Monday, September 04, 2017

Traveling to the Path of Totality: Boneyard Beach, SC

The first thing you need to know about my husband is that he does not like to do anything the easy way. If there is an opportunity for complicating a process via do-it-yourself ingenuity, or going above and beyond when it is completely not necessary, he's all for it. The North American eclipse on August 21st was no different. 

Nathan was the first person who told me about the eclipse - he started talking about it over a year ago. "No matter what's going on, we're taking that day off," he said. He was very excited because we live just three hours from the Path of Totality, which meant we had the rare chance to see the full show. "Cool," I said. I may have even shrugged. There was a lot going on at the time, and a solar eclipse was the last thing on my mind.  

Fast forward a year, and Nathan has been plotting our trip for months, finally coming up with a perfectly complicated plan. We, along with our friend Chris, would wake at three in the morning on Monday, August 21st. We'd hop into Chris's truck, which would already be loaded up with our kayaks. We'd drive three hours to Awendaw, South Carolina, where there was a boat launch into Bulls Bay. From there, we'd kayak about four miles to the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refugee and land on Bulls Island. After that, it would be a three or four mile hike along a pristine shore to Boneyard Beach, a stretch of sand peppered with trees bleached by the sun and weathered by salty air. Websites refer to this area as "a living Dali painting" which, Nathan insisted, was an ideal location for viewing something as strange and surreal as a solar eclipse.  

Did you catch that? We're talking six hours of driving, eight miles of kayaking, and six or seven miles of hiking. And all this the day after I got back from a week-long trip to see my family in New York. Needless to say, I was less than enthusiastic. 

"Why can't we just stay in Wilmington and watch it?" I asked. "The sun is going to be 96% covered here. Is another 4% really going to make that much of a difference?" 

"I know I'm being a fanatic about this," Nathan said. "But if ever there was a thing to be fanatic about, this is it." 

"Fine," I said. "This eclipse better be worth it." 

Spoiler alert: it was totally worth it. 

Nathan's plan went off without a hitch. We arrived at our destination in South Carolina, sleepy and excited, at about 6:30 in the morning. Already the parking lot of the boat launch was filling with cars and trailers - we were luck to get a spot. A ferry taxied folks over to Bulls Island, while other people took their own boats out on the water. We were one of the only groups with kayaks, and with good reason - it was a long, hard paddle. Thanks to a wrong turn through marshes and inlets, it took us about four hours to reach the island. It was a beautiful day, though - a little overcast, humid but with a nice breeze. When we finally pulled our boats onto shore, my arms cried out in gratitude. 

The walk to Boneyard Beach was easy and pleasant, thanks to a few beers we drank on the way. (Gotta stay hydrated.) When we finally reached the gnarled trees, I definitely felt like I was in a Dali painting, or maybe on the set of Jurassic Park. We found a good spot on the beach among the white branches and upturned roots, went swimming in the warm water, had lunch, and waited for the eclipse to begin. 

Because we were in the very center of the Path of Totality, we would witness three full minutes of total solar eclipse, beginning at 2:43 p.m. At around 1:30 p.m. we could see it beginning with the help of our NASA-approved glasses. One thing that surprised me was how bright the day remained as the moon's shadow closed in on the sun. Even when only a sliver of the sun remained, it was still very clearly day time. I thought the eclipse would happen gradually, the afternoon darkening as time ticked by. Instead it didn't get truly dark until the moment the moon eclipsed the sun, and then it happened almost instantly. We tore off our glasses and watched the sky in awe. We saw it all - the sun's corona a brilliant white circle behind the moon, the solar flares erupting around the edges. To the west of us, heat lightening sparked, making the whole experience even more surreal and beautiful. Because we were on the coast in South Carolina, we were among the last people in America to see the eclipse, which felt significant. A farewell party, honoring it one last time before it disappeared over the ocean. 

And then the shadow moved away, the sun reappeared, and the day grew bright again. Almost as quickly as it had happened, it was over. We hung out for a little while longer, then began the long trek home the same way we'd come, but different than we'd been. 

And for the record, I'm glad Nathan made this trip complicated. Those three miraculous minutes made the whole journey worth it.