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Equipment Used

  • Orion Sky View Pro 8″ Telescope with Dual Axis True Track Motor Drive
  • Polymer Sheet between two Pieces of Cardboard (for Partial Phase)
  • iPhone 6s Plus
  • Omano Universal Smartphone Camera Mount

To all who read this article, please share this post! To those who thought that driving 1500 miles for two and half minutes of totality was insane, people need to understand that something like this takes a lot of effort, but the payoff is well worth it!

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The Build Up

I can guarantee you that I was the only child my age, in all of Riverside, California, that knew when the next total solar eclipse over our country would be.

But the couple years leading up to this Eclipse were filled with kicks to the gut. I went through a divorce, and while the divorce itself was easy without any disputes, the emotional pain still persisted. My longtime job was pushing me out for political reasons, and I was forced to start from scratch and find jobs elsewhere. I was hurt physically, mentally, and financially during a rough period of change and “redesign.”

Everything around my home just seemed to be falling apart for those who lived there. While the eclipse alone would be enough for me, this trip would provide a chance to be away from things at home, and give myself, plus my two parents a chance to get away, clear our minds, and visit relatives on the way to the eclipse.

Despite being the first eclipse over the continuous U.S., My home location in Southern California was going to be one of the worst locations for the eclipse, and since I’ve already seen enough partials, I wasn’t going to waste this chance!

The Trip

GA Eclipse map

Imagine getting in the car, bringing your telescope equipment plus your parents, and NOT knowing where your final destination would be for this special event!

The initial plan was to see the eclipse from Kansas City, MO because of my sister living there, thus having another reason to travel. However, as the months drew closer, I noticed how that region of the country had the highest risk of bad weather. All it takes is one stray cloud to ruin the experience!

 

So given what I could get, my parents and I first visited relatives in Boulder, CO, to use as a “home base” to make the next plan of action. Before we got to Boulder, there were signs along I-70 warning of heavy traffic for eclipse chasers going into Wyoming or Nebraska. Uh oh, that’s not a good sign!

Wyoming had the best chance of no bad weather, thus the decision was made to go north from Boulder instead of east.

Despite the path of totality in Wyoming being only few hours away from Boulder, my aunt and uncle warned us that all the locations in Wyoming within the path of totality were expecting potential “Woodstock” levels of congestion along I-25.

Reports of rental car lines at airports being super long, hotels being sold out or spiked in prices, plus other grim news factors caused many to stay behind and watch the eclipse from the comforts of Boulder instead.

But that wasn’t going to stop my father and I. We left for Wyoming on the day before, stocking up with food and necessities, while expecting heavy congestion on our way there.

 

Thankfully, we got NONE of that.  Despite the signs saying “expect heavy eclipse traffic ahead,” the drive along I-25, was just like any other Sunday afternoon. On our way there, we drove just through the outskirts of a thunderstorm to the east, and I was treated to one of the best double rainbows I’ve ever seen. A sign from the heavens perhaps?

Once we passed Wheatland, Wyoming, we then knew that we were within the path, and were guaranteed a total eclipse from then on!

Hello, Glendo!

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yours truly is to the left, my father to the right.

Glendo is a town with a whopping 250 residents, and the town was DEFINITELY prepared. There were definitely plenty of areas that were charging for parking. We found one, and when we inquired about a spot, first we were told it would be $150. But rather than take our money, the owner of the property instead decided “hold on, since it’s just you and your dad in a car, let me call someone who may charge you a lot less for parking on their property.” Sure enough, the property we were led to only charged us $25 for the night! That was ONE kind local towns-person! She could have easily taken our money, but she instead did the super nice thing.

This little dinky town definitely prepared for the eclipse and the tourism. It had plenty of port-o-johns, and the two of us were able to have a nice dinner before settling in the car for the night. We didn’t get much sleep that night because of the excitement, and the fact that we were parked right next to train tracks and got woken up by them ever so often. But for something like this, it’s worth it!

Just before dawn, I woke up with the sight of a LONG line of cars in the distance trying to get off I-25. Cops were directing the cars through the town, and because the town had filled up to capacity the night before, cars were being directed to the parks and nearby airport which they said was also full.

Because we claimed our spot the night before, and not in the parks that had tens of thousands of people, we got to enjoy the eclipse in peace away from the overcrowded areas.

While the weather couldn’t be any clearer, wind was proving to be a factor in how well my 8 inch telescope could perform, as it would keep moving my tube. That would make taking images nearly impossible with my telescope.

Thankfully, I found a spot in an open alley between two buildings that was shielded from the wind, and assembled my telescope, complete with the filter that I attached to the front of the tube.

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Originally taken by Alaska Thomson, who gave me permission to use this image.

