The closest route to the Path of Totality was straight down I-95 to South Carolina. I knew motels in the Path of Totality would have been sold out long already, so I looked at availability in Florence, SC, which also had the advantage of being on the cross roads to the closest point of totality straight down I-95 to Santee, SC, east to Charleston, SC, or west to Columbia, SC. I'd aim for Santee, but tried to do research for good viewing spots around Columbia and Charleston if clearer skies were predicted that morning in either of the latter places rather than Santee. Florence had plenty of vacancies in July, but started filling up fast in August.
I made a reservation 2 weeks before at the Thunderbird Inn , a basic economical 2 star hotel, much like most of the places my family stayed at during our family vacations. It had definitely seen better days, but was plenty comfortable, and yet seemed to put a lot of its budget into landscaping, which was a big attraction for me, because seeing palm trees out the window in the morning would be my solace if clouds spoiled the view we were traveling to see. I could take palm trees and Spanish moss as my consolation prize, as it's been more than a decade since I've seen them. Stretching my back swimming in a pool looking up at palm trees would help make the long drive more doable.
The hotel was pretty basic late 20th C, but that landscaping was better than the pics showed. It was really pretty and just the semi-tropical loveliness I was hoping for. I took these pics the last day--it was long dark when we arrived.
A nice bonus was a couple of gorgeous feral teenage brown tabby cats living in the foliage, and looking well fed from the probably plentiful buffet leftovers. Debra befriended them with some leftovers. We had our free breakfast buffet at the hotel both mornings and it was pretty good.
I didn't mind the traffic down as we listened to ilyaimy cds, chatted away, and chirped our hopes for seeing the eclipse on the way down. We stopped for lunch around Richmond, VA at a Panera's where I got a yummy salad and half sandwich, then stopped for dinner down in Smithfield, NC and ate at a regional chain called the Texas Steakhouse that had the quickest and nicest service and most excellent chef. Much like Texas Roadhouse and Longhorn Steakhouse in my area, but with top notch cooking and freshness. I can't vouch for the whole chain, but recommend this one in Smithfield highly. So a good trip, but traffic was very backed up in Northern Virginia, which is not unusual, and what could have been a 6 hour drive from Greenbelt turned out to be close to 10.
Debra took a shift, but I drove most of it and the rest of the trip. There was one bad moment on the way down when Debra read a text from the petsitter D saying she gave "Moo his insulin" --wrong gender and wrong cat--and OH STRESS HORMONES filling my body!, but Debra got a hold of D immediately and said it was just bad texting. I insisted on pulling over at first safe opportunity, though Debra kept arguing it was straightened out and I shouldn't stop, but I needed to touch base with D myself to be sure she had it right because these are my furry charges--geesh!, why not, when she's by the phone? Anyway, D medicated the right kitty--she is just a bad texter and gets her designations mixed up and knew a male cow kitty named Moe--and I was assured in a minute talking with her and life went on. So nice to have a pet sitter with a reliable cell phone she keeps close, too.
The big downside at this motel was that the doors to the rooms were really hard to open, which was very frustrating after a long drive and a late night arrival. We asked to be moved twice, first for the bad door (not helped by facing the interstate and the guy with a big white van parked next door), then because the second room reeked of smoke even though it was supposed to be nonsmoking, then for the 3rd room I got the lovely receptionist to come over and show us the trick to the door. It still remained a trial throughout. But this room at least faced the pool and the beautiful palms, crepe myrtle trees, and flowering yuccas.
So that was Sunday, arriving at our perch about an hour's drive above the Path of Totality in Florence, SC, the day before the eclipse.
Next post: the main event.
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