What Would You Do for a Sunset?


Would you risk your car brakes catching fire?

After the brief intro at the visitor center, 9200 ft up, we knew that the rented all-wheel drive car could get us there, if we took the utmost precautions on the descent. He must have seen the look of unease, so he continued… 

“I recommend that given the chance people see the sunset from the summit at least once. It’s the most sacred place in Hawaii, and I can’t explain what happens, you have to see it for yourself.  Aside from that, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll see the green flash every time.” 

That last line almost made me forget I was scared to go up, but then Jack reminded me it’s common to see the green flash at Key West, 3 hours away from our house.

While we were acclimating to the altitude, we walked up to the guards (the ones with the power to let the cars continue to the Maunakea summit) and asked.  Really, you’ve seen car brakes catch fire? A resounding YES came back immediately.

We shouldn’t have asked the next question… 

What kind of car was the most recent you’ve seen descend with breaks on fire? A Nissan Rogue, they said…

We looked at eachother… and you guessed it, it was the same exact car we were driving. 

Dejected, we walked down to grab our coats and hike 30 minutes to the lovely hill across the street from the visitor center to watch the sunset. 

All of the sudden, Jack looks at us and says “what, we’re not going up?” I mean, he HAD just said a few minutes ago, we could see the green light at Key West. I thought we were silently in agreement that we wouldn’t go up to the summit. 

But in that split second, my mom-heart melted, so I said… Ok, let’s drive up to the summit. 

We got to the guard spot, and they once again went through the security questions and explained how to descend. 

  1. DO NOT ride the brakes. That’s a definite way to get them to overheat and catch on fire. 
  2. STOP at the 2 cooling spots and make sure your car doesn’t smell like it’s burning.

We went from sea level to 13,080 feet in less than 2 hours. When we got to the summit, it was 32° F. 

It sounds totally bearable even for a Floridian. We had jackets and some layers. For sure I thought it was enough to keep us warm. Except, not really. We were shivering to the bone. 

For someone who likes to write, this time words fail me. Not because I can’t describe what I saw…

It was like being in outer space. The rust color of the hills made me think of Mars. The sublime beauty  was not trying to outdo other sunsets. 

It was as if it was casually telling us, this is simply what I look like. 

This sunset was peaceful. Serene. Mysterious. Perplexing. Something you don’t want to end because you are desperately trying to make sense of so much beauty. 

It was short. 

The guard up there said we could have 5 more minutes before he started kicking out the cars. 

We climbed back in our car with a mix of fear of the descent ahead and awe-struck by the beauty we had just witnessed. 

In between silent prayers and no-so-funny songs from my kids about catching fire, I asked them, "What did it look like to you?” Followed by other rapid fire questions. 

Are you quizzing us, they asked? You sound like my history teacher…. “Tell me what you saw, how did it make you feel?” Of course, there was a mixture of laughter and shenanigans and more prayers. I was petrified. 

When I could catch my breath, I said.. I’m just asking you to make sense of what I just witnessed. 

Maybe a collective recap would help.

Thankfully, we came back with our brakes nicely heated but nowhere near on fire. 

We had just gone from sea level to 13,080 ft and from 82°F  to 32°F. 

We were in a stupor. Our bodies were dazed and out of it. Part of it was probably the extremes we had just put ourselves through in such little time. But part of me knows that in that daze we felt, we were just trying to process what had just happened. 

Side note - Are you wondering if a Hawaiian scent is coming? You bet! Too much beauty not to try to capture the feeling in a bottle.