On August 21, 2017 the moon totally eclipsed the sun in the middle of the day. The moonshadow swept across the nation from Oregon to South Carolina in only one and a half hours. Millions flocked to the zone of totality. My good friend Tom Seidman and I joined them. This is my brief report from that experience. Feel free to forward as you see fit.
Words can’t convey the raw emotional impact of totality. It’s totally weird. Since it’s just the moon blocking the sun, a total eclipse shouldn’t be much different from a nice sunset. But it is. Totally. It gets dark. Temperatures drop off a cliff. Animals go nuts. With a decent telescope or binoculars you can see the sun’s corona and massive arcs of plasma (solar flares) in the chromosphere. Nearly 40 years ago (in February 1979), my brother Mike and I observed a total solar eclipse in Rugby, ND. Having seen one before and being only 8 hours away by car from this one, there was no way I was going to miss this eclipse.
This report is mostly pictures with a few words. It won’t “take you there” as it were. But I provide two links toward the end — to a very good 5 minute amateur video of the eclipse and to Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” lyrics from “Dark Side of the Moon”. These two videos may just “take you there”. Feel free to dispense with the preliminaries, cut to the chase and scroll to end of August 21 to view them.
Sunday August 20
At 2:00am on Sunday August 20 Tom Seidman and I left DC on a drive to Greer, SC. I had booked a room at a Super 8 hotel there about one month prior and felt lucky to get it. By the time of the eclipse there was basically no vacancy anywhere within the path of totality. My brother Pat found this out when he was unable to secure accommodations in Spartanburg that night (to begin a week of work in South Carolina). No problem. He joined us later that evening at the Super 8.
Greer, South Carolina is on the edge of the path of totality and is the site of a massive BMW plant.
BMW campus – Greer, SC
We left DC early to avoid traffic — and it worked. There was no notable congestion in the wee hours. With plenty of time we stopped for breakfast in Lexington, NC and explored rural Reidville (near Greer) in search of moonshine. We found a distillery. But we also found that everything is closed on Sundays in South Carolina …except churches and gas stations.
Lexington Diner Lexington, NC
Barn of plenty — Reidville, SC
Moonshine Distillery — Reidville, SC
We got to our hotel before noon (too early to check in) and proceeded to Clemson (40 miles) to check out the campus and assess logistics for the eclipse the following day. The images below are of the pavilions and chairs set up on the quad in front of the library.
Library with Eclipse Theme
Although the Clemson Quad is a large and beautiful space, it was clear that thousands were expected (chairs and equipment were set up for CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and the like). Moreover, it looked as though it would be a long hot trek to and from the quad. So Tom and I did some reconnaissance for less crowded venues on our return from Clemson to Greer …and we found plenty of amenable open spaces along Business 81 north of Anderson, SC.
Traffic was thick on I-85 heading back to Greer — a harbinger of things to come. But we made it back alright and checked in. Pat showed up within an hour and we all tried out our eclipse glasses before going to dinner at a decent Italian place.
Pat & Kev Staring at the Sun
Tom & Kev Staring at the Sun
Monday August 21
Pat left early to get some breakfast and still had plenty of time to set up for his client. Tom & I left the hotel before 10 am and meandered toward Anderson. Traffic was a parking lot heading southwest on I-85 so we got off and drove by the seat of our pants toward Greenville. We did alright, rejoined I-85 beyond the congestion and had clear sailing onto Business 81 south toward Anderson. People were setting up roadside telescopes and viewing pavilions under shade trees all along the way. After some driving around we ended up at noon at the Ducworth-Tucker Sports Park. I had located it the night before using Google Maps Satellite Imagery. The Sports Park has 4 baseball diamonds and 2 football fields. It was perfect. Maybe 12 other parties of roughly 40-50 (total) other people had already set up there.
We carried our chairs, water, thermometer, binoculars, etc. and set up shop in the home team dugout of a small baseball diamond that was open to the breeze and would provide shade throughout the afternoon. Perfect.
From the home team dugout of the small diamond at Ducworth-Tucker Sports Park
It felt a bit like an oven at times in our dugout (ambient temperatures were in the low 80’s). But thankfully a breeze was present all afternoon. It was partly cloudy one hour before totality — meaning that chances were good to see the eclipse.
Mostly clear skies one hour before totality
And see it we did. It’s hard to describe. Temperatures dropped about ten degrees (F) during totality. I took a photo with my smartphone (below) that simply doesn’t convey the majesty and weirdness of totality. We and others gathered were simply awestruck by it.
The link below is to a 5 minute video made during the eclipse in Madras Oregon by Veritasium. It captures the excitement, weirdness and awe of totality. There were many more people in Madras than we had around us in Anderson South Carolina. But if you were not able to experience totality, this video brings you as close as you can come to touching the experience. Double click the link, display it full screen and Enjoy!
And here are the lyrics to “Eclipse” from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. Turn the volume up at the end so you don’t miss the heartbeat and dry commentary.
Tuesday August 22
The next day we learned a valuable lesson about what happens when millions of people leave a zone of totality at the same time. Lesson: it’s best to travel in the wee hours to avoid the crush. By the time we got going mid-morning the freeways were parking lots. But we had Plans A (Interstate 95), B (Interstate 81) & C (backroads). Within minutes it became clear that Plan C would be the most effective option — we would travel the back-roads, staying off interstate highways. So we found ourselves on the Blue Ridge Parkway driving by the seat of our pants toward Charlottesville and the University of Virginia (Toms’ alma mater).
from a rest stop in the Blue Ridge Parkway
The White Spot — UVA’s Al’s Breakfast
We stopped for lunch at the White Spot. Tom knows this place well. It’s UVA’s equivalent of Al’s Breakfast in Dinkytown: a 12 seat lunch counter that has served the community for decades. We got lucky with our return trip. We drove the Blue Ridge Parkway, got to visit Tom’s alma mater and made it back to Washington DC at a decent hour. It was a fitting end to a 3 day odyssey.
The next total eclipse in the USA will be in April 2024 (from Mexico through Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio and into eastern Canada). You know I’ll be there. I hope you will too.
May you and yours have a productive and memorable new year.
Cheers! – Kevin