eclipse chaser with telescopes total solar eclipse 2024
Aerospace engineer and eclipse chaser Brian Page in his Arizona home. | Photo by John Burcham for Thrillist
Aerospace engineer and eclipse chaser Brian Page in his Arizona home. | Photo by John Burcham for Thrillist

Bask in the Zen of Totality with the Eclipse Chasers

Those who have experienced a total solar eclipse describe the experience as life-altering. For those dedicated to chasing 100% totality, in 2024 there is no distance too great.

In 2024, revenge travel is out. Finding peace, and your new passion, is in. This year is an opportunity to pump the brakes—to look up, turn in, get lost, ride along. We’ve collected 12 stories, each of which highlights a pursuit or experience that embodies this mindset. We hope they act as inspiration for the year to come—the beginnings of your very own 2024 mood board.

On the morning of August 21, 2017, Lauren Throop and her travel party had already been hiking for three days. Throop, a wildlife biologist, had joined friends on a backpacking trip in the Wind River Range in Wyoming to see the total solar eclipse. After two full days of camping along sheer granite cliffs, the group ascended Whiskey Mountain to get prime seats to summer’s headlining event. Around 11:30 am that morning, nature’s light switch would flip, leaving thousands of people across North America, mouths agape, experiencing complete darkness in the middle of the day.

Throop remembers fixing her gaze on the Tetons, some 65 miles away, and watching as their jagged silhouette began to disappear. Up against a 360-degree sunset, it was a mesmerizing sight to behold. For a few seconds, the entire crowd held their breath. To this day, Throop struggles to find the words to describe it: “It’s literally the definition of ‘awesome.’”

It’s this feeling of deep awe and admiration—and a little fear—for the universe that has sent folks on a path to chase that experience over and over again. On Reddit, these individuals congregate, in part, in the r/SolarEclipse community, which counts a little more than 4,000 members. A couple of months ago, one particular thread lit up when a user asked whether it was worth traveling for 100% totality or if 93% was “close enough.” The answer, if you go by the responses, is no. “The difference between 99% and totality is infinite,” noted one comment. “93% is seeing someone attractive across a crowded room,” began another one. “100% is falling in love with that person.” To eclipse connoisseurs, standing in 99% totality won’t cut it. In fact, what truly makes a total solar eclipse experience often lives within the confines of that final 1%.

On April 8, 2024, the path of totality will spread across Central and North America, blessing both new and seasoned eclipse chasers with the potential to experience 100% totality. It’s expected to be a huge event in the travel industry. Airbnb listings along the US path of totality during the eclipse period have skyrocketed by 300% compared with the same time last year. RV rental marketplace RVshare is reporting a 725% increase in bookings on its platform over the eclipse weekend when compared with the busy Memorial Day weekend. The total solar eclipse of 2024 has gained so much traction and interest that most tours, cruises, and events centered around it are already sold out, and many travel companies have rerouted their focus to 2026 eclipse planning.

A total solar eclipse will be viewable in North America on April 8, 2024. | Courtesy Brian Page

To Dr. Michael Kirk, a research scientist in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, totality is a visceral experience. “The experience of being in 99% is a really cool thing,” he explains. “If you’re in the path of totality, though, it’s emotional. People cry.”

When Mandy Wang’s dad, a stargazing enthusiast, texted her two weeks before the 2017 eclipse to pencil down some plans, she didn’t think much of it. Tied up with the hustle and bustle of law school, Wang simply saw her dad’s idea—to road-trip his way to the path of totality—as an opportunity to unwind and spend some quality time together.

After a five-hour drive from New Jersey to Athens, Tennessee, Wang and her father found themselves in a park they picked at the last minute. Armed with a picnic blanket, a camera, and some paper-made eclipse glasses, Wang describes feeling as though the universe was on rewind. “It feels like you’re in a black-and-white film,” she explains. “I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve gone back in time.’”

In Wang’s eyes, shadows and colors started to change. The world abruptly adapted to an impromptu nighttime. The street lights turned on, birds went quiet, and as twilight began to unfold in reverse, the sky was painted with broad strokes of red and orange and purple.

“I wasn’t expecting to be affected by it,” she says. “If you haven’t experienced it, it doesn’t really make sense why there’s such a strong pull to go see another one.”

Brian Page has witnessed 11 solar eclipses since 1999, a journey that has taken him to every continent in search of totality. He describes his experiences in detail: the time his glasses, camera, and face almost froze in Norway’s Svalbard. (“We’re watching this eclipse, and by the time it’s over, you realize that, Oh my God, I’m frozen solid.”) Or when he managed to find his way to Piedra de Aquila in Argentina for the event during the peak of the pandemic in 2020. For the latter, he was part of the only group of people from the US that was able to travel to the South American country. (“The [tour leader] I went to Argentina with had gotten clearance through the president of Argentina at the last second.”)

Page, an aerospace engineer, now works for a small company that does base craft navigation for NASA. But astronomy has always been his main interest. Over the years, he’s amassed a collection of telescopes; he now owns 20 of them, plus 10 pairs of binoculars—but, he says, a few are still missing from the inventory.

After witnessing his first total solar eclipse in Libya, in 2006, chasing totality became a singular obsession. “This was the most surreal experience of my life, and it hooked me on eclipses,” he recalls. “They’re a portal to another dimension, like going to a different universe for the duration of totality and returning to find everything the same, except for you.”

This year, Page is choosing the Texas route, but his plans are still somewhat nebulous. What he does know is that he is mapping out a national park–dense road trip, which will keep him busy for two to three weeks, and he’s traveling light. When I ask him what he’s bringing, he responds without hesitation. “My binoculars,” he says. “And I bring cameras… usually just my Canon, but I’ve recently acquired some little robotic telescopes that seem to be set up to do this kind of stuff pretty well.”

Other eclipse chasers have had their plans ready for much longer. Throop started looking for a place in Mazatlan, Mexico, about a year ago. When she went to book direct flights, they were too expensive, so she and her family opted for an alternative route: flying from Denver to San Diego, crossing the border to Tijuana, Mexico, and ultimately flying from there to Mazatlan.

“I feel like we’re this invested,” she says. “I’m not willing to let it go at this point.”

While the chosen destination might differ, the level of commitment is shared. Wang, who has been planning to join her friend’s family in upstate New York for six years, is committed to her trip despite the weather forecast potentially not being in her favor. (“If you get up to New England, it’s really rough, [with] only a 20 to 30% chance of clear skies,” says Kirk, the research scientist.)

Throop and Wang explain the desire to drop everything and position yourself in just the right spot for those 267 seconds of total darkness as akin to following, say, your favorite artist around the world or visiting a beloved festival every year. Totality is spiritually addictive, an awakening that is so complicated to describe that the only thing left to do is try to experience it over and over again.

“I never really thought that I would be someone who is super into eclipse chasing,” says Wang. “But it’s just… I don’t know. Some people go to Burning Man, and this is just my thing now.”

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Serena Tara is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. She will beg you not to put pineapple on pizza. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.