The Lizard Chronicles

Some of this is true. Some of this is better. –Too Much Joy

Eclipster Trek to Totality (or ‘There and Back Again…Eventually’) August 22, 2017

Filed under: Life tales,photography,Travel — lizardesque @ 8:56 pm
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I don’t recall exactly when my husband Ian first mentioned the 2017 solar eclipse to me, but it was at least 2 years ago. I had been in Peoria in 1994 and had seen the annular solar eclipse, which was pretty cool. Weather permitting, a total eclipse would be much more impressive, so I said was down for a road trip to be in a good viewing spot for that. In the following 700+ days, we revisited the topic occasionally, then with increasing frequency as E-day drew nearer. Vague ideas gradually gelled into firmer intentions, and we eventually had a plan for a fun road trip and great geekery with some good friends.

In early July our plans to travel downstate for the event came up in casual conversation more and more often. I sometimes forget that not everyone is married to someone with an astronomy degree and had not been hearing about the eclipse for years, so I was a little surprised by how many people were unaware there was an eclipse in our near future. By late July/early August, though, people had started to catch on. With each day, I saw more news items and Facebook posts that mentioned the eclipse. I admit I may have rolled my eyes a little at people who were just starting to get hip it. After all, I was an eclipster–I had been into this long before most people.

With just days to go, I began to hear stories of people scrambling to obtain and/or pay exorbitant prices for proper eye-wear and started to think that maybe we should have gotten more than 6 pairs of glasses and made some sweet bank by price gouging. Meanwhile, Ian did the final test runs with our new camera and solar filter. I procured road-trip snacks and chose a knitting project to work on for at least part of our time in the car. Texts began to fly about what we were going to do about watching Game of Thrones on Sunday. That question had not occurred to me as I haven’t watched the show or read the books, but appropriate plans were arranged.

On Sunday evening, Ian and I (along with fellow eclipsters Rachel and Matthew) drove from Chicago to Peoria, the home of the remainder of our crew (Michelle and Friday). That evening’s Game of Thrones episode was waiting on their DVR. As it aired, I occupied myself with other things but did have my attention drawn to the show by flaming undead bears and an epic javelin throw. I also recall a fair bit of shouting at the television. I know close to nothing about Jon Snow, but apparently he doesn’t plan very well.

We set off bright (well, actually somewhat dim) and early Monday morning. Our intended destination was Goreville, IL, but we knew that traffic would be heavy and  unpredictable and were content to stop anywhere within the path of totality. For much of the way, we avoided the interstate in favor of state roads, where traffic was certainly heavier than usual but not too bad. We passed the time with activities like a Bohemian Rhapsody sing-along and Six-Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Serial Killer Edition*.

During a pit stop in Vandalia, we perused the souvenirs available at a gas station. In addition to the variety of mainly gun/hunting-themed signs, stickers, and mugs, they offered US-state shaped magnets for every state (well, there were slots for all of them, but several non-IL magnets were sold out, which brings many questions to my mind). Little known fact–Canada is actually a US state (at least according to this display); we had great fun pointing this out to Matthew, who originally hails from the Great White North. We also discovered coffee nut M&Ms (thumbs up) and got some breath-freshening, on-theme Eclipse gum before getting back on the road.


Somewhere near Benton, IL

We got on I-57 a bit south of Vandalia, and traffic flowed pretty smoothly for a little while but then slowed dramatically, and before long, it became clear that we were unlikely to make it to Goreville in time. Rather than risk being trapped on the interstate between exits, we got off I-57 in Benton. At that point, we were already within the path of totality but went a little further south, eventually stopping at a park in Johnston City roughly an hour before totality. Ian got the camera set up with time to spare before the eclipse began.

There were a few other small groups of people in the park, and a few more arrived shortly after we did. We laughed and took pictures of each other wearing funny-looking glasses and looked skyward through protective filters as the moon started to gradually edge its way in front of the sun. We hydrated, snacked, and took refuge from the heat in the shade of trees. Someone in the park played the obligatory Bonnie Tyler song. Rachel made PAC-MAN noises. We made pinhole “cameras” with our thumbs and forefingers and looked at the resulting tiny crescents cast upon the ground. We texted with friends and family members both inside and outside the path of totality. The light around us started to dim, resembling that of an overcast day, but with mostly clear skies. An exciting eeriness descended on us, and I began to understand why, before anyone figured out what was really happening astronomically speaking, our ancient ancestors were more than a little freaked out by total eclipses.




