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Bitter Pill

march 2006

Da Vinci's Machine

October 21, 2008 8:40 PM

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.

- Leonardo Da Vinci

Well, I'm back! I spent that last 8 days sitting in the sun in Honolulu, Hawaii with a bunch of my family and a few friends. It was a lot of fun and definitely a needed vacation. It was however not without a certain amount of work.

The Odyssey I refered to earlier was something I have been planning for the last few weeks. I wanted to do something that not many people could say they have done: Visit every island in Hawaii in one day.

So I rented a plane and did it.

Flying in Hawaii is something you really can't do anywhere else. Hawaii is one of the few places in the world where 14,000 foot mountain peaks are only a few miles from the ocean. In addition, the windward and leeward sides of the islands generate remarkably different micro-climates requiring unbelievably detailed weather reports. And of course, there's the ocean itself.

By law, I couldn't fly myself without a certified flight instructor with me. So at 6:30 a.m. last Saturday, Benoit, my CFI, picked me up from my hotel and off to the airport we went. Of course Saturday also turned out to be the only day of my entire trip that the weather was shitty.

Once at the airport, we went over the flight plan I had developed. We would depart Honolulu (on the island of Oahu) Eastbound for Lanai, about 90 miles to the Southeast. After touching down in Lanai, we would again head Southeast, this time for the very Northern tip of the Big Island where a tiny airport at Upolu Point would serve as our stop. From Upolu, we'd go North to the windward side of Maui before touching down at Kahalui International for gas. After topping off the tanks, we'd fly the Northern coast of Molokai, treating ourselves to a view of the tallest sea cliffs in the world. 3,500 feet from top to sea level. We would set down on Kalaupapa Airport at the Northern-most point on Molokai before departing for Kauai, 162 miles to the Northwest.

Benoit was impressed with the route planning and was excited to partake in my little adventure. However, we still had the issue of the weather to deal with.

After we had finished our route planning we called Honolulu Flight Service to file the first of our flight plans and to get a weather briefing. The briefing left us questioning whether we would even depart from Honolulu. Clouds, rain and very gusty trade winds were the day's recipe. After an hour's worth of deliberation, we decided that we would depart and upon going "feet wet" over the East coast of Oahu, we would either return to Honolulu or continue to Lanai.

So shortly before 9:00 a.m., we taxied out behind a UPS 747, ready to depart. After the control tower realized the little guy was stuck behind the big guy, they let us depart quickly before him as to avoid us being nothing more than jet wash. We turned East after an uneventful takeoff and followed the H-1 freeway past Waikiki Beach and all the hotels surrounding it. After passing diamond head, the weather cleared leaving us with about 20 miles of visibility and cloud ceilings somewhere around 4,000 feet. Crossing Koko Head and going feet wet, we turned to the 107 radial of the Lanai VOR (navigation beacon) and across 68 miles of open water we went.

The first flight was very smooth and we approached Lanai quickly. Our approach into Lanai was my first landing in a few years, and required fighting a bit of a crosswind. While definitely not my best, it was more than acceptable. We then turned around, taxied back down the runway, pushed the throttle back in, and off we went to the Big Island.

Every time I've flown in Minnesota, it's been on extremely nice days with little wind. Our trip to Upolu on the Big Island was a lesson in managing winds. While the over-ocean portion of our leg was rather smooth, as we approached the Big Island and the North face of Mauna Loa, a 13,796 foot peak, Mother Nature decided to say hello. As we entered the pattern for Upolu, or estimated winds were around 25-30 knots gusting heavily and shearing slightly. As I lined up for final, we were getting tossed around pretty good and hit a pocket of slight wind shear which instantly shed about 30 feet of altitude from us. