• Three lessons from yesterday’s eclipse

    If you are a avowed skeptic, you probably have loads of friends who are massive science enthusiasts, and more than a few who take it for granted that it makes sense to drive for hours in order to see a total solar eclipse. As Caleb Lack would say, “100% or GTFO.” With that in mind, here are some handy eclipse-chasing tips from people who learned the hard way.

    1. Be prepared

    If you are going to attempt to get the full experience, plan well ahead. Book a hotel well in advance if you don’t want to get stuck in traffic on the day. Order your eclipse glasses (or better yet, welding goggles) well in advance and plan for a particular destination somewhere in the zone of totality, preferably a welcoming small town rather than a major metropolitan area. (We picked a small Catholic University in northeast Kansas, because who doesn’t love irony?) Expect that cellphone towers will get jammed up any place where large crowds of people suddenly show up; preload useful maps to your tablet or make a paper copy.

    2. Be flexible

    Have a fall-back plan if your original destination happens to get covered up in clouds. Several of my friends ended up rerouting from Kansas to Nebraska, which was projected to have much clearer skies. Be mobile on the day, if you have to be. If you happen to own a car with a sunroof be sure to take that one, so passengers can catch glimpses on the go. Pull over well out of the way of distracted drivers before totality is upon you. If you happen to be hanging out at a Catholic University, be advised that Benedictine monks dress like ninjas and tend to walk softly.

    3. Be lucky

    No way around this—even if you do everything right the weather can still screw up your experience. Best bring along a box of lucky charms and a reliable cloudbuster or else you may be stuck praying to all the gods who will listen for a few well-timed glimpses between the clouds, which can still be fairly awe-inspiring.

    What we saw looked something like this:

    BGP welcomes your own lessons learned in the comments section, particularly if we failed to address something important.

    Share and enjoy; and do feel free to bookmark this page for 2024.

    Category: Science

    Article by: Damion Reinhardt

    Former fundie finds freethought fairly fab.
    • Matthew Goeringer

      Bring garlic, UV lights, wooden stakes, crucifixes, and holy water to protect yourself from the vampires that come out during Totality.

      But seriously, aside from all the normal things needed:
      – Water (lots of it)
      – Other drinks
      – Ice Chest
      – Snacks / food (some people did cookouts. Think Tailgate party.)
      – Lawn Chair (really needs to be a reclining one, easier to look up.)
      – Sun Shade

      Here’s a few things that could make things more fun / easier:
      1. Forget the Eclipse glasses. Get a welding mask / goggles. You can get a pair of welding goggles for $11, that come with Shade #5 glass; and you can then buy the additional #10 glass needed to make them safe for less about $2.50. So your total cost is less than $15. A welding mask with both pieces of glass can be bought for about $30. You must have both Shade #5 & #10 installed in your mask or goggles to safely view the eclipse. You can’t just have one or the other.

      I switched back and forth for awhile between my glasses and the goggles. A guy close by asked which one was better. I responded with “the goggles”. They blocked out all the side light, and just made things easier to see / view. Less eye strain. I passed them around for others to see. Everyone agreed that they liked the welding goggles better.

      I loaned them out for awhile. There was several families near by with young kids. They were very worried about the glasses fitting the kids or them falling off with the kids looking. They kept the goggles for a long time, since it was much easier for the kids to use safely. Most of those parents bought their glasses late as well. So, they paid more than $20 for each of their glasses. When they learned what I paid, and that mine will last forever, and theirs will be thrown away, they said that they will be buying welding goggles for the next one. It’ll be a good investment.

      The solar glasses are very fragile. If you bend the lenses or scratch them, you can no longer use them. If you’re traveling a long distance, I wouldn’t risk the glasses being damaged. Just buy welding goggles / masks.

      2. Your cell phone will not work. Bring a pair of walkie talkies if you have a group of people that will be with you. I lost part of my group. We couldn’t communicate because the cell towers were jammed. This would be terrifying for parents with kids. Bring walkie talkies, and lots of extra batteries, or make sure they’re charged.