Looking up






Eclipster Love


Then came totality. I can show you pictures of the sun’s corona and the sky otherwise looking like sunset in every direction. I can try to describe the experience with metaphor and say that there was electricity in the air as everyone in the park marveled and gasped, alternating between excited chattering and speechlessness, as we all drank in those two-ish odd minutes. But I know I really can’t do it justice. I’ve had a few experiences in my life that have made me understand what the word breathtaking truly means–this was one of them.


Panoramic view during totality




Just after totality

With totality behind us, we hung out in the park for a while longer, still buzzing about what we had just witnessed and watching as the moon slid out of the sun’s way. When it was all over, we packed up and headed for the nearby Dairy Queen where we enjoyed frozen treats and got our first looks at some of the pictures after they’d been transferred to an iPad. We started to kick around ideas for the 2024 eclipse, which included some talk of a ukulele band (Total Ukeclipse?), as well as customized t-shirts and/or hoodies.


…and back again!

Around 3:30 pm, we started toward home, Michelle and Friday heading back to Peoria, and the rest of us toward Chicago. Traffic was slow, even on state highways. Google Maps projected a travel time of just under six hours, which we took with a grain of salt. Additional grains of salt were added as traffic continued to crawl. After we’d been on the road for two, three, and then four hours, Google Maps continued to predict that we’d arrive home in around five hours. We remained cheerful, reminding ourselves of what an incredible experience we’d just had. Plus, we got to see some cool lightning and a rainbow on the way home.


So much neat stuff in the sky in one day!

I recall it was still somewhat light out when Matthew, who planned to work on Tuesday, started to joke that we might need to drop him off at work on the way home, as he might not have time to actually go home first. There was the small problem that he was wearing shorts and needed pants to go to work, but several potential solutions were offered: 1) we could stop at a 24-hour pants emporium; 2) I could knit him some pants, which, with the yarn selection I had on hand, would be technicolor dream pants; 3) he could barter for pants at a rest stop.

Around 9:30, Michelle texted to say she and Friday had finally made it home. At the time, we were at a rest stop north of Effingham (as was roughly 2/3 of the state’s population by the looks of it), still more than 250 miles from home. Rachel urged Matthew to consider not going in to work on Tuesday if we got home after midnight.

It was my turn to drive, and for about two hours, we made slow but decent progress. For some stretches, I actually drove at or near the speed limit. Then, around Rantoul, traffic came to a dead stop. We were stuck with nowhere to turn around and no exit for seven miles. Every few minutes, we inched forward a little. Signs told us the left lane was closed 4.5 miles ahead. Reports indicated that this lane closure was supposed to have been suspended in the days surrounding the eclipse, but apparently that had not happened, and there had been no signage in advance to divert traffic to an alternate route on a state highway. However, short time later, when blinding sheets of rain began to roll through the area, I was actually grateful not to be driving more than a few miles per hour.

About two hours later, we finally reached the next exit, stopped to switch drivers, and continued on Highway 45. Some time around 3:30 am, I remarked that Rachel’s previous comment about possibly getting home after midnight seemed like a quaint, distant memory. We finally made it to our house just after 4:30 am, approximately 13 hours after we’d departed. Rachel and Matthew left for their apartment, Matthew having long ago abandoned plans to go to work (with or without pants). As Ian and I collapsed into bed, we mumbled about plans to sic undead flaming bears on the Illinois Department of Transportation.

All that said, it was totally worth it.



* Eg, John Wayne Gacy: 1) Brian Dennehy portrayed John Wayne Gacy in To Catch a Killer. 2) Brian Dennehy was in First Blood with Sylvester Stallone. 3) Sylvester Stallone was in The Assassins with Julianne Moore. 4) Julianne Moore was in The Hunger Games movies with Donald Sutherland. 5) Donald Sutherland is the father of Kiefer Sutherland. 6) Kiefer Sutherland was in Flatliners with Kevin Bacon.


Hawai’ian Holiday Part 5: Beer, Stars, and Invisible Cows April 15, 2015

On our last full day in Hawai’i, it was time for some beer. Sure, we’d had beer on other occasions during the trip, and we’d even learned some Hawai’ian words in the process, but it was time for even more education! We headed to the Kona Brewing Company to take a tour, learn more about the beer-making process, and sample some tasty beverages.

