My Scar Stories

1993-08-02 Ben Slide Rock State Park AZ 2

The Mother of All Calamities

When I hit 13, I was old enough to go on YMCA Caravans, cross-country trips in which two leaders and a dozen barely-teen boys would pile into a van and head for parts semi-known. My trips to Yosemite and the World’s Fair had a few snags. But the Grand Canyon trip was the Mother of All Calamities.

It was a busy summer and all the official vans were booked, so we were given an oxidized green airport limousine with eat-your-heart-out-Buck-Rogers fins that someone had donated to the Y after it reached the 100,000,000,000,000 miles mark.

On day one, in 113 degree heat, the brakes gave out and we sailed half a mile into the desert before nesting in a cactus patch. On day two, after just two hours back on the road, our transmission stopped transmissing. We spent the next two days at a tiny gas station/auto repair shop in the town of Tiny Gas Station/Auto Repair Shop, Nevada, waiting for it to be rebuilt. We slept (i.e. didn’t sleep) in the limo–like kippers in a tin.

By day five, our frantic parents were demanding the trip be cancelled, but we voted to keep going. We were going to have fun if it killed us.

It nearly did.

We made it to Oak Creek Canyon. Millennia before humans created fiberglass waterslides with names like The Black Hole, God created Slide Rock. We walked almost a mile on jagged pebbles, but it was worth it. Sleep-deprived, with nerves ajangle, we hurled ourselves into this wondrous cataract with ruthless abandon, sliding down again and again—until one by one we crawled up the bright red embankment, like an artist’s conception of evolving amphibians, and fell asleep.

For five hours.

In 109 degree heat.

When we awoke we were redder than the Sedona soil. We walked the crimson mile back, our sunburned soles pierced by flint fragments. Screaming all the way.

We sat in a stream near our campground, hoping our dead epidermis would float away in the cool blue water. It didn’t. We lay in our sleeping bags that night, moaning, and despite being manly 13-year-olds, openly crying.

The next day, the worst of us were taken to a clinic to have Buick-sized blisters lanced. It was the most severe sunburn the doctor had ever seen. We smeared our bodies with prescription ointment, weeping in relief. And then, somehow, we began to laugh again. We were brothers, we’d survived the unsurvivable. We’d bonded big time. And that made the misery almost worth it.

We did eventually make it to the Grand Canyon, after having all our money stolen, our brakes fail (again), our trunk catch fire while we were searching for the deer we’d hit, and…

Oh, yeah, the scar. That came 20 years later when the basal cell cancer—courtesy of the Arizona sun—was cut out of my shoulder. Now, when I see the scar in the mirror, I think, “Don’t ever do that again, you idiot.” But also…

Boy, I miss those guys.

To read my next Scar Story, click here.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Memoir and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to My Scar Stories

  1. Eliza Ayres says:

    Reblogged this on Blue Dragon Journal and commented:
    Oh, my! I actually got a second-degree sunburn and swollen face from backpacking across snow in July in the Washington Cascades… many years ago. A hat and sunscreen came with me on the next trips…

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      Wise change in m.o., Eliza!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m detecting a building conversation of sun-burn stories. Here’s mine. Stopping off in Oahu for a night, on our way to a much anticipated two weeks in Maui, I grabbed a boogie-board and followed my surfer-son out to the line at Waikiki. (Which is a reef, at least a mile off the beach.) We should have anticipated a problem when a guy jumped on a beached Hobie Cat, threw the sails out wing-and-wing and immediately shot off the beach like a rifle. “Cool! Good off-shore blowing” Not cool. After two hours on the line we had to paddle against that 30 mph breeze all the way back to the Hilton. BTW, no sunscreen that day either. Week 1of the two in Maui, seriously ruined. ><

      Liked by 3 people

      • Well, my sunburn story is that my mother was of the generation who believed in sunbaths for young children to get Vitamin D. She put me outside in the carriage when I was four months old, and I got sunburned so badly it blistered the entire side of my face.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh no! Knowing moms, I bet your mom felt horrible about your being burned like that. Just a lack of technical knowledge and a terrible lesson-learned. When I was a kid, some shoe stores had x-ray machines that you stuck your feet in, in order to see if you got a good fit. No telling how much foot cancer turned up in later life.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: My Scar Stories | Mitch Teemley

  3. I take it this was also millennia before sunscreen was invented?
    I made the mistake of snorkeling in the Caribbean at midday, in the cool water, so fascinated by what I saw that I didn’t stop until I could feel my skin frying, even in the cool water. Needless to say, hopping into the rental car with the black plastic seats that had been parked in the sun all morning was not exactly the most pleasurable experience of my life…

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      Oy, black vinyl seats: One of the most effective torture devices ever created! I googled “sunscreen” and found out it was in wide use from the 50s on, but we were BOYs (Brash Obtuse Youths?).


  4. Oh, the vanity of male youth! I’ll bet that, even after that catastrophic trip, you and all your buddies didn’t loose that young-guy assumption of personal exemption from cause-and-effect. I think of THAT every time I watch the half-pipe events at the Winter Olympics. 🙂 Excellent piece, BTW.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember painful sunburns and I remember that the adults around us didn’t seem too concerned about sunscreen.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. revruss1220 says:

    You are a remarkable storyteller, Mitch. This one is particularly poignant as I am just finishing the second week of treating a pre-cancerous lesion on my face, no doubt courtesy of a similar childhood indiscretion.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. numrhood says:

    what if the weather was 138
    at lease 363 o 388 degrees


  8. Sorry this was at your expense, but this was great!! It felt so good to laugh today! Is it something about Arizona? We were stationed there in the military and my parents came to see us on what was latter dubbed The Vacation From Hell. I really do enjoy your writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Bill Sweeney says:

    Great story, Mitch. I feel your pain. My lily-white Irish skin was obviously not designed for North America. I’ve had several basal cells cut off my back and face, including two surgeries on my lower eyelid a few years ago.
    I think your next movie project should be a coming of age story. You certainly have enough memories/material for a screenplay 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. As a mother, this story gave me anxiety. As a once-long-ago teenager who has a great story about a Bryan Adams concert, it gave me a chance to remember! Thank goodness for the memories of childhood and that we all, mostly, survived them!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow! What a trip! So glad we got to hear of the fiasco first hand! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: My Scar Stories – JCT – Born Again

  13. The writing of this story rivals that of Mark Twain.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Scars are always a source of a great story. Thank you for this reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Ann Coleman says:

    After reading this, I’m never going to complain about any of my vacation mishaps ever again! Glad you all made it home alive from this one….

    Liked by 1 person

  16. A wonderful adventure Mitch. The sun is not our friend…esp a redhead freckle face from Florida. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. carhicks says:

    I am of the generation that slathered on baby oil, squirted lemon juice in my hair and baked in the sun in the backyard. After the sunburn subsided and my skin turned golden brown, we would then see who could peel off the longest strip of dried out skin.

    Great story Mitch, so glad you all survived.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Sandi Staton says:

    My worst sunburn was when I went swimming on a cloudy day. Mom warned me, but I didn’t listen. That evening, my back was on fire and covered with blisters. Mom tried smearing Noxzema on my back but it was too painful for her to touch it. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t wear clothes, couldn’t stop hurting for nearly a week.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. BoardFlak says:

    My wife and I went to an exhibition by the “Confederate Air Force” a bunch of years ago. We were wearing white clothing – I had a T-shirt and she had something not much heavier. We both ended up with sunburn right through the fabric. It wasn’t as bad as what you got, but it was enough to make us vow never to do that again without sunscreen and heavier weight shirts with long sleeves.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Pingback: Great Quote – Mitch Teemley – JCT – Born Again

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