It was worth it.
Worcester, Massachusetts to Madisonville, Tennessee takes roughly seventeen hours of travel time give or take. Was it worth the hype or at least the many stops to Waffle House that I had envisioned?
A few years ago a friend said that we should go see the eclipse and that it was crossing the United States. I said sure, why not; it was so far in the future where any decision should always be a unwavering yes. Time went by, I forgot about the eclipse and then I started seeing all the news stories about the eclipse, hmmm.. maybe this is something I should check out.
My friend Pat called me up and asked if I still wanted to go down south. I checked my calendar to which I am married to one way or another and for whatever reason the stars had aligned to allow this venture. I called another friend Chris and invited him, perhaps against protocol but this is an eclipse and protocol is more so a grey area.
We took two cars loaded to to the brim with gear, well mostly loaded; we had to make room for gas station treats like gatorades and many other processed affections. Driving down eighty one south was fast, slow, hectic and mundane. Most cars went with the flow while others would cross perilously through cracks in the traffic pattern to what they assume is saving them around an hour of time. The best part of these fast and furious drivers was finding them only five cars away as we hopped off a highway.
Quick mention of our juvenile behavior. While we were traveling south we noticed many race car enthusiast around. We up north don't particularly focus on those types of sports and most often drive the flow of traffic as close to the speed limit as possible... give or take. We ran into a very entertaining way to pass the time during these long stretches of driveway. I'll mention a particular encounter which gave us great joy. A blue Toyota Prius had rocket fuel in it's tank and was pushing through traffic very aggressively, Chris and myself happened to be talking on the phone, albeit coordinating as most might do while caravanning. We simply created large gaps that looked enticing for those who might want to overtake our cars as well as the ability to stay together by slowing down or speeding up on marks to push our car back into a spot we needed to be. But for some reason every time our friend the blue Prius throttled up to those gaps we had created they would mysteriously disappear, when I say gap I really mean two or three car lengths or less. It was as simple as myself letting off the gas and Chris pulling up to meet me. We continued this for many many many many exits. When we finally freed the Prius from our speed limit fearing ways I allowed the driver to see me aloof drinking a little bit of my leftover Starbucks as I pretended not to look. I've also found that letting my arm hang out the side of my vehicle with my hand surfing the air alongside makes many who tailgate very happy.
Honorable mention to the Riverview Inn hotel where we stayed the night before the eclipse. It was a first floor room which was nice. The cigarette burns in the comforter was a nice tough as well as hair on the shower walls. Pulled back the bedsheets to find the same long hair that was adorned on the shower walls in the bed. When we headed out for dinner we found that the backdoor did not lock, there was a latch at the top which would allow the door to be opened several inches. We barricaded the door for a little piece of mind, the desk chair and an ironing board kept the room slightly more secure. Some of the ceiling tiles had been painted in the room along with the trim but only half finished and the room smelled like smoke. Postive note, the AC worked and the blowup mattress that we brought along worked wonderfully.
Arriving early in the AM hours to Kefauver park we found parking easily after being directed to the back of a field which didn't seem quite reflective of the moment we were about to experience. We made our way to a smaller parking lot adjacent to the main street and a few dozen steps away from the bathrooms. The park had a lake which primarily housed algae and it has been suggested.. fish. Some of the parks and rec had managed to get vendors in for this event to sell t-shirts, viewing glasses, drinks and bbq.
I put up the drone a few times to get the full view of the park as we waited around six hours for the eclipse to begin. We got to know our neighbors a bit better as we sat underneath a pop-up canopy we had purchased the day before. Early afternoon the eclipse finally began, everyone remarking, cheering and discerning stares upwards didn't push us any quicker to shoot a sliver taken out of the sun.
The eclipse happened slowly, very slowly, three hours slowly. It was hot out too, didn't mention that yet; low nineties. We had set up all of our gear now, drone was out, tripod and cameras positioned. The sun was positioned high in the sky, we laid on our backs and arched our necks while tilting our gaze through the viewfinder to focus each time on each subtle movement.
The week leading up to this event was laden with how-to youtube videos, articles and other periodicals on how to view the eclipse which I will sum up here. Don't look at the sun, just look at it through the glasses, don't bother taking photos, use a solar filter if you do take pictures, don't look at the sun, ND filters won't work and what equipment will and won't work. Here's what we did with that info... pretty much nothing. We knew about solar filters, we brought some big lenses, big tripods and plenty of snack food. When you're photographing a T-Rex or a trans-dimensional being doing a backflip then it doesn't matter much which camera or lens your using. The same goes for the eclipse, you have a big enough lens and something to put in-between there to darken it then chances are you're going to get a pretty damn good photo.
So I had never really taken photos of the sun before, never attempted or enough had the thought cross my mind. The most interesting thing I found was being able to see the sunspots across the sun. You knew you had the right exposure when you had a yellow center and orange rind protecting that. We took photos of this smaller and smaller crescent as we neared the main attraction, full totality.
The eclipse started to near totality, the shadows grew sharper, the light stranger; almost desaturating and dulling everything. These details couldn't really be captured with a simple Iphone because of the ISO compensation that is employed through Iphone magic. The light dimmed further and my car's headlights and taillights turned on, we got our signal to focus more. I started shooting by just pressing the buttons as quick as possible, sliding my thumb across the back wheel of my camera adjusting the aperture and snapping photos as I did so. Alternating with shutter speed the same way as I fired off photos. We only had two minutes and thirty eight seconds in our location to get these once in a lifetime photos. The best photos would be taken at the beginning and end of totality showing the beads and the diamond ring of the eclipse. The totality ended and each minute or two we had to slightly adjust our settings to recalibrate the exposure. Once I was back to getting the golden orange of the sun once again I relaxed on my duty of photos.
We slowly packed up, picked up, parted ways and shipped out. The rest of the story is packed highways, slow meanders down backroads and a much better hotel room. Thanks for reading my story.