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Solar Eclipse Trip to Falling Creek Falls Tennessee
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Posted: 2017-08-21
Last Update: 2017-08-21

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2017-08-19:

I leave house at 06:30. The drive is calm. I go the speed limit or less most of the time, breaking this rule only to maintain pace with traffic, of which there is little for the first several hours and not much the rest of the day. The only "difficulty" is a stretch on some "back" roads in TN that are somewhat poorly labeled (doesn't say North/South or East/West), but luckily the sun is in a position that I can navigate them without error. I had hand copied the directions from Google so I had no map (or smart phone) to fall back on. I made a few small misturns when I wouldn't know which lane to be in and had to double back. Overall the deviation was less than 5 miles out of the way I'd say. I arrived about 11 hours later at about 17:30 after traveling about 595 miles with only 3 stops - 1 for gas, 1 for a restroom break, and 1 for groceries.

I had several hours to get a map and explore/hike around a bit. It was heaven on my back (which I had pulled a few weeks prior and was still very stiff - not to mention the long drive). There were already a ton of people by the time I arrived. The entire park was full (camping, RVs, and cabins). I get turned around on a simple trail and backtrack a bunch of times before getting my bearings. I get out of the woods just as the sun is going down. I drive over to a swimming hole at the bottom of one of the smaller falls. Almost everyone is gone. As I am stripping down a local chats me up telling me about how it has been raining and thus the water was flowing/falling and adding cold water to the pool. He said in late September, after a dry spell, the water level would be a little lower and there would be less flow of cold water allowing the pool to heat up. I told him it felt pretty nice to me. He stuck his hand in and agreed. I jump in wearing my underwear. It was cool but not cold. Very refreshing after a long day of sweating. The water was crystal clear. Even with the little light there still was I could see my body down to my feet clearly. I splash around for a few minutes before hopping out and toweling off. I forget my socks in the dark. I lay down in the van right in the parking area, not trying to hide at all. I expected the park rangers to be sympathetic given the overflow of visitors. They showed up at about 23:00 to roust me. They said I couldn't sleep there, but they led me over to a field by the horse stables and said I could stay there free of charge (hah, good luck charging me). There was about 3 acres of wide open area next to the stables and restrooms, all to myself. I slept like a baby.

2017-08-20:

I get up leisurely at I don't know o'clock. Maybe 08:00. I have the place to myself still. The restrooms are clean and unused. After an hour or so of lounging and eating I make my way back over to the main nature center parking area. I spend the rest of the day exploring the remaining trails. As I descend the hardest trail in the park - cable trail - the sole of my left shoe starts falling off. This would have been bad at any time, but this trail was really rough. Named the cable trail because of the 2 inch diameter steel cable running down it. This was as much a climb as it was a trail. Luckily I had some paracord and tied up the sole of my shoe. It held up the rest of the day and the cord shows very little wear even after miles of use. Hiking down to the bottom of the falls was not so fun. Sure it was steep and the climb back out was a bit of a ball-buster, but the worst part was the people. TONS of people streaming up and down the narrow trail. Most people kept going and did not give right of way to those coming up. At the bottom in a small pool at the base of the falls surrounded by a rocky beach there were again tons of people. I would have liked to spend some time there and even hike under the falls, but I felt like a penguin in a nesting ground on one of those nature programs - literally shoulder to shoulder with the herd. People were shouting to one another, if I hear "mom, look at me" one more time... I snap a picture and hightail it out of there.

I was actually impressed at the amount of overweight people that made the trip. I wondered if there would be any heart attacks. Eventually I settle down at a picnic table (later the van) and do some people watching. As the crowds migrate back to their camps I once again head down for an evening swim. My socks are still there, right where I left them. After another refreshing dip I make my way over to the stables at about 20:30. There are about 2 dozen camps now set up leaving plenty of room for more. I waste no time and hop straight into bed in the back of the van. It is very convenient not having to deal with a tent. At about 01:00 some jokers show up and set up their whole camp in the middle of the night with quite the ruckus. I was worried about the playing children as I was falling asleep, but it turns out these yahoos were the real annoyance. Flashlights illuminating my van bedroom for who knows what reason and car doors opening and closing over and over again. at 02:30 I close the windows completely as, though they are seemingly set up, they are now hooting and laughing. Later in the evening another car shows up, headlights blaring into the van, but they set up much more quickly and quietly. I had parked in such a way to get a morning sun right in the window to wake me up. I wish I hadn't.

2017-08-21:

The day of the eclipse. I am up around 08:40 and tired as I barely got any sleep. It turns out that the noisemakers from the night before are what seem to be 3 generations of unruly children. Even grandma is noisy. I spend the day chilling around the van waiting on the eclipse. The noisy folks are noisy all day. The children are undisciplined on one hand and over disciplined on another. I see the dad and the youngest son, about 7 or 8, trading blows when one of the "deserves" it. "OK son, you get a free one" and the son wallops the dad in the face! Later the son got a much more violent blow in the arm. At one point the youngster says he is "too weak" to do something and mom chastises him. "Never say you are weak, you can do it!" Finally some kind words for the boy, who has been being harassed by and older brother and sister all day. Then mom switches gears, starts dropping f-bombs and talking about how her son needs to "be a man" and how he is going to need to take care of his wife someday the way his dad takes care of her. This heart-to-heart concludes with her telling him about his "birthright" as a man. This was quite the odd mother-son encounter. The family seemed very tight-knit, but also oddly "abusive". A few times they jumped into the back of the truck and headed off to go swimming or some such. Once they left their little dog, Mr. Wiggles, behind. The neighboring campers tied him up and the absent minded family returned in a frenzy of faux concern. "You're not a real mother until you forget one of your babies" she proclaims to the surrounding campers. A few of us give each other quiet glances confirming her borderline insanity.

The clouds start rolling in a few hours before show-time. Everyone has their chairs out and are readying their viewing glasses. One guy has a telescope that looks to be 4 or 6 inches in diameter at the large end. The first 25% of the eclipse is basically hidden behind dark clouds. You can see the partial sun peek out here and there, but it is looking grim. Then, as if God had called for curtains up, the clouds parted and revealed the action. For the next hour or so it was almost totally clear with only a few wisps of clouds passing by. I laid down on the ground with my modified welding goggles looking almost directly up at the high-noon sun. The approach to totality was very interesting, like the phases of the moon all packed into less than an hour. The totality was even more impressive than I imagined. It was getting noticeably colder as the last sliver of sun was being greedily consumed by the moon. Then it was gone. Total darkness. I lift my goggles and for two and a half minutes stare in slack-jaw awed. A perfectly round black hole-esque specter is surrounded by a near white angelic halo. The contrast of stark. The temperature drops precipitously, causing my goggle to fog slightly, the crickets begin to chirp, and even those loud mouth hooligans of a family are somewhat quiet. I glance around quickly and see the 360 degree sunset, but waste little time doing so as I reaffixing my gaze to the spectacle in the sky. What looks like three distinct solar ejections are taking place. In what feels like too short of a time the sun pokes around the edge of the moon - the so-called diamond circle effect that had been repeated ad-nausea on the radio during my trip down - and my goggles one again shield me from blindness. I stay there, in the grass, for the remainder of the cloud-free show. My goggles are much foggier during the second half; it reminds me of coming in from the heat to an air-conditioned house and having your glasses fog up. The totality really overwhelmed the novelty of the lead up and lead out partial eclipse, but they were quite the sight none-the-less.

It is about 16:00 and I leave straight away. Most of the other campers are already gone from the field. There is a lot more traffic. I am stuck several times in some ridiculously mistimed stop lights. Literally 2 miles of cars because the lights couldn't cope; there should have been traffic cops. An off-route accident, which one car was on fire, led another burst of traffic into my already saturated path. I probably lost an hour sitting in traffic. Eventually it disperses and I start to make up time. I get through those back roads with only a few more miles of errors before the sun sets. Against my better judgement, because I am so tired the swarms of people, I drive through the night. There is nothing noteworthy about the return trip. It took only 11 hours and 20 minutes, much better time considering the traffic and I arrived home at 03:20. Actually there are two things that stand out. First, the PA roads are derelict compared to WV, OH, KY, and TN. All four of those states had road that were mostly smooth as glass, but the second you enter PA it feels like you are driving on the crater pocked landscape of the moon. Second, the gas price in PA was about 2.69 per gallon, while in the aforementioned states it was generally between 2.09 and 2.19, with a few outliers on either end. So, the gas prices are 20-25% more in PA and the roads are considerably worse... makes sense to me! Stepping into the shower I am reminded of my viewing experience by the temporary souvenir of sunburn on my swollen ankles that I got laying in the field in the full sun for over an hour. I think to myself, through the admittedly minor pain of water rinsing over the tender skin, how horrible the drive and throngs of people were. Of course though, I would do it again in a heartbeat for another 2 and a half minutes of, quite possibly, the most beautiful sight I have even had the pleasure of beholding. The only thing I can compare it too is the running lava I witnessed on Hawaii. While they are two totally different experiences, they can be related via analogy to almost anything of day-to-day commonality.

2024-04-08:












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