      3. As others have said. If you’re not in an area that going to be 100%, get your butt moving. There is NO comparing a 99.9% to a 100%. Go all the way, or forget about going.

      4. You can buy a pair of solar binoculars, like I did. They cost about $50, and can only be used for looking at the sun. The filters are not removable. Or you can buy a pair of filters to use on binoculars that you already have.

      But unless you use your scope a lot, I wouldn’t mess with bringing one. There were a lot of amateur astronomers around us with scopes that anyone could look through. There was also a gentleman set up with a camera on his, where you could watch on a monitor.

      So I wouldn’t bring anything very big. My binoculars were plenty big to view / enjoy the sun. Since I didn’t have my goggles for most of the event, I mostly just used the binoculars.

      I could comfortably lay back in a lawn chair looking up at the sun, and watch, while relaxing.

      5. Bring your own bathroom. Sounds gross, but you’ll thank yourself for it later. Where I was, there was bathrooms and Porta Potties. But you had to wait in line more than 30 minutes (if you were lucky) to use them.

      I’d brought a hospital male urinal container with me. I needed it once, and it was a lifesaver. (don’t judge me). Ladies, there are things you can purchase as well. There were some that had brought things just in case. Some needed them, and some didn’t.

      6. GET THERE VERY EARLY!!! You’re going to want to get there early to pick out a good spot. I made it to my viewing location about 8:30am, and the eclipse didn’t start until about 11:30am; and everything was already packed.

      7. Do your research. Plan your trip, and have back up plans. Weather could change, and your primary location could be a bad place to go too. Have several places that you can travel too.

      8. Have all maps that you’re going to need to find specific streets / roads saved or in a print out. In this day and age, this sounds ridiculous. But remember me saying that I couldn’t text / call? Yeah, there was no data either. Maps wouldn’t load. I was very lucky and had saved a screen shot of a map that I needed.

      9. Avoid big cities. The traffic and everything was crazy in my area, but nothing compared to what others I know that went to major cities. I was in a rural area.

      10. Avoid big cities or areas with street lights. When it get dark, the magic can be ruined by street lights coming on. I was set up at a small airport. It was pretty neat and no lights around. It was a very rural area. A few street lights in the nearest town, but that was miles away.


      Seriously. The pictures on your phone aren’t going to come out. They’ll look awful. And you’ll miss it. We only had 2 minutes and 30 seconds of totality. Don’t miss it trying to take a picture.

      There was plenty of professional photographers around that were taking pictures. I asked some if they’d share their pics with me. So I can have a picture from the area that I was at.

      I’m very excited. There’s places that can see more than 4 minutes of totality in 2024.

      12. Bring a cart. I brought a metal cart that can carry 800 lbs. I brought it in case I was going to have to park in one location and walk to where I was going to set up at.

      There’s no way I was going to take my ice chest very far, or make several trips. I was lucky that I was able to set up right by my truck. So I really only used the cart when I was moving things in and out of my truck to carry them in / out of my house or in / out of the hotel I stayed at. It was a life saver. (And a back saver as well.)

      13. Be sure to bring extra batteries or power tanks to power / recharge all of your devices.

      14. Bring a friend, neighbor, kid, significant other, etc. Seeing Totality was an amazing experience. I’d heard people talk about it, and didn’t understand how amazing it was until I witnessed it for myself. I’m now going to do my best to get as many people as I can to go in 2024 and 2045. This is something you’re going to want to share with someone else.
      15. Keep your car / truck fueled up. If you’re going to the center line of totality, don’t wait until you get there to fuel up. You’ll be in line forever. Find a place before you get there. But be sure to fill up before you leave, because traffic could be crazy. If you get off the highway / interstate, you might not be able to get back on for awhile.
      16. Make all your hotel reservations several months in advance. A month or two before the eclipse will probably be too late, as many places will have already sold out.

      17. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. This goes for having to spend an extra night because of traffic or other reasons. So have an extra change or two of clothes, and everything you’ll need to last a couple of days.

