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The 52-year, 1,400-mile effort to finally see an eclipse

<i>Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>A pedestrian walks past a solar eclipse information board on a rainy day in Toronto on April 3
Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
A pedestrian walks past a solar eclipse information board on a rainy day in Toronto on April 3

By Chris Isidore, CNN

New York (CNN) — Like millions of other Americans, I plan to see the total eclipse Monday afternoon.

Unlike most, I’m ready to take somewhat extreme measures to increase my chances of having clear skies under which to do so.

You see, I’ve been hoping to see an eclipse for the past 52 years, starting with an 1,800-mile round trip as an 11-year-old. But that eclipse was clouded out at the last moment.

My most recent eclipse hunt was a trip to the Midwest that included more than 500 miles of driving that ended with me and family members huddled underneath a canopy in the rain. I got to see the land around me turn dark as night both times. But little else.

So this year when I made plans as to where I would see the eclipse, I decided to build my plans around two words – mobility and flexibility. When someone asked recently where I was going to see the eclipse, I responded “Somewhere along a 1,400-mile stretch of the path of totality.”

That range of options stretches from Pocahontas, Arkansas, in the northern part of that state, to Hartland, New Brunswick, in Canada, just over the border from Maine.

But just days away from the big event, I’m still not sure what my plans will entail or if they will be enough.

Past disappointments

The willingness to spend so many hours in the car, binging on podcasts, looking at the skies and crossing my fingers, is probably a result of severe disappointment 52 years ago, and the repeat disappointment seven years ago.

Unlike this “Great American Eclipse,” the July 1972 eclipse was primarily a Canadian event, touching the United States only in northern Alaska.

My efforts to see it came after a 900-mile drive to northern Quebec with the members of the Robert E. Bell Middle School astronomy club. Leading the trip was Mr. Moore, the teacher adviser to the club who I realize now must have been some kind of saint to volunteer to make such a trip with a Volkswagen camper van full of 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade geeks.

I remember a lot about that trip.

I remember learning to play poker at one of the campgrounds where we stopped.

I remember the McGovern bumper sticker on Mr. Moore’s van.

I remember the beautiful lake we found hiking from a campsite the night before the eclipse, picturesque enough that myself and another member of the club decided to pitch our tent there rather than stay with the larger group.

And I remember the sand flies that got into the tent and nearly ate us alive during the night, leaving my back covered with scores of red welts.

But most of what I remember are the clouds that came between us and the sun just before the eclipse started and stayed in place until it ended. And I remember my tears that followed.

A second failed attempt

The disappointment of 2017 was nothing by comparison. It was actually a fun trip with a dozen family members. The rest of the group didn’t even seem disappointed that they only got to see the landscape around us turn dark rather than seeing the eclipse itself.

But the 11-year old version of me was terribly disappointed once again, and while I avoided tears that time, I didn’t hide my frustration as well as I should have.

So that’s why I’ve been planning a more mobile and extreme effort this time, which was enough to scare my wife, Liz, off the idea of joining me and my 21-year old daughter, a former high school astronomy club co-president herself.

When Liz asked me why I was willing to spend essentially days in a car driving long distances for just the chance to view a few minutes of an eclipse under clear skies, I responded, “Is there anything you’ve been trying to do for more than 50 years that you haven’t been able to do?”

That question seemed to satisfy her. And even if her answer to the question was no, that didn’t change her willingness to join us.

When I explained my plans to my boss, he responded, “You’re committed.” And I replied, “Liz certainly thinks I should be.”

Hitting the road

Our plans only required me to book one plane trip for my daughter and myself, to and from St. Louis, on refundable Delta Air Lines flights on Saturday and Monday.

Being in St. Louis would position us to drive anywhere along a 400-mile stretch of the path of totality on Monday morning, from northern Arkansas to Bloomington, Indiana, and still make it back to the St. Louis airport for our flight home that evening. Getting home quickly is a key so my daughter can be back in her college classes the next day.

Any viewing point north and east of that part of the path we can accomplish by driving from my home in New Jersey. Indianapolis would be a stretch – about an 11-hour drive. But doable. My daughter is game for coming along for the long car ride to most of those locations.

And the drive would get shorter the further east our viewing plans move, until I would be only about a four-and-a-half-hour drive to Oswego, New York, on the shores of Lake Ontario, near Rochester.

And if the viewing point moves east of there, I could still see the eclipse with a slightly longer drive. It’ll be a mere nine-and-a-half-hour drive to the aforementioned Hartland, New Brunswick, home of the world’s longest covered bridge, according to Google.

Troubling forecasts

I was thinking I might have a large number of options to choose from and a near certainty of finding clear skies.

But the early cloud and weather forecasts are not looking promising. Most of my 1,400 mile stretch of the path has a good chance of rain, let alone clouds. And the forecast is even worse in normally sunny locations further south and west in places such as Texas.

Looking ahead to the eclipse forecasts weeks or months ago, the assumption might have been that Texas and further south would have prime viewing weather. But that’s just not the way it worked out, CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward told me Thursday afternoon.

“That’s the difference between climate and weather,” he said. “It might average out that Texas is better but right now it’s not looking that way.”

Meanwhile, locations in northern New England relatively close to my New Jersey home (compared to the rest of the path) might be the best bet, even though much of that area was being hit with an April snow storm Thursday.

“I think northern New England seems the safest of all right now. It’s been a miserable day today, but that will change as we head to the weekend,” Ward told me. He cautioned me things could change between now and Monday, though.

So right now I’m looking primarily at locations in western or upstate New York, northernmost Vermont and New Hampshire or Maine as my best shot at clear skies, even if it’s possible my daughter and I will be standing in the slushy remains of snow.

Still, I’m hopeful. And I’ve needed to make only a couple of hotel reservations – one in St. Louis, one in Portland, Maine. Friends and family stretched from Indianapolis to New Hampshire would be able to accommodate me elsewhere on the path.

But if all the planning and checking forecasts and making plans isn’t enough this time, I’m already looking ahead.

There’s an eclipse in western Alaska and the Bering Strait in 2033. I’m guessing there will be cruises then that negate the need for long car drives. And there’ll be one in Montana on August 23, 2044, my 84th birthday as it so happens, assuming I’m still mobile enough then.

But here’s hoping I can finally achieve my half-century quest to see an eclipse and neither myself nor my daughter have to wait that long.

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