Wednesday, April 18, 2018

8 Months Late, My Ultra-Delayed South Carolina Total Solar Eclipse Trip of Aug. 19th - 21st, 2017 Photo-Essay Extravaganza and Finale (Phew!)

TOTALITY: The "Great American Eclipse" as seen from a spot in central South Carolina just off U.S. Route 601 by the Congaree River, August 21, 2017.


This is my 3-month-and-2-day delayed photo-essay entry on the topic of my trip with my mom and a friend (Andrea) and her family and friends to South Carolina to see the "Great American Eclipse" of August 21, 2017 to include the day in Charleston where I met up with my dad (who came up from Florida) and my Atlanta friend Chris.

The remainder of the pictures are posted chronologically along with occasional reflections and/or commentary on the trip.

The Richmond Main Street Station as seen from I-95 while passing through Richmond, Va., 2:57PM August 19, 2017.

This structure is not a church but rather the Main Street Station train station in downtown Richmond.


Let me say at the outset that the good eclipse pictures were taken by my friend Jake B., who along with his girlfriend joined us in Charleston on the eclipse trip. The actual spot where we viewed the eclipse was not Charleston -- owing to widespread clouds that were forecasted and that, indeed, blocked out the solar eclipse during totality -- but instead at the edge of a broad quarry-like depression clearing and just off U.S. Route 601 (US 601) in central South Carolina about 1/2 mile south of the Congaree River. (Later in this entry, I have two Google "satellite" model aerial views of where we were.)

Sunset as seen along I-95 in southern North Carolina, 7:47PM August 19, 2017.


I cannot omit the truth, though, that the ride down was hellacious and agonizing as we were caught in massive throngs of vehicles heading down I-95 with repeated traffic snarls over the course of about 12 hours. If you think of traffic from an engineering as a series of "expansion and compression fans," repeatedly during that time, the traffic would "compress" into full-stop snarls only to "expand" open with vehicles moving at regular highway speeds -- followed by another compression to full stop. This happened all the way until we reached Florence, S.C., as dusk, where we had dinner. (I knew things were going to be bad when we were three hours out of D.C. and only about 50 miles south into Virginia).

Once we left Florence, we took a series of two-lane roads through the torridly humid pitch blackness of an August South Carolina rural night. I'm not even sure the routes, although and I think part of it involved State Highway 41.

I know we transited the Francis Marion National Forest (and could smell the emissions from the wood pulp plants). We passed through many flyspeck towns and zoomed past so many nighttime-darkened churches that the over/under number game we were playing with them got boring. We also stopped at some weird convenience store / gas station in the middle of no where.

After another four or five hours of driving -- or about 17 in all -- we got into Charleston and to the Church Street Inn around 1AM and everyone was exhausted. There wasn't the slightest chance of me getting up in time for a walking tour of the historic district in which we were staying.

My mom and Imara's mom -- Denise -- seated outside an Outback Steakhouse on a torridly humid summer evening, Florence, S.C., 8:32PM August 19, 2017.


August 20, 2017: The first and only full day in Charleston

It was on this day that I met up with both Chris and my dad. Chris had driven to Charleston from Atlanta the previous day and was staying at the same hotel as the rest of us. My dad came up from Florida later this day and stayed in a motel about five miles away, but he was able to take an Uber to meet us later in the day.

Church Street, Charleston, S.C., 12:37PM August 20, 2017

This was the view outside the Church Street Inn. Keep in mind that the weather was hot and very humid -- temps around 90F and dew points around 75F -- with numerous convective rain showers and scattered thunderstorms during the day.


Needless to say, Charleston was overloaded with tourists from near and far for the total solar eclipse the following day. And there were so many horse-drawn carriages toting around overweight tourists -- the horses making that "glop-glop-glop" sound on the hot pavement -- that the whole area smelled like an overheated barnyard.

I'm so glad I didn't live in the goddamn 19th Century America in or out of the South.

