For anyone who’s met me, there is nothing about my pasty pale ginger complexion that would suggest I’ve ever spent a minute on a beach in the sun in my life. But they would be wrong. In fact, the most painful days in my life were surrounded by laying in the UV rays of a 38-degree Celsius sunny day for 8 hours.
It was the scorching month of August, with temperatures soaring to a blistering 38 degrees Celsius. The last few days had been nothing short of a sweltering sauna in the muggy Saskatchewan forest. Rev. Jim decided it was time for a beach day at a nearby lake to try and cool off. I was already sweating like a waterfall while hacking through the thick, humid forest, so I embraced the lake plan with open arms. I scrambled into an ancient pair of swim trunks and threw on a random T-shirt before we left. I didn’t have a hat but I had a towel. Sunscreen and bug spray weren’t a thing there, and I didn’t even think about how intense the sun’s rays would be on an open beach; my only concern was whether the lake might offer a whiff of cooler air.
We all piled into the van around 10 a.m. and were waiting for one of Jim’s daughters to hop in the van. Rev. Jim was in the driver’s seat and asked me to check if his daughter needed help with the cooler they packed full of ice and water for our day in the sun. I hopped out and walked up the nearby deck to their door, ready to grab the heavy cooler from their lodge and load it into the back of our van.
For some context, at that time I had gone nearly a year without encountering any females my age (I was sixteen). Isolated to the woods, the only people I saw were the 7 of us: 3 male program participants, and 4 staff. The only females I ever saw were Jim’s wife and his two young adult daughters on weekends when we went to church services. The daughters were just a few years older than me and normally they were covered head-to-toe in the kind of church attire you’d expect from people commuting to and from the Sask forest into town for church services. They didn’t interact with me at all and I was too preoccupied with my wilderness confinement to even notice them on the rare occasion I even saw them around.
As I approached the lodge, the screen door swung open – I barely held back a gasp at the sight in front of me. Holy smokeshow! Jim’s daughter was wearing a semi-transparent sundress that grazed her butt-cheeks in her bathing suit as she tugged the heavy cooler backward out the door towards me. She spun around and struck me with her smile as she looked me straight in the eyes and thanked me for taking the load off her hands. Boobs! Mustn’t…look! But it was too late – her bathing suit already revealed all the curves I needed to see close-up through her short sundress. To be clear, there was nothing wrong with what she wore; for me, after many months of wilderness isolation, even regular beachwear was enough to send my teenage mind into a tailspin.
I could feel my pulse pounding as I desperately avoided eye contact and grabbed the cooler from her. I awkwardly walked away with it and stuffed it into the back of the van with more urgency than a squirrel hiding its winter nuts. I slunk back inside the van and took my seat as my mind flooded with the most unholy thoughts about “warden” Jim’s daughter. Of course, there was only one seat left empty, and so she climbed into the van and sat directly in front of me and settled in. The sweet coconut scent of the Hawaiian Tropic lotion she was wearing soon began to hit me as we started down the grid road. These were gravel roads full of bumps, bounces, and continuous vibrations; each jiggle and bounce she made in her seat in front of me was merciless. I was already having a hard enough time at this point without that extra “help” and I was barely holding myself together on that 30-minute trip. If anyone asked, I planned to claim my flushed red face was due to the heat!
When we arrived, I catapulted out of the van & grabbed the cooler, and held it in front of myself as I carried it to the beach ahead of everyone else. All I was wearing for bottoms were my grey swim trunks, and they were not hiding what was going on behind that cooler. I dropped the cooler in the sand as I grabbed my flimsy towel and wrapped it around my waist to see if it did the trick – nope! There was NO way I could let “warden” Jim catch me displaying such “enthusiasm” for his daughter! Everyone was just about to arrive at the spot where I was awkwardly floundering, so I panicked. I just did what any respectable gentleman might do when faced with that awkward situation – I abruptly dropped and planted myself face-down in the sand and just laid there. All. day. long. For 8 hours. I had forgotten my T-shirt in the van, but there was no way I’d brave that walk of shame. Everyone else was enjoying themselves, so I remained face-down in the sand and soaked up the sun, or rather, the embarrassment. I have no clue if anyone ever noticed.
After a full day in the sun, it was time to head back home. My “situation” had subsided over the past 8 hours, probably because my back, arms, and legs were now scorching with the searing pain of sunburn. The other program-participant guys noted how lobster-red I was on one side as we climbed back into the van to head home.
That night, the burning sensation intensified to a level beyond imagination. My blistered peeling skin felt hotter than the fiery 38+ degree days we’d experienced. I endured so much pain that I couldn’t sleep a wink for 3 nights and days. There was no relief to be found; no aloe-vera, and no “contraband” like aspirin for my suffering. At that time, I figured this was god teaching me a lesson for my impure thoughts; a fiery warning to steer clear of temptation. I dramatically swore to NEVER let myself be distracted by or even attracted to a woman ever again until the day I married. Thankfully, reality doesn’t work like that.