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Describing a Total Eclipse

Describing a Total Eclipse

Capturing the experience of a total eclipse is difficult. Even photographers like me with all the proper equipment fail to really capture the experience. There’s a host of sensory experiences that happen all at once. I’ve personally seen people moved to tears – and I found it such a profoundly moving experience the first time I saw one in 2017 that I flew to the Midwest to see my second one in 2024. Both times it never failed to awe.

I thought this thread on reddit had some of the best descriptions of the recent US eclipse.

So what is it like? Other’s have tried to describe it online:

  • “Its like trying to explain the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. Imagine if Yosemite valley, or the Grand Canyon, just appeared in front of you for four minutes, then disappeared.”
  • “Its hard to explain and hard to remember at least for me. I see why people travel so far to see it. I honestly wasn’t expecting what I seen. I just been telling people it looks nothing like what you see in photos.”
  • “You can’t [explain it]. If they’ve never seen it, they won’t get it. I’ve just been telling people it’s exceeded every expectation I had.”

Trying to explain what totality is like

First off is the run-up and expectation. For months, even years, people start hearing about the next eclipse. I personally planned and bought my flights/hotels/rentals about 8 months in advance.

Around 6 months out you’ll start hearing about eclipse watching events taking reservations and selling tickets. The news will start mentioning it on air and online. Accommodations, flights, rental cars, and local attractions all along totality start making news as they start selling out.

A month out, the eclipse is a regular news item – everything from event organizers touting their upcoming events, local service industries (hotels, gas, food, etc) warning about floods of people overwhelming them, to advisories about traffic and safety issues. Within 2 weeks, there will be news every day. Energy and anticipation just keeps building.

Starting about 3-4 days out, all the eclipse chasers will be watching the weather reports. Comparing all the different predictions and trying to figure out the best place to go. If there is bad weather, there’s a flurry of last-minute changes of location and drive time calculations. Plans change fast and furious. Weather in my area was completely terrible just 12 hours before the event – would we see anything? There’s anxious nail biting and second guessing by lining up alternate plans.

The day before the eclipse, I went to bed tingling with anticipation and excitement. The weather reports were looking good; but the sky sure didn’t. I double-checked weather, my alarms, traffic conditions, routes to the location I wanted to get too. I had the car filled with gas. I went through all my gear, chargers, snacks, timetables, and had everything double-checked and piled by the door. I planned secondary plans if the primary location looked bad and went to bed.

I got up at the crack of dawn. I looked at last weather reports and checked traffic along the 1.5 hour route and left 5-6 hours before totality. I arrived in the path of totality, filled up the car with gas and stopped at a local greasy spoon diner nearest to my desired eclipse watching spot (10 miles away). I had nice leisurely tea and breakfast reading and chatting with locals – secure knowing I was already in totality even if traffic became madness.

About 2 hours before the moon started covering the sun, I loaded up with drinks and snacks I headed to my eclipse watching spot and settled it. I set up my gear and got all ready – excitedly talking with those around me about what to expect. The weather looked great – no need for last minute changes. We killed time catching up, looking up reports, talking about what we expected and had heard, watching the traffic on the interstates turn from green to yellow to red in google maps, and listening to live TV reports on eclipse events across the country.

Unnoticed to the naked eye, right on time, the moon appeared in front of the lower corner of the sun. For the first 25% of the moon covering the sun, you pretty much don’t notice anything besides the slow creep of the moon over the sun. It was exciting to see it start happening! I talked with those around me, took photos, and we watched as the moon took a bigger and bigger bite out of the sun through our glasses. Around us, little appeared to change though.

Right after the halfway point, however, you could see the light around you begin to change. At first it’s just kind of a general oddness of the light around you. Things seem a bit dimmer, but it’s so uniform that it feels…strange. It’s not like stepping from sunlight into a shadow, it’s all around you.

