It was about noon on Sunday, two days ago, that the plan suddenly hit me. I knew that a total solar eclipse was going to happen across the country the next day. I had seen a couple of partial solar eclipses: one in Nucla, Colorado in 1979, and another in Fernley, Nevada, in 2012.
Total solar eclipses are rare, awe inspiring things. Most people don’t get a chance to see one in their lifetime. This would have been just the thing to kick off a road trip with Carolyn and I in happier times. We were famous for deciding on the spur of the moment to run to Moab, UT, for root beer floats 85 miles away, or drive down to Cortez, CO, one hundred miles south for a pizza.
When we found out that there was going to be a short partial eclipse on the west coast just before sundown on May 20, 2012, we threw some things together in the car and drove 135 miles west to Fernley, Nevada, and parked in the Walmart parking lot. we made several different kinds of pinhole cameras. took along my welding helmet with #14 filters inside. and we also took a small refracting telescope we owned.
We had a ball showing people in the Walmart parking lot the images of the sun with a big piece gone on one side, and we had to shoo one employee back to his job who came out to gather carts and stopped to gaze at the image of the sun I had projected with the pinhole lens. The telescope was worse than useless, because without a strong filter over the objective lens, the focussed sunlight made the eyepiece lens hot, and I sure wasn’t going to put my eyeball up to it.
So here I am on August 20, 2017, and it’s too late to book a room anywhere near the eclipse, all airplane flights have been booked solid for months in advance, and gas stations have been running out of gas anywhere near where people are gathering to watch it. I know I will kick myself for the rest of my life if I miss this opportunity to see a total solar eclipse.
That’s when the plan hit me: I don’t need to have a room under the eclipse, I just have to get near enough so I can dash in tomorrow and capture the event, then high tail it back out. I need a forward attack base just out of the battle area.
I grab the map and see that Muskogee, OK, is far enough away to possibly have rooms and gas available, but close enough to allow me to dash in for the victory. It’s only 268 miles from Kansas City, which is the closest area of totality to Durant, and I can easily drive there in the time I have left today.
I go to Expedia and look for rooms near Muskogee, and the one on top is just north of there in Wagoner. I’ve been through there and remember it as a nice, quiet little place. The Days Inn has lots of rooms available, so I quickly book a room, two queens, non-smoking, and I'm ready to go.
I throw some socks and underwear, a pair of pants and a couple of shirts in a bag, put in my toiletries, my phone and my camera and zip it up. I have an empty box out in the car, so I make sure I have my pocket knife, and grab some clear packaging tape, some aluminum foil, and not finding any pins or needles handy, I throw in an ancient set of drafting tools with lots of sharp points to make a pinhole.
In my trunk are the essentials for a road trip; jumper cables, 12v air compressor and a spare tire, checked for inflation. I gas up as I leave town, and here I am on my way. I remember I left my electric tractor charging at my sister-in-law’s house, so I call Wilma and tell her she can unplug it if she wants—it stops charging when the batteries are up.
I got to Wagoner in less than three hours. Traffic was light, and the motel was nearly empty at five o'clock PM. Right across the parking lot was a Taco Bell, so I ate a cheap dinner of three tacos. I connected my computer to the TV in the room and started the Wifi service.
The password worked fine, I got strong router signals, but there was no Internet. After several attempts I went to the nice girl at the front desk and told her my problem. She opined that it was probably something to do with the heat and sun on the satellite receiver on the roof, and it should come back after the sun gets lower.
I thought to myself, “Maybe it will work better tomorrow afternoon during the eclipse.”
She was right—it did come on that evening, and I got word out on Facebook of my adventure, which seemed to surprise a few people. I was kind of surprised myself.
I set the alarm clock for 6:30 and slept soundly through the night. I rose the next morning ready for battle, and after a couple of slices of toast with butter and jam, and a couple cups of coffee, I was on the road by 7:30. From Wagoner to Kansas City is 268 miles, which is 4 1/2 hours on Google Maps. That should get me there before noon, and the eclipse is at 1:09 Central Daylight Time.
I was familiar with the back roads in the area, because we used to visit a timeshare unit we owned at Lake of the Cherokees. I wanted to avoid the turnpike because I didn’t have any change in my pocket, and I have objections to paying extra for a highway my taxes built, anyway. I’m a little socialist that way.
