It seems like everyone has something to say about “The Great American Eclipse of 2017.” However, I have more to say about my trip to it than the cloudy afternoon of the eclipse. I knew I wanted to go North to see the eclipse; it seemed exciting, like a once-in-a-lifetime type of event. After two days of invested searching, I couldn’t find eclipse glasses anywhere, so went without. I also couldn’t find anywhere to stay. I did, somehow, eventually manage to pin down two nights at a campsite in South Carolina. Givhans Ferry State Park was in the path of totality and only $15 a night! I checked my tent, cleaned the house, packed my bags, left multiple bowls of water and food out for my cat, and headed North at noon on Sunday.
My truck is very old. A 2000 Ford F-150 gifted to me with many dents, dings, and life experiences. He is a good retired work truck, and he has served me well for the past two years, not without some issues. I had managed a solid two hours of 70-80 mph traffic. Packed, of course, with eclipse chasers headed North. Vehicles swerved in and out of lanes, cutting each other off, and narrowly avoiding potentially deadly outcomes. There was even a point in which every other car for about 8 cars up suddenly veered off the road onto the grassy shoulder, brakes screeching. An accident? Nope, it was simply people cutting each other off so closely that no one had room to slow down. In my old school truck, I always give enough room in front of me to fully brake if the other vehicles need to. Unfortunately, that is a great size for a bad driver in a small car to slide in. This continued for hours- until the bridge between Georgia and South Carolina, just over the Savannah River.
Suddenly, just as I reached the South Carolina side of the bridge- my gas pedal no longer worked. My brain immediately made me look to my dash while my foot moved to the brake. All I saw was a flash of the battery light as the realization that the brakes were no longer working came over me, and my eyes went straight forward. My Ford F-150 was now a piece of metal going about 60 mph in bumper to bumper traffic. I don’t know much about vehicles, but I do know that when it truly dies- the steering becomes manual. I could not simply swerve off the road as my arms realized the weight of the truck was now fighting against me. I stood my ass up and yanked the wheel with all my weight to the right into a grassy field, aiming at one of the road signs as a point of stopping. I sat back down and pushed my foot and leg as hard as humanly possible into my brake.
I stopped. I stopped in that field about two feet in front of that road sign. I put the truck in park, took out the key, and looked around. Traffic flow didn’t slow, and I could actually see the massive “Welcome to South Carolina” sign about a hundred yards in front of me. I hadn’t even reached it. Laughable really, I broke down before I reached the sign. I called my mom to let her know I was alive, and I would be using the AAA membership she graciously provides me with. I then spent a half hour playing phone tag and talking with AAA. I was “in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday evening” they said. They told me to stay in the car to not get kidnapped; seriously, she said that to me, one of the 5 or 6 people I spoke with. I guess I’m a rule breaker because I got out of the 100 degree vehicle, but the field was absolutely infested with bugs. I watched hoards of dragonflies buzz through eating mosquitoes and an array of other insects I’d rather avoid. So, I jumped into the bed of the truck.
There I sat for 2 hours; I even had a banana for a snack at one point. I watched traffic fly by, and they watched me. I’m sure I watched thousands of people drive by. One man honked as he sped past, but no one stopped. This wouldn’t have bothered me, but eventually the traffic became very congested. The cars were no longer bumper to bumper going 60 mph. They were at a stand still, rolling past at maybe 5 mph. I could make eye contact, they could see me, and all I got were a few surprised faces. I assume they thought the dents and battle scars were fresh wounds on the truck. I gave up and crawled back into the truck. It started, but I’d be terrified to drive it anywhere without a mechanics stamp of approval. I turned on the air con for a few minutes before- the sudden sound of metal, at full speed, off the highway, across a rock section, through divots, and into the grass- a tow truck pulled up in front of me.
He was cute, but I was cranky and not sure what was going to happen. His name was Jacob, and he laughed at me while taking the back roads to avoid traffic, apologizing for the pot hole infested dirt road through the woods. He told me he knew a better and closer place for me to get it checked out. Once we arrived, the number didn’t work, and so, he called up one of the mechanics for me, Jose. Jose told me to leave the truck there and throw my keys in the slot by the door, but I wasn’t super comfortable with that. He had said that the mechanics would work on it first thing at 8am, but Jacob was not pleased that I didn’t have some kind of plan. It was a main strip off the highway in Hardeeville, SC. I had options for food and hotel, within walking distance even. I told him I’d probably just drive the truck to whichever hotel seemed alright and come back before 8am the next morning, or leave it and walk. He offered to give me a ride anywhere I wanted, but once I rejected, he made a plea- ” Please, do not go to that one.” Pointing toward the one right next door to the garage, “If you do, you’ll get someone at 2am knocking on your window asking if you want to have sex or do drugs!” This made me laugh way too hard, and I promised I would not stay at that one. He seemed unhappy leaving me there, but he eventually drove off.
