Totality

By ERIK ORTON

I woke up on the floor a cheap hotel in Toledo, Ohio.  Despite there being seven of us, we’d only gotten one room.  There were two reasons for this:  1) we only have two bedrooms at home, so one room while traveling seemed sufficient and 2) I’m a cheapskate.  The four bigger kids took the two beds and Lily slept on the floor in a sleeping bag with me and Emily.  I unzipped my sleeping bag, walked into the bathroom, killed a cockroach and took a lukewarm shower.  Everyone else was still asleep.  It had been a long day.  After getting dressed I sat down to map out our next day.

We estimated it would take us 9 hours to drive from New York City to Toledo.  It took us 12.  That was thanks to all the delays Emily detailed last week.  But we arrived at 11pm and snuggled into our tiny-for-seven room.

I'm sure we broke some sort of fire code.

I'm sure we broke some sort of fire code.

When we left that first morning we didn’t know where we would sleep that night.  We’d roughed out the idea of making it to Toledo because that would make it a four day trip out to Portland, where we would visit my sister.  Right before we left, we’d run into Elder P who was serving a mission in Manhattan.  We told him we were taking our daughter to college at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg.

“My wife and I have a house in Rexburg,” Elder P told us.  “Do you have a place to stay when you drop her off?” he asked.  I told him we didn’t.   “You should stay at our home.  There’s nobody there right now.”   Wow.  What a generous offer.  We didn’t really know anyone in Rexburg so it felt perfect.

We had planned to get Alison to school the weekend after Labor Day, in time for freshman orientation.  Meanwhile we would head to Portland to see the eclipse and visit Squamish and Banff up in western Canada before looping back to Idaho. 

Fast forward a couple days.  We were off our original schedule due to the roof rack delays.  We weren’t going to make it to Portland in time for the eclipse but we could make it to Rexburg, and it was in the 100% totality zone.  However, it would be at the height of hotel shortages and scalper prices.  We texted Elder P, “Might it be possible to stay at your house on the way out as well?” 

As we munched our continental breakfast in Toledo, the response came back, “Sure.”  And even though we’d offered to pay, he wouldn’t accept our money.  The generosity continued.  Then came the report from his daughter who also lived in Rexburg:  traffic was already crazy, bring your own groceries, gas may not be available.  We wanted to see the eclipse, but we didn’t want to be in a mosh-pit.  We thought it might be a good idea to get there a day early and be settled.  As we drove west down I-80, we asked all the kids to take out their ear buds.  “How would you feel about driving straight through non-stop to Rexburg?”  We conveyed the updates and our reasoning.  They were game.  With the college girls still with us, we had four drivers.  Just like on Fezywig, we would take watches and drive through the night.  We made it from Manhattan to Rexburg in fifty-five hours.  2,250 miles.

The house was beautiful and spacious with plenty of beds.  We had half a tank of gas and we’d even managed to get groceries in Nebraska.  The only outstanding issue was getting eclipse glasses.  Emily heard they were selling for $50/pair.  The guys we’d talked to while buying gas in Wyoming said hotel rooms in Casper were $590/night.   The scalping was in full-swing.  We were in Rexburg, but would we be able to get glasses so we could actually look at the eclipse we’d come to see?  We walked to campus to scout things out.  A sign said the campus bookstore would open the next morning and would be selling glasses.  We hoped.

Emily and I were up at 7am to get there early.  They had plenty of glasses and were selling them for $2/pair.  We bought seven pairs and happily walked back home.

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I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as the total solar eclipse.  Emily described it as a “crown jewel in the sky.”  I didn’t take any pictures.  I wanted to simply be present.  I left the images to the professionals.  But I saw a 360 degree sunset, the temperature dropped 20 degrees, stars appeared behind us and the moon sparkled with a halo, making the clear ‘night sky’ glow the most exquisite shade of blue.  I was glad we’d come.

Zig Ziger once asked the rhetorical question: if someone offered you an all expense paid trip for two to Hawaii and your flight left the next day, how quickly could you organize your life to go?  I think the answer is:  pretty quick.  When we’re motivated, we can act.  When we knew we had a comfortable home with lots of beds waiting for us in a 100% totality zone for something that hadn't happened in 100 years, we got motivated.  We drove around the clock until we’d covered the 2,250 miles.

I’m grateful for the generosity of others.  I’m grateful for my growing trust that things will work out.  And I’m grateful for the beautiful sun, moon and stars.  Totality.