      18. Expect LOTS of traffic. Expect delays. The trip back was a bit crazy, but not bad (for me). Where I was had a 4 lane divided highway. I waited until the eclipse was completely over, and then headed to the highway.

      I got on the highway fairly quickly, and it was packed. I lucked out and there was a gap, that made getting on easy if I floored it very quickly to get up to speed.

      Bumper-to-bumper traffic, but we were going 70–80 mph. I saw on the roads that connected to the highway, there was lots of people trying to get on. The lines of traffic backed up we’re far as I could see down those roads. That went on for more than 100 miles.

      I’m not sure how long some of those people had to wait to get onto the highway. But it had to have been hours.

      I didn’t need to stop for gas, eat, or go to the bathroom. So I was able to drive straight for more than five hours before I stopped. Anyone that had to stop, was not going to be able to get on very easy for several hours.

      I went from Nebraska to quite a ways into Oklahoma before I finally did stop at a rest area. Traffic was absolutely insane for more than 300 miles. But we didn’t really slow down much.

      There was two times that we had to slow down inside of cities and towns. And twice that we had to slow down for construction. But other than that everybody was going 70-80mph the entire time.

      In one of the towns that we passed through, the police had turned off the stop lights and were watching the intersections. I guess they wanted to get the traffic through is quick as possible to get everything over with. I don’t think they stopped the traffic. If they had, it would’ve backed up quickly.

      • Very comprehensive and impressive, my friend. Where are you going in 2024?

      • Matthew Goeringer

        Not sure just yet. I’m still reasearching that.

    • The Anti-Woo

      Our 2017 Great American Eclipse Story

      Brig and I are big on giving as much “hands on” science education to the kids as possible. When we had the chance to show them a full solar eclipse, we decided that we would go without a second thought.

      First decision: Where to go.

      I had a friend going to St. Joseph. While that looked like a good spot, it was too close to Kansas City. I knew it would be a zoo, and I’m not that big on fighting traffic, so I looked out a bit.

      Hiawatha, KS.

      10 or 12 years ago, my stupid Saturn stranded me on Hwy 77 north of Topeka. I limped into Hiawatha and got my car fixed at the WalMart. So I knew, at the very least, that there would be a large parking lot and bathrooms in Hiawatha. Come to find out that Hiawatha was having a huge eclipse festival! Our destination was set.

      Eclipse Lesson 1: Get hotel reservations sooner.

      We got a hotel in Topeka for the night before the eclipse. It was a large chain, but it was a) waaay to close to the Westboro Baptist Church and b) kinda a dump. Our hotel room wasn’t ready and smelt like an ashtray. Plus, the TV sucked… no good for watching Game of Thrones.

      After some swimming, we ordered some pizza, plugged the kids into Lego Batman on the tablet and sat back to watch Game of Thrones on our crummy TV. Afterwards, I read aloud to the kids for a bit and we all passed out.

      We set the alarms for before the butt crack of dawn, and woke up to the weather person all but saying that we were screwed. We figured, “What the heck? We drove this far, might as well hope we can get lucky. We drove the hour and seven minutes to Hiawatha, KS.

      Eclipse Lesson 2: Arrive early.

      The parking lot in Hiawatha was supposed to open at 8. We were there by 7. Traffic was starting to pick up, but it still wasn’t high enough to spike my blood pressure. By 8AM, the lot was full.

      We packed the kinds of things you’d expect for tailgating: snacks, drinks, blankets, lawn chairs.

      Eclipse Lesson 3: Bring Bug Spray

      We forgot this. Luckily, the people next to us lent us some.

      Hiawatha set up a great little festival. There were food trucks, bouncy houses, facepainting, and even a lecture from a gentleman from NASA.

      But, unfortunately, I spent most of my time in the fair city of Hiawatha standing under a Wifi router and looking at the Weather Channel app on my phone.

      Which leads us to…. Eclipse Lesson 4: Suck it up and pay for data roaming for a month.

