The Great Solar Eclipse Road Trip, Day Two

Solar Eclipse Road Trip, Day Two

On this particular morning, I started to feel the excitement growing for our SERT experience.  We planned to wake early, hit the highways, and travel as far as possible. I wanted to be near Wyoming with time to spare: I didn\’t want to assume we would reach our destination in a reasonable time. A flat tire could cost us hours. But we also faced a real problem: at this point, the main highways we should be traveling on were also the highways in which every hotel in the surrounding areas were sold out due to being in the path of Totality.  After spending nearly an hour researching our options, I found that the only real solution to finding a hotel on a Saturday before the eclipse – I would have to leave the path of totality.

What\’s an extra 300 miles?

I was going to add hundreds of miles on our commute by not crossing Nebraska along the southern roads, but heading up towards South Dakota border and finding a place in northern Nebraska. I have never driven through this area and had no idea what to expect, but at least we could sleep in a hotel. Especially since storms were coming into the region.  The decision was made: we were heading towards Valentine, NE.

I was set and determined to accomplish this next big goal, so I was up early and grabbed a hot breakfast and a too-small cup of coffee from the hotel\’s breakfast bar.  I was so early that I was able to grab a newspaper and table and settled in for a few moments as my mom showered and got dressed.

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Here They Come!

The newspaper was announcing \”HERE THEY COME\” and cautioned locals that travelers would be crowding the highways and gas stations.  I laughed as I was part of that mad-dash of travelers!  I was updating my journal and listening to individuals talking about their eclipse plans.  As the cafeteria grew more crowded, I realized that every person was going to see the Solar Eclipse.  Wow!  There were over a dozen people getting an early breakfast and all of them were  traveling for the eclipse. The excitement level in the room grew. As new people arrived, strangers already in the room would ask: \”Are you going to see the Eclipse, too?\”  And then everyone would start talking about their plans and where they were going.

Feeling the Weight of History

I couldn\’t help but catch the excitement , too!  I was happy, excited, and eager for this road trip.  I had been looking forward to it all year long – even though every plan changed the day before we left.  This morning, in a hotel cafeteria, I felt the energy change. I felt like I was part of something  much larger than the two of us and our ambitious trip.  I was part of a major American event, something that would be shared with millions of other people. Dare I say?… an historic event?   I was feeling the weight of this moment, aware of its significance, feeling like a small iota of a major event.  I was also humbled because I am aware how very fortunate I am to have the resources and ability to travel on this trip and to partake of this rare experience.

I chatted with a few of my fellow travelers and shared my destination goal: Wyoming. Almost everyone was shocked I was going to be traveling so far west, especially since we started on the east coast.  I completely agreed with everyone that this was an ambitious endeavor. But! I was committed to reaching clear skies, and the weather reports only confirmed the storms encroaching along the Path of Totality on Monday.  I wasn\’t going to drive for days only to sit under clouds and miss the big event.

Good luck and well wishes were shared with everyone, and I suddenly was full of eagerness and energy.  I guess I didn\’t need that coffee after all!

So mom and I packed the car and hit the road with a refreshed level of excitement. As we drove along, we noticed the highway warning signs cautioning drivers about possible traffic delays due to the Solar Eclipse.  Wow!

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Mom asked if she thought we\’d have any problems making it through the crowded highways.  I told her we wouldn\’t be in ANY traffic as I was bearing north to S. Dakota.  She stared at me. I agreed: it was madness.  But after explaining my plans on how I was going to get a hotel for that night, she nodded and was completely on board with the madness. Yep – we would be so far off base that there was little chance any other human would be on the road with us.

I-80 World\’s Largest Truck Stop

Did you know there\’s a World Largest Truck Stop rest stop? I didn\’t.  It\’s glorious. It\’s a massive tourist trap full of stuff – and I couldn\’t resist.

\"I80

I was happily cruising along when I saw the sign, which is a sky-scraping spire lit up for all to see.  There\’s another arch sign that looks like it was built from a discarded roller coaster. They even have a museum!  You know I had to stop, right? Yes of course I must stop and bask in the glow of this gloriousness.

