Chas­ing the eclipse

The Weekly Vista - - Opinion - KENT MARTS

With forecast Satur­day evening look­ing cloudy for Eclipse Day in St. Joseph, Mo., fel­low am­a­teur as­tronomer Clint Bran­ham and I did the only thing we could to change the weather: We de­cided to change lo­ca­tion.

By nearly 800 miles. Des­ti­na­tion: Casper, Wyo.

By golly, we WERE go­ing to see the eclipse, no mat­ter what.

You know how last- minute change of plans af­fects things: Our 7 a.m. de­par­ture soon turned into 10 a.m. And the long drive be­gan.

Four­teen hours later — at 2 a.m., we pulled into the drive­way of Clint’s un­cle’s house in Casper. At 7 a.m. we rolled out of the drive­way, more or less not know­ing where we were go­ing. Clint headed west, driv­ing up Mount Casper, where we gained 2,000 feet of el­e­va­tion in un­der 5 miles. The places to pull off were al­ready packed with cars. Be­cause of the steep­ness of the moun­tain­side, places to set up for view­ing were packed. Clint and I also wor­ried that the moun­tain­top might block the eclipse. Not want­ing to chance it, we kept driv­ing.

Up. And up. Un­til we got to the top. In­stead of park­ing, Clint de­cided to keep go­ing. We had plenty of time, so could al­ways turn around. Then we came out of the trees on a ridge over­look­ing a broad val­ley. Bingo.

And even more bingo: There was a de­cent num­ber of cars on the side of what had just be­come a dirt road, but they were scat­tered out. Pulling off, we asked a fam­ily if we could set up be­side them. They wel­comed us.

The task of set­ting up cam­eras, plan­ning where to aim them, and ed­u­cat­ing the fam­ily we’d adopted, con­sumed a lot of time. As the eclipse start time ap­proached, we re­viewed ev­ery­thing we were go­ing to do. Then it started.

I’ve seen lots of eclipses, so the start was noth­ing spe­cial, just a tiny black line on the edge of the sun.

As the moon moved in front of the sun, the black arc covered more and more of the sun. Un­til it was way past any­thing I’ve seen.

All along the way, ev­ery cou­ple min­utes, I took pho­tos of the progress, us­ing a piece of so­lar-safe film taped to the tele­photo lens.

As the per­cent­age through the high 80s and into the 90s, the sky turned a weird, sur­real color. Look­ing west, we could see the hill­side turning black. The eclipse was on us!

Sec­onds be­fore to­tal­ity, I pulled the film from the lens and started shoot­ing pho­tos. Not hav­ing even done it be­fore — even though I’d read about it, watched videos about it, and thought it through in my nog­gin — I was not ready. At least I didn’t feel that way.

I mashed the cam­era but­ton and started fir­ing pho­tos at 6 frames a sec­ond.

As the dark­ness ap­proaches, we could hear cheers from peo­ple west of us.

Then: BAM! Dark­ness.

In the sky the corona sud­denly ap­peared. See­ing the corona is some­thing I can­not de­scribe.

I shouted in joy as a feel­ing of supreme awe filled me.

Cheers of amaze­ment rolled off to the east, mark­ing the shadow’s march across the United States.

“Take pho­tos!” my mind shouted at me. At some point I’d stopped shoot­ing pho­tos. Cam­era back to my eye, I started shoot­ing again.

It seemed like 20 sec­onds at most: Sud­denly, what was ac­tu­ally 2 min­utes and 23 sec­onds was over.

The sun flashed back into view as the moon marched on its way, cast­ing a shadow far­ther and far­ther east.

I wish I’d taken more pho­tos, and at the same time I’d just stood there and watched the spec­ta­cle.

A few min­utes later — 25, to be ex­act — our friends in St. Joseph ei­ther did, or did not, see to­tal­ity. Some were clouded out (they saw the sky get dark, then get bright again), but did not see the glory of the corona; oth­ers saw it through clouds, and some, only a few miles away from peo­ple who were clouded out, saw the clouds part to of­fer then the royal eclipse treat­ment.

De­spite the forecast, most peo­ple in the na­tion got a de­cent taste of to­tal­ity.

So did we drive a long way for “noth­ing?” We were some­where in Ne­braska on our way to Casper, when I read the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice of­fice in Kansas City’s eclipse forecast, which be­gan with the word “Un­for­tu­nately,” we knew we’d made the right de­ci­sion.

As more and more of the sun re­turned to the sky, most of the peo­ple around us packed up and left. We stayed un­til the moon com­pletely left the sun. We loaded, then ex­e­cuted our plan to drive west to a state high­way, then go south to Laramie, Wyo., then on to Den­ver. When we found our­selves in a 40-mile-long traf­fic jam, we turned around to head back to Casper.

A friend had been in Glendo, Wyo., east of Casper. She re­ported it took more than 2 hours to drive the few blocks to get on the in­ter­state and once on the in­ter­state, she was barely mov­ing.

The Waze traf­fic app is a great thing: It sug­gested we take state high­ways north of the in­ter­state. So we did. Our friend re­ported that our de­ci­sion was a good one. We ar­rived in North Platte, Neb., at 2 a.m. Had we stayed on the in­ter­state, we would have been much later.

A de­cent night’s sleep and we were back on the road.

I stepped onto my drive­way at 8 p.m. Tues­day.

The num­bers: 56 hours on the road in a small car; one meal pur­chased, the rest pulled from a stocked cooler; one ho­tel room; nearly 2,200 miles — all for 2 min­utes 23 sec­onds of dark­ness.

Was it worth it? Un­de­ni­ably. Ab­so­lutely. Without a doubt.

A friend, Lynn Hostetler, called me on the day af­ter the eclipse to tell me that be­fore the eclipse he wasn’t sure why he should drive four hours just to see to­tal­ity. He said he didn’t un­der­stand why it was such a big deal.

He called me to tell me how awe­some it was. The ex­cite­ment in his voice told the story.

When I asked him if he wanted to go to the next eclipse, he asked where. “Chile,” I said.

“I’m go­ing to have to think about that,” he said. “I can see why peo­ple chase eclipses. They are ad­dic­tive.”

“Yes. Yes they are,” I replied. July 2, 2019. Chile. Can I wait un­til April 8, 2024, for the eclipse that will cast most of Arkansas into to­tal dark­ness dur­ing the day?

Lynn said it: “They are ad­dic­tive.”

Com­pos­ite im­age by Kent Marts

The com­pos­ite photo is made up of 13 images taken in Casper, Wyo., dur­ing the Aug. 21 to­tal so­lar eclipse.

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