      We puttered around the festival for a bit, but by 10:30, it started raining. And it didn’t look like it would stop anytime soon.

      Eclipse Lesson 5: Paper Maps/downloaded maps

      People make fun of me for keeping a paper map in my car. Glad I had it today. I’d downloaded a detailed map of the eclipse path for Nebraska and Kansas. I compared that to my handy dandy Rand McNally Road Atlas that I always keep in my car and the weather maps from the Weather Channel app.

      Eclipse Lesson 6: If you don’t have a basic idea on how weather patterns work, learn it.

      Luckily, I grew up in Oklahoma. I’d learned all about storm systems and how they move from years of watching Gary England every spring (Thanks, Gary!)

      Using the (pretty spectacular) radar and cloud maps off the Weather Channel app, I knew that, if I was going to see the eclipse, my best shot was to move.

      Eclipse Lesson 7: Stay in a low populated area away from major cities.

      If we hadn’t done this, my little jaunt into Nebraska would have been a traffic nightmare. By this point, however, I was over an hour away from the next decent sized city… and that was Topeka. So, I was okay.

      We compared our three maps (weather/Rand McNally/eclipse path), threw the kids in the car, and started driving towards Beatrice, NE.

      Eclipse Lesson 8: Read the sky/stay off main roads Pt 1

      Again, aware of traffic, we took as many rinky dink little farm roads as possible. Every time we had to spend a few miles on a state highway, we ran into traffic.

      We have a MASSIVE sunroof on our car, and Brig spent the majority of the trip looking out all the windows, reading the clouds. We passed through the charming hamlet of Pawnee City, NE, and things started looking better. Five miles down the road, things started looking REALLY good. We came to the top of the rise and saw in front of us, a good 1+2 hours of only slightly hazy skies. Nope, don’t need to go to Beatrice, Bad clouds coming up behind our clear spot. Beatrice might be cloudy. Pawnee City, NE was our spot.

      Eclipse Lesson 9: Learn how fast storm systems move, and learn to eyeball the sky.

      Eclipse Lesson 10: Pick a high elevation spot.

      We landed on top of a hill about 5 miles west of Pawnee City. Our backs were to grain silos, we had soybeans to our right and left, and corn in front of us. Since Brig and I are Iowa People, we felt right at home From our high vantage point, not only could we keep a good eye on the sky, but, when the eclipse finally came to our little hilltop, we got a GREAT view of the horizon on all sides. More on this later.

      So, now we’ve found our spot, which was the hard part, and we could just sit back and enjoy it.

      There was one other family from Kansas on our hilltop with us. Nice people. They had very expensive cameras and telescopes with them, so we almost moved on, since, well, I have small kids, but they thought that it was VERY COOL that I named my son Orion, so we decided these people were okay and we stayed 🙂

      Eclipse Lesson 11: Your kids will get bored

      The kids were entertained by the partial eclipse for about 2.5 seconds. Lexi liked to check on it from time to time, but Orion did NOT get what we were making a big deal about. We brought snacks and toy trucks and a book for Lexi, so they did okay.

      Eclipse Lesson 12: Bring your own toilet paper and trash bags.

      We just put diapers on Orion for the day (screw potty training!) but Lexi had to pee. She learned a valuable life lesson in how to pee without a toilet behind a grain silo in Nebraska. Glad I brought the toilet paper.Glad it was just pee.

      We parked on a hill, so we could lay our blankets out and just look up. Very nice. And now it’s showtime.

      Eclipse Lesson 13: Find totality and enjoy the show

      If we didn’t have the glasses, we wouldn’t have known anything was happening until about 30 minutes before totality. The sky started darkening a bit, like if it was a stormy day. Suddenly, there were crickets and the birds disappeared.

      About 6 minutes before totality, the sky got a bit hazy again. A rainbow appeared around the sun!

      A minute before totality, you could tell that strange things were about to happen. The sky went from slightly darker than normal to twilight, almost instantly. In these last few moments, we went back and forth between using the glasses to look at the sun, and looking around us with the naked eye.

