Originally posted to ydnar.vox.com in September 2006.
...I'd say the gash on my foot was because I violated a half-dozen kapu by taking photos and committing other generally annoying tourist shit on the mountain summit. But I'm not, so your angry god can stuff it. However, being an engineer subject to Murphy's Law I ended up in the ER for a particularly messy gash in my foot after approximately 0.01 minutes in the water.
At some point during breakfast yesterday, my intentions were steered away from visiting a beach on the north side of the island toward a visit to a lake on top of Mauna Kea. It was an hour and a half drive on what the guidebook termed the worst road in the state and a 30 minute hike at 13000 feet. Barren, desolate landscape devoid of life, shelter, UV protection, gas and guardrails--my kind of day.
I finished breakfast (coffee, eggs, bacon, potatoes, an english muffin & Portuguese sausage [sic]) and set off in search of music for the drive ahead. I bought a couple CDs and a historical novel at Borders and set off for the volcano. Murphy paid me an early visit and the Jeep ate my CD. Button mashing and yelling were insufficient to coax it from the Jeep's hold, so I drove back to the airport to see if they could do something about it. Driving around without music wasn't an option. The folks at Alamo attempted, ultimately futilely to do same and ended up just giving me a new rental car, this time a shorter (read: less annoying top to stow) Jeep and promising their mechanic would be able to retrieve CD sometime tomorrow morning.
A half hour later I was driving on Saddle Road, the lonely highway built in 1942 by the Army to connect the east & west coasts of Hawaii. By "built" and "1942" I mean specifically it was spewed out in a drunken, meandering chunk in about 5 minutes and then immediately demolished by driving tanks on it. The road consists of 1 somewhat smooth paved lane and one pockmarked, potholed, trashed gravel/asphalt lane.
The problem is the one good lane is evenly split between the east and westbound lanes of traffic. Which means that unless your car is straddling the center line, you have to drive with one half of the wheels on the murky grit, punishing just one side of the car's suspension. If you drive out-and-back there's at least a little symmetry. At the crest the wind blows about a million miles per hour, so between the thwapping percussion of the tires and the rear seatbelts, bits from the top and other miscellany, I couldn't hear the stereo anyway.
As I progressed further, the landscape turned from coastal plains to rolling hills and pasture. The grass finally gave way to a moon-like field of solidified lava flow, jet-black and sharp. At the 29 mile marker, I turned off at the Mauna Kea access road and headed up the mountain. At 6000 feet, the temperature was noticably colder than at the coast and fog enveloped the car. I stopped at the visitor's center at 9000 feet, which had approximately half of the wall next to the door covered with huge signs detailing the dangers of altitude sickness. At the summit, the air pressure is 40% of sea level and the oxygen level is quite low. I promised myself I'd drive back down immediately if my lips turned blue.
Will continue later...need breakfast.