First, I will start by saying that witnessing the eclipse in the zone of totality was one of the coolest experiences of my life to date. I had not paid much attention to the eclipse until Ridge mentioned that we HAD to go and see it from the totality zone because it was such a special event. Prior to him mentioning it I had been asked twice by checkout staff in recent shopping trips to Lowes if I wanted eclipse glasses, to which I replied either “no thanks”, or “when is it?”.
It wasn’t until I booked an adorable cottage about 30 minutes south of Asheville NC to have as our home base and seeing the 10 million articles on my Facebook feed about going blind without glasses, that I ended up going back to Lowes to get a pair—they were $1.50 each at about two weeks out from the main event. Once we booked, I began looking at good hikes around Asheville that were in the zone of totality. Now, Asheville itself was not in the zone of totality, they were probably 99.8 or something extremely close, but who drives all that way for anything other than 100.00%…not us. So, I located a hike about an hour and a half southwest of our cottage—the hike was called Black Balsalm Knob and it was a 5-mile loop. Seemed like a good option for us as we had camera gear and other necessities (like food) to bring and five miles seemed like a good option. It was also, JUST over the “line” and in the zone of totality. We had settled on this hike up until the night before the eclipse, when Ridge decide to change up the plans. We had talked to his cousin, Katie, and she had recommended some other places (which was awesome and we actually should have asked her sooner because shes a local…don’t know how we dropped the ball on that). Anyway, she told us about a place known as Cherohala Skyway. The Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile (69 km) National Scenic Byway and National Forest Scenic Byway that connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville, North Carolina in the southeastern United States. Its name is a mash up of Cherokee and Nantahala, the two national forests through which it passes. This road is insane and is a car enthusiasts dream! Every mile of road you pass over cost a whopping $3,000,000.00 to create—imagine that and it took almost 40 years to finish. On the morning of the eclipse we woke up later than we hoped, but we were on the road towards our destination 2.5 hours away at around 7:30 a.m. We did hit some traffic along the way but nothing major. As we approached the town of Robinsonville in Western NC, we stopped for the last time before getting on the Tail of the Dragon. Here we found a Dollar General where we bought a blanket to lay on (we forgot a lot of things on this trip) and refilled our water bottles. While stopped at the Dollar General we noticed a young girl out front sitting at a table, selling Eclipse glasses for $5.00—Seemed pretty reasonable.
As we turned on to the windy mountain road, we started to see cars filling up at the overlooks but it still didn’t seem too bad yet…that changed as we got higher and we saw the thousands of cars lining the mountain road for miles. We kept pressing on to get as close as possible for our intended hike at Huckleberry Knob. When we spotted the parking lot and trailhead for Huckleberry, we kept going and looked for a spot. The closest available spot was about 1.5/2 miles away. We parked, grabbed our backpacks, the drone, our new blanket and when we went to grab the GoPro and tripod for the Nikon, Ridge noticed that we had the tripod, but not the attachment to attach the camera to it. Also, we had the GoPro, and the timer to do the time-lapse…but we also had forgotten the attachment to make it usable… (other things forgotten on this trip: toothbrush (remembered the toothbrush charger though and toothpaste, pancake syrup (remembered pancakes), hiking socks, and deodorant). Although I would have expected Ridge to be pretty sad he forgot his camera stuff, he shrugged it off and we headed out. We walked about .5 miles when we saw a trailhead for Hoopers Bald.