Studying the Beeriodic Table

Studying the Beeriodic Table

Note the super fashionable goggles--safety first!

Note the Super Fashionable Goggles–Safety First!

Cheers to beers!

Cheers to Beers!

After the tour and tasting, we ate lunch at the pub, and, of course, tried more beer. By far my favorite was the Lemongrass Luau, a light, refreshing brew with notes of lemon and ginger. Unfortunately, it’s not available on the mainland, but Ian promised me he would try to produce something similar in his home brewing efforts.

If you know me or read my travel posts regularly, you may remember that I’m a souvenir junkie. Even if I have purchased a few trinkets beforehand, as the end of any vacation draws near, I start to feel a sort of panic, and my thoughts begin to race. Have I purchased enough items to properly commemorate this trip? One can never have enough novelty socks, right? I don’t care if I need to buy another fridge to put it on, I need this magnet. I must get presents for everyone! BUY ALL THE THINGS! It’s really for the best that I’m limited by what can fit in my luggage. But anyhow, I got my souvenir shopping fix at the Kona International Market as well as some other shops in Kailua Kona.


This is Perhaps the Best (only good?) Use of Crocs.

Fiery Foliage in Kailua Kona

Fiery Foliage in Kailua Kona

As we wrapped up our shopping, it occurred to us that we’d managed to spend almost a week in Hawai’i without having an umbrella drink. To correct this grievous wrong, we enjoyed Mai Tais (as well as a few other tropical drinks) while taking in the ocean view at Don the Beachcomber. Rachel collected the drink umbrellas and crafted a makeshift tiara, which attracted the attention of a complete stranger who asked to take her picture. We predicted she’d be going viral before the week was through.

Queen of Happy Hour

Queen of Happy Hour

After briefly returning to the condo to grab some warmer clothes, we began the trek out the the Mauna Kea Observatory visitor’s center. During the drive, road signs repeatedly promised (or warned I suppose) that there would be sheep crossing, but, to my disappointment, we spotted no ovines. On the bright side, we did not run into any sheep, as I’m sure was appreciated by the sheep themselves as well as our rental car, which was already unhappy enough with the ascent to 9200 feet. Once we arrived at the visitor’s center, the guide, Pablo, laser pointer in hand, took us on a star tour, pointing out plants, star clusters, and constellations and regaling us with some of the mythological tales that surround them. I have never seen, and perhaps never again will see, the sky like I saw it at Mauna Kea. Its elevation, isolation, and geographic position make it pretty much idea for stargazing. Scattered about the visitor’s area were telescopes fixed on the moon, the Orion nebula, and Jupiter, the views through which I can only describe as really freakin’ awesome. Also, there was this.


Sound Advice

It made me wonder if we actually did encounter sheep on the way there, just invisible ones. On the way back down the mountain after our visit, we caught glimpses of a far-off fireworks display, which marks my first time viewing fireworks from above.

The next morning, it was time to finish packing up and head out. To our slight embarrassment, we discovered that we had not finished our giant bottle of rum and had an unopened bottle of wine remaining. Not wanting this to go to waste, Rachel wandered about the condo complex and secured loving homes for our leftover alcohol.

Getting home proved slightly more adventurous than we had anticipated. The plane that was to be ours was delayed in leaving San Francisco, so by the time it arrived in Kona, the crew could not fly back to San Francisco without being over their allowed work time. Instead, we were flown to Honolulu (during which Rachel and Matthew enjoyed a brief but luxurious upgrade in first class). Once in Honolulu, we went through agricultural inspection for the second time that day (just in case fruit had somehow materialized in our luggage during the flight from Kona, which seems unlikely to me, but you really never know what might happen in a place that has invisible cows) and received new itineraries. During the layover in Honolulu, we decided there was time for a bite to eat and one last beer in Hawai’i. However, when attempting to pay for our meal, our credit card was denied (although I still feel secure in the knowledge that I am a valued customer). Ian offered me up to our waitress as collateral and ran out to get some cash. Smartass.

Ian and I parted ways with Rachel and Matthew, who had different flights back home, and flew to San Francisco then home to Chicago. It was a long, wearying day of travel, but we scored exit row seats on both flights. So yay for that, and yay for the safe conclusion to a wonderful trip.

San Francisco From Above

San Francisco From Above