Monday, May 20, 2024

COLUMN: I went to see the total solar eclipse on a whim. Here's how it went.

April 10, 2024
<p>The total solar eclipse during the diamond ring phase in Toledo, Ohio on Apr. 8, 24.</p>

The total solar eclipse during the diamond ring phase in Toledo, Ohio on Apr. 8, 24.

It seems only fitting that the story of a space escapade begins by talking to a cyborg.

In a small-town diner in Northwood, Ohio, I waited for a platter of eggs Benedict.

Sitting on a leather diner stool that creaked with every gesture of my hands, my friend Curtis and I found ourselves engrossed in a conversation with the man sitting next to us.

After a tiresome night of travel, coffee and friendly faces were just what I needed. I don’t think he ever quite got around to telling us his name, but he and the chef behind the counter bantered with us like we were old friends.

Upon mentioning we were students from Michigan State University, a smirk creeped across his face. He said us traveling that far could only be for one reason. In a swift gesture, he pulled a pair of eclipse glasses from his pocket.

As he shifted forward in his seat, they seemed to line up with his face almost perfectly. I swear— in my eyes, he was a spitting image of the terminator. An image made more real as we talked further; we quickly learned that he was a recently retired robotics programmer and that he’d had surgery on one of his wrists.

A x-ray photo of his wrist, which he eagerly pulled up on his phone, showed the metal rods that lined his bones. He laughed heartily as he remarked that he thought it was cool that the guy who programmed robot arms now, more or less, had one of his own.

With a few bits of sage advice on the ideal eclipse spots from the folks at the diner, we returned to our hotel, fulfilled breakfast orders in hand. Totality wouldn’t wait for us if we were late, so we gathered our travel companions, Maren and Aahan, and decided breakfast tasted best on the road anyhow.

See, my friends and I had only just locked down our plan two days prior. We were lucky enough to find a hotel just outside of Toledo that we could stay at the night before. However, we still didn't know where we were going for the eclipse itself. 

We knew that we wanted to experience totality, the moment when the moon fully blocks the sun, for as long as possible. After all, we were Michiganders willingly stepping foot in Ohio— we needed to make the most of it.

A good chunk of Ohio was on the path of totality, but depending on where within the path we were, the experience would last longer.

As we loaded bags into Curtis’ car and began to take the first bites of breakfast, it was decided that we’d go to Blue Rock Nature Preserve in Findlay, Ohio. It was a prime location and would experience over three and a half minutes of totality. Plus, with it being a local park, we were hoping to avoid big crowds.

Thanks to our hotel positioning, we were able to use the highway and jet down to Findlay without getting caught up in the eclipse gridlock we’d heard so much about. While on the road, we even ran into some fellow Spartans making the same trip we were.

Sadly, despite Aahan’s best efforts to shout “go green” at the SUV with an MSU bumper sticker, his cries went unanswered.

As we weaved through the suburbs of Findlay, I couldn’t help but notice what seemed to be a whole town coming together in celebration.

People relaxed out on lawn chairs, the scent of barbeque was in the air, and folks rode up and down the streets while blasting music that was always at least vaguely space and sun related.

Yet, our surroundings quickly quieted as we entered the nature preserve.

We set up camp by the entrance. A baseball diamond sat next to us and train tracks crossed over the end of the street. Apart from the occasional distant train horn, it was quite silent.

After a quick stop at the store for snacks, we got settled in and began passing the time till totality. We played euchre, threw a football around and even busted out some science experiments I’d prepped for the occasion.

And then the eclipse began. In the time before totality, the moon is partially covering the sun. This partial cover gives the sun a crescent looking appearance, making light and subsequent shadows fluctuate.

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To showcase this, I had poked holes into a sheet of paper to spell out the word “SWAG!". When put in direct view of the sun, the tiny holes would shoot out beams of light amid the shadow of the sheet of paper. However, as opposed to what you would normally expect, the beams of light wouldn’t be circular in shape like the holes in the paper, but instead would look like little crescents that reflected the exact stage the eclipse was at.

At the same time, our view began to change too. It was as if there were a gray filter over our surroundings. Colors became duller and less vibrant, like something out of the “Twilight” movies.

Watching through eclipse glasses, we sat in wait for the moment we had driven so far to see.

The subtle chirping and chatter of daytime animals faded as our surroundings turned to nightfall. I felt a cool wind brush past my neck prompting goosebumps to pop up all across my arms. The temperature began to drop rapidly— and yet, there was a low glow of light all around us. There was what looked like dawn breaking on every horizon, as far as the eye could see.

And as the last sliver of sunlight still peaking through our glasses fell behind the moon, we entered totality.

I removed my glasses. Small red flares whipping out from the edges of the glowing ring in the sky caught my gaze and held it, and pale beams of light reached out to me from the edges of the moon.

I stared back into the large black pupil of the universe's eye. I stood, unwavering, with my friends at my side, and basked in the harmonious feeling of being small.

At 3:12 p.m., the world around me went from being filled with color to complete darkness. Many of the photos and videos online don't do this phenomenon justice.

Even as the sun quickly peeked out over the moon again, it was a moment worth all of the frenzied planning. Because it’s not the planning I really remember, but the hushed whispers and shocked smiles beside me as we plunged into night.

I took a trip to see the solar eclipse on a whim and if given the chance, I’d gladly do it again.

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