between looking through my solar viewing glasses and taking them off to look around. At one point, I looked over at one of my family members and noticed the light hitting him was different from the light in the field I’d been focusing on — skin tones were much brighter, while the field was darker.

Then totality hit. It got dark (although not as dark as night), but the horizon stayed light, as if dawn were breaking all around us.

When the moon fully covered the sun and we could take off our glasses and look with the naked eye, it was breathtaking. I could see the sun’s corona, flaring around the dark center of the moon. As the moon shifted, I spotted Bailey’s beads around the edge (caused by craters jutting out on the edges of the moon letting light pass sooner than over the rest of the moon).

The minute plus a few seconds of totality passed much faster than I expected. I’m glad I took a few minutes to look around and see what the world looked like in that moment. I also wish I’d had more time to enjoy looking at the total eclipse itself.

In hindsight, driving an extra few hours would have been worth it for another minute of totality.

I’m already considering traveling to see future eclipses. The next one (in 2026) will be visible from Spain and parts of Iceland and Greenland. Any of those destinations sound pretty great to me.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist using experience gained working on organic farms in Europe to help her explore possibilities of local productivity.