Apparently I wasn\’t the only one drawn to this highway oasis. I don\’t know if this place is usually crowded on a regular weekend – but it was packed when I pulled up.   I fueled up and then happily parked the car to go in and discover this road-side art work. There is a giant store full of items that you simply don\’t need, but somehow want to buy: Cowboy hats and boots, baseball caps, t-shirts, bohemian skirts, and leather vests. Rows of bric-a-brac, crystal animal statues, wall art, and other important road trip items!

There is a movie theater, barber, dentist, and laundry located upstairs!  haha.  I couldn\’t imagine this place, and I was enthralled.  We found a spinning tower of state magnets.  Since we knew the states we would be visiting on this trip, we grabbed a magnet for each one. Then we fetch some food and drinks and returned to the car.  I took several photos – found a geocache in the parking lot – sadly drove by the actual museum without visiting – and hit the road again.

Nebraska

This was the first time I really spent any length of time driving through Nebraska.It was also my first time heading towards northern edge of Nebraska.  I can sum up the experience like this:  SO. MUCH. CORN.

I mean, I know and have seen the flat plains – and those are impressive. But something about Nebraska is another experience entirely.  There is almost nothing else on the horizon for hours. I mean HOURS.

Nebraska can be summed up by this: unending fields of corn and sunflowers – and giant grain silos.  I used to think that the hardest part of driving to Florida was cross the largest state of Georgia.  It just seemed that GA would go on for ever and ever.  I owe Georgia an apology.  If you want to experience endless sameness – visit the farming territory of northern Nebraska.

I would get SO excited when we\’d pull into a town that had an opened gas station. It was a celebratory reason to stop! Even if I didn\’t need fuel, I would stop and put fuel in the car, visit the store, and just enjoy the fact that fellow humans were nearby.  Then I\’d return to the road and struggle to know if I was driving the same road for another 2 hours, or if I had somehow got turned around and just drove the same stretch of Nebraska repeatedly. I was stuck in a SciFi Loop.

The grain silos were a different experience for us.  They are so large and prominent that they sit in their own shadows along the horizons and loom massively over the flat land.  These grain silos are very far off in the distance.  So far away from the road that they\’re hazy and blurred beasts lacking hard details, but looking like small eruptions on a plateau.  We were strangers in a semi-strange land.

To make this day even more conflicting – we could see the predicted thunderstorm rising along the horizon on while the sun started to settle low behind black clouds.

Despite the monotony of the day, I have to give Nebraska credit. We enjoyed an epic golden sunset.  The sunset was intense and painted everything in a stunning yellow-gold light.  I had to smile at the synchronous nature of a golden Nebraska sunset amidst the golden yellow of corn and sunflower fields.  It seemed poetic. Nebraska was dressed in gold and green on this August weekend, and gave her guests a beautiful show.  Thanks Nebraska.  I appreciated the experience.

\"Nebraska

But as the sun settled low in the horizon, violent lightening storms raged direction before us.  The storm was vast and far away, but the lightening was giving a show-stopping performance!  Lightening rolled across the sky, flying between clouds and giving the sense that you were seeing an ocean wave rolling across the ocean.  If you could watch an ocean wave roll across 30 or more miles in seconds!

Only every so often the lightening would strike the ground.  Mom and I stopped and counted; the lightening was averaging several strikes or cloud-to-cloud activity every three seconds.  Imagine how active the sky was.  It was intense and intimidating, unlike anything we usually experience in our area.  We are familiar with brief, intense storms as they bump up against the mountains. They rage and howl, and then extinguish themselves after 30-40 minutes.

In Nebraska, there was nothing to stop the storm and it spread out from horizon to horizon – and you could see every cloud-to-cloud event.   There wasn\’t a tree, hill, or building to obstruct the view.  We felt like the entire sky was on fire and active – and it was intensely active without any pause or interruption.  And to make the situation very intense?… Mom and I were driving directly into the heart of the electrical storm.

We drove under that nightmarish sky for hours.  By the time we cleared the storm, we were only an hour away from our hotel.  We arrived late at our hotel, in a town that was lit by only a few lights.  It seemed this was another one of those sleepy villages attached to a train depot or grain silo.  I couldn\’t see anything in the darkness, and I was too tired to worry.  I just wanted a clean bed and a hot shower.

We arrived in Valentine, NE shortly before midnight.  Another successful closing to a long, long drive.  But we were teasingly close to our final goal. Tomorrow I would only have to drive less than 400 miles.  During THIS trip, that was a hop, skip, and an easy jump to get into Casper, WY.