The main point of our big American road trip was to make sure we were in the right place to watch the solar eclipse on the 21st August 2017. I would love to claim some of the credit for all the research that went into the final decision making, but for that I have to thank my astronomy loving travel companions. They worked out that the best place for us to go was Gallatin in Tennessee. Here we would be able to witness complete totality for a whole 2 minutes and 40 seconds. I did not appreciate the significance of this at all…until we got there.
On the morning, we were all up early and eager to get moving. Our main plan was to drive to Gallatin as early as possible in order to find a suitable place to park and an ideal location to watch the eclipse. We had read online that the main park in Gallatin would be set up for eclipse watchers and parking would be available, but we had absolutely no idea how busy it might get. We also had a long list of alternative plans in preparation for bad traffic, cloud coverage, parking issues, necessary toilet breaks, unnecessary toilet breaks and natural disasters.
We were very impressed by the number of people en-route who had set up their driveways as parking for the eclipse. Prices ranged from $20-$30. We decided to stay strong and get as close to the park as possible. Traffic wasn’t too bad and we still had time. A regular check of weather reports, and the noticeable addition of a mostly blue sky and rapidly soaring temperatures, was reassuring. I’m glad we did keep going to the park as there the parking was free. It was also filling up fast. I’m not sure Gallatin has ever had to host quite so many people before.
We quickly realised we had come vastly underprepared as we passed by groups with their own gazebos, deckchairs, portable fans, sound systems, coolers, telescopes, cameras and snack carts. We’d arrived with a camera, a picnic blanket and a half-empty cool box with some Capri-Suns and a couple of packets of crisps. We found a spot with some shade and Laura and I went to discover what else the park had to offer.
We did not get far. On one of the fields was a stage on which two ladies from the radio were desperately trying to pretend they weren’t melting. There was also a first aid stand handing out small bottles of water next to a fan mister. We could see people wandering about with deliciously refreshing watermelon, but I was pretty sure I would die before I could possibly find it. Instead we took some water and headed back to our spot.
There was still a lot of time to kill, so the kids made friends with more kids over a shared Pokemon interest. In the meantime, Rob and Arfon got busy turning my SLR into a solar friendly camera using eclipse glasses and a beer box. They called him Samuel.
The atmosphere was amazing. People had travelled from all over the world to be there and everyone was excited to see it begin.
The moon slowly started to cover the sun at around midday but would take about an hour and a half to reach totality. At first we didn’t really notice much, but slowly we began to see the shape of the moon appear in front of the sun. It was fascinating to see the shadows change shape. We even used our hands to make pinhole cameras.
It was as totality approached that we began to notice the most changes. The air temperature dropped significantly and quite dramatically. The sky became dulled, as if it were a cloudy day, and then began to look like the sun was setting in fast forward. Across the horizon we could see the colours of dusk, but the sun was still directly above us. At this point everything grew quiet and then the crickets burst into song. There was a beautiful moment as the diamond ring effect occurred and then darkness. Not complete, nighttime darkness, just an early evening sort of darkness. The crowds all clapped and cheered. A couple of dogs even howled. The children ran around in excitement and people (possibly me) became quite emotional. It was beautiful and significant and I feel incredibly lucky to have witnessed it.
Then, in not time at all, it was over. The moon moved the tiniest amount (comparatively) and the sunlight burst through again. Suddenly we were witnessing sunrise in fast forward. The birds tag teamed out the crickets and the world was back to normal.
I don’t think I can put into words just how much this experience affected me and I would highly recommend for everyone to try and see an eclipse some day. I left feeling so small and yet a part of something vast and significant. Rob took some incredible pictures of it happening. I have narrowed down the hundreds to these three favourites:
As we sat in the carpark singing along to Bonnie Tyler (It took a very long time to leave), we watched as the moon slowly carried on its way, and the sun slowly began to cook us once again. We also began researching when the next total eclipse might be… and how we might get there.