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Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Tuesday was the helicopter ride.

ALERT! ALERT! This is an alert for everyone planning on attending the October 20 picnic. Michael has purchased a UKULELE! And he has a book of Hawaiian songs for it. You have been warned.

Cute, Kathy. Well, let me counter by referring to the picture at the left. Kathy is demonstrating the proper use of the "Aloha Bag" provided by Air Kauai'i. To be fair, Kathy is extremely sensitive to motion, having had an inner ear problem all her life. And there were a couple of points in the trip where we all went "weeeee" -- like when you get the moment of weightlessness as you fly over a hill in a car, or the crest on a roller coaster.

But actually, the ride was unexpectedly pleasant for the rest of us. What our pilot described as strong turbulence for a helicopter was barely noticeable by me.

We showed up a 9:15 am and had to wait a few minutes while the party before us was trucked off for their ride. Then Lani got the six of us together and demonstrated how to strap around our waist the little pack containing our personal life preserver. Since we were going to be flying over water, the FAA required that we all have a life preserver available. "Can we keep this when the trip is over?", Dave asked? "Only if you use it," said Lani. "Don't inflate the life preserver inside the helicopter -- wait until you exit," she added, "that way you won't puncture the life preserver or find that you can't fit through the door because of the inflated vest."

We chose Air Kauai'i because more than one of the travel guides said that these guys were the tops. They had helicopters that had more glass area than all but those that flew without any doors at all (which didn't sound all that prudent to us). They had Bose noise canceling headphones for everyone so we could hear each other and Chuck, the pilot (and owner). They provided the best show. And, as Chuck was quoted telling his other pilots, "Don't speak unless it will improve the silence." This was not a tour to show off the pilot's knowledge, this was a tour to give you a deep enjoyment of the land that is Kauai'i. And, Kathy wanted to try something we never would have normally done. "You should confront your fears now and then," she said. She knew that the trip was likely to trigger her motion sickness.

Not knowing how I would react, being afraid of heights myself, I joined her in a Dramamine pre travel snack.

But Chuck couldn't have been a more considerate pilot. Once we put on the headphones, Chuck started the rotor. Other tours had the rotors going when you boarded. Chuck didn't want his guests to have to duck under rotors and have to listen to the deafening roar of the blades. It was amazing just how effective the headphones were in canceling the noise. A couple of times, I removed one headphone just to remind me how loud the roar was without them.

From then on, the ride was like floating on a cloud, for me, for the most part. Kathy was constantly aware of the subsonic pulsing of the copter as the blade rotated. I never noticed.

"Can we take flash pictures?", Dave asked. "I'd rather you didn't," said Chuck, "The Japanese lightning will only reflect off the glass surfaces, blinding me and ruining your pictures."

We followed another company's tour helicopter for a few seconds, then they headed off in a different direction. Chuck told us how he wanted us to see the different aspects of Kauai'i's landscape, and he was very concerned about the path he took. "We don't fly over resorts or residential areas," he said. He felt that helicopters had the least impact on the environment, and he included the impact on the residents in that statement. We were going to see land on which no person had ever laid a foot. And I'm sure he was right.

Shortly into the tour, we flew up the Waimea Canyon (second picture). This is Kaui'i's equivalent of the Grand Canyon. I haven't seen Arizona's Grand Canyon, but this was freakin' awesome.

The book, "The Ultimate Kaua'i Guidebook", 3rd edition, says, "Going to Kaua'i without taking a helicopter flight is like going to the Sistine Chapel and not looking up." I can't tell you how many people recommended this book or were carrying this book. It is indeed the best of the books we have.

Chuck gave Kathy several tips for dealing with her motion sickness. In particular, he said what many others have said -- focus on some fixed point on the distant horizon. And that pretty much worked until about 10 minutes into the flight when we descended from four thousand feet at the canyon tops to near the bottom of the canyon, and the horizon disappeared.

But what a site. I've included three pictures here from different points along the trip, but I can say that NO picture can do justice for what you will see.

The third picture is along the Na Pali coast. Try to image the riot of color that is really there. The picture I'm showing suffers from both the limits of color reproduction, and the fact that it is dulled by the reflection of the glass surfaces of the helicopter. Look at the dim features in the distance. These are unbelievably thin, nearly vertical surfaces, like spires in a church. You just can't image how awe inspiring they are until you see them in person.

The bottom picture is hear the Wai'ale'ale Crater -- one of the wettest places on earth with nearly 500 inches of rain per year. Chuck took us into the hollow of the crater where you are surrounded by water falls on every side, falling 3000 feet to the floor of the crater. Chuck had us nearly nose to nose with several of the falls. I felt like a giant dragonfly hovering. And the lush greenery in this wet climate is like nothing I've seen before. The trees had fans of leafy branches that looked something like giant corkscrews boring up from the volcanic surface.

This was certainly the high point of this visit so far. I won't demean it by trying to show you a lot of pictures. I hope the poor pictures I've shown tempt you to come out here and take the tour with Chuck. It's an experience that will be a milepost in your life. Even Kathy highly recommends this.

My one piece of advice -- the one taking pictures should try to sit up front, or on the outside right of the back. All helicopters fly clockwise around the island, by mutual agreement, so much of the action is best viewed on the right.

Oh, and we found where all the older folks go to eat in Kapa'a -- the Bull Shed. It's a steak and seafood restaurant. The food is simple, abundant, and reasonably priced. I've often thought that you could find the best food buy in town by seeing where the seniors hang out. This may be it.

Oh, and as we flew past "The Sleeping Giant", I noticed another geographical shape in the outline of a distant mountain range. It looked just like a sleeping chicken. It was on the other side of the highway from us.