As you get from halfway to 75% covered, you notice changes in the shadows cast around you. They start looking odd – but it’s hard to see why at first. They just seem different or blobby. As things progress, you’ll see it clearly with sharp shadows. They aren’t round, but strange crescent shapes. All the little shadows between the leaves are creating thousands of pinhole cameras on the ground.

The light and air continues to change too. Slowly at first. Almost imperceptibly. The light becomes more dim, increasingly more like twilight, but with a different flavor. Instead of it just getting orange/red in the one direction of sunset, the color is on the horizon all around you.

By the time the sun is 75% covered by the moon, you notice the temperature start to drop. It feels like you’re sitting on the deck as evening creeps in. From 85%-99%, all of these effects start happening faster and faster. It seems every 30 seconds the light around you in all directions is changing. The sky dims faster and faster, the air cools more, the moon continues to block more and more of the sun until there is just a crescent there. You can sometimes even see planets (like Venus) or other stars appear with just seconds left before totality. Building and street lights with darkness sensors turn on automatically. This is all happening faster and faster – the sun is reduced to just a final bright diamond in one corner, and then like the snap of the finger it goes totally dark in your protective glasses. You pull them off, and see this in the sky:

These are the best shots I’ve found that capture what it looks like in the sky. The surrounding horizon in all directions looks like a uniform sunset. As you look up from the horizon to where the sun was, it goes from sunset colors to black. Almost pitch black. So dark you can see bright planets like Venus (if they’re in the right spots) or a few bright stars. The contrast between the light at the horizon gradually turning to complete blackness around the sun is astounding. Add to this fact that just 30 minutes before it was a bright and sunny day.

Then there is the sun – or where it used to be. There is a completely black circle surrounded by an impossibly electric white halo. It’s like looking at the white flash of a lightning bolt. Yet it doesn’t move or go away – or hurt your eyes. It seems like it should, but it doesn’t. It’s a camera flash that you can look at continually. It’s just hangs there around the black circle. White-hot electric mother of pearl color.

And it stays like that. You’re completely captivated; staring at it in awe. After an eternity that’s probably only 30 seconds, you notice all the changes around you. The coolness and stillness of air. All nature sounds have gone silent (no birds chirping, dogs barking, bugs buzzing, or anything else). The horizon in all directions looks like sunset – yet the sky around the sun looks almost pitch black. The suspended halo of shimmering, impossible light. You look around to be surrounded by dim light casting everything in a muted grey color. It’s hard to take it all in. I stared at the sun, then at the horizon, then made exasperated comments to my friends, then looked all around me at the colors of the horizon, then felt the air on my skin, the dimness of the trees and building around me – over and over again. Trying to drink all this sensory input at once. It happened all at once and yet each moment was like an eternity flying by.

After what seemed ages and yet the blink of an eye, the time grew close for the sun to peak out of the opposite side. We anticipated the light again but were trying to still soak all of this in. To squeeze every second out of the experience. Suddenly again, like the snap of a finger, the tiniest bit of sun came out from behind the moon on the opposite side and it was brilliant white again. 1% of the sun exposed could completely blind you like the full noon-day sun. The totality was over.

I barely remember what happened after that. We were so in awe and in wonder of what we had just experienced. The light came back up and all the effects unwound. I would occasionally look through my glasses to see the moon releasing more and more of the sun – but we were all excitedly talking about what we just saw. We gradually put away our gear and sat chatting. We started checking our phones, sending pictures, sharing texts, checking the traffic, etc. I had to put my hat on since the sun started baking us again. Only 20 minutes earlier, it was dark and cold.

We sat around and talked about everything and laughed and wowed. Then, after saying our goodbyes, we hit the road and took all this home feeling changed by the experience of having witnessed something so wonderful. You know you’ve been changed – but unsure how just yet. I drove home realizing this exceeded and shattered any expectations I could have possibly imagined.

