Totally Eclipsed

Can anyone stand one more eclipse story? I promise this one will be a little different than most. I drove a thousand miles for a 4-day weekend and, well… Mother Nature had different plans.

Lots of loyal Twelve Mile Circle readers asked me if I planned to see the August 21, 2017, total eclipse of the sun. I started getting emails from curious readers several months ago. Actually, I began planning for the event even before anyone asked. My brother lives in a suburb of Charleston, South Carolina. Exactly one year in advance, to the day, I sent him a message requesting a place to stay. Of course he hadn’t heard anything about the eclipse at that point. Almost nobody had. Nonetheless, I wanted to stake out my prime viewing spot before anyone else could claim it. The year passed a lot quicker than I expected and soon we found ourselves heading down to Charleston.

The Drive Down

I way overthought the logistics as I always do, and as my nature often compels me. How would we survive Interstate 95, one of the most traffic-clogged roads on a good day, when hundreds of thousands of people had the same thought? I guessed maybe fewer drivers would begin their journey early Saturday morning, two days before the eclipse. We left the Washington, DC area at 5:30 am, hoping that my prediction might hold true. However, traffic coming out of DC seemed heavier than usual. It continued to build as we passed Fredericksburg and pushed forward towards Richmond. I definitely feared the worst. If traffic looked this bad even before sunrise, what would it look like when everyone woke up and started heading towards the eclipse’s path of totality?

Unexpectedly, conditions improved after we left Richmond. In retrospect, I figured they must have been heading to the beaches of Virginia and North Carolina. This wasn’t eclipse traffic, this was normal beach traffic, of people with Saturday-to-Saturday cottage rentals. We experienced nothing but smooth sailing for the rest of the drive. Honestly the easiest driving happened in South Carolina. The route seemed downright relaxing compared to the initial leg. We arrived at our destination in 7.5 hours, with an average speed (including stops) of about 65 miles per hour (105 kilometres per hour). No delays. None.

I guessed correctly. Others, however, did not. My wife’s friend left from New Jersey later in the day. She made it only as far as Fayetteville, North Carolina until being forced by fatigue to stop overnight. It took her 15 hours.

Hanging Out

Rusty Bull Brewing Co.

We also got plenty of time to hang out with family, another benefit of arriving two days early. This trip would be a little different. We would avoid the usual tourist sites of Charleston. I didn’t want to be anywhere near the crowds. Our older son enjoyed spending time in a quiet corner of his temporary bedroom playing interactive Internet games with his friends back home in Virginia. Our younger son got some quality time with his cousin, including a trip to the local trampoline park. My sister-in-law definitely took one for the team as she shepherded them during that adventure.

The rest of us visited as many local breweries as we could. Over the course of two days we hit six: Frothy Beard Brewing; Holy City Brewing; Oak Road Brewery; Rusty Bull Brewing; Twisted Cypress Brewing and Westbrook Brewing. I’d never been to a brewery in South Carolina before, so now the only states missing from my brewery adventure map were Arkansas, Kansas, Montana and Oklahoma.

Eclipse Day

The morning of the eclipse

Then came the big day. I started with a six-mile run at dawn. I thought Virginia summers were brutal although they paled in comparison to South Carolina. At least mornings in Virginia offered a bit of respite from the worst extremes of the day. However, in South Carolina, I walked through the front door and hit a solid wall of heat and humidity. This seemed troublesome because all that water vapor had to go somewhere, and sure enough clouds began to build as the morning progressed. Clouds, obviously, would obscure the eclipse. Still, I tried to remain optimistic.

Fortunately we didn’t need to travel anywhere. My brother’s house sat northwest of Charleston, even further into the area of totality than the city itself. The period of darkness there differed from the theoretical maximum by only 12 seconds. We didn’t see any need to fight our way through the traffic. We already sat at an awesome geographic viewpoint.

The city itself largely shut-down for the event. Many businesses closed for the days as did the schools. Still, lots of bars and restaurants remained open with all sorts of eclipse celebrations and specials. It became something of an undeclared holiday. Even so, we decided to remain in the back yard with lawn chairs and our eclipse glasses ready.