Church Street south view, Charleston, S.C., 12:40PM August 20, 2017.

The church in the near distance is St. Philip's Episcopal Church.


The set of pictures below ending with the U.S. Custom House were taken (by me) while my mom and I were with Chris on a short ride through part of Charleston. Chris -- who had driven in from Atlanta the previous day -- was looking for an antique shop that turned out to be closed because, well, it was Sunday and this is the Deep South.

Broad Street west view from near Church Street, Charleston, S.C., 2:13PM August 20, 2017.


However, I was able to take a series of pictures while riding shotgun. These are posted in the current section of this entry. This part of Charleston -- I want to say it is the "Garden District" but maps indicate it is called Mazyck - Wraggborough, the pronunciation of which I am not even sure. Charleston doesn't appear to have a downtown area in the form of a "central business district."

Broad Street looking west approaching St. Michael's Episcopal Church (visible on the left), Charleston, S.C., 2:14PM August 20, 2017.


The ride about with Chris and my mom was very pleasant -- probably the best part of the short, frenetic, overheated, torpidly humid trip. The next set of pictures are from that ride and are posted with captions but no additional commentary.

Steeple of St. Michael's Episcopal Church, Charleston, S.C., 2:14PM August 20, 2017.

St. Michael's Church is said to be the oldest religious structure in Charleston and is one of the four structures that make up the "Four Corners of Law" buildings that house institutions of federal, state, local, and ecclesiastical law.


Old house along Broad Street, Charleston, S.C., 2:15PM August 20, 2017.


House and adjoining (date?) palm tree, 140 Broad Street, Charleston, S.C., 2:16PM August 20, 2017.


A ginormous cumulonimbus cloud near Charleston, S.C., 2:17PM August 20, 2017.

As I noted (or think I've noted -- I've lost track of what I've written where in this entry over the months), there was a tropical wave located just off the South Carolina coastline and it was creating daytime showers and thunderstorms -- and even clouded out the eclipse for parts of the Charleston area the following day. It was why my group drove inland to view the eclipse.


Another view of aforementioned giant cumulonimbus cloud near Charleston, S.C., 2:17PM August 20, 2017.

The weather was extremely humid with dew points around 80F and summery warm with daytime air temps around 85F. During a downpour, it felt like a sauna.


One of many lovely, ornate house in Charleston, S.C., 2:46PM August 20, 2017.

I'm unsure of the address of this house.


Another lovely, expensive home in Charleston, S.C., 2:47PM August 20, 2017.


A house hidden in the subtropical vegetation of Charleston, S.C., 2:47PM August 20, 2017.


A slender evergreen tree growing along King Street, Charleston, S.C., 2:57PM August 20, 2017.


An ornate pastel mansion along E. Battery Street, Charleston, S.C., 3:02PM August 20, 2017.


The exterior front steps and fa├žade of the U.S. Custom House, Charleston, S.C., 3:09PM August 20, 2017.


After our brief drive-about, we went back to the Church Street Inn. About 90 minutes later, my dad showed up. He had driven up from Florida earlier in the day and was staying at a motel about five miles away. As he did not want to drive into this downtown part of Charleston -- namely, the Charleston Historic District -- Chris arranged for him get an Uber -- his first Uber ride ever -- from the motel into this part of the city known as the Charleston Historic District.

My dad in the courtyard of the Church Street Inn, Charleston, S.C., 5:07PM August 20, 2017.

He was talking to my mom (not visible in this picture). He stayed with us for about six hours before taking an Uber back to his motel (also arranged by Chris). This was the first time my parents had met since my late Aunt Babe's 100th birthday party back in January 2013. It was also the first time since my mother became a widow following Ray's death in January (although they've talked on the phone a few times).


My parents at Henry's House, Charleston, S.C., 6:10PM August 20, 2017.

My parents and I and Chris went to Henry's House for dinner. (The place was quite crowded as was everywhere else in the Historic District since the city was overloaded with visitors there to see the next day's total solar eclipse.)


