Scott Stoll logo world traveler. A bicycle wheel and the globe symbolizes Scott's journey around the world on a bicycle.
Totality during the 2024 Solar Eclipse looking like a diamond ring.
The 2024 and the diamond ring effect. Also visible are several solar flares or prominences. The one on the bottom could easily contain the Earth. The white halo is the corona, an ionized gas streaking into space. And the blotchiness is due to high-altitude cirrus clouds.

Totality or Bust

My one-star review. Haha.

This is my second eclipse. I’m an official eclipse chaser now. I had to see another to find out if it was just as amazing. It was!

The ancient Aztecs believed the Sun god perpetually battled against darkness. If darkness prevailed, it would signify the end of the world. During an eclipse, the Aztecs sacrificed humans, feeding their life force to the Sun to ensure it won the battle. Now I understand why.

A car with a sign in the back window "Totality or bust."
Totality or bust. 99.99% isn’t good enough!

Witnessing a total solar eclipse is the most amazing thing I have ever seen. That’s not hyperbole. I’ve traveled the world, stood before the Sphinx, climbed more than halfway up Mount Everest, seen a wild Bengal tiger, and so much more. But truly, a total solar eclipse (totality) was the most amazing, mind-blowing, skin-tingling thing I’ve ever seen. Sorry. More hyperbole. I apologize, but a total eclipse defies words. It’s similar to reading every book about surfing but never knowing what surfing is until you stand up on a board and catch your first wave.

On second thought, I shouldn’t downplay seeing Mount Everest. I feel I should give Mount Everest credit for the most awe-inspiring view, in part because I paid a big price—I rode my bicycle there. Time has given me the perspective to understand that it changed my life. But that is another story. Perhaps seeing a total eclipse is something anyone can do; nonetheless, it is also a life-changing experience.

The above photo is one of my best despite its flaws. (It’s grainy due to a fast shutter speed. I couldn’t fit a tripod in my suitcase.) But it doesn’t matter if it was the best picture ever taken. An eclipse is something you have to see with your own eyes. Actually, the eclipse isn’t just a visual sensation. It’s a whole-body sensation.

Total eclipse August, 21, 2017. Picture taken using a homemade solar filter and Canon Rebel camera. visible is the sun's corona and solar flares.
This is my photo from 2017 in Tennessee. I’m glad to see that I’m a better photographer.

The experience begins when the moon, like a reverse Pac-Man, starts munching away at the Sun. Slowly, the skies darken. Shadows form luminescent crescent highlights, tiny eclipses, sometimes hundreds in the leaves of the trees. As the sky dims, colors lose their contrast yet become more vibrant, almost metallic sheen. It’s a sign of the times that our group felt we were in a real-life Instagram filter.

As the Sun becomes a smaller and smaller crescent, the street lights turn on, birds roost and the crickets begin to chirp. The air grows chill, and the dew falls out of the air, giving me goosebumps. The wind fades, and the lake subsides to a liquid mercury ebbing back and forth.

Even with the Sun almost gone, with just a second left, the tiniest sliver at 99.99% or more, it is impossible to look at. I know. I tried to time the transition. Amazingly, the sky is gray, and there is nothing to see except a burning pinprick of light. But on the horizon, I can see the shadow of the moon rushing towards me like a storm front.

As the ominous shadow races past, the Sun flicks off. I’m blind as my eyes adjust to the darkness. Then KAPOW! The night explodes into color as the corona lights the sky on fire.

I gasp. My eyes flood with tears. And a shockwave of emotion rolls through my body.

Scott and Sara seeing the total solar eclipse 2017. The most amazing moment of our lives!
Me and my partner, Sara, looking fashionable in the sun.

In the middle of a vibrant navy sky sits a black orb flanked by Jupiter and Venus. The sky progresses downwards through a rainbow of unfilmable colors. Where it touches the horizon, it is awash in rosy pinks. A 360º sunset. The phenomenon crawls across the ground in giant shadows pointing in every direction.

The Sun and moon — the same apparent size. It’s a coincidence on the cosmic scale. Without my glasses, the eclipse fills the sky. It evokes primal emotions. I’m soaring through the solar system on a rocky ball. The feeling grows. I am a colossus taking his place in the universe, big enough to cup the moon in his hands and walk on suns. It’s a magical moment of feeling connected. Yet, in the next, I feel small, like an ant, insignificant.

The paradox makes life seem absurd. Life is absurd. I traipse around, pounding my fists on my chest, trying to make a difference, knowing I’m here for a special purpose. I have my name written on a building to prove it. In one moment, I am a giant in my own mind. If my life isn’t meaningful, what is the point of it all? But in the next, I am an ant ready to be washed away in eternity. A man full of flaws and a short temper. All my good deeds, if any, are meaningless, forgotten, burnt to cinders when the Sun eventually goes supernova.

Totality Solar Eclipse 2024. 360º panorama sunset.
During totality, there is a 360º sunset shown here in this 360º panorama. The sky in this photo is a beautiful color, but in real life, it is even more colorful. Photo by Christopher Weber.

The eclipse is the definition of awesome: a sight both inspiring and frightening. My tears embarrass my inner child, but I’m relieved that life hasn’t worn me out — that I can still feel big feelings and that despite my size or time here on Earth, or whether others will judge my life successful, all I have is this moment. A moment of enlightenment. And a memory to carry forward.

Hyperbole aside, the eclipse also provides a practical lesson. I’ll never forget passing a guy sitting in a lawn chair at a rest stop. “This is 99% totality. That’s good enough for me,” he said. It was a practical decision. Already, there were miles of traffic in both directions as people clamored for the best view, and soon, there would be a gridlock that would span several states. He thought he was seeing the total eclipse, but the difference between 99% and 100% is literally night and day. Since then, I have been applying extra effort to my life. What other miracles might 1% yield?

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