Eclipse traffic puts breaks on return trip

Lars Lonnroth, Assistant News Editor

Amid the fascination with the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 42 LT students took a first-day-of-school field trip to downstate Illinois to view the first total eclipse the U.S. has had in 38 years—and then they made the trip back.

“We packed it all up, got on the bus … and we got on the road and almost immediately knew it was going to be a problem because the traffic was crazy,” said Kevin Murphy, an astronomy teacher at LT and organizer of the excursion.

This eclipse garnered so much attention due to its rarity. Total solar eclipses, like this past one, occur when the moon’s shadow obscures the sun completely and creates premature darkness, leading to an array of unique natural activities.

But the high attendance marooned students on the road from late afternoon into early morning with bumper-to-bumper traffic that nearly tripled a normally 4.5 hour trip, Murphy said.

“It was as bad as any movie set shows the evacuation of a city,” Mark Kienzynski, LT teacher and chaperone, said. “It felt like armodgenenon had struck.”

The trip hosted LT astronomy students, chaperones and a group of LTTV students and staff down to Goreville, Illinois, a town of 1,000 that received an additional 20 seconds of totality but was further downstate than the more-urban Carbondale—the epicenter of the state’s eclipse activities.

But as a result of that location, traffic kept students on the road until 1:20 a.m. with LTTV getting back much later, Murphy said.

“If you were near the top of the path of totality and you left right away, you were ahead of the traffic curve,” Murphy said. “If you were 35 miles deep [into the path of totality] like we were, then everyone above you—all 35 miles of people—all got on the road before you.”

For LTTV, packing forced a departure 30 minutes later than the astronomy students but it had a drastic effect on their trips length. While the main group got back at 1:30 a.m., LTTV didn’t get back until 8:30 a.m.

“It was a hurricane of emotions for all of us,” LTTV advisor Bill Allan said. “I mean, it was frustrating, it was aggravating and at certain points it was just insanity and we would laugh about how ridiculous it was.”

That day, Allan didn’t get a full night of sleep for 28 hours, he said, although he had to take a 30 minute nap to maintain alertness on the road. The “insanity” made it difficult to justify in the moment, but since then his mind has changed, he said.

“When people were asking me at the time ‘was it worth it?’ I am like, ‘No. No eclipse, no natural event was worth it,”’ Allan said. “But now, you know, I’m rested, we’re all recuperated and I can say, yes, it was worth it; It was an amazing thing.”