I hopped in the truck and surveyed the area, multiple hotel options. For some reason, I chose the Quality Inn. It looked clean, not super busy, and there was a pool. By now it was about 4:30 pm, and I had to figure out how AAA was going to pay for this. After a long call with a woman who told me about the reimbursement plan (and how I should be careful being a young woman stuck on my own, and that she had a granddaughter about my age), I asked for a room. Even here in this small town, this random hotel was nearly booked up for the eclipse. The men behind the counter were from India, and I had fun telling them a short version of my day and how I needed receipts from everything for reimbursement. One of them told me that his pharmaceutical job in India required him to print off 8 receipt copies. We laughed as he tried to find me a non-smoking room. To avoid smoke, he said the only options were very expensive. I asked how expensive and had to withhold a giggle: the Jacuzzi sweet was a whopping $129. He was concerned… but I told him to book it. I’m not sure what the rates for the other rooms were, but that is one of the cheapest suites I have ever booked in my entire life. He seemed pleased that I was treating myself after my rough day, and we joked a bit more abut receipts.
I thought I was going camping, but instead, here I was in a hotel suite an hour and a half south of my intended destination. I only had a little ways to go to reach the path of totality in the morning, but more importantly at that moment, there was a pool. I had been sweating in 90 degree weather for 2 hours. I was READY for a pool. I joined the classic trope of vacationers (the young married couple, the old guys, the disinterested parents, and the kids) at the pool. After awhile, I threw on some sweats and made my way across the street for some Chinese food. As I waited, I tried to avoid the potentially 15 year old having very sexual conversations over face-time inside the front door. I assumed he was mooching wifi, and I tried to get as far away from him as possible. The food was quick, and I brought it back to the hotel room. The disappointing food was hot and had enough vegetables to feel nutritious. I knew I had one major thing to work out: so, I watched Lilo and Stitch on the hotel tv while trying to figure out how to still watch the new episode of Game of Thrones on my phone that night. I don’t trust jacuzzis for bacterial reasons, so I crawled into bed and watched G.o.T., on time, on my phone.
My alarm went off at 7 a.m., and I was showered, checked out, and to the garage before 8 a.m. I sat for 2 hours while I waited for the mechanics to arrive and then finally do a once over. I talked with some of the employees and customers while waiting; I laughed about traffic with an employee named Jon and an old man who had also been coming up from Florida for the eclipse (but broke his axle or something ridiculous). The mechanic was upset, but he couldn’t find anything wrong with my truck, not a thing. I jumped in and started North again, but on the back roads to avoid the high speed chase to the eclipse. I almost cried driving through towns that reminded me of where I grew up and seeing leaves changing colors. Florida doesn’t look, smell, or feel like home. By noon I had reached my happy little State Park, in the path of totality and filled with people. I checked in and threw up my massive 6 -person tent before walking around.
After much wandering throughout the fields and waterfront of the park, I ran into some people walking particularly cute dogs. They greeted me, as all campers do. Camping is a very communal and trusting activity; everybody greets and waves. After acknowledging the man, I asked the woman how her day was going. She told me it was going well, and she asked me if I was the one who had “put up that tent by yourself?” Now, by this point we have passed each other. I have to stop and turn around to respond to her, and she has done the same stop-and-pivot. I reply affirmatively, and she tells me “Good for you!” Her tone, as if speaking to a very young child, floated in the air, but I thanked her and kept walking.
The eclipse happened at 2:45. The entire area was covered in clouds, but suddenly, it was night. Lightening lit up the sky the entire time. I had driven all over the park, looking for somewhere that hadn’t been occupied by hundreds of people already. I found my spot and enjoyed the experience alone. I listened to the birds’ and crickets’ confusion. I listened to the thunder accompanying the lightening. I watched the light return quickly and retake the shape of a cloudy afternoon. I hadn’t even needed my colander or nonexistent eclipse glasses, but it was still magical. It started to rain. I found the closest grocery store was a solid 25 minutes away, and I made my pilgrimage for vegan hot dogs and buns. I was hoping for a fire to toast them on, but the rain didn’t let up. It didn’t let up for the next 12 hours. I ate them cold and laid on my blankets on the cold ground listening to the rain and other people at their camps.
Morning comes early when surrounded by wildlife and other people. I packed up the soaking wet tent and found my way to the waterfront early enough that it hadn’t been disturbed by boaters, tubers, or swimming children. The water was perfectly flat and the trees had the most gorgeous red tint to their ends. I watched and listened for awhile before crawling up into the truck and making my way to Savannah. I was headed to Savannah because on my way to the grocery store, after the eclipse, a commercial had come on the radio: “Natural Selections Vegan Cafe! You’ll love it!” I was blown away by a vegan restaurant having a radio commercial! I honestly could not resist temptation. I made it with no issue and had lunch before setting out for the second leg of the trip. I was home by Tuesday afternoon.
I really do love a good mini adventure, but what struck me was everyone’s concern for me being alone. Driving alone, being stuck somewhere alone, getting a hotel room alone, putting up a tent alone- these all seemed very concerning to my tow truck driver, my mechanics, my AAA call responders, and fellow campers. I travel alone. I make decisions and do the things that I want to, very competently, alone. I appreciate the care and concern of others, but do not patronize a stranger for her choices.