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Total eclipse of the car: Tips to survive gridlock

Adventist Health Health and Wellness

Just in the off chance you completely missed the news, a total eclipse of the sun is sweeping across parts of Oregon during the morning of Aug. 21. If you're one of the predicted millions planning to gather up your Bonnie Tyler CDs, special eclipse viewing glasses and the family to head into the narrow band of earth where the full eclipse will be seen, you may be in for more than just a celestial surprise.

With so many people-and cars-heading into a relatively small area for a short amount of time, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is warning travelers to expect major congestion, especially around the Portland area and the roads to the coast.

Even if you're planning to stay closer home, you may find yourself snarled in gridlock for hours during your normal commute or while running errands.

The Oregon Office of Emergency Management has some helpful ideas for residents, visitors and employers to handle the crowds and traffic. Some of these ideas include being patient with the situation and being prepared for some surprises that day, like:

  • Hours of gridlock
  • Overloaded cellular phone systems
  • Long lines at gas stations
  • Shortages and delayed deliveries

How to gracefully game gridlock

If you're like a lot of us, you still can't resist heading into the Eclipse Zone. If you must travel, ODOT suggests heading to the zone early and planning to leave it as late as possible to avoid the worst of the traffic.

Most importantly, make sure you and your family are well-prepared for hours stuck in the car. Here are some things to be sure you do, make or bring with you-and keep in mind these are great things to keep in the car for any summer road trip!

Extra gas: Start with a full tank and make sure to bring extra well-sealed gas cans with you. Idling your car for hours to keep the air conditioning going will definitely drive your gas gauge toward empty. Be sure to tank up in advance of that Monday morning too, or you may be stuck in a gas line when the eclipse comes.

Water, water, water: Bring water! Always be prepared with extra water in the summer-both for people and for your car, in case it starts to overheat. If possible, use non-plastic bottles and containers to make sure your car's hot interior doesn't cause toxins to leach into your stored water.

High-energy snacks: Gridlock can turn a 20-minute trip into hours idling between exits on the interstate. That may mean your lunchtime comes and goes while you're stuck. Keep your tummy and your kids happy by stocking up on high-energy, protein-rich snacks like protein bars, mixed nuts and nut-butter sandwiches.

Lightweight, light-colored blankets: White or light-colored blankets and sheets are easy to roll up and tuck into your trunk or under a seat. If you need to shade some windows while you're in gridlock, you can prop them up. Rolled up, they make simple pillows for weary children. Or if you decide to pull off the road for a bit, you'll have a comfortable spot to stretch out. Pro tip: Throw in an umbrella too, in case you need a spot of shade when you pull off the road!

Water: Sorry-we just had to cover this one more time! It's THAT important.

Cell phones and chargers: Start the day with your cell phone fully charged and then throw in a fully charged USB battery pack or two. A car adapter is helpful too.

Printed maps: With the very real possibility that the cell phone system could become overloaded with unusually high call volume, you may not have the access to cellular data you're used to. That means your digital map could disappear or become laggy. Play it safe and print out a map of your route and surrounding alternates. Pro tip: You may be able to download a map to your phone for offline use-but still keep a printed map just in case.

Tire inflator: With gridlock and a major overload of commuters, you may not be able to depend on AAA to help you if you pick up a nail in your tire. Make sure your spare tire is in good shape and bring along a tire inflator can like Fix a Flat.

Flashlight and batteries: Hopefully the post-eclipse traffic will be cleared long before dark on Aug. 21, but just in case bring a couple flashlights and extra batteries. Then you won't be stuck juggling your cell phone as a flashlight.

First-aid kit: Anytime you travel, it's a good idea to have a well-stocked first-aid kit with enough supplies so you can manage a minor injury or stabilize a bigger emergency while you await help. In gridlock, help may be longer in coming than normal, so be that much more prepared. Also make sure to have extra doses of any essential medications for you and your passengers-you may still be a long way from home when it's time for your next dose.

Camping toilet: Last but not least is the oft-overlooked, oh-so-important toilet. Few things are more anxiety-inducing than being hours from the nearest bathroom. It's even worse if you have small children in your car. Fortunately it's pretty easy to construct a compact camping toilet to keep in the trunk-and you can use those lightweight blankets to create a little roadside privacy.

Shades of fun

Most of all, remember to make the eclipse fun for everyone. Even a long wait in heavy traffic can be memorable if you keep it exciting with games, movies, conversation and delicious snacks.

Being well-prepared for this extraordinary day-or any road trip-just gives you the peace of mind so you can relax and make a great time of it.

And just like you, the Adventist Health Portland team will be prepared for anything the eclipse sends our way. Our clinics, urgent care locations and emergency room will be open regular operating hours on Aug. 21-rain, shine or eclipse.