What's the longest you've been stuck in traffic?
On August 21, 2017, a rare cosmic event graced North America with a path of totality directly through its middle. Dubbed The Great American Eclipse, the 2017 solar eclipse drew vast crowds of shadow chasers to otherwise rarely traveled, rural areas. Wyoming was a prime watch location offering several cities in the path of totality and generally predictable weather. Traffic predictions weren't fantastic from the start. Still, nobody knew what the impact of drawing half a million cars to a state whose population was just barely half a million total would be. With only one major highway, I-25, serving as a thoroughfare between the four major eclipse cities in Wyoming and Denver, Colorado, the roads got a bit backed up. By a bit, I, of course, mean a twelve-hour gridlock outside of Glendo, Wyoming. Here's how that went:
Pushing the Limits of GPS
The entire trip there and back was an exciting game of trying to decide if we should listen to the GPS or respond in real-time to the traffic around. On the way back, we opted to take a service road because the traffic cams were already showing significant backups on the I-25 highway.
Roads are Just a Social Construct
We stayed ahead of the traffic lock for a while on the side roads, but soon enough fell victim all the same. After a few hours of moving a few inches at most, drivers started to get creative about what was and wasn't a road. We had messed up our rental car process a few days prior and as a result, ended up in a car much much larger than we needed for the three of us. So we decided to join the off-roading fun.
There were cars everywhere, and it was not clear where the makeshift trail was supposed to be. While we drove through the fields, the more cautious travelers watched from their gridlock on the road.
Don't Off-Road in a Sedan
The field traffic moved quite steadily until too many people started to get the same idea. Soon enough, cars that weren't equipped to handle non-road conditions tried to join in and got stuck. Once smaller cars were stuck in a few places, it was right back to a complete standstill while everyone tried to help them out.
The longest standstill on our off-road adventure was next to a set of train tracks. Soon enough, a train passed by and had to stop for a while until cars and people were a sufficiently safe distance away for it to continue.
Make Do with What You Have
People started to bring out some interesting activities. Two cars had a tightrope set up between them, and one traveler decided to take a unicycle break. The impatience and boredom were palpable.
How Do You Pack for This
Thankfully we were well prepared, but some groups did not have enough gas, water, or food for this kind of gridlock. A kind local began handing out water bottles to those stuck in the jam.
Get Back in Line
After sitting for some time on the diverged road, drivers began to realize the off-road wasn't going anywhere fast either. One by one, cars began rejoining the main road. After some time, police showed up to direct everyone left out of the grass. A small dirt path ended up being the point any remaining off-roaders were forced to rejoin the main group.
I've Never Been More Thankful to Sleep in a Car
We eventually made it to the gridlock of the main stretch of I-25 and snuck our way into an exit that had a 24-hour convenience store (sold out of nearly everything) where we slept in the parking lot. Understandably, we had to take the car through a carwash before returning it.