Another description I found online

“Excitement bubbled as totality drew near. People were getting settled, climbing on top of their cars, or getting chairs from their trunk to sit on the side of the road or on the hillside. The light had changed subtly like a dying flashlight slowly going out. It was a gradual and strange dimness that was hard to notice at first. Realization set in that it was a bit cooler and although the sun was still fairly bright, it wasn’t warm on my skin anymore. With eclipse glasses on, spectators watched as the silhouette of the moon crept closer to complete coverage of the sun and the sky above us became darker yet. It was enough to cause an expectant hush over the crowd. The last small crescent of sun became only a sliver of brightness.

Then it happened somehow slowly and suddenly. It was safe to remove our glasses to see what we traveled so far and wide to see. When I looked up, I was so stunned by what I saw that I lost my breath and had to sit down! (I don’t know why I was standing in the first place.) The crowd oohed and aahed at the sky. Onlookers in the distance lit off fireworks. Some people laughed, some even cried, but many were silently looking up in awe. It was spectacular!

I looked up at the sky and saw a black orb with a thin band of dazzling light dancing around the edge. The dark disk looked like a wheel that rolled in a tiny bit of fine red glitter with brilliant golden light bursting from the sides. And the blueish corona flaring out beyond the light was astonishing in the dusky deep blue sky. Then I noticed the planets on their way around the sun. First I saw Venus, the brightest, then Jupiter. And because I knew where to look I also saw, faintly shining, Mars and Mercury. I tried to take it all in while sitting there on that hillside near the truck stop, eclipse glasses in hand. It was spellbinding. I took note of the dark sky above and the strange glow of light on the horizon, outside of the shadow. The sparkle of our star eclipsed by the moon was the closest I’ll ever get to observing it’s light with the naked eye and I wanted to savor every second. But time was up and just as slowly and suddenly as the sun disappeared, the light returned, first as a sliver then gradually a crescent. There was so much light from that tiny bit of sunshine. Shortly after totality, beneath the penumbra of the new moon, we headed back home.”

More amazing pictures can be found here

2024 Eclipse resources

2024 Eclipse resources

Just getting to the location of an eclipse is only half the battle. The rest of the trick is the weather; which is often only known 2-3 days before the event. It’s a very good idea to have a changeable fares for air, hotel, and car rentals. For the 2024 eclipse, I needed to switch from Austin, TX to Indiana 2 days before the event. Fortunately I had paid for changeable reservations with became key.

The other part was knowing where to go for accurate data and who to trust. Here’s some of the resources I used:

Eclipse Path Tracking


The most important part was cloud cover. There was a lot of last minute nail biting and plan changes trying to make your bet on where the clouds would split.

Day-of visible live cloud pattern and prediction websites to know where to drive to avoid clouds!

Article Links:
byu/chredit from discussion
AI can guess where you are from a single picture

AI can guess where you are from a single picture

Rainbolt is one of the world’s best players of Geoguessr – a game in which you are given a 360 picture and you get about 20 seconds to guess where in the world it was taken. A team at Stanford took 2 months and built an AI that can guess 92% of countries correctly and a median miss error of only 44km – which is astounding.

Here’s a head-to-head competition between the AI Predicting Image Geolocations (or PIGEON) and a pro geogussr player:

But there’s another side of this kind of technology. NPR did an interview and presented a few personal photos to the algorithm. PIGEON was able to guess the location the photo was taken to a really high degree of accuracy. This means you can find places taken in old family snapshots, but it also means that algorithms like this can reveal everywhere you are, and have been, based on your social media posts.

How it works

The algorithm that PIGEON uses is an interesting combination of AI model techniques. Besides the AI based learning, they use some interesting methods such as ‘geocells’ that uses political/geographic regions to help narrow locations instead of just naïve squares.

Rainbolt even pointed out that PIGEON picked up on camera lens smudges in the sky that were very common in Canadian google image captures:

There’s so many other details. Definitely check out their paper here:


This is yet another example of where 3 graduate students were able to develop a system that is better than the best experts in the world. And in this case, they did it in less than 3 months with off the shelf software and hardware.

