••• The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: Hawaii - Mauna Kea
“I think that’s the tail right there”
“I thought that was the belt?”
“No, no. Because that’s the Little Dipper”
Sitting in the hot tub of our hotel, my cousin Elizabeth and I were feebly trying to apply our recently learned astronomy lesson back down on the ground. Earlier that day, us, her parents, and around 20 other strangers assembled on a tour bus to drive up Mauna Kea—the tallest summit on Hawaii.
Our five-day trip in paradise included many adventures: paddle boarding, volcano exploration, and driving the perimeter of the island to find the southernmost tip of the United States, located on a secluded black sand beach. Every moment was like a dream, and I tried desperately to soak in every detail and memorize the feelings of the sand between my toes and the sweet taste of pineapple on my lips. But nothing could compare to the experience that awaited us the last night of our vacation.
“Don’t forget pants and at least a sweatshirt!” Elizabeth’s dad called from the other half of our suite. I stared blankly at my suitcase; one lone pair of flip flops, shorts, bikinis, tank tops, and a single long sleeved t-shirt were all that stared back. We’re in Hawaii! I didn’t think I’d need much else! My cousin and I combined our goods, her two pairs of jeans, and me the long sleeved t-shirt and some fuzzy socks, and figured that would hold us over. Again, we’re in the tropics, how bad could it be?
The four of us gathered ourselves into our convertible we’d rented, and drove with the top down all the way to the tour guide agency. We were met with a relatively small group of people, all milling about before the guide commanded our attention and directed us onto the tour bus. Then we began our ascent. 13,882 feet above sea level. Truthfully, I wasn’t listening to the guide as he spouted off facts and history about the mountain. Instead, I stared out the window and watched us wind higher and higher at what seemed like a vertical incline. I started to see shadows thinking it was the surrounding ranges. I realized that it was shadows cast by the mountains. The window I was resting my head on gradually became colder, and right when I started listening again, I heard the guide relay, “And we also have parkas and gloves for everyone when we get to the top!”
19 degrees. That was all the mountain had to offer. I looked down at my recently purchased tennis shoes and thought thank God I went with the fuzzy socks. The guide’s assistant went up and down the aisle of the tour bus handing out parkas and gloves to fit everyone, and while I felt like a chubby snowman, I couldn’t wait to get out. The weight of the jacket felt like a lot at first, but as soon as I stepped, or rather waddled off the bus, the chilly wind went straight through. My hood flew off instantly exposing my face and I swear I felt icicles form on my ears. I fumbled with my new sausage fingers that the ski gloves gave me and tried to flip my hood back on but the fur fell over my eyes. When I finally looked up, my line of sight wasn’t met with other mountains or natural surroundings like I’d seen on the ground. Instead, when I looked straight out, I saw a flat line of white. Clouds. We were above the cloud line. Slowly I turned, as if scared I was going to fall off, and examined the rest of the world below me. The sun began to set, appearing to slide under me, and I watched it disappear beneath the clouds and my feet.
“What’s that dome!” a faceless tourist’s voice called from beneath the fur lined parka hoodie.
“That would be the observatory” the guide quipped back.
After ensuring no one was left on the peak, the bus began part of its descent. Stopping only at 9,200 feet elevation, we again departed the bus, but this time into pitch black. It had gotten colder as the sun set, and my cousin and I huddled together this time listening to a different guide, the astronomer.
||Looking up, I’d never seen the sky so clearly. In addition to our height, Hawaii’s choice of LED lightbulbs leaves little to no light pollution on the island preserving unprecedented experiences like this. Rotating my head back as far as I could, I could see it. I could see everything. Orion: check. Leo: check. Big and Little Dipper: check, check. The Milky Way? Check.
For a while, I forgot where I was and who I was. I simply stood, soaking in every ounce of brilliance that shone from the stars, remembering how every part of me, the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, sulfur, all came from the immeasurable space above me.
© Claire Grulick May 2019
Peer Leader | Her Campus EIC
College of Charleston | 2020
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