I should note that I didn't spend any time with the rest of my particular travel group on this Sunday as there was a lot going on there, and I don't want to get into any of that in this (or any subsequent) entry.

Dinner at a busy Henry's House, Charleston, S.C., 6:13PM August 20, 2017.


My parents and Chris and I went to dinner at Henry's House. It was quite crowded (obviously) but we still had a nice dinner. It was part of an overall pleasant (albeit boozy) night for me. 

A table of young people and two Dalmatian dogs, Henry's House, Charleston, S.C., 6:45PM August 20, 2017.

The Dalmatians with that group of young people, both quite adorable. I made a fuss about them -- eventually prompting my dad to say, "Yeah, there not even supposed to be in here!"


Another picture of my parents at Henry's House, Charleston, S.C., 7:25PM August 20, 2017.

Yes, it was odd to have my parents together. Photographs of them together are very rare in my life. I should also note that my dad was definitely happier -- or at least more upbeat excited -- to see her than to see me.


My dad at the rooftop Pavilion Bar, Charleston, S.C., 7:58PM August 20, 2017.

He is a spry and energetic, albeit admittedly odd, then-76/now-77 year old man.


Later, we went to the rooftop Pavilion Bar of the swanky Market Pavilion Hotel. This required going through the lobby with its upmarket Grill 225 steak restaurant. The rooftop bar was quite busy -- "jumpin'" as they used to say. I went there with my parents and Chris and my friend and former work colleague David ("DD") joined us. He was in Charleston with his wife and two young children for the eclipse.

Two young men seated at a table on the rooftop Pavilion Bar, Charleston, S.C., 7:59PM August 20, 2017.

The bar was, as I mentioned, quite crowded. We found a seat in one corner of the rather expansive, open-air rooftop place, but later moved to the other side that was facing the nearby harbor -- and had a refreshing breeze in the otherwise thickly humid, warm night

A big Baroque style painting, Market Pavilion Hotel lobby, Charleston, S.C., 10:22PM August 20, 2017.


August 21, 2017: The Great American Eclipse Day

Here are the photographs from the day of the total solar eclipse to include my low-quality flip-open cellphone ones and those that Jake took with this high-quality camera at the spot in central South Carolina just off Rt. 601 at the Congaree River where we observed the event.

Moments before First Contact: The full disk of Sun as seen through a filter (Jake picture)


OK, the Sun is a really big, gravitationally massive, slightly oblate ball of rotating, incandescently bright white*, roiled plasma with a complex and ever-reconfiguring array of connecting, snapping, and reconnecting magnetic field lines with local maxima that depress the surface plasma in those (ever-shifting) spots -- making the small regions appear darker than the rest of the incandescently bright (sun spots) plus occasional massive eruptions of said plasma extending a million miles out into space -- but from our Earth vantage point, the Sun resembles a very flat disk.

* To be clear, our star, the Sun, is actually (incandescent) white in visible light (as humans can see), not yellow or orange, and any such images showing it any other color -- such as the animated gif of a solar prominence above -- are (necessarily) colorized.

The midday Sun appears a bit yellowish-white due to Rayleigh scattering that scatters out the blue and violet (to go into the blue of the sky) from the white. It is orange-to-red around sunrise and sunset owing to additional scattering of longer visible wavelengths due to greater atmospheric optical depth.


Getting up in the morning in Charleston was awful for me. I'm just not a morning person, and I had been out late the previous night including with Chris and then meeting up with DD, who was in the city with his wife and two young children for the eclipse as well.

The air was densely humid with a dew point probably around 80F. Enormous towering cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds were visible to the east -- well out over the ocean, but indicative of the weak tropical wave that was in the vicinity of the coastline and promising to cloud out the eclipse with showers and thunderstorms.

Overlooking the eclipse venue near St. Matthews, S.C., 1:22PM August 21, 2017.

