"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Learning Experience

I knew my trip by horseback into the crater of Haleakala National Park was going to be a learning experience. I knew I would relearn something of the riding lessons I’d taken fifty years ago. I knew I’d find out how much pain from well-worn hip and knee joints I could tolerate.

I expected to learn something of the flora and fauna that survive in the crater’s extreme climates. That’s climates, plural, as there is sere desert and lush, green pastures, and everything in between.

I hoped I’d learn about Hawai’ian lore and legends, too.What I didn’t expect to learn, though, was an important difference between glasses with frames and glasses without frames, such as the new rimless ones I got just a week before this trip. Light-weight, fashionable, and rimless, I loved my new glasses, but I was still trying to get used to them when the time came to mount up and head ‘em out

The new rimless glasses, photo post-crater.

All went well on the first day of the trip, and we arrived at Paliku (pah-lee-COO), our destination, by late afternoon. It was a trip of about ten miles across the lava-strewn floor of an active volcano’s crater. The real learning experience came the next day as I labored in the hot Hawai’ian sun and thin air of a 6380 elevation.

Let's do some demolition!!!

This is what I learned about rimless glasses:

They don’t have rims.

No rims means there is no piece of tinted plastic above your cheekbones and under your eyes.

No tinted plastic means there is nothing to provide shade for those areas of tender skin.

No shade means the sun hits and might even be magnified by the rimless lens.And that means hot, red, sizzling, char-broiled, whiningly, snivelingly painful sunburn

Dummy! Idiot! You born yesterday?

That’s what I learned about rimless glasses, and as is my life-long custom, I learned that lesson the hard way. I worked from early morning until evening outdoors, wearing rimless glasses and no head protection. I seldom wear hats, even in cold weather, so I didn‘t even think to put one on. I’d lathered up in SPF 30, of course, but I hadn’t thought about my ears.

Gullible, Holly, and Betsey working on fence demolition.

In the heat of the afternoon, I tied a fabric neck cooler around my neck. Filled with the absorbent material found in disposable diapers, and soaked in water, it helped keep me cool. I drank quarts of liquid.

Well, I see she finally put oin a sun visor and a neck cooler thingy.

When we stopped work for the day, I thought it was because of my exertions that my face felt hot. Even late into the evening (late being right after supper), my face let me know how stupid I’d been. The skin on my cheekbones and under my eyes was par-boiled. When I tried to comb the tangles out of my hair, I discovered the sun can burn scalps through the thickest of hair.

When I stretched out on my bunk, I found out how much sun-burned ears hurt. I slathered every lotion I could find on my face and ears. I held bottles of cool water against my skin. As the nighttime temperatures dropped, I found the wall next to my bunk also cooled and I held my French-fried ear against it.

What hurt the worst, though, was my lower lip. Even with frequent applications of SPF 15 Chap Stick, my lip burned, especially the part that makes contact with the upper lip. I felt like my lower lip was swelling and hanging down my chin, though it really didn’t look much different. The light in the cabin was dim, however, so maybe it wasn’t my imagination after all.

Work day two, and a wee bit smarter.

The next morning, preparing for another day’s labor, I smeared SPF 70 on my face, ears, and arms, the only parts of me that were exposed. I couldn’t find the sun protection hat I’d purchased in Arizona a year ago, so I borrowed Betsey’s straw cowboy hat, the one with the horse bite hole in the front. That’s when I learned how much straw hurts when it touches sun-burned ears. The wind was blowing quite strongly that day, and it was necessary to pull the hat down tight and cinch it with its cord, even if it scratched tender ears.

Le hat, minus the part the horse ate.

Eventually, I found my nylon sun hat, the one with the wide brim and extra wide part that covers the back of the neck. I wore it the rest of the day as well as on the ride out of the crater the day after. I also wore my light aqua SPF 50 long-sleeved sun protection shirt, and clip-on sun shades over my rimless glasses.

Duded uip for a sun-drenched ride out of the crater.

I fastened a padded bike-riding glove on my left hand, the one that holds the reins. With its half-fingers and Velcro fastener on the back of the hand, it was perfect for a hand that isn’t used to holding leather reins for hours and hours. Now I have a silver dollar-sized red spot on the back of that hand where the fabric didn’t cover. It looks like a large bruise.

Leaving the lush area of Paliku, Still not smart enough to don the sun protection shirt.

I learned much of what I expected to learn on my journey into Haleakala. I learned much that was unexpected. And I learned that my fair Scandinavian skin, kept tender by the cool Alaskan climate, was no match for what Haleakala had to offer.

After exiting the crater.

After taking off the clip-on sunglasses.

Too late I learned something else, something very important. I learned the meaning of the name Haleakala. It means “House of the Sun.” Yep. And I’d been a tender-skinned Newbie in that house for four days.

The sun setting on Haleakalacrater.


  1. Sometimes one pays dearly for ones adventures....I sure hope yours was worth every miserable moment. Having said that, and knowing you, I'd guess the answer to be a resounding "yes". Aloha!!

  2. dWow! Who would have ever imagined that sun + rimless glasses = such discomfort. You're such a good sport about it, Gully.

    I do like your new specs, by the way.

  3. Yikes! I was thinking you'd be having a relaxing, fun time on your trip to Hawaii.

    It started out good with the pool, the Mexican meal, the beer, the nice condo...

    Well, on life's journey we never stop learning until they bury us or we stop getting out and doing new things.

    I hope the rest of your time is less painful.