Was 20 Hours of Driving Worth it for Two Minutes of Totality? What it Was Really Like Chasing the Eclipse

About a year ago, I was on a walk with a friend who was planning her August 2017 vacation.  She mentioned that she was planning it around the eclipse?  “What?!?”  I asked.  Was it really that cool?  Was it really worth traveling for?  Fast forward to August 14th, when I was searching for a place to stay in the path of totality for our own eclipse experience.  So was it really worth 20 hours of driving for 2 minutes of totality?  Here’s what it was really like chasing the eclipse.

Chasing the 2017 Eclipse: What it was Really Like to Travel to the Path of Totality

Let me take a step back.  Why on earth did we decide to travel for the eclipse?  Earlier in the month of August 2017, I hadn’t anticipated that we would be traveling for the eclipse, but I did think it would be fun to watch and for the kids to learn about.  So one day on the way to camp, we were listening to a Brains On! podcast episode about what an eclipse was, and everything you could want to know about eclipses.  Pretty cool science stuff.  It inspired me to at least buy the glasses so wherever we were we could watch the eclipse.  Even two weeks before the eclipse Amazon was sold out of adult size eclipse glasses, but not to worry they had the kid size ones, which seemed to work, so we were set to watch the eclipse from Lake Tahoe (where we were planning to be that week).

Fast forward a week and we had gone to a planetarium presentation about the eclipse at the Lawrence Hall of Science.  So needless to say the kids and I are getting pretty excited for the eclipse.  One week later, talking about how the next eclipse on this scale was not for 100 years, and that threw me over the edge that we should drive the 7 hours up to Oregon to watch.

Chasing the 2017 Eclipse: What it was Really Like to Travel to the Path of Totality

First question was where to stay.  One week before the eclipse the options were pretty limited.  motel rooms were going for $800, AirBNB’s only 2 options left were going for $400 for just a room in someone’s house, and camping at $150.  We found an available spot in Bend, Oregon (40 minutes outside the path of totality), and started to get really excited.

By now our kids are pretty good on car drives (for my tips on road tripping with kids, check out here); still we tried to make it as fun as possible by stopping by Crater Lake National Park (too smoky to see the lake due to local wild fires) and checking out Bend, OR.

Chasing the 2017 Eclipse: What it was Really Like to Travel to the Path of Totality

Chasing the 2017 Eclipse: What it was Really Like to Travel to the Path of Totality

On the morning of the eclipse, we still had to drive into the path of totality (the 70 mile-wide swath in which you could witness the total eclipse).   Figuring out where to go I debated for a couple days before the eclipse.  Criteria?  You have to find a place you want to spend 2-3 hours, with kids, someplace with bathrooms, and with something to do to entertain the kids.  We decided on John Day Fossil Bed National Monument.  It was a beautiful place to spend a couple of hours, they had bathrooms, and they had tons of scientists there to answer questions.

Chasing the 2017 Eclipse: What it was Really Like to Travel to the Path of Totality

Normally I don’t love crowds, but there is a certain excitement around thousands of people all congregating in an area for the same event.  The day of of the eclipse, we woke up at sunrise to make sure we had enough time to get to the path of totality before the eclipse started.  There were hundreds of people pulling off the road and setting up camp all along the road to watch the eclipse.  There was a ton of excitement and energy for this unique event.

Chasing the 2017 Eclipse: What it was Really Like to Travel to the Path of Totality

When we arrived at John Day Fossil Beds, we picked out a nice spot along the main trail to watch the eclipse and set up camp (ie. put out our camera and busted out some snacks).  The eclipse started at 9:07AM in Oregon and we were ready.  You can watch the eclipse from almost anywhere in the US and would have seen the same thing that we say right up until 10:21AM.  Before 10:21 you can see a partial sun, the light around us started to get dimmer and flatter, the temperature started to get cooler.

Chasing the 2017 Eclipse: What it was Really Like to Travel to the Path of Totality

Chasing the 2017 Eclipse: What it was Really Like to Travel to the Path of Totality

Chasing the 2017 Eclipse: What it was Really Like to Travel to the Path of Totality

At 10:21AM, the moon moved completely in front of the sun and totality had been reached.  There was complete darkness around us, it was so dark that the glow stick bracelets we brought could be seen (and the boys had a blast playing with them for the two minutes of totality).  On the horizon there was 360º sunset glow with darkness overhead; stars emerged in the sky and you could see a small donut of light from the sun and for 2 minutes you could feel that we are part of a universe that is so much bigger than life here on earth.  It was incredible!  And then it was over.  The moon kept on its trajectory and finished the eclipse with another hour of movement across the sun and what we had driven 7 hours for was over.

2017 Eclipse: Was Traveling to the Path of Totality Worth it?

Chasing the 2017 Eclipse: What it was Really Like to Travel to the Path of Totality

We packed up our camera and glow stick bracelets and headed back to the car for the long ride home.  So was it worth it?  Was 20 hours of driving worth the 2 minutes.  Let’s just say I am starting to plan for 2014, but maybe this time, I will plan ahead a little more than a week.

How did you watch the eclipse?

Chasing the 2017 Eclipse- What it was Really Like to Travel to the Path of Totality

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