When we originally thought we would start full-time RVing early in the summer, we had planned on being in Kentucky to view the solar eclipse. We even made campground reservations early in the year, knowing it might be difficult to find a spot if we waited until the last minute. Unfortunately, this "renovation" has become a full blown gut job and is taking FAR FAR longer than we had hoped.
We knew this eclipse would be an amazing event for our family to experience together. Our 12-year old son, Dominic, is also an aspiring NASA engineer. It was very important for us to give him this rare opportunity to witness the entire total solar eclipse.
As it became painfully obvious that we would not be making it, we called to cancel our reservations and were pretty bummed about the whole situation. So, what were we to do...the bus just wasn't ready. But, the trusty mini-van was. We decided to ask our good friends if we could meet up with them in Wyoming, the closest place we could drive to from AZ to be in the path of totality. "Sure!", they graciously replied. Road trip!!!
We live outside of Phoenix. Getting to Wyoming with four kids in the car is the longest road trip we've ever done. Day 1 we traveled all day and made it to Durango and stayed in a hotel. After two full days in the car, we made it to Denver and again we stayed in a hotel. This is when we were all really itching to be traveling in the bus No hotels, no packing coolers of food, no gas station bathrooms. And hopefully rarely would we drive such long days like that.
Finally, eclipse day came. We left Denver at about 4 am. We heard on all the media outlets of the enormous turnout that was expected, so we braced ourselves for the worst. We met up with our friends at 4:45 am for what was supposed to be a 3-hour drive (2hours and 53 minutes according to Google maps). Right away our GPS told us there was some slowing due to traffic - "oh no here it comes".
Luckily the slow-down was really only minor and traffic mostly kept a reasonable pace. The 200-mile trek took us about five and half hours to complete - not bad considering the projected crowds. The heaviest traffic came in the last three miles or so where we were instructed to line up on the shoulder to let "normal" traffic pass through. This also went surprisingly smooth. When we finally hit the little town of Glendo, WY, it was obvious that this place was WAY over capacity. There were cars and people EVERYWHERE - lining the streets - parked everywhere. We planned to see the eclipse near the small airpark, and we followed traffic which was directed and kept moving at a nice pace. As we moved further and further in toward the fields, it was hard not to get the sinking feeling that perhaps getting out might present a challenge.
When we arrived at the actual viewing fields about a mile outside of town, the level of organization was impressive. There were many people directing traffic and helping folks get parked, many porta-potty type restrooms, and food vendors. The general vibe was very happy and laid back. The scene reminded us of a music festival, but quiet and calm.
We had been advised not to bring large shade canopies as a consideration for folks around you but were advised that smaller beach-type umbrellas were fine. We unloaded our umbrellas, beach chairs, coolers, a beach blanket and started to make some lunch. The temperature was a mild 85 degrees with extremely clear skies. The atmosphere was filled with anticipation, the kids were laughing and playing, and everything seemed just about perfect.
A faint murmur could be heard over the crowd as the first contact was made. We all put on our solar glasses and stared in amazement as the upper right-hand corner of the sun began to be blocked out.
The kids continued to play football, card games, and chess while we all observed the sun ever so gradually begin to lose its intensity as the moon blocked more and more of its light. It is difficult to describe what this looked like. It was almost as if a retro Instagram filter had washed over the landscape.
We brought a digital hand-held thermometer which confirmed that the high for the day was somewhere around 85 degrees (pointing at the ground). As the sun lost its intensity over the next hour and twenty minutes, the temperature began to fall substantially. At the peak of totality, the temperature had dropped all the way to 62 degrees.
As the Totality hit, there was a clear excitement in the air. People whistling and screaming, everyone was staring in awe at the sky. There was a somewhat disorganized count-down until the sun completely disappeared behind the moon. We all took off our glasses to stare directly at it. What a glorious, awe-inspiring sight! It almost felt like a ride or a movie, too intense to be "real life". Again, it is so difficult to capture in words both the sight of totality and the emotions that came over us all.
One of the more amazing things was the level of darkness that was achieved. It wasn't a gradual darkening like I expected — instead, it was as if nighttime just dropped on us. Venus and Jupiter were clearly visible, we could see stars, and the two and a half minutes of Totality gave enough time to look around at the night sky at what appeared to be a 360-degree sunset. But then, just like that, the moon moved past and let a tiny sliver of light out, and it was daytime again. No gradual sunrise, dawn, it was simply bright.
I think we all just kind of stood there for a minute. Even in the moment, none of us could quite express ourselves.
I was expecting it to be pretty cool, but the actual experience far surpassed anything that I imagined it would be like. It was surreal. Like we were seeing a piece of heaven, but just a glimpse. Somehow that two minutes filled us with hope and joy and peace. I know it sounds strange if you didn't get to experience totality. But, truly it was an experience we will never forget.
Making Our Way Out
Immediately, people began hopping in their cars and taking off before the Totality was even over. "Surely, it won't be THAT bad to get out of here," I thought to myself. We took some time to watch the sun come back out and discuss what we had just experienced. We all expressed a deep sense of gratitude. Any number of things could have prevented us seeing it or being together, but everything worked out perfectly. We took our time cleaning up and packing up and finally rolled out of the field somewhere around 1:45 pm.
To our dismay, the folks directing traffic sent us the opposite direction we intended to go. "Well we will just go down this small frontage road for a few miles and get on the freeway," I thought to myself. NOPE! That small detour was 12.5 miles out of our way. Oh and that 12.5 miles took about four and a half hours to travel! The traffic was apocalyptic, often times just standing still. People were out walking their dogs, or playing catch, or relieving themselves on nearby trees. "The freeway has to be better," I told Michelle. Unfortunately, there were places in the road where you could see the freeway off in the distance...barely moving at all.
When we got to the end of the frontage road, the reason for the long delay was obvious. There was nobody directing traffic at the end of this little frontage road that opened onto another highway. Cars turning would have to wait a considerable amount of time before being able to proceed. I can imagine what a nightmare getting out was in a big RV.
Once we got on the freeway we expected the traffic to flow slightly better. This was not the case. The traffic was just as bad on the freeway (maybe even slightly worse). After about five and a half hours we were finally to the point where we had exited the freeway on our way into the little town of Glendo, WY in the morning...where we could have been hours ago if they had let us out the right direction. This stop and go madness continued for another 7 hours as we made our way back to Denver, CO. At this point, we were REALLY wishing we were in a comfy motor home with all the amenities. But, we were also thinking that we were glad we were in this craziness because of an awesome experience and not because we were evacuating some natural disaster. Fully exhausted, we ended up in bed around 2:30 am. If you're doing the math, it was about 12 hours to drive 225 miles.
So, how did the kids "hold it" during the grueling 12-hour trek back to the hotel? There was literally nowhere to stop for the first 8 hours of that drive (other than the side of the road). They didn't. Michelle was wise enough to predict what might happen and made "provisions". Those provisions came in the form of a bucket with a special toilet lid on it and special odor and liquid absorbing liners. This thing worked amazingly well. Within an hour of getting on the road our youngest announced that he needed to go ... and not just #1. "Oh great," I moaned to myself - now the entire car ride home is going to smell like a traveling outhouse. To my shock and surprise, there was almost no smell at all. It was easy for the kids to go since we were basically parked for quite a few minutes then would proceed a small distance and park again. We even started turning off the engine.
As with most things in my life, this trip was a little test of sorts. I knew the amount of driving would be crazy. We planned to cover over 2000 miles in the span of just four days. I knew that record crowds were predicted anywhere along the Totality - some news sources are now saying the eclipse may have actually doubled the population of WY! Would traveling with four young kids really be as great as I had made it out to be in my mind? Was my wife really the organization superhero I have always thought of her to be? OH MAN! This was one of the best trips ever and really served to confirm that we are on the right path with this full-time travel thing.
Sure, it was stressful and exhausting. But being able to be "in" that moment: To actually see the look of amazement in the eyes of your children. To literally hear your wife cry with gratitude. To witness something that actually left you in awe - and to do that with the people you care about most in this world! It was more than worth all the trouble it took to make it happen.
Michelle's plan and preparation were amazing. Even when we had the unpredicted 12-hour drive back to the Denver hotel, she was quickly able to book an additional hotel stop for the following night in Albuquerque to ensure a safe trip home. The original plan was to travel from Denver, CO to Gilbert, AZ in one day. But after driving most of the night before, we felt it was safer to just extend the trip by one more day. So we took two days to drive home. In total, I think we spent about 50 hours in the minivan in order to spend a couple hours experiencing the total solar eclipse. Worth it? We all agreed...ABSOLUTELY!
Everything about the trip confirmed the path we are on. Now one small problem: let's get this bus finished!