We talked it over and decided we should check it out, maybe it was better than Huckleberry? It was definitely closer to our parked car which would be extremely helpful once the eclipse was over. We were already thinking about how 10,000 plus people leaving at the same time would be a nightmare (obvi). We headed to the trailhead at Hoopers Bald where a woman said that the hike was only .8 miles to the top of the bald, with a 360 view of the surrounding balds. Sounded perfect, and off we went. While trekking to the top of the bald, we passed several people with heavy gear passing us in the opposite direction, headed back down towards the trailhead marker. This was discouraging and I finally asked someone what it was like a the top. They said it was beautiful—A big space with great views all around. I felt less discouraged and we pressed on. When we made it to the top of the bald…well, mehhhh. It was a big open space with a couple hundred people and growing, but the edge of the bald was covered in small trees and shrubs, obscuring the 360 view that we so badly wanted. Sure, you would see the eclipse from there but it wasn’t what either of us pictured as “our” viewing spot. As we were walking around at the top, feeling sad that we came here, we heard someone say that Huckleberry was the place to be and pointed to the bald in the distance. The top of Huckleberry knob was higher than most and had a 360 view of the surrounding mountains. You could see tents pitched on top and it looked perfect. Ridge and I chatted for a sec. It was about 11:30/11:40 and the walk to the trailhead of Huckleberry knob was about 1.5 miles from us, and the trail to the top was another 2 miles. Could we make it? We weren’t sure but we knew that Hooper’s Bald was not where we wanted to be. We left and decided to chance it and headed back towards the main road. As we continued on down the Skyway by foot, we saw a ledge on the side of another clearing that had some tents pitched on it. Ridge suggested we try up there, as he thought we would be able to see the eclipse over the trees and across the road was a spectacular view of the Smokey Mountains and BONUS: we would have a place nearly to ourselves…without hundreds of people. Getting up to the ledge was not easy for me, but when we did and I saw how happy Ridge looked with the spot, I felt good about it. This was Ridge’s thing and I just wanted him to be happy. We walked along the ledge until Ridge found the perfect spot to set our blanket down. Ridge kicked off his shoes and just smiled—it was perfect.
We found our spot, close(r) to our car than the original hike, and we were by ourselves to watch this amazing event (minus three dudes but they were on the other side of the ledge). Our ledge space was covered in the beautiful cushy moss, and we were surrounded by blueberry bushes! It was perfection…except for the vicious killer ants that were invading our space the whole time, eating our tiny chip crumbs.
When it was almost time to see the start of the eclipse we had clouds covering only where the sun was! For a long while Ridge and I wondered if we should leave because it didn’t look like the clouds were dissipating. We decided to stay and boyyyyy am I glad we did! When the clouds started to clear and you could see the start of the eclipse our jaws dropped—It was so beautiful and the clouds actually made it look even more beautiful!
We watched and waited as the clouds moved in and out, sometimes obstructing our view, but mostly just making it look more rad. Though initially we were worried we wouldn’t be able to see the eclipse the wait was totally worth it.
As the magical time of 1427 EDT neared, our excitement grew. We knew what to expect, but we had no idea how it would feel. We had read about how eerie it can be during the moment of totality, but we were not prepared for the experience. As the moment drew near the mid afternoon blazing sun noticeably dimmed and the temperature dropped. As totality came the sky went dark, and twilight fell over the mountains shifting the greens to purples. In just a few minutes we experienced a sunset, twilight and sunrise. For those brief moments of darkness it was moving, seeing the stars just beginning to poke out was inspiring. Fiddles and bluegrass music could be heard in the distance and those viewing from the other mountain tops around us began cheering.
We had excitedly spoken to a wide swath of humanity in our journey here. From the fancy restaurant and the Shindig on the Green in Asheville with great music and clog dancing to the Harley Davidson and biker community in Lake Lure, to the cuddle puddle and patchouli scents of the sun gazers who had camped out for daze to see this moment. This event united a collection of so many faiths and colors and peoples and though I am certain many had opposing views, they were unified in their awe of a single event. For a brief moment everyone was excitedly focused on the same incredible astronomical event. We witnessed strangers sharing eclipse glasses and helping one another find a good spot to watch, even one guy who forged a trail through the bush to make it easier for those who came later to find a trail to a good lookout. Forgotten were all the differences of opinion, or political allegiances and divisions. As they say, the heavens move and unite us and during this fleeting respite all were one. To think that something so simple could impact so many different people gives me hope.