The Eclipse


Where we stood, the eclipse lasted from 1:16 pm to 4:09 pm, with totality starting at 2:46 pm and lasting for more than two minutes. Right around 12:30 pm, a thunderstorm rolled into the area and heavy clouds did not depart for the rest of the day. We never saw the sun during the entire period of the eclipse. Thunder and rainfall drowned out every other sound. Only complete darkness offered the telltale sign that something else was happening. This unfortunate turn of events offered a humble lesson in making the best of a bad situation. We did enjoy the moments leading up to totality. The world darkened visibly, especially during the final moments, arriving faster than any sunset. It looked like someone turned a dimmer switch on the entire planet, then repeated the process in reverse. We never got to use our eclipse glasses though.

When’s the next one? April 8, 2024? I have a cousin who lives in Austin, Texas. Maybe I can make reservations early.

8 Replies to “Totally Eclipsed”

  1. Sorry you missed it! My experience in mid-Missouri was even more heartbreaking: A cloud rolled over mere moments before totality, dropped some rain on us, and moved on shortly after totality ended, leaving clear skies. So frustrating!

  2. I was at my Mom’s house, right on Lake Murray, about 10 miles from Columbia. The Columbia news people all got rain, but we had completely clear sky.

    Coolest thing to see was that the trees’ leaves acted like pinhole cameras and the ground underneath was covered in dozens of little crescents as totality approached and receded.

    With a tip from Adam Savage, I used to find a couple of cool items to see in the city, after the eclipse, of course.

  3. I’m sorry you missed the eclipse. My father and I drove from Houston to SE Nebraska to see it. We had to move to a few different spots to dodge storms. We also had to wander around to find effective cell phone service to get weather info to dodge weather.

    In the end, we had light clouds but we did get to see the sun. The corona was just visible through the clouds. We had 2 minutes 37 seconds of totality. We were in Pawnee City, NE.

    I have been planning this trip for several years. I think my plans changed seven times in the last week pre-eclipse. You have to be adaptable.

    Come to Texas for the 2024 eclipse. It will be great here. I think I will be at my inlaws’ river house. Sitting in the Guadalupe river with a margarita and an eclipse sounds like fun.

    Oh, I also got 16 new counties in NE, KS, and OK. My father might be catching the bug too. I know he will have more counties than my 1029. He’s been everywhere.

  4. I sympathise. For the 11 Aug 1999 eclipse (one Saros cycle before yours) I took the coach over 300 miles to reach St. Ives (Cornwall), which was almost smack dab in the centre line and promised 2m6s totality. Wonderful sunny weather up until the evening before eclipse day. Then in the early hours of eclipse day a storm came in from the Atlantic…

  5. In Sumter, SC we were lucky. Clouds were predicted but there was a hole in the clouds exactly from the beginning to the end of the eclipse.

    Onto 2024! Austin has a low chance of clouds that day. Places further north are much more cloudy. Book your room with your cousin. If you drive there, you can pick up quite some new counties, I see 😉

    The county counting was my bummer during the eclipse. Only three new ones 🙁

  6. Sorry you missed it, I planned long ago to go to Wyoming to be fairly assured of clear skies. I took a two week vacation there and back (my last one before I retire at the end of October), and I met up with friends from various western states at Glendo SP east of Douglas. I’ve never seen such traffic in Wyoming, lots of people coming up from Colorado. But I got there early enough and left late so as not to have any major traffic problems. Viewing from there was glorious! My second total eclipse (first was in 1970 at Portsmouth VA), plus two annular eclipses in 1994 and 2012 (both in New Mexico).

    Also used to trip to cross several new county lines, 93 of them. They’re getting harder to get to, and farther apart!

    For any on Facebook, I hope to have pictures up before the end of the week. They should be open to everyone there, under the name Fritz Keppler.

  7. Sorry that you missed it. I went to Nashville to see the eclipse. There was some light cloud cover during the early part of the partial eclipse but not enough to spoil anything, and there were no clouds in the way during totality. I got to see the same crescents that Steve Spivey mentioned.

    I’m already planning ahead to the next one. There’s a village on the south tip of Keuka Lake (one of the Finger Lakes in New York) where my wife and I honeymooned, and we go back periodically. That village won’t be in totality but the north end of the lake and much of the rest of the Finger Lakes will be, so we’re thinking that’s where we’ll take it in.

  8. Travelled north of Kansas City to a rural and remote family cemetery in Clinton county, MO just south of Plattsburg. At about 15 minutes before totality I knew the storm clouds would block it and I made a mad dash 4 mile south on gravel roads and found clear skies long enough to get over 2 minutes of totality. An amazing day! I can’t wait for 4/8/24, I’m planning to be in New Madrid for that one.

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