You can only imagine where things will be in just a few years. Anyone that doesn’t think AI is already changing the world is missing it as it’s happening.

Buy a WW 2 Era Sea Fort

Buy a WW 2 Era Sea Fort

Spitbank Fort and No Man’s Fort are some unique properties for sale. The sea forts were 2 armor-plated forts completed in 1878 off the British coast. They defended the Portsmouth dockyards during WW 1 and WW 2. It must have been rough, because it was reported that “Life on site was grim; those serving were deliberately chosen for their inability to swim, to avoid any attempt to escape.” Ouch.

After 1956, they were decommissioned and sat empty until they were turned into a museum in 1982-2009. Spitbank was reportedly purchased for more than £1m in 2009 for and converted into a luxury hotel that folded during the 2020 corona virus pandemic. In late 2020, Pendulum live broadcast a concert from Spitbank.

Now they’re both for sale.

Check out their websites for the cool sales information.

Fort Boyard and Crystal Maze

Fort Boyard and Crystal Maze

Game shows aren’t just a US phenomenon; but it seems we don’t see the game shows from other countries like movies from other countries. I think game shows reveal tons about a country since they involve pretty ordinary people.

Nobody has crazier game shows than the Japanese; but Europe had some interesting gameshows too. I previously had known about Knightmare (wikipedia) in which kids would play through an adventure in front of a green screen and directed by their friends.

I recently learned about 2 new ones. Fort Boyard and The Crystal Maze. Both were aired during the 90’s and 2000’s and were created by Jacques Antoine.

Fort Boyard was originally a French gameshow. It soon spread to multiple countries and multiple languages, ultimately airing over 1,800 episodes during the 90’s and 2000’s. The game consisted of a team of 5 players completing a number of timed puzzles and physical challenges to collect word clues. When they collected enough word clues, they had to find the connection between the words and if correct would be given a short time to collect as many gold coins before the gate to the arena closed.

The Crystal Maze was a British game show that was based upon Fort Boyard. A team of contestants would complete a number of timed puzzles and physical challenges to collect crystals in 4 themed areas (Aztec, Industrial, Futuristic, and Medieval). When the time was up for the challenges, they added up the crystals which were converted to time in the crystal dome. The team would enter the crystal dome and they had to collect as many gold paper tokens being blown around and put them into the center letter box before the time expired. If they got over 100 tickets, they won the grand prize. 50-100 tickets they won some pretty decent secondary prizes. Less than 50, and you got nothing.

The puzzles seemed more diverse than the ones on Fort Boyard.

Sail the Northwest Passage – for real

Sail the Northwest Passage – for real

The Northwest Passage is a sea lane between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the Arctic Ocean, along the northern coast of North America. For centuries, such a trade route to Asia was sought.

A northern route was discovered in 1850 by the Irish explorer Robert McClure. Scotsman John Rae explored a more southerly area in 1854 through which Norwegian Roald Amundsen made the first complete passage in 1903–1906 (yes, it took 3 years since they would be frozen in the ice all winter). The passage was known for its many disastrous expeditions. Despite the incredible feat, nearly year-round ice pack made this traversal impractical.

In recent years, however, artic sea ice has been receding. In 2013, a Chinese shipping line successful made passage by the 73,500 ton Nordic Orion. The company expressed interest in continuing the route more frequently as winter sea ice recedes.

But it’s not just big companies, you can now take one of these trips yourself – if you have the money. In just the last few years, tour companies are starting to make regular trips through the Northwest passage. Costs range from around $10,000 – $50,000.

Read about what to expect on such a voyage here.

Tour companies now offering cruises through the Northwest Passage:

Pyramiden – 10 years later

Pyramiden – 10 years later

Back in 2019, I wrote about Sasha from Pyramiden. At that time, Pyramiden, located in Svalbard, was essentially abandoned except for a few caretakers like Sasha.