As soon as the totality ended, we booked it down the ledge and I power walked (Ridge ran) back to our car. He picked me up and we were out of there SO FAST! We were so tickled with ourselves—we had an awesome experience, we got out of there fast and were flying down the mountain— no traffic…until we hit the interstate… The roads on August 21, 2017 reminded me of the scenes in Independence Day or literally every end of the world movie ever made. Traffic was so bad it was faster to go South and West to Tennesse and head north than to head toward Ashville. We left at around 3/3:15 and we didn’t make it to Virginia until 12:00 a.m. We had always planned to drive straight home without stopping but at about 11:00 p.m. we realized it was no longer safe for us to drive. I began calling hotels and everyone said they were full and they had no idea of any available vacancies for the next 60 miles. Ridge was discouraged by this (he was driving at this point), but I pulled out my trusty phone and used the interwebs to find something available in Salem VA. I saw an available room and saw that there was only one available and I booked it immediately, not even reading reviews (so unlike me). It had 3.3 stars and that was good enough…also it had beds and a shower and both we were in dire need of. When we arrived at the hotel the lobby made it look promising—-friendly staff, looked nice…almost fancy (had a cheap chandelier) so I felt pretty good. Until he told us where our room was—the very far end of the hotel. We carried our bags upstairs and down hallways and suddenly the appearance changed to ugly carpets, spider webs and our room door had to be opened not only with a key but I had to ram it with my shoulder. Once inside, it very faintly smelled like old cigarettes. Oh well, I was excited for a bed and a shower and we now had both. As I laid down in bed I decided to read the reviews on the hotel—not good. I saw a mention of spiders and put my phone down and tried to forget what I had just read.
On our way out in the morning we saw a large spider hanging down from a web in the center of the hallway. If I had run into that spider, I would have lost my shit. From Salem, VA it took us about 4 hours to get to Ridges parents house in King George and another hour for me to make it back to my parents in Maryland so that I could scrub the spider germs off me and take over their washing machine for a few hours. All in all it took us 17 hours to get home from WNC, more than double the normal time. Was it worth it? YES! It was such an incredible experience that Ridge and I vowed to attend every totality in the future as a goal. The next 10 are as follows (according to cnet.com):
July 2, 2019- It will pass over parts of the Pacific ocean and La Serena Chile, Junin Buenos Aires and San Juan Argentina. The total eclipse will last 4 minutes and 32 seconds.
December 14, 2020- It will pass over the South Pacific and South Atlantic and Temuco Chile and Valcheta Argentina. Total eclipse will last 2 minutes and 10 seconds.
December 4, 2021- It will fall over Antarctica, the Southern Ocean and the South Atlantic. It will last 1 minute and 54 seconds.
April 20, 2023- It will pass over Exmouth and Barrow Island Australia and the eastern half of Timor-Leste and Modan West Papua Indonesia. IT will last 1 minute and 16 seconds.
April 8, 2024- Total eclipse will hit North America— It hits parts of Mexico and also, San Antonio and Dallas, Little Rock Arkansas, Indianapolis, Dayton Toledo and Cleveland Ohio, Erie Pennsalyvania, Buffalo and Rochester New York, Montpelier Vemont and Caribou Maine. It will last 4 minutes and 28 seconds.
August 12, 2026- The path of totality will start in Northern Russias and will be visible through Northeast Greenland National Park, Reykjavik Iceland. Also, Coruna Spain and Leon, Valladolid, Guadalajara, Zaragoza and Palma. It will last 2 minutes and 18 seconds.
August 2, 2027- The total eclipse will be visible in Tangier Morocco, Malaga Spain, Gibraltar, Sfax and Gafsa Tunisia, Oran Algeria, Benghazi Libia, Siwa Oasis Egypt, Mecca Saudi Arabia, Sana’a Temen and Bosaso Somalia. It will last 6 minutes and 23 seconds.
July 22, 2028- The path of totality will pass over Drysdale National Park in Australia, Davenport Ranges National Park, Kununurra, Sandover, Tennant Creek, Mudgee, Pennant Hills, Canterbury and Sydney, Australia and Queenstown and Dunedin New Zealand. It will last 5 minutes and 10 minutes.
November 25, 2030- The path of totality will pass over Windoek, Namibia, Tsabong, Botswana, Schweitzer-Reneke and Durban, SA. In Australia it will pass over Streaky Bay, Baird Bay, Lake Fromme, Tibooburra, Currawinya National Park and Surat. It will last 3 minutes and 44 seconds.