I headed for Pryor, OK, and then to Miami. I was following Hwy 69 north, which became the same as old Rte 66. I briefly got off the track in Miami by turning on the truck route, which was a bad idea, since I guess truckers know where they’re going and don’t need signs. I lost the track, but I stopped at a convenience store, topped off the gas and asked how to get to Joplin. I was quickly back on track, but I lost about fifteen minutes there in Miami.
I still had plenty of time to spare, and then I couldn’t find I-49 in Joplin. My little map showed it on the east side of town, but I drove clear through the city, past the business I-49, and found myself out in the country east of town. I turned around and went back to the business route and turned north. I probably would have found the freeway if I had driven 1/2 mile further.
But, hey, the business route ought to hook up with the freeway again at some point, right? It did, but I had to stop at every stop light for about ten miles going north until it did. I’m sure I lost another fifteen minutes in Joplin.
I should still have plenty of time.
As I charged north on I-49, somewhere between Nevada and Peculiar, I noticed enemy forces moving in from the west. Black rain clouds were ahead on the left, but I couldn’t tell if they covered the sky in the area of totality completely or not. I made a tactical decision to take the route east of Kansas City, I-435. If things got too cloudy, that gave me the option of turning east if I had to.
I seemed to be out in front of the worst clouds but I was running out of time now. Traffic wasn’t bad at all, and the freeway electronic warning signs were telling drivers not to take picture of the eclipse while driving.
When I knew it was time to attack, I asked my GPS to take me to the nearest Walmart. There should be space there for capturing the pictures I wanted. There was one 2.2 miles east on Church Rd, so I cut off the freeway, quickly found the place, and set up in the parking lot. There were a lot of other people there with glasses to filter the sun, as well as a few pinhole cameras in evidence.
I grabbed the box from the back seat, taped some white paper to the inside, and cut a couple of holes in the opposite side with my pocketknife. I taped some aluminum foil over one hole and punched a pinhole in the foil. I got a good image on the inside of the box, so I trimmed the other hole to fit my camera. I focussed on the image and enlarged it with the zoom on the camera to produce a good picture on the screen on the camera back and spent several minutes trying different exposures to get a clear picture.
The problem turned out to be that first the flash wanted to fire, so I turned that off. Then I got a lot of flare, which made the sun look round again, instead of crescent shaped. So I changed the setting to Macro, for close ups, and lowered the exposure to much darker. That helped, but the photos never did look as sharp as the image on the camera screen.
Totality caught me by surprise, as the picture in my pinhole camera disappeared, and the world around me went dark. A chill went through me, and I'm sure it wasn’t all temperature.
I pulled the camera out of the box and began shooting directly at the sun. I was shaking some, and I zoomed in to 30x to fill the screen with the view of the eclipse. I put my elbows on the roof of the car and continued to shoot pictures, holding as steady as I could. Because it was so dark it took nearly a second of exposure time to capture each image. Too late to think about tripods now!
I decided to try for one video of the scene in the parking lot, so I switched to video mode, no zoom, and panned across all the people yelling and shouting. Then I just continued the video by aiming up at the sun and triggering the zoom to 30x. I consider the results of that the best picture I took of the whole bunch of pictures I shot.
Suddenly, after two minutes of totality, the sun just peeked around the edge of the moon, and the clouds exploded in light and color. I risked my camera for the last shot, shooting directly at the glorious scene. I captured a partial circle with a glob of light on one side, looking much like an earring. It was a quick shot, and my camera still works, I think.
Most of the crowd was staying to watch the moon move away from the sun, but after watching the total eclipse, that seemed to me to be the definition of anticlimactic. I wanted to beat the traffic through Kansas City and get on the road again.
I detoured off the freeway to see if I could find the Russell’s house on Blue Ridge Cutoff, but I could not remember the house number, and I didn’t recognize the house. I continued on down that road and did see the building where my Aunt Ora lived after she retired. I soon got back on the freeway, and the lady on my GPS sounded kind of put out at me because she was telling me how to go to Kansas and get on the turnpike, and I kept rejecting her advice and continuing on to I-49 south.
The trip back was mostly uneventful. I decided to stay in Arkansas on I-49 rather than wend my way back the way I came. I found some traffic just before I got out of Missouri, where the Interstate becomes a highway with traffic lights until Bentonville, Arkansas. I continued on to Ft. Smith, turned right and followed I-40 west to Checotah, OK, then turned south on 69 to Durant.
I wasn’t the least bit sleepy on the way back. I logged over one thousand miles in two days, just to watch two minutes of total solar eclipse. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world! Mission accomplished!