By Judith Ritschard

In the few mind blowing minutes I stood in the dark shadow of the moon, gazing at the beautiful silvery threads of the corona, I was reassured our eclipse chase to The Cowboy State was worth the effort. Through all the packing and loading, through the eight hours in the car with our two boys, and even as we arrived to the crustiest, most dilapidated house ever to be listed on VRBO, I reflected back to the years my parents resolved to show us the heartbeat of America- the inter-workings of this new country we called home. Road tripping was how our family took the initial grand tour of the new land and with each trip we learned to appreciate different aspects our nation.

When the opportunity presented itself to head north to Thermopolis, Wyoming to see the eclipse I was all in. After all, there was a time I traveled thousands of miles by car and that’s why the iconic American road trip is always beckoning me, plus I’m good at it. Well-so I thought. But, after my three-year old had two false-alarm roadside-pukes,  and we had one bike fall off the roof rack, and several potty breaks,  all within the first hour, I felt more like a road tripping amature than a pro. We were off like a herd of turtles!  

As I loaded my kids back into the car for the umpteenth time, I started wondering how in the world my parents endured all those miles on the road with their three kids. How did they have the patience? Why did they make the tremendous effort to drive as far as Key West, Florida and New York City? They made the effort because with each trip we became more familiar to the people and places in this country. Seeing different corners of America somehow dissolved any fears, or any preconceived notions we may have had, while at the same time making all of us feel more interwoven into the fabric of this new land.

And once we started we were captivated and left wanting more. We were enchanted by desert sunsets, expansive farmlands in the Midwest, sandy white beaches in Florida, and big city skylines.  As we crossed every stateline my dad would insist we’d stop at the welcome signs. He’d make us get out of the car to capture a goofy family photo where we looked like we were cheerleading into the next state.

Their camper was always loaded with sleeping pads, blankets, and a cooler full of snacks and drinks. My siblings and I would be in the back of the blue Toyota truck telling jokes, making up stories, and I’m sure getting into an argument or two. We’d stay at low-budget motels and shower at KOA campgrounds.  If motels were not in the budget we’d often pull into a rest area and catch a few hours of sleep in the back of the truck.  When the first morning light woke us up, my dad turned on his extraordinary ability to sniff out the closest Waffle House or Dunkin’ Donuts. Over the years we’d all become expert road trippers and it became part of who we were as a family.

The importance of making the effort to have interesting and fun experiences left an impression on me. And since my kids were just months old, my husband and I have put in the effort to hit the open road with our children. Now that I’m the one planning, packing  and driving, I can appreciate  just how much work and patience went into each trip my parents planned and I’m truly grateful.

In the minutes before totality, the shadows did bizarre things on the hillsides, and the fish suddenly started jumping out of the water and, as crazy as it sounds, I felt connected to something bigger in our universe and to the other human beings around me. It  left me wanting to have this experience again in the future, not just another total eclipse, but another road trip. The whole trip re-enforced what motivated my parents to travel all those years. It was connecting with people, seeing new landscapes, and most importantly making memories with la familia.

Since we got back to Carbondale I have learned there will be another total solar eclipse in seven years that goes over Austin, TX. I’ve called my sister-in-law who lives in the Texas Hill Country. “You’re going to have an eclipse party and you don’t even know it,” I said. We’ll be packing up the truck, loading the cooler, and crossing a few state lines to get a glimpse of that one too, and without a doubt, it will be worth all the effort.