Fast forward and Pyramiden has seen a little rebirth. The hotel has been renovated and reopened with a restaurant, bar, and post office.

The movie theater was also restored and even hosts an annual Pyramiden Cinema Festival in September (facebook page). Even more amazing is that the movie theater housed an archive of over 1000 Soviet era films that sat quietly on the racks when they were abandoned.

Want to take a trip there? It’s possible! Grumant Artic Travel offers 4 day/3 night trips to Pyramiden where you’ll stay at the hotel and enjoy the sights. Or, if you are even more adventuresome, you can sail the entire Northwest Passage.

Cecilia Blomdahl takes us on a trip there and gives us a little tour.

Via ferratas – in the US

Via ferratas – in the US

Via ferrata routes have been around for more than a century in Europe. They original had been developed in WWI to move troops and supplies through the mountains but continued to be a popular, beginner-friendly (provided you’re not afraid of heights) way for people to spend time in the mountains. Today, more than 1,000 via ferrata routes spider across the Alps alone.

Afar has a great article on how that experience has come more and more to the US.

Amangiri Via Ferrata, Utah

Guests of Amangiri and Camp Sarika, two ultra-luxurious properties in Utah, can use any of the seven resort’s via ferrata’s. The most stomach-tightening course arguably involves the Cave Peak Stairway, a 200-foot-long steel bridge that spans from one peak to another 400 feet above jagged rock.

Tordrillo Mountain Lodge Via Ferrata, Alaska

The via ferrata completed by Tordrillo Mountain Lodge features a network of metal rungs, 1,200 feet of cable, and two suspension bridges, which all together help guests gain 900 feet of elevation. Throughout the course, climbers can see the 28-mile-long Triumvirate Glacier and Tordrillo Mountains which includes Mount Spurr, an active volcano.

Only guests of the lodge are allowed to use the via ferrata—and it would be challenging to sneak a climb on it otherwise, as it starts on a rocky shelf only accessible by helicopter, 4,000 feet above sea level.

Cloud Ladder Via Ferrata, Estes Park, Colorado

Cloud Ladder at Estes Park Colorado is billed as the steepest via ferrata in the United States, it’s roughly 600 feet of vertical climb. Two tightrope-style suspension bridges, one of which stretches 45 feet across a 200-foot chasm. However, from the top (roughly 9,200 feet in elevation) are views of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Mummy Range.

Quarry Trails Metro Park Via Ferrata, Columbus, Ohio

One of the first urban via ferratas in the U.S., the Quarry Trails via ferrata is found in Columbus and opened in May 2023. The route stretches 800 feet horizontally across a limestone cliff and includes two aerial walkways, a 54-foot steel staircase, and a 90-foot suspension bridge that hangs 105 feet above a pond.

Telluride Via Ferrata, Telluride, Colorado

One of only three, free, and open-to-the-public trails in the United States, the Telluride Via Ferrata has been operational since 2007. Nestled into the eastern end of the box canyon on the southern-facing wall below Ajax Peak, this route is technically 2.2 miles long, but only 1,600 feet of it has cable—the rest is a single-track trail. However, that trail is very exposed—it’s on a ledge of a more than 12,000-foot mountain.

Rutledge said what he likes most about the route is how it differs throughout the seasons. “In the spring, you’ve got Bridal Veil Falls, the tallest waterfall in Colorado, just gushing right next to you. And in the fall, you’re above this sea of gold and amber trees.”

Taos Ski Valley Via Ferrata

In the sub-alpine forest of Kachina Peak, a popular ski area, is a collection of Toas Ski Valley via ferrata routes for beginners and advanced climbers alike. The climbs start at about 11,500 feet. The routes include a 100-foot sky bridge suspended 50 feet above the ground, a double cable catwalk, and views of the Rio Honod and Wheeler Peak Wilderness area.