We will be making the trip to the solar eclipse path and will be prepared for the clogged roads.
Will you be?
For two years, we have been looking forward to the solar eclipse. As it has come closer, more and more people are getting excited about it. Washington State just put out a warning that over one million people will be hitting the Oregon roads based solely on counting the hotel and camp reservations; many of them coming from Washington.
To put this in perspective, there are just over four million people in the state of Oregon, so the people on the roads will grow by 25% for one day only, all making a beeline for a line going across the states.
Regardless of when you go or come, you may find yourself sitting, just sitting, in traffic, or not moving at all, or trapped, unable to get to your destination, even if it is only five miles from where you are.
To make sure you are not trapped when the worst of the traffic happens, here are some things to keep in mind. These are all things I have learned over years of driving across mountain passes through snow storms, river floods, and avalanches. These tips have been adapted to account for the new type of natural event, gridlock to see a once in a lifetime event that everyone and their mother is going to.
1) Give yourself as much time as you can
Whatever day you are driving over, leave as early in the morning as you can. This gives you as much time as you can have to get over the pass, I mean, to your camp ground. Getting there the day of the eclipse is likely too late, especially the further west you get, where the eclipse is earlier in the day.
2) Bring a printed map or two
In this day of cell phones and GPS directions, many people are tempted to just trust their GPS to get them where they want to go. Many people are heading into small towns and rural areas, and those areas may or may not have good service for your phone. Additionally, much higher than normal cell usage can cause the cell towers to have issues. It is best to go old school and get a map of the area you are going to. We have a nice map book that has each state on two pages, which we will be using. Additionally, use the internet beforehand to map out your planned route, plus any backup routes you have, and print turn by turn directions.
3) Gas up early and often
Find out where the gas stations are, how far apart they are, and mark them on the map. Take the time to get gas if you will be under half a tank. In this case, you are treating the eclipse line as the pass, the closer you are to it, the less likely you are to be able to get gas, and the more likely you are to be more stopped and draining gas than going in traffic. If you own two cars, bring the one with the longest range on your trip.
4) Bring a car emergency kit
This is something you should already have in your car, but if you don’t, go pick one up. It often doesn’t need to be used, but if you need it, you will be glad you have it. Additionally, a trip like this is more likely to need one as you may not be able to easily get to a gas station or rest stop if something happens. Once you have the kit, leave it in your trunk in case you ever need it.
5) Bring lots of water
We will be bringing 40 gallons of water with us, plus the random bottles left over from my daughter’s birthday party. This will get us through the drive, camping, and likely the drive home. If you are not camping, carry at least one gallon of drinkable water in your car. Not only will this keep you hydrated if you spend 12 plus hours for a 4-hour drive, it also comes in handy if your car overheats from idling in the hot summer day.
6) Bring food that requires no cooking
Food doesn’t have to be fancy, just something you can eat if you find yourself stuck in traffic. We will be throwing an extra loaf of bread and some peanut butter and jelly in the car. Find a food like that. It is not exciting, but if you end up needing it you will be happy you have it.
7) Bring entertainment options
Depending on your kids’ ages, this could be toys, games, books, books on tape, art supplies, and/or a favorite stuffed animal. But bring something for your kids so they don’t drive you completely crazy. I am generally not a fan of electronics in the car, but this is one trip I will allow my daughter her Kindle as well as the standard road trip activities. You know your family more than I do, so pick the best options for you. Don’t forget the options for you as well. Check out our list of song to bring along.
8) Take advantage of the stand stills
Anyone who has been cooped up in a car for four, seven, or twelve hours is likely to feel cramped. If your trip is delayed, it is most likely uneven in its delay. At some point, you might be stopped for a while, say, if an accident happened up in front of you while it is getting cleared up. Be safe about it, but don’t be afraid to get a quick leg stretch done if the opportunity presents itself.
9) Be ready to sleep in your car (or get there early and leave late)
Going there, traffic may be spread out over a few days, so those one million plus may filter into the area, which means the roads MAY be tolerable on the way there if you are coming in during the weekend. Then again, they may be gridlocked. The ride home on Monday, if that is your plan, will likely be three to four times worse as people try to get back to work. Be prepared for both hot and cold weather, especially in the deserts, where temperatures drop at night.
10) Bring toilet paper and several zip top bags
Okay, say the worst of projections have come to pass, but you were prepared. You ended up sleeping on the side of the road, eating and drinking that which you brought with you, and spent an uncomfortable but safe night sleeping in your car, with the right things to keep you warm, or the windows open to keep you cool. It is morning, and you are on the road again. At what point leading up to this did your little one say “Mommy, I can’t hold it!” How long can you hold it for that matter? Toilet paper and several zip top bags will give you an answer that can be sealed up before going back in your car, so you don’t litter along the road.
Bonus Tip: Don’t start a fire, and listen to the local advice on how not to start a fire.
In Oregon, for example, they are afraid people will pull into fields, make a tiny spark onto the grass, and the whole field will go up in flames. This kind of thing DOES happen every year, starting fires that consume acres of land, burning all in its path.
Now that you can get to and from the eclipse, enjoy it, and remember to keep the viewing safety advice in mind as well. I hope you enjoy the trip, and that the roads run smoothly to and from it.