It was 8:43 a.m. — four and a half hours before the moon would slide over the sun and midday in Missouri would look like dusk.
Already, 121 cyclists had lined up in Rocheport, population 250, to sign in for a 36-mile bike ride to Jefferson City. The trail offered a unique vantage point of a natural phenomenon that hadn’t happened in Missouri since 1869: a total solar eclipse.
With Columbia in the path of totality, Monday’s solar eclipse captivated the region and interrupted routines. Adults took a day off work, and students cut class. A local Subway stopped making sandwiches.
At Meriwether Café and Bike Shop, located at the 178th mile of the Katy Trail at the Rocheport trail head, business had slowed to a trickle of customers Monday morning after a very busy Sunday. A $ 2 cup of tea here, an order of toast there. A young waitress gave a polite smile to everyone who walked in.
Outside the shop was a different story. Cyclists unloaded equipment onto the bustling gravel road, ready for a journey into darkness.
The excitement was palpable. Five hundred people had registered for the ride, some traveling over 1,000 miles to get to Rocheport. It may go down in the record books as one of the biggest gatherings in the town’s history.
Heading east on I-70, signs flashed warnings to drivers. “Do not watch the eclipse from the side of the highway,” one sign read. “Do not take pictures from the road.”
Eleven miles from Rocheport, a crowd gathered at Cosmo Park in Columbia. Kids kicked a soccer ball across dew-covered grass, and a man set up a picnic, a case of beer firmly in hand. One woman wore a black shirt with white lettering: “My darkest day was spent in Columbia, MO August 21, 2017.”
Forecasts leading up to the eclipse were worrisome. Some weather outlets said it would rain, others warned of overcast skies. For people sitting in a park pavilion, the potential clouds were a source of concern. Could this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity be ruined by a few meandering clouds?
Fortunately for eclipse-watchers in Columbia, the clouds seemed scarcest when totality was nearest. Motorcycle riders at the Mid-America Harley-Davidson watch party sat comfortably in the shade, occasionally strolling over to the parking lot to watch the spectacle.
“Happy eclipse day, everybody!” a man wearing a bright orange Harley shirt shouted merrily.
Though clouds occasionally blocked the sun, it didn’t matter at 1:12 p.m. The sky went dark, and suddenly it was evening. The temperature dropped; a cool breeze blew through the parking lot. A small child cheered in excitement, and a biker played Pink Floyd from his motorcycle speakers.
On Francis Quadrangle at MU, there were cheers and applause, and the most popular word by far was “Wow!” As the crowd sounds died down, the cicadas and crickets could be heard, striking up a chorus. As the moon continued its journey, the light returned and the chimney swifts flew overhead.
For the 2 minutes and 41 seconds that the moon eclipsed the sun; bikers, restaurant workers and an entire community stopped to witness the historic, astronomical event.
The moment the eclipse ended, the bikers gathered in the parking lot. They mounted their motorcycles and gunned their engines, embarking on a celebratory ride, the fleeting moments of darkness already behind them.