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Totality Worth It!

My 2024 Eclipse Adventure

By Jon Aldrich

I marked April 8, 2024 on my calendar over a year ago. I didn’t get a chance to see the 2017 eclipse, so I made a promise to myself that I was going to make it to the path of totality for the Great North American Eclipse of 2024. Getting to witness totality of a solar eclipse is one of my “bucket list” items, which I have always wanted to do. I still have a lot more on that list such as driving the entire Old Route 66 and hiking all the way down and up the Grand Canyon. I like to encourage my clients to chase their dreams in life, so I figured I should take my own advice. I am so glad I did!

I started to plan out my route and since everything as far as lodging was concerned was totally sold-out months ago for exorbitant prices, I knew it was going to be a long day of driving down and back. Since I love highway driving, I can drive 12 hours in a day, if need be, as the trips down to Tuscaloosa, Alabama and out to Rapid City, South Dakota to my sons’ colleges can attest. Thus, as I reviewed the path of totality, I had a few choices within 5 hours or so.

We could go down to Carbondale, but I figured there were going to be too many people there at the big party they were having and because it seemed like everyone was going there. Traffic would likely be a nightmare. As I thought about it, I felt I just wanted to be in the middle of nowhere to witness all the sights and sounds without hundreds of people around. That led me to focus on Southeastern Illinois, and the small town of Olney, IL for my destination. 

My wife, Tammy was originally going to accompany me down, but she has been so busy at her job in the school system that she said there was no way she would be able to go. I really wanted to experience this with someone else, so I thought for a minute and then called a retired firefighter friend of mine named Scott. I knew he enjoyed the outdoors and nature even more so than myself and since he didn’t have a lot on his plate as he is retired and his wife couldn’t get off work that day, I figured he was the perfect fit. As it turns out, he was contemplating heading down there as well, so it worked out perfectly.  Plus, Scott and I can have conversations for hours as we have a lot of common interests.

We had the route planned out and just were not sure as to how much traffic we were going to encounter on the way down, so we allowed ourselves a little extra time to drive my truck down to the vicinity of Olney, which would take almost 5 hours according to Google Maps & Waze. We packed a cooler with refreshments and snacks in case we were going to get stuck in traffic, made sure we had our eclipse glasses and brought my dog, Ande along since he loves to ride, and he would enjoy the journey.

We made good progress all the way down to Champaign, but that is where we started to see the backups in traffic on Interstate 57 coming down with all the Chicago folks doing the same thing as us. This is where it was really nice to have Scott be my navigator as he is great at finding routes on backroads to avoid the jams on the main highways.

We bypassed Champaign and embarked on a mixture of state, county and local roads, some gravel, some not much wider than one lane and others that had a few potholes. Overall, though, there were a few extra vehicles doing the same thing we were, but it was a heck of lot better than the stop and start and crawl of Interstate 57. 

We decided to stop for lunch at a Dairy Queen not far from our destination in the little town of Greenup (shoutout to my friend Zack who hails from good ole Greenup). Traffic was starting to be a bit heavier in Greenup and they had a couple of Policeman (probably the town’s entire police force) directing traffic through town, which was really helpful, and they did a great job keeping things moving. Greenup was just on the northern edge of totality, so we still had a few miles to go to get to our destination north of Olney.

As we continued down Highway 130, we started to see people in yards, churches, parking lots, parks, golf courses, etc. setting up their chairs, adjusting their glasses and having some cold “adult” beverages. It was apparent that we were getting closer to the main event. We figured we would just want to be a bit north of Olney so we could hopefully stay ahead of the slew of traffic that would be heading back north after the show was over.

We found a gravel county road a bit north of town and headed a couple miles east among wide open corn and bean fields and settled on a remote intersection well off the beaten path. I parked the truck off on the side of the road and Scott, Ande and I set up shop as we waited with eager anticipation for the show to begin.

We could not ask for a better day. There were only a few hazy clouds all around, and it was a gorgeous 75 degrees or so. There was a gentle breeze, and the trees and plants were really starting to bloom down there, especially compared to what we have here in Northern Illinois. By the time we were set up and were able to peer through our eclipse glasses (I actually still had my pair from 2017), things were starting to accelerate as the moon had already covered about a quarter of the sun.

