Chad’s Great American Eclipse Chase: Part 5—Tennessee, here we are!

This series details the eclipse-chasing exploits of our President and CEO, Chad Dorsey, as he heads down to Tennessee on a quest for the total solar eclipse. See the whole series.

Day 2 — Tennessee Bound

We wake to a reminder that weather isn’t something to be taken for granted—cloudy skies greet us outside the hotel room window. Thankfully, we still have over 500 miles to go, and those will be driving out of the cloudy hills of Pennsylvania and into the warmer, more hospitable regions of the South. The drive is smooth and uneventful, but we are a bit unsettled that the drizzle and rain follows us as we drive our way through the day. As we pull into Tennessee, however, we see the sun first peeking out, and we pull into Knoxville under clear skies, allowing us to settle in for the night with sweet dreams of sunny days ahead.

Day 3 & 4 — Settling into Tennessee

We wake to the pleasant view of sun streaming into our hotel room window. As we head to breakfast, it’s clear we’ve finally arrived in a state that falls within the path of totality. The local television news is full of reports of eclipse festivals, plans for special reports from nearby towns that will be bathed in shadow, and warnings and concerns about traffic. These continue through the day—as we drive along the highway in Knoxville, it’s apparent from the many signs that they’ve been thinking about the effects of the crowds this once-in-a-lifetime event will pull in for quite some time.

Eclipse traffic sign
Traffic warnings— a clear sign that we’ve entered a state in the path of totality.

We’re only a few hours now from our destination, so we have some time to play tourist a bit more. And since we’re in Knoxville on a quest after the eclipse, what better place to visit than the Sunsphere! This monument, the central icon of the 1982 World’s Fair hosted in Knoxville, shines brightly in the center of the city.

Knoxville Sunsphere
The Sunsphere an icon of the 1982 World’s Fair.

A free elevator ride brings us to the observation deck and offers a 360º view of the city and the Smoky Mountains on the edge of town. It’s a simple, but effective structure, and the kids have a great time looking down at all of the different places we might go and watching little kids play in the nearby fountain from above. And, of course, after we return to the ground we take the irresistible opportunity to take individual “total eclipse of the Sun(sphere)” photos.

Knoxville is a friendly, busy little place—even more so because it turns out to be Moving-In Day at the nearby University of Tennessee. Orange UT shirts and well-wishing parents fill the streets of the active farmer’s market. We grab some artisanal popsicles (strawberry watermelon!) and a enjoy a yummy Southern brunch at Tupelo Honey Cafe downtown before heading on our last leg of the trip, west to Nashville and our final destination in nearby Gallatin!

On the two-hour drive toward our obligatory Nashville stopover (it wouldn’t be a Nashville trip without a visit to UAL…), we notice multiple light-up highway signs on the highway margins noting “No eclipse parking on shoulder.” These are confirmation—after over 1000 miles of driving, we’ve entered the path of totality at last! During our stop in southern Nashville, we’re indeed in the coming path of the moon’s shadow, but stand on its very outer border. This is important: if we were to remain in place here, we would see a total eclipse, but it would last only perhaps 15 or 20 seconds. In comparison, our final location in Gallatin, a mere 30 mile drive to the northeast, lies on the eclipse’s centerline. Driving those last 30 miles will gain us more than two additional minutes of totality.

Covering up the Sunsphere
Creating a “total eclipse of the Sunsphere” in Knoxville
Hot kid with popsicle
It’s HOT in the South. Artisanal popsicle, anyone?

The drive is an exhilarating one — we can feel the excitement building: only one more day stands between us and the event we’ve waited so long for. Reuniting at dinner in Gallatin, we share stories and excitement with family and friends, a group that hasn’t been together for years, and has barely been together more than once since we last stood under the shadow of the moon together over 25 years ago.

Over the next day, we alternate between catching up, and looking up. The blue sky that greets us on the last morning before eclipse day brightens our spirits and keeps our hopes high. But at the same time, we are reminded constantly that nothing in life is certain. The sky is dotted with puffy cumulus clouds that increase gradually in number over the morning. And ominously, as we glance at our watches at 1:30PM, anticipating the precise onset of totality 24 hours later, we see the sun move behind a large cumulus cloud in an otherwise blue and bright sky—and remain there for a full three minutes before emerging again. This sour note in an otherwise gorgeous day provides an uneasy warning that nature will not be taken for granted. However, as we retire to bed and try in vain to sleep, the forecasts are strong for warm weather and sunny skies the next day, and our hopes remain high.

Sun behind a cloud
An ominous reminder that nature is capricious.