Many tourists would of course see this giant 8 inch telescope, and there were quite a few who were almost too afraid to approach us and waited for me to wave them in. Those who came over before I started taking pictures were treated to a crisp look at the sun’s surface without going blind, and the sunspots clearly showed structure and shape.

While I had planned on live streaming the eclipse through Facebook Live, and had gotten many eager viewers who were going to use if for class presentations and eclipse parties, the network had gotten too clogged and the service was just too little for something like that.

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Just when the moon starrted “taking a bite” off the sun, I tried everything I could to get my iPhone to live stream, but it just wasn’t gonna happen. Not in a small town like this, not when there’s perhaps millions like me around the U.S. trying the same thing. I then did the next best thing and tried updating people on Facebook and posted a few images, but every time I posted something, Facebook was so frozen that it never showed me if my images got uploaded, and anytime I got a notification of a comment or such, Facebook wouldn’t show the post that the comment was made on.

Yes, Facebook was THAT bad during the eclipse. It turns out the network overload was all over the country, and I was told that even TV stations had trouble getting live coverage of the eclipse.

The 2017 Great American Eclipse was predicted to be the most watched eclipse in human history, because it was over a country like the U.S.A. where almost everyone has a smartphone capable of using the internet, recording and publishing photos and videos of the eclipse to other people around the world. Trust me, you never hear about eclipses over South America or Africa getting so much attention that the entire internet breaks down from all the traffic. No one, including myself, could predict how bad the networks would be over the country.

Even though I tried posting status updates and publishing a few pictures, the network was so bad that none of my texts were getting through, and Facebook would never refresh to show me if my pictures or messages got updated.

So the next best thing I could do was ignore the internet until after the eclipse, and continue to keep my phone camera on, keep projecting the ongoing eclipse on my phone screen, which was super handy for people coming by as then they didn’t need to look through my eye piece.

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Taken by Alaska Thomson, who gave me permission to use this image. The thing below my phone is a pocket charger.

Because of my set up, I almost NEVER used my eclipse glasses to look up at the sun, since the image was already projected at eye level for me. I cannot tell you how many times I was tempted to look straight at the sun during the eclipse even while wearing my eclipse shades over my forehead!

Many people would come back and forth as the moon covered more and more of the Sun because they were impressed with the projected images seen on my phone. It was always fun to see their reactions, and it made me feel like I was THE astronomer in Glendo, Wyoming.

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As the moon kept “eating” more of the sun, even when it was less than halfway there, I could easily notice that my surroundings on the ground were dimmer. The sun was clearly being deprived of light by the moon, and the scene grew more erier by the second!

When the sun was about 60-70% covered, the pinhole projections were easily seen on the ground under the shadows of trees. I can’t tell you how many people were in awe of just the pinhole images through the leaves when they learned about this phenomenon for the first time.

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Totality was less than a few minutes away, and I knew, heck, I EVEN PRACTICED the moment where I needed to remove the filter from the tube, and since the filter was attached to the tube via velcro strips, it had to be done slowly and carefully. I wanted my filter off approximately two minutes before totality.

The reason why is simple, those filters and glasses are specifically designed to protect your eyes during all of partial phase. When the eclipse reaches totality, there is no more visible light from the sun’s disk, and thus there’s no reason to protect your eyes anymore. During totality, it’s perfectly safe to look at the sun with the naked eye, AND view the sun though a telescope…. BUT ONLY DURING TOTALITY!

So at the same time the moment came for the filter to be taken off, there were three kids who were standing dangerously close to my telescope. Their parents had viewed the eclipse on my phone and then just seemed to dissapear.

One of them was playing around with sticks, and he kept tapping the tube with the sticks.

“Don’t touch the telescope, you can move it and he won’t be able to view the sun” said by my father.

“you mean like this?” he said.

Then I noticed on my phone, “the sun is gone!” The kid moved my tube! He did this at the exact moment I took my filter off!

At the same time, it’s starting to get dark, and I knew Totality was seconds away. I could hear the anticipation from the nearby crowds in the town.

“Oh shit!” I thought.

I was faced with the thought of my whole experience getting ruined by this little kid, who had suddenly dissapeared after the moment he pushed on my scope! Even though this tense moment was less than a minute, I remember feeling a wide range of emotions and thoughts.

Was I going to give up, and just watch totality with my two eyes, or was I going to get the eclipse back within view of my scope?

I chose to try and get the eclipse back in my telescope, but it was going to be like performing open heart surgery for the president with less than a minute left on his life support.

Since I couldn’t move my scope with my phone attached to the eyepiece, I needed to take my phone off. “Dad, hold my phone, now!”

I ALMOST looked through my eye piece without attaching my filter first, which would have been BAD for my eyes. But my quick thinking remembered to put my filter back on the front. Then I looked through my eye piece, moved my telescope, and quickly got the narrow sliver of the sun back in view!

“I got it! Hand me my phone!”

