It’s hard to believe that our whirlwind eclipse trip was over a week ago. The day was hot, exhausting, emotional, stressful, worrying…but in the end, it was so worth it. I didn’t realize how much I needed a break from being at home stressing about politics and world events until Naoto and I were out on the open road driving to see one of the most beautiful sites in the sky.
I should explain that I was the only willing participant in this trip. Naoto was totally not into it. He didn’t want to take off work or make the very long drive. I had to talk him into it. I was prepared to go alone, but I convinced him that it would be a fun adventure. At the moment of full totality, he told me it was worth it.
On Sunday we drove down to my parents house in central Illinois in hopes that we could get a jump start on the Chicago drivers Monday morning. That part of the plan worked like a charm. We left at 3AM and made it down to southern Illinois around 8:30. We didn’t have a solid plan. I just wanted to be in the path of totality. I didn’t care if we were standing on the side of the road. I just wanted to be there.
But we made it down to Makanda (rhymes with Miranda,) Illinois, which had been hyped in newspapers as the place to see the eclipse. They were doing the postmarks and had a little town celebration for the eclipse, so we decided to pay the $20 to park our car in a field along the side of the road. (The field is pictured above.) There really wasn’t another option in Makanda. I had immediate second thoughts, but it ended up working out perfectly for us, so I’m so glad we stayed. Makanda is a small town of 350ish people. They have a cute post office, a few shops, and…fields. I didn’t get a good picture of the shops, but they all had a hippie vibe to them. Actually, the whole town had a hippie vibe. A lot of the guys walking around reminded me of Willie Nelson. (This may explain the fact that someone came around offering people some marijuana before the eclipse!) Everyone was chill and welcoming. One of the shops had a backyard “sculpture garden” that was fun to walk through. We climbed stairs and walked through doorways all in the name of shade. Oh, have I not mentioned it was almost 100 degrees? We packed water and snacks and forgot sunscreen. This is us in the garden around 10:30AM. We were still fresh then. By the time the eclipse started, we were melting. I spent part of the morning writing out postcards, but the heat was making me delirious, so I didn’t get as many done as I’d hoped. We went back to the car a couple of times to turn on the AC and get out of the sun, but we have an old car so I was worried about something overheating before the drive home. We had a little snack, but it was so hot, neither of us felt like eating much. Finally, it was time for the eclipse to begin! We got out of the car and got our glasses ready and made friends with our field neighbors. There were tons of people from Chicago! We parked next to a family from Naperville. There were three single guys, one from Downers Grove, one from Pittsburgh!!!, and one from the Champaign area. And there was another couple from Arlington Heights. CW, the guy from Champaign, had the eclipse app so he helped us all stay on track with what to see during the whole experience. We were all stressed about the clouds, which kept blowing through and even covered the sun for a few moments as the moon was crossing over. But thankfully…it all worked out and we had clear skies after that. So sweaty…by the time we reached 70% coverage, all of the men were shirtless. Except Naoto. (Remember, I forgot sunscreen.) It’s so hard to see in my pictures, but the two shots above show the light changing as we went into full totality. The top picture is at the start of the eclipse, and the bottom picture is a few minutes before totality. The changes were really subtle at first, but as the moon covered the sun, the darkness became really sharp. Even the street lights came on by the time we reached totality. And, like a gift from the heavens, the temperature dropped!
The guy from Pittsburgh had a playlist and we listened to Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” during totality. It was a party atmosphere as we all high fived and just said, “Can you believe this?” to one another as we looked at the sky. Here I am, during totality. You guys…it was magic. I kind of rolled my eyes on the drive down when someone on NPR said a total eclipse was life-changing. But he was right. It was. I didn’t try to get a picture because I knew it would never compete with the real deal. I just tried to focus on soaking it all in. We all had our glasses off for the quick moment the moon completely moved over the sun. (Our eyes are okay, don’t worry!) The corona was brilliant, blazing white, glowing behind the moon. It sparkled. And the sky…it was a deep, dark blue, not black like you see in the pictures. The sky was darkest above, and there was some light left around the horizons. The sun and moon felt so close, right above us in the sky. We were able to see Venus and Jupiter, but not Mars and Mercury. It was the shortest two and a half minutes of my life. I know it’s a cheesy cliché but, I just wanted to bask in the moment forever. I know some of the most beautiful things in life are fleeting, but I just wanted to look a little bit longer. I’m so thankful I had the chance to see it, even if it’s just once in my lifetime.
We left soon after totality. Naoto had to work early on Tuesday morning and we were sort of exhausted and anxious for the long drive home. We headed back to my parents’ house (again so we didn’t have to fight traffic all the way back to Chicago.) The trip back to my parents was long and tedious. We hardly hit any traffic on the way down, but going back up was stop and go the whole way. Our GPS sent us on an “alternative path” to “save twenty minutes” but we ended up in these weird country road traffic jams because everyone else was getting the same routes! So basically every time there was a stop sign on a country road, there would be a long line of cars waiting to go through. It took us almost twice as long to make it back and we decided to stay the night and drive home in the morning.
By the time we got home Tuesday morning, we’d driven more than 800 miles in 1.5 days and I had a sunburn all over, even in places my shirt had covered! So Tuesday was all about napping and recovery for me. (Naoto was able to sleep in the car.) In spite of the driving exhaustion, we are both so grateful for the experience.
Heck, I’m already plotting 2024 when the eclipse will come to Makanda again!
P.S. Chicago’s own weatherman, Tom Skilling had such a great reaction to the eclipse…I feel ya, Tom!