in Checking In, Science, Travels

Total solar eclipse, part I

Back in the summer of 2017, the Turner family was happily enjoying our summer vacation in Idaho and Wyoming, visiting Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. The scenery was unforgettable, of course, but there was one sight we could have seen but opted to skip, and that is the totality of the 2017 eclipse. Yes, we donned eclipse glasses and enjoyed seeing the majority of sun disappear but this pales in comparison to actually being in the full shadow of the moon like in totality. Foolish me thought there was only a slight difference in awesomeness but after hearing others’ accounts I knew we’d made a mistake. I made it a mission to get to totality for the next North American total eclipse in April 2024.

I frequented eclipse-oriented websites and Facebook groups, planning out where I wanted to see it. I considered renting a mobile home to ensure lodging. The hoops that needed to be jumped through seemed extensive, and I thought a ton of planning needed to be put into it. Still, life got in the way and rather than having everything lined up (ha!) in October 2023, I put it off until after New Year’s to make our plans.

By January, most of the cheap airline seats on Southwest were gone (and now that Southwest has grown up and gone all corporate, cheap seats there are fewer and farther between). Destinations in New England were all booked up. Dallas was an option but a longer plane trip with troublesome connections. I searched all one weekend trying to find Southwest destinations within totality and nothing was coming up. Then I got the idea to search just outside of totality and found Saint Louis. Southwest has nonstop service from RDU to Saint Louis a few times a day, the cheaper seats were available for booking with points, and the schedule lined up. I booked Kelly and me two tickets and continued on to find lodging.

Like the flights, lodging was slim pickings. If hotels had availability, prices were through the roof – often $400 and up. I used Google Maps to cast a wide net. One hotel I called wouldn’t even open for another month but told me the day it would open. I called back on that morning to find it already sold out.

I settled on a hotel with a questionable-looking website, the Carlyle Inn & Suites in Carlyle, Illinois. It wasn’t fancy. It was a mom and pop hotel meant to service travelers to the nearby Carlyle Reservoir, yet it had the one thing I needed most: it was in the path of totality. Just barely, but there! And it had rooms and wasn’t outrageously expensive. I booked it, then reserved a car from Costco, and we were all set.

Our trip was incredibly constrained in that a lot of things had to go just right in order to pull it off. Kelly’s session week is this week, meaning that she really needed to be at work on Tuesday morning. Because we would have to be driving east from our Carlyle hotel in order to really enjoy totality, our time to hang around after the eclipse was very, very limited. We would have to be heading back to the airport as soon as the sun reappeared. I also hadn’t noticed but back in January my original return flight of 6:30 PM had been inexplicably rescheduled by Southwest for the 4:50 PM flight instead. It is a 90 minute drive from our viewing spot to the airport. Since totality ended at 2:04 PM, the earliest we could get to the airport was 3:35 PM, and we still had to gas up and return the rental car. To make this all work, we opted to go only with carry-on luggage. I had to forgo taking a tripod or much camera gear. I guessed that it would be a fair trade and I was largely right.

RDU was practically empty early Sunday afternoon so we boarded our flight with ease. Two short hours later we were in Saint Louis.