Everything You Do Not Want to Know About Trying to View a Total Solar Eclipse

Where I am based is fewer than 150 miles from the path of totality of the solar eclipse; so I decided to drive to a location and witness it — even if I did not have a pair of solar eclipse glasses.

In other words, nobody could have been more ill-prepared to participate in this event than me. I suppose it was because I did not really want to fuss about it; or perhaps I had other more important things on my mind. I would also say that I do not always have the best of luck; but people who found out about my driving in Egypt — and especially on arguably one of the most dangerous roads in the world — claim otherwise…

…as well as think I am a little crazy. Well — maybe more than a little

Everything You Do Not Want to Know About Trying to View a Total Solar Eclipse

A fellow writer — I never liked the term blogger — at BoardingArea was kind enough to offer me not one but two pairs of solar eclipse glasses, as he asked about viewing the total solar eclipse together. However, his plans changed — I hope he writes an article about it because the change in plans sounds amazing — but even though we no longer would be seeing the total eclipse together, he left the solar eclipse glasses for me at a designated location at a small local airport; and he declined my offer to thank him publicly by name.

I picked up the solar eclipse glasses the morning before the day of the eclipse and experimented with photographing the sun. I simply affixed one side of the glasses to the lens using ordinary tape — which could easily be removed — and cut out two pieces of cardboard and attached them to the glasses so that no light could leak through into the lens.

Solar eclipse glasses on lens

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

This simple contraption worked. I was ready.

Important to note is that I was not exactly practicing to become a contender for eclipse photographs which will win an award. In this case, enjoying the natural phenomenon came first and the photography came second. After all, the duration of the total eclipse was going to last only two minutes and 38 seconds.

After scouting locations such as in central Tennessee, southern North Carolina and extreme northeastern Georgia, I decided on Anderson in South Carolina, as it was located right off Interstate 85; and it was the shortest distance. Normal time for the trip should be slightly greater than two hours.

I loosely prepared for the trip that night. Despite concerns about a possible temporary fuel shortage, I had enough gasoline in the car for the entire round trip. Drinking water? Check. Snacks which could withstand the heat and humidity in South Carolina? Check. Extra cardboard and tape just in case? Check. Coupons for a fast food restaurant in case I get hungry beyond snacks? Check. Music for the road trip? Check. Camera equipment with charged batteries and tripod? Check.

Oh, yeah — two pairs of solar eclipse glasses? Check.

Time to Leave

After tying up some loose ends for the day, I was ready to go. I checked the weather forecast from multiple sources — all of which confirmed clear skies and excellent conditions. I checked the traffic conditions — all of which confirmed a trip by car which would be no different than on any other day, as indicated in green.

After the car was packed, I was ready to go — and the sky was clear. I departed five hours prior to the time when totality of the solar eclipse was to occur.

Here goes nothing…

Road Trip!

I am always up for a good road trip regardless of where in the world it occurs — such as in southern Africa — and other than the usual snags, I had no problem with traffic that morning. No clouds were in the sky.

Solar eclipse sign

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

This is a closer view of the electronic variable message sign over Interstate 85 in Georgia which is seen in the photograph at the top of this article.

Other than the typical bottlenecks — such as driving from Interstate 285 eastbound to Interstate 85 northbound at what is known as Spaghetti Junction — I traveled through Atlanta with no problems…

…but traffic became heavy on Interstate 85 north somewhere between Georgia State Highway 316 and Interstate 985 — but the traffic was heading on Interstate 985 northbound for the north Georgia mountains and North Carolina, which was one of the destinations that I had considered.

Relieved that I was not traveling in that direction, traffic flowed freely again northbound on Interstate 85 — but only for a few miles until traffic came to a complete stop.

A Traffic Nightmare?

If it was not stopped dead altogether, traffic crawled at a snail’s pace — literally. I really do believe a snail could have outrun all of the vehicles at that point…

…but this was in a construction zone, as Interstate 85 is being expanded from two lanes to three lanes in each direction northeast of Interstate 985; and once I was past the construction zone, the flow of traffic resumed normally again — but not for long, as traffic once again came to a complete stop.

The seconds ticked away into minutes. No problem — I still have plenty of time. The traffic was of little concern to me at that time; but it was sure moving slowly — if it moved at all.

I really could not tell you how much time had passed when I finally arrived at the truck which was blocking the right lane for whatever reason — leaving only the left lane for traffic to crawl through — but I was sure relieved when I was able to drive at highway speed again once I passed that truck.

Traffic then slowed down to a stop again — then crawled — before inexplicably reaching highway speeds again. This pattern repeated itself on an inconsistent basis.

Perhaps part of the reason was that tractor trailers in the left and right lanes which had at least a half mile of clear road ahead of them but wanted to conserve fuel by maintaining a consistent slow crawl. Maybe the reason was because the driver of that dark orange colored sport utility vehicle would not allow another motorist to change lanes in front of him and almost causing an unnecessary accident. Could the driver of the Ford F-150 pickup truck who was practically in the trunk of my vehicle and drifting towards the shoulder to see the traffic ahead — like that really is going to speed things up — be part of the problem?

I think one reason is because motorists seemed to had abandoned the basic rules of the road that day as they drove erratically, performing maneuvers which made no sense and potentially affected the safety of others on the road. Tempers were flaring. I cannot tell you how many times drivers remained in the left lane — which is supposed to be a passing lane — stayed there instead of pulling over while the right lane moved faster. People were driving along the shoulder of the road — which is dangerous in case a vehicle had broken down — as well as on grassy areas. Everyone was trying to get to the totality zone of the solar eclipse — except for the truckers attempting to deliver their cargo on time.

It was almost as though a full moon was out.

Oh, yeah — that’s right. How can there be a total solar eclipse without a full moon?

Traffic once again came to a complete stop for long periods at a time — 15 minutes is no exaggeration — to the point where walking seemed to be faster. I still had greater than two hours, yes — but I still had at least 70 miles to go.

I started to think that I was not going to make it — and with traffic at that pace, that was quickly becoming a reality…

…so you can imagine my relief when the cause this time was from a fuel truck stopped in the left lane with a police car accompanying it. Traffic flowed freely once again; and I was making excellent progress — until the annoyingly intermittent stop and go started again.

I just have to cross the border into South Carolina instead of going all the way to my chosen location, I thought to myself. That is all I have to do. I will still be in the path of totality at that point — though for not nearly as long. Every inch I drive is an inch closer to a total solar eclipse.

I was slowly counting down the miles as traffic was slow, fast, stopped, fast, slow, not making up its mind…

Weather or Not I Should Continue?

…until I looked up into the sky: cumulous clouds were starting to form — and with every mile traveled, they multiplied and grew larger.

Great. Just great.

The sun was still out, though. The chances of seeing a total eclipse were plummeting as my car crept closer to the state line, which I did not believe I was going to reach in time…

…but then traffic started moving again; and at a good clip. Excellent. Ten more miles to the border. Nine. Eight…

…and then traffic slowed down significantly again. I have 45 minutes left until totality. I will cross the state line in time; so I will get to see totality — but I had almost 30 miles to go.

Once I drove across the border into South Carolina, the traffic resumed at highway speeds. The reason is because the rest area in South Carolina was crawling with humans like ants on a mound. People were everywhere — on the grass, in the road — pointing their fingers and cameras to the now mostly cloudy sky.

26 more miles in 40 minutes. Doable. I am going for it.

Plink. Plop. Splat.

That was when the rain started. Rain? Downpour became the more appropriate word under the now dark gray sky. Certainly not ideal weather for viewing an eclipse — let alone being outside at all.

I then reached my go or no go moment. Continue on to the location which I favored? Stop short of my goal? Turn around and head back? The weather was worsening while time was running out — and quickly.

I made up my mind. I decided to

All photographs ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

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