Pulling over onto the side of the road in the middle of nowhere -- and into what looked like a tangled woods of overgrown brush and sandy-soil-type trees on a hot day -- was not what I expected and it initially triggered a bit of panic owing to where we were.


But we all got up, checked out of the hotel, and departed by about 8AM. It was awful. (To be clear, my dad -- who had gone back to his motel -- did not join us but stayed in Charleston before heading back to Florida in the afternoon.)

Knowing that there would be fewer clouds inland, we drove about 75 miles inland on I-26 and eventually made it to Orangeburg, where we stopped at a mobbed Crate and Barrel for breakfast. It took forever to get served and the whole situation wasn't very pleasant. When we left, my mom and I went with Chris instead of the other caravan. (Remember that Chris came from Atlanta and was going to head back there as soon as the eclipse was over.)

Solar eclipse view spot by Rt. 601 near St. Matthews, S.C., 1:22PM August 21, 2017, with a crowd of people.

When I was younger, I would have probably chatted with all these people and got down contact information (on pen and paper and, later, email) and made a lot of noise about how I would meet them again at the next eclipse -- the April 2024 one. However, those days are long over. Mostly, I just avoided them and talked to Chris and made sure my mom was feeling alright.


Our three-vehicle caravan -- cars driven by Chris, Andrea, and Jake -- made it through the small town of St. Matthews and finally -- based upon a spot Andrea had selected while at the restaurant -- to a spot just off Rt. 601 near where it crosses the Congaree River. This is a very rural part of South Carolina.

First Contact: The Moon begins its slow but relentless eclipse of the Sun as seen from location.


Of note, there were vehicles parked along the edges of fields and along roadways. We were in a spot that was a bit tricky to find as you had to know it was there, what with the quick dead end off the road and short, steep, earthen incline beyond which was the expansive, overgrown field. It must have been a quarry at some point.

Here are two Google Earth aerial views of the location in question:

The clearing off Rt. 601 near the Congaree River.

The nearest town appears to be the unincorporated community of Fort Motte, which has some historical -- Revolutionary War and subsequent Civil War era -- connection by way of the Fort Motte Battlefield Site with its plantation house and grounds, previously known as St. Joseph Plantation.

Why is everything a frickin' plantation in the South?


This is a close-up of the same spot.

Our group was basically where those two dirt paths sort of "Y" off from each other, although they weren't completely connected -- the narrow strip of green between then includes the earthen rise.

Most likely, the locale was once a quarry of some sort.


Expansive view of the eclipse-viewing location, 1:22PM August 21, 2017.


The sky definitively cleared by the time the eclipse began -- as the Moon ever-so-gradually but relentlessly began cover the face of the Sun. It also was hot and kind of uncomfortable, although folks had bottles of water.

It was strange that there was a total eclipse approaching. I was very aware of the light draining away from anything -- although I seemed to be the only one to notice it through about two-thirds totality. I could just see and sense the blue deepening as the light was draining away. It is an interesting natural experiment to watch as the midday Sun is "turned out" in a clear sky.

It was 2:36PM when this picture was taken with just about 10 minutes to totality.

This picture shows one of the little shaded areas folks had set up. The guy with the dog had appeared a few minutes earlier and stayed through the eclipse. I was curious what the dog was thinking -- or perceiving -- as the Sun went out in such a strange way (do dogs ever notice or become aware of "the Sun"??) and the humans all around became so excited.


As seen through a dark filter, the Moon continues its silent, awesome waltz across the Sun.

The draining away of the midday summertime light is surreal. And I kept looking to the west-northwest knowing that the full umbral shadow was approaching at this latitude about 1,600 mph (that's a net velocity since the Moon's shadow is moving west-to-east in excess of 2,200 mph, but the Earth is also rotating from west-to-east at a velocity dependent on latitude).


As totality approached, I had some text messages with Chester, who was with his wife and two children in Tennessee (about 400 miles farther "up" the shadow's path from my spot). I also had text exchanges with my D.C. friend (and former co-worker) Jeremy, who had been in Charleston and went to the Congaree National Park (maybe 10 miles from my spot).

