Eclipse Trip Part 2: Totality in Nebraska

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Boarding the California Zephyr at Union Station, Chicago, felt very momentous, but we were a little unnerved to find that when the ticket said “reserved coach” it meant that we had a seat in the coach class carriage.  Any seat.  Not a particular one, just whichever ones we could find free.  This led to a bit of unseemly scrambling, but we were happy enough with the pair we found in the upper deck.  There’s plenty of leg room, and space to store bags.  We had to stay put until the ticket guy had registered our names and assigned them to those seats, after which we were free to move around.  And the first place to move around to was the sight seer lounge.

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This has a variety of seating facing outwards to large windows and a panoramic roof.  Space here is at a real premium, and there’s an element of “towels on the sunloungers”.  However, announcements remind passengers not to hog seats, to vacate them if going to be away for a while, and not to place bags or sweetie wrappers on unused seats.

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There’s a real sense of unhurry, and people take the opportunity to talk to their fellow passengers.  Lots of them had this journey on their “bucket list” of things they must do, and had been planning it for some time.  There were quite a few  Amish and Menonites taking a trip, and of course lots of eclipse chasers.  Having failed to secure eclipse glasses in The Windy City, I was delighted to spot a NASA ambassador from Langley Research Center, who provided us not only with eclipse glasses but many other maps and goodies besides.

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There aren’t an awful lot of announcements given during the actual journey – I was glad I had printed out the detailed Route Guide which gives a paragraph or so about each stop and the area we were traversing.  We did get an announcement when crossing the Mississippi, which is half a mile wide. I was impressed by the  mile-long freight trains carrying coal pass us in the opposite direction.  And we cross from Illinois to Iowa and some point, and from there into Nebraska.

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We would be leaving the train at midnight, so I hadn’t booked a sleeping car for this leg.  Sleeping car tickets include all meals, and so reservations for dinner are offered to those passengers first.  Coach class passengers have to try to get hold of the dining car attendant as they make their way about the train, and Roger was successful in snaffling a dinner reservation, but it is dear ($ 100 for the 2 of us, with drinks).  The tables are in groups of 4, and so you will end up with strangers, who are happy to talk.  We even found an openness about discussing politics, particularly Trump and Brexit, which was refreshing.

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This isn’t the most scenic part of the journey, and anyway it was dark at about 7.  We arrived in Lincoln at half past midnight, and worryingly outside the small station there was  no sign of any cabs and the police are doing something across the road.  Left with no other option, we hired an Uber at $50 to take us to the hotel, about 2 miles away.  I usually avoid booking hotels in the railway district of cities, as they tend to be less salubrious, but we were regretting not having a hotel that we could have walked to.

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Baymont Hotel is fine, but a bit outside the town centre.  And for breakfast you could have biscuits and gravy.  If you like that sort of thing.  Our Sunday morning Uber retraced the journey from the night before, but this time cost only $7.  Like most places, Sunday mornings are quiet but we enjoyed a relaxed mosey around Historic Haymarket which has tried to retain its old buildings, with painted signs, and helpful plaques at each one telling their history.  There are many independent shops, bars and cafes here, and it is a lively enough spot once things open.

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We had lunch at a fabulous burger bar, with the “cry and fry” fried onions and fries side dish,

before paying a visit to the helpful people in the visitor centre, located in the OLD railway station.

 

We had planned to spend eclipse day in Beatrice, but that was one of the sites chosen by NASA to broadcast from, and Bill Nye the science guy would be there.  Along with, of course, thousands of other people.   We were concerned that if we got stuck in traffic we wouldn’t be able to return our hire car in time, though the half past midnight train shouldn’t be an issue.

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The helpful visitor centre staff ordered us a taxi to take us out to the Enterprise car place on the edge of town, where the friendly staff gave us an upgrade to something with a sat nav.  Anytime we said we were from Ireland people’s eyes lit up, and they would tell us about their granny who came from Limerick, or how they wanted to visit Dublin.

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Driving in The States takes a bit of getting used to, especially at junctions, but we made it safely back to the hotel.  There are a few drive through restaurants nearby, and we chose one of those for a Chinese dinner.

Monday

Up early for eclipse day, and an anxious look at the weather forecast. There would be hazy high cloud all day, with little chance of it burning off.  The newsreader reminded people not to try driving whilst wearing eclipse glasses.

We set off for our alternate viewing site at the little town of Crete, where we found a good spot to park near to coffees and loos and the like.  We enjoyed a great breakfast at IMG_2136Sport 9, whose staff were clearly experiencing  a bumper volume of customers, many of whom also wore eclipse T shirts.  During a wander around town, I was charmed by the home made signs about the eclipse, and we were greeted warmly.

One passer by even invited us to join her and her family for lunch down the road.

First contact was at just after 11, and I did my traditional happy clappy dance.  For this part of the eclipse, the high cloud wasn’t a real issue.

Lots of people kept popping out of their shops and business, and putting on their eclipse glasses to look up to the sky.  I spotted a tiny patch of blue sky, and held my breath and crossed my fingers, and sure enough….it reached the sun just immediately before totality.

 

IMG_2140 There was the most beautiful diamond ring, and then a good 2 minutes of corona.  The eerie purple-black darkness gave a spooky feel, and I wondered at the cars driving past with their lights on – did they not even have 2 minutes to spare to stop and enjoy this wonder?  Well, most of the village was out in the streets enjoying it, and when we repaired to Als on Main for lunch, they had just re-opened after being closed for the event.

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I’m always a bit self-critical after these things – should I have gone to Wilber where there was a bigger festival?  Or found somewhere out in the open where we could watch the shadow race across? Or should we have braved the traffic in Beatrice?  But from what I could gather afterwards, the cloud was an issue in Beatrice so it was just as well we didn’t go there.

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On the way home, we followed a brown sign to see a lakeside recreation area.  And then of course, having tried to avoid it, we hit the Beatrice traffic on the Interstate.  But we made it to the hire car place in time, and across the road from it was an enterprising young man selling eclipse T shirts, so I bought one of those.

We then had a 6 hour wait until our train, so we found a good spot in one of the Irish bars and set about making new best friends.  I did manage a quick shopping spree before 6, and got some souvenir Nebraska wine, and some liquorice for an emporium dedicated to that particular sweet.

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One of our new best friends collects old beer cans, and I showed them my parkrun analogue tracker.  They help us with our bags to the station, where we discover that the train is delayed, and it’s nearly 2 am before it arrives.  There are many passengers sprawled around the station and platform, and we are all ready for our beds.

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The sleeping car is small. The lower bunk isn’t too bad, but the upper one is little more than an ironing board, with a webbing strap to stop one falling out.  I have to channel my inner Jack Lemmon and pretend I am in Some Like It Hot before falling in and out of a restless night’s sleep.

 

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