Experiencing Totality Eclipses Any Local Experience &  Is Worth The Drive

By Michelle Colesanti

The wind kicks up as the temperature begins to drop; just enough to notice on a hot and humid southern day. Shadows cast in the muted light entertain those waiting for the main event. A minute before totality, the duller light begins to fade quickly. Oohs and ahs are heard throughout the crowd. Some cheer; some remain silent in reflection. Everyone peers upward with glasses waiting for the moment when they can finally remove them.
As darkness descends and nothing can be seen through the glasses, the time has come to bear witness with our eyes (and soul) to one of earth’s most magnificent shows – the total solar eclipse.

Most long weekends and vacations take a bit of planning, but preparing for a trip to see a total eclipse holds a host of other issues to be dealt with.

I decided to join my son Matt on an eight hour trip to Columbia, South Carolina to view the total eclipse on August 21. He originally planned to take this trip alone; but the mama in me decided that he needed company for the long drive. So, less than two months prior to the big event, I was scrambling to find a hotel room. Rooms still available were offered at prices to match the event – astronomical! We found a hotel about 15 to 20 minutes from the downtown area.

Columbia is home to the University of South Carolina and welcomes football crowds that come each fall see the Gamecocks play. The stadium holds just over 80,000, but for the Eclipse, the city was expecting over 600,000 to attend the various events planned over the weekend and into Monday.

The hotel finally booked, we were ready to go – until we found out that the glasses purchased from Amazon were possibly not certified as proper protection. Panic ensued as we tried to find glasses at the last moment. We didn’t want to travel all that way and chance not finding them. We took a class at the 78th Street Library in Tampa where Craig MacDougal gave a 30 minute presentation that was interesting and educational.
Free glasses were given out to all participants. We had our glasses, now we could breathe easier. It turned out that glasses were given out at various locations. By eclipse day, my son and I were sporting three different pair each.

We spent some wonderful bonding time during the long road trip as well as visiting the Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens and attending some free seminars by visiting professors at the University of South Carolina.

Eclipse day was spent at the South Carolina State Museum, which was hosting a large event capping off at about 3000 people. Given the 100 degree heat, we were thankful for the air conditioned museum which had great exhibits, a planetarium show and 4 D movies to entertain while waiting for what we all were there for.

Weather had been the main concern as there was originally a 40% chance of showers. On the actual day, a few clouds were in the sky when the partial eclipse began. A little nervous that cloud cover would obscure our view at totality, we were excited when the clouds dissipated and the view was incredible.

The time for totality neared. We had 2 ½ minutes to take in as much as possible; to see something that many never get to witness in their lifetime. For me it was emotional and awe-inspiring, but mostly otherworldly. The best celestial sight seen with the naked eye left me realizing how lucky I was to be standing there, and that we are all small in this infinite universe, but we are all significant.

The next total eclipse to reach the United States will take place on April 8, 2024 from Texas and arcing up through the New England states. I hope to be there.