Nearing totality ...

Of course, the Sun was still much too bright too to gaze upon -- although if you looked up for an instant, you could see that a large part of it was "missing." I was still looking up frequently through the eclipse glasses that I had. (We had a surplus of them.)


Above: A group picture of some of my group and the other folks who were there. Jake and Imara are both in this picture. My mom is under the shelter (what are those things called, anyway??) next to the guy in the blue shirt (back facing toward the picture). This was also taken at 2:36PM.


A blurry picture that I hurriedly took at 2:41PM looking to the west-northwest -- the direction from which a deepening blue / blue-purple shadow was approaching.

My cellphone camera, of course, didn't do the above-picture justice. There was a cluster of cumulus congestus clouds to about 20 miles to the west-northwest -- either over or near Columbia, S.C. -- that were already darkening from the umbral shadow.

Nearing totality, 2:42PM August 21, 2017.

That is my mom in the picture.


This is at 2:43PM. This is about as good a picture as my cheap flip-open cell phone could take. This was at about 95% totality. Maybe about 5 percent of the Sun was still visible -- and thus it was still far too bright to gaze upon.

The excitement among everyone gathered -- maybe 30 people in all -- was now quickly building. The incredible Sun-Moon celestial pas de deux was nearing its silent crescendo.

TOTALITY! I had waited many, many years for this moment.

The full awesomeness of this moment is hard to describe. To be clear, the sky is not black -- but a deep navy blue/purple. The silhouette of the Moon, though, is pitch black while the ring of light just above the eclipsed photosphere is celestial white -- with "streamers" of ghostly corona.

Now I will say that my first total solar eclipse -- on Feb. 26, 1998 as seen from Pointe de la Grande Vigie, Guadeloupe down in the French West Indies was probably a more powerful experience for several reasons -- it being my first eclipse, the corona was more pronounced, the incredible cliff seaside location, the longer duration, and the startling appearance of (what I understand were) Saturn and Mercury.

Totality just ended ... the Sun reappears.

A few items of note during this eclipse: While I only saw one or two stars, I was able to see "daylight" returning almost immediately from the west / northwest -- including aforementioned cumulus clouds.

Also, I saw two high-flying passenger jets with extended contrails -- one heading to the southwest (almost overhead) that had made a slight but noticeable eastward arc that was clearly a wonderful effort by the pilot for the sake of the passengers to remain in totality just a few seconds longer. Oh, and someone set off fireworks -- small but somehow appropriate -- down by the Congaree River during totality.

Speaking of seeing a total solar eclipse from a passenger jet ...

If you can stand hearing the guy (filming this?) yell "Oh, my God!" and "Look at that!" about 50 times, this is an incredible 3:31 YouTube video of Alaska Airlines Flight 870 en route from Anchorage to Honolulu on March 8, 2016 cutting across the lunar umbral shadow of the total solar eclipse of March 8 - 9, 2016 that traversed WSE-ENE across the Pacific Ocean (transiting the International Dateline, hence the "falling back" of a calendar day).

If not, then just mute it -- but still watch the clip.



I'm not even going to begin to describe the arduous drive back -- over the course of 13 hours with traffic jam after traffic jam including at the midnight hour nearing Richmond, not to mention half a car full of nauseous people that required a borderline emergency stop at a ghastly fluorescent-lit convenience store off I-95 somewhere in or near Petersburg. 

We desperately needed a full extra day to get back but four of the people in the car -- myself included -- had something to do literally the next day that this wasn't an option.

Anyway, I didn't get back to my apartment until 330AM -- and I had to leave for Cleveland by jet the next day early afternoon. But we got back safely -- and that's all that matters.

I will never drive to an eclipse again like that. Assuming I make it to the April 2024 one, I will fly and/or take a train. And I'll never do an extended car trip on I-95 south of D.C. at any time of the year.

The End!


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