      And then the sun went out.

      The diamond ring shone so bright for a second, and then it was Black Hole Sun.

      Afterwards, we thought of many poetic things to say about the eclipse, but while it was happening, it was just pure joy. No picture, no words can describe how amazing and WEIRD it is. We saw planets glowing in the sky, and the sun looked like a black ball with silver white hair coming out of it. The entire horizon was filled with a 360 degree sunset.

      How odd it must have been for the people of the past to view such an occurrence? If I didn’t know that it was coming, it would have been downright spooky.

      But, for us, it was a win. Science told us when and where it was going to be. Science told us what the weather would do. We took the knowledge from people a lot smarter than us, and used it to experience one of the most amazing things that I’ve ever seen. We laughed in pure wonder at what we saw. How amazing is it? The combined knowledge of so many people came together to give us this amazing experience in a soybean field in the middle of Nebraska.

      And, in less time than it took me to type this, it was over. The diamond ring flared again for a second on the other side, and the lights came back on.

      We had to get back to the city in a somewhat reasonable time, so we packed our bags and left after totality.

      Eclipse Lesson 14:: Photography.

      I had a vague idea where I would need to have my exposure. I snapped the diamond ring on both sides of it, bracketed a few different shots of the eclipse, and one of our surroundings. This all took me maybe 30 seconds. I knew we only had 2.5 minutes of totality, and I didn’t want to waste it. If you want to get a picture of the eclipse, know your equipment like the back of your hand before you start. Know what you want to get (I actually framed up my “wide shot” before showtime so that I would know exactly where I needed to be) get the pictures fast, and then enjoy the show.

      I shot with a Canon 7d DSLR with a 135mm lens and I just had a circular polarizer on the front of it. I don’t think my cell phone would have got anything worth using. It was in my pocket. From the few people I talked to that tried to get pictures with their cell phones, it was a waste of time.

      I probably could have dropped the money to get a special filter, but decided against it. Our kind hilltop neighbors told us that you could buy sheets of the eclipse glasses filters. That’s what they used and they made their own filters for their cameras and telescopes. Those worked really well, and are a lot cheaper than buying the specialized filters. That’s what I’ll do next time.

      There’s tons of great eclipse pictures on the internet. The ones I got turned out okay, but I don’t regret spending only 30 seconds on photography in the slightest. The eclipse was just too cool to only view through my camera.

      Eclipse Lesson 15: Stay off main roads Part 2:

      On the way out, we finally hit our first bad traffic. There was kind of only one way down from southeastern Nebraska, so we had lines of cars. We’d pass through these little towns and it would be bumper to bumper traffic from where the speed limit dropped until the other side of town. The people of the towns were sitting on their front porch, watching the line of out of state plates pass by. Kids were waving at us like it was a parade. People had garage sales set up. It was fun.

      We got off the main state highway and diverted into Manhattan, KS for a late lunch. After leaving Manhattan, we had a choice between taking the main highway down through Kansas, or weaving our way down what Rand McNally had marked as the “scenic route.” I had Google Maps back by this time, and the “scenic route” was only about 10 minutes longer. Later, I talked to someone who took the main highway south, though, and it was bumper to bumper. Glad I took the “scenic route.” Although, it’s Kansas, so “scenic route” has to be graded on a curve.

      Eclipse Lesson 16: Car Conversations

      As I said at the beginning, we take every opportunity to push science education onto our kids that we can. We talked about the rotation of the earth, seasons and weather. Lexi learned about engineers, mathematicians, and meteorologists. At the end of it, she decided that she wanted to be an engineer.

      And, if that was the only takeaway from the experience, it would be a win. The fact that we got to see one of the most amazing natural sights on the planet was just icing on the cake.

      • The Anti-Woo

        My novel eclipse post, as promised —Kristina

    • Australia

      And don’t forget to lock up your pets to prevent eye damage and stop them looking directly at the sun…………even though no sensible or insensible animal has ever looked at the sun for any length of time, eclipse or no.