Sunday morning is my lazy time, so I woke up, splashed some water on my face, then met my daughter at Starbucks for our usual chai fixation. Somewhere between the caffeine and the kicking back, my cell phone rang.
Where are you? he asked. Want to go to see the total eclipse?
Normally, I’m a pretty spontaneous person. I’ve been known to decide at 8 am that I’m leaving work at noon to drive eight hours into Ontario. I’m the one who’s ready at any moment to take off for something fun.
This wasn’t your normal week. I had deadlines.
Three of them.
I panicked a little, pushed back a lot, then he said it:
You’re able to just take your work with you, aren’t you?
Hmm. Yes. Yes, I am.
So with little more than a batting of his gorgeous brown eyes, my husband convinced me to pack up and take off. It took ten minutes for me to pack both my office and my clothes in the car. We were off.
Pendleton, South Carolina is about 10 1/2 hours from my house. There we would stay with my stepdaughter and her hubs, then enjoy a day of eclipsing events. We’d arrive by seven, we told her.
Only we arrived later. Much, much later.
12:02 am on eclipse day, we were parking in front of their house.
Egad. That was one crowded highway.
I’ll say it — unless you’ve been through a total eclipse, you can’t know how awesome it is. Awesome in the real sense of the word: breathtaking, inspiring, a little scary, insanely cool. To go from what felt like a dusky evening to total darkness within nanoseconds was just crazy. The temperature dropped instantly. The breeze started. The fish stopped jumping and going nuts. The birds took flight. People cheered where moments before, they were whispering.
There’s something very odd about what a total eclipse does to your psyche. It took the rest of the day and into the night for the weird sensation that took over our brains to clear itself. Even now, I think I feel some of the trails of it.
Time to go home. We started out at 9:30 am. Surely much of the traffic was cleared up, since we saw a line of cars heading away from Pendleton right after the eclipse.
There was a lot more traffic than that, however.
A lot more.
From Pendleton to Interstate 81 in Virginia, the ride usually takes just under four hours.
Eight hours from the time we set out, we reached the southern Virginia border.
That’s when things went to shit.
We thought we’d stop in Roanoke for dinner. Lunch was something we grabbed at some rest stop we can’t remember, so we were thinking Roanoke. It was just under an hour from where we finally got on Interstate 81.
That plan might have worked if the highway hadn’t been shut down. A major accident (with a fatality, sadly) brought traffic to a standstill. The traffic, which was already horrific, was about to get worse, said a friendly trucker couple we talked with in that nondescript rest stop restaurant.
Nineteen miles of backup, and we were heading right for it.
Time to use Google Maps to get a detour. I found one, a really good one. It skirted the interstate for about 25 miles, so we should miss the problems if we were lucky.
We weren’t lucky.
Everyone else had the same Google Maps app.
The traffic moved from a major highway to small, winding country roads.
No other route would have worked, either. The red lines on the map showed everything heading north, no matter how small, was jammed with traffic.
We reached Roanoke at 7 pm. We ate, decompressed for about 25 minutes, then got back in the car. My daughter had sent a text: the highway was open again.
Maybe things had cleared up some.
Let me tell you how long Virginia is. On a typical day, the ride from south to north (or vice versa) is 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
This was no typical day.
Hours later, we tried to get a hotel room at a Hampton Inn somewhere just before Hagerstown, Maryland. The desk clerk was a wonderful, sympathetic young man who informed me there were no rooms in that hotel or in any other one from that point to at least fifty miles north of Hagerstown.
We decided to drive on. We had no choice. After a quick catnap in the car, we started up again, somewhat refreshed for people who had been in a car for about 12 hours at that point.
At 11:32 pm, we finally saw the backside of Virginia.
Just three more states to home.
Maryland was a bit more of the same, but traffic was moving. The construction was everywhere because the road crews wait until after 10 pm to get working. On any other day, the traffic would have been much lighter.
We reached Pennsylvania and the Mason-Dixon line at 12:51 am.
Only three hours to home.
Thankfully, the rest of the trip went much more smoothly. We reached home at 3:15 am. I collapsed on the bed at 3:30 and got exactly five hours of glorious sleep before getting up to work on some of the most technical articles you can imagine.
Now, ask me if the eclipse was worth it. Ask me if, given the ride and the millions (not exaggerating) of other travelers doing exactly the same thing and clogging the highways, the sold-out hotel rooms and 32 hours in a manual-shift car in horrendous traffic, was it worth it to see a total eclipse?