Total Solar Eclipse

We had everything perfectly planned. We stayed in San Francisco, just fifteen minutes away from the airport – perfect for a 6:25 am flight. We woke up at 3:45 am and got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. We hustled all of our baggage, car seats, carry-ons and children to the counter at SFO (ever traveled with small children? This achievement deserves a medal), got in line, and waited to check our bags. 5 am – still plenty of time. I pulled up our boarding passes and &#@*!

We were at the wrong airport.

I’d like to say this was the first time I’ve pulled such shenanigans, but that would be a lie. Last time, we raced to the other airport and barely made it on our flight. This time, there was no way.

We got on a flight to Minneapolis – this matched our original layover itinerary. In Minnesota, we on stand-by to St. Louis. After everyone boarded, they deplaned because of mechanical issues, and we had to wait hours longer. Eventually, two seats opened, but we had three people (Carter turned three just a week before – blast!). In the end, they found us seats on a flight leaving early the next morning.

Let’s just say we barely survived the extended time in the airport. Thank goodness for the airplane playground, airport shuttle, and long, flat escalators. Hours of entertainment for our tired toddler.

In terms of completely messing up my own travel plans, I think I did a pretty good job. We got to spend the night in St. Paul with my cousin and his family. We got to see my aunt and uncle. It was a beautiful evening…for us. Not so much for my brother, who had to drive several hours out of his way to pick up my step-brother, who we stranded at the airport by not showing up. But that is another story.

The next morning, we boarded a plane to St. Louis, drove three hours to Southern Illinois (past a few houses flying Confederate flags, I might add) and finally met up with our eclipse camping crew. Hallelujah!

My step-brother’s step-sister on the other side (is that my step-sister once removed?) arrived Wednesday before the eclipse and miraculously secured two campsites for our group in the National Forest. It was a beautiful location with cliffs overlooking miles of forest.

The forest was like a zombie apocalypse. People were camped in parking lots, picnic areas, on cliffs, in the forest just outside our campsite. Rangers kicked them all out the morning of the eclipse. We let people camp on our sites. People wandered around aimlessly in the billion degree heat.Eventually the rangers stopped letting people into the park altogether. Someone chopped down a tree as we yelled at him. Someone fell off the cliff next to our viewing spot and the ambulance came. Gunshots popped off at night. One guy wore a confederate flag as a bandana.

Our campsite had a private trail to a cliff overlooking a small valley; the ranger told us we could kick people out because it was technically part of our campsite. We let nice people stay and asked rude people to move on. We ended up with a perfect viewing spot away from the crowds, surrounded by friends and friendly strangers.

The eclipse is the second time watching a natural phenomenon felt like a spectator sport. Hundreds of eclipse glasses-covered faces turned up toward the sky. Hundreds of voices yelled at clouds covering the sun. Hundreds of voices cheered when the clouds passed. Hundreds of voices celebrated totality.

We watched the shadows get funky. Gawked at the large shadow sweeping over the forest. Listened to confused cicadas chirp in the sudden darkness, stop, then start again. Heard dogs start barking hysterically. We marveled at shadow waves rippling over the ground just before the moon covered the sun.

Then the moon covered the sun. It was sunset, then night. We took off our glasses and stared at the ring of light hugging the moon. Points of light extended outward, like a five-point star.

Photo credit: Robert Bradshaw

I wish I could be more eloquent about the experience, but there are no words. It was magical. It was unreal. It was definitely worth the stress of prolonged travel across the country with two small kids – and maybe that is the best way I can possibly explain how special it was.

Afterwards, we returned to St. Louis and ate our way around town. Because, of course we did.

I can’t wait for the next eclipse in seven years. We will be there to see it.

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