I attached my phone back on to the eye piece, locked my telescope, got the camera app turned on, RETOOK my filter off carefully so I wouldn’t move the tube, and pressed record!

This eclipse was gonna get recorded! My excitement just got escalated! In events like this, there are no do overs! I had ONE SHOT to get this moment right, and recorded.

Here is the magical moment captured on video!

I could actually see on the screen that the disc of the sun and moon together was almost cut off, and I needed to quickly use my fine adjustment controls to move the whole disc within view. In the video you can hear me say “there’s the rest of the disc” and clearly see me do this.

I didn’t look up at the sun, I was too focused on getting that perfect shot of the moment totality happened.

It’s mere moments from totality, and I have just been through a really tense moment of crisis, but my instincts kicked in, and I was able to get it all back, perfectly set in place for the spectacle of the heavens to be recorded!

And then the moment of totality happened! I was not only excited for that moment in general, but super excited that my camera got it recorded!

“I got it! RIGHT THERE!”

Had that tense moment prior to totality not happened, I would not have been as excited and loud as I was as heard in the video.

The entire town is cheering! Both my father and I are in awe of the spectacle. People who were right next to us were seeing my video being recorded, and amazed in how clear the image looked. The sounds of their cameras taking a picture of my phone recording the telescope can be heard in the video.

Because I was between two buildings to shield me from the wind, I didn’t see a full view of the sky, but I could see bits and pieces of the horizon, which had that familiar twilight glow. While I knew which constellation the sun would be directly in front of, I wasn’t able to see any stars or planets except for the planet Venus, which I mistakenly first said Jupiter before correcting myself.

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Taken by Alaska Thomson, used with permission.

You can hear me say, “Thank you Lord!” For the rest of the time, my father and I got to embrace. We looked at the sun together, and noticed just how pure the light of the corona was. The rays of the corona were also moving slightly.

I warned people that when they saw the flash of the “diamond ring” effect, that meant it was time to put their eclipse glasses back on.

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Sure enough, after two minutes and thirty seconds of totality, the total eclipse was over!

The crowd had one final roar before the light of the sun came back.

“look at this light!” my father uttered.

What struck us was how pure white the light was when it came back, almost like being under a white fluorescent bulb. Slowly, as more of the sun came back, the light started getting more color.

As soon as totality was done, nearly every tourist got in their car and started leaving. The climax was over, and people were not going to watch the moon move away from the sun. It was time for us to get back to our everyday lives.

The main street road soon got clogged, and none of the cars were moving. During that time, I disassembled and packed my telescope, and we got our car packed and ready for the road, and cars STILL hadn’t moved.

Eventually we got back on the road, and saw plenty of cars that were stopped on the road for the eclipse. Some people chose to continue watching the rest of the eclipse, which at this point was anti-climatic and more depressing when we realized the eclipse was gonna end, and we’d have to wait seven years for another one to happen over the United States.

But as predicted, the congestion along I-25 was horrible on the way back. For us, the three hour and thirty minute drive was easily doubled due to the bumper to bumper traffic. We left Glendo around 12:30 to 1:00, and didn’t get back to Boulder until around 8:00 that night. Had we gone all the way to Casper where most people in Wyoming went to, or stayed longer to watch the rest of the eclipse, we could have been stuck on the road a lot longer!

I just said, “look at the bright side, at least we’re only doing this once. Had we tried getting here this morning, we could have easily had to do this traffic twice!”

It took a while for the cell networks to get back to normal. The reason why I uploaded my totality video three times to my Facebook page was because during the period of spotty service, I could never see if any of the videos were uploaded, so I tried again two more times.

While yes, I was disappointed I couldn’t go live and stream the eclipse as it happened, I was blessed to see my totality video get over 350 shares and over 16,000 views and counting just a few days after the eclipse, reaching many more people in the process!

Not only that, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive!

Many have said the images and the video was the best they’d seen of the eclipse! Some have said I needed to get the images printed and possibly try to sell them!

This eclipse was truly the trip of a life time for me. It was one big moment for my father to cross off his bucket list. All of the people that Orion Bear Astronomy reached, and the nice people that I met from around the country was something I’ll never forget, and will always cherish. The story of this eclipse is something that I’ll be talking about for years!

After this eclipse was over, I could see many people already plan ahead for the 2024 eclipse. Perhaps that eclipse will be seen by many more people, and hopefully, people that either couldn’t, or didn’t take advantage of the 2017 opportunity will do so and witness this wonder of the heavens!

As Neil deGrasse Tyson has said, “you have no excuse!”

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Why I Drove 1,500 Miles To See 150 Seconds of Totality

  1. Anthony, my son, It’s too long!!!! Also I can’t get the images to load….. Content is great but too much…. You’re a fabulous writer but you have to work on your editing….

    Dad (who will never forget experiencing this divine celestial event wth you).

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

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