The sunlight was gradually starting to dim, and we found out we could get pictures of the eclipse before totality by putting our eclipse glasses over our camera lenses on our phones to get pictures leading up to totality.

Things continued to progress relatively quickly and before you knew it the Sun was about 90% covered and the light was diminishing. The temperature started to cool, and the wind died down and became calm. As it got to over 95%, it was just like dusk, and we started to hear crickets and the birds stopped chirping so much. Ande didn’t really seem to give the eclipse much bother as he had a bunch of side projects investigating things in the field around the truck.

And then just like that, Whoosh, Totality! It got dark, we could see Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn shining brightly as if it was a half hour after sunset even though it was 2 pm in the afternoon. The sky above us was dark, but as you peered around the horizon, it was like a 360-degree sunset all around you. The chirping of the crickets picked up, the wind was calm, and it felt as if it was 10 to 15 degrees cooler. Besides the crickets, it was eerily peaceful and quiet.

View above us during totality

Off in the distance, probably a couple miles away, the instant it went dark, we heard a bunch of hooting and hollering. We now had 3 minutes and 49 seconds of totality to enjoy!

We took off our glasses and furiously tried to snap pictures, but we also did not want to miss seeing it for real with our own eyes. The sight of the moon covering the Sun and its spectacular corona was a vision I will never forget. It reminded me of the eye of Sauron in “The Lord of the Rings” films. It seemed like something from a movie, as if it was not real. You could see the glow of the Sun’s atmosphere around the sphere of the moon, appearing as though it was alive. There were a couple of solar prominences visible around the edges of the moon which added to the spectacle. These are eruptions of plasma extending outward from the Sun’s surface, which of course would not be visible normally due to the glare of our neighborhood star. It was unthinkable that we could just stare directly at the Sun as long as the Moon was totally blocking it.

The 3 minutes and 49 seconds of totality went by in a flash, but we knew we were only going to have that much time to witness something we may never see again in our lifetimes. Sure, the next eclipse in 2045 in the south might be doable for me, but none of us know where we will be in 21 years, let alone tomorrow. And I don’t really have any plans to travel around the world chasing eclipses, so this was it!

Scott and I both agreed it was a life-changing experience and we both wished our wives could have been there to enjoy it with us as well. It also would have been great if our kids could have been there with us too, he has 3 boys and I have 2 and they all would have been amazed by it if they were able to be there. The pictures I am sharing do not in any way do this celestial event any justice. Just as pictures of the Grand Canyon do not in any way describe the actual view of it when you stand along the rim of that one of the seven Wonders of the World.

Then, just like that, our time was up. The first flicker of glare peered from the right edge of the Sun, and it was time to put the eclipse glasses on again to get a view. We stayed for a few minutes and soaked in the sight of the strange light that only a small percentage of the Sun could produce, but it quickly brightened up. We threw our gear and loaded Ande back in the truck and headed north on some unnamed gravel road to take us to the next county road.

Traffic on the way back was a lot heavier than on the way down, but we did not have too many slowdowns, thanks to my expert navigator finding the shortest routes. The cool thing about taking all those back roads there and back is that the journey is almost as fun as the destination. You see all kinds of things you would not see from the freeway and roads we may never travel again in our lifetime. We made it back in only a half hour or so longer than it took us to get down there. Round-trip was just a little over 12 hours.

Sure, it was a long drive, and we were totally exhausted by the time we pulled into my garage just in time to watch the NCAA Basketball Championship between Purdue and UConn. Of course I was asleep midway through the second half, and since it was a blowout, I did not miss much.

I am so glad that I just decided to not overthink things and as Nike says, “Just Do It”.  As I get older, I have developed that attitude more and more because you just don’t know when you may get another chance at something. It is a reason I tell many of my clients it is ok to spend money and to take those great vacations with the family because life is unpredictable, and you never know when something could happen, and you are not able to do these grandiose things. Enjoy Life While You Can!

Now, I need to plan that trip on Route 66!

Fun Fact:  Only 1 in 10,000 people are lucky enough to experience a total solar eclipse in-person in their lifetime.