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Saanich father-son duo chasing solar eclipse to Texas

Steve and Connor Hickton took the same UVic astronomy course 20 years apart
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Steve Hickton (left) and Connor Hickton of Saanich are set to chase an eclipse, travelling to Texas ahead of the April 8 event. (Courtesy Steve Hickton)

In search of the clearest skies possible, two Saanich residents will make the trek to Texas chasing the path of a full solar eclipse on April 8.

Father and son Steve Hickton and Connor Hickton coincidentally took the same astronomy course at UVic, 20 years apart.

“That kind of got us hooked,” Steve said.

Comparing notes, the avid astronomers first felt the thrill of a solar eclipse in 2017, falling in love with eclipse chasing during a last-minute trek south to Amity, Ore.

That year, eclipse chasers had booked up all hotels in the region well before they thought of it, leaving the Hicktons staying in Portland and hitting the road at 3 a.m. with Connor navigated expertly on state roads to get them to an elementary school parking lot, where they watched the solar eclipse with several hundred people.

“I thought it was complete overkill what I was doing, but whenever we hit a major road it was swamped so we were doing the right thing,” Connor said.

The game plan is similar for this solar eclipse that crosses North America, passing over eastern United States and Canada. Weather permitting, the first location in continental North America that will experience totality is Mexico’s Pacific coast just after 11 a.m.

READ ALSO: Hundreds watch moon cross sun’s path over Saanich

Looking to revisit the neat experience, they saw this one coming and discovered similar challenges. The path starts in Mexico and crosses the U.S. in Texas and the midwest, then far east Canada. Clear skies are an issue.

“It goes right over Niagara Falls which would be a spectacular view but it will be cloudy there,” Connor noted.

So they settled on San Antonio where Steve biked through when he was Connor’s age, 25. The path of the eclipse cuts through the city, but like last time, they have to get out of town a bit early to get the best bang for their buck.

“The closer you are to the middle (of the path of totality) the longer the viewing you get.” The duration drops off the farther you stray from the path’s centre line. They hope for a solid couple of minutes.

Despite starting planning six months ago they still faced “Taylor Swift pricing” for flights and hotels, Steve said. Connor’s even heard of hotels that had booked rooms a year ago, and opted to dish out refunds and re-book the rooms.

Their target is April 8 at 1:30 p.m., so they fly in on April 5 into Houston and out again April 12.

“We thought it’d be fun to also go to the space centre, make it a science trip,” Steve said.

Connor subscribed to a cloud cover app to find clearest possible skies and they’ll again stick to back roads while finding a site to enjoy the event.

READ ALSO: When the sun disappears, here’s what you need to know

Steve admitted it seems like a long way to go for just a few minutes, but even the time leading up to it are interesting.

“It’s just so unnatural, you could see why people 1,000 years ago were freaked out about it. The sky gets dark the shadows get weird,” he said. “It’s a really weird effect.”

They say it’s freaky seeing the skies get darker and darker, from sunlight to dusk in maybe 20 minutes. <assuming this is a quote, but you’ve got quotes from Steve and Connor in a row and it’s a bit awkward. Maybe paraphrase?

“All of a sudden during the peak of it, it gets really cold as well … I remember hearing the crickets start to chirp because they thought it was nighttime, it’s such an unnatural phenomenon,” Connor said.

Eye damage can result if you look directly at the sun, even during a partial eclipse. The pair is armed with gear to watch and photograph the phenomenon safely.

While a solar eclipse occurs once or twice a year somewhere on the planet according to NASA, location and weather make seeing them a challenge. It can be 400 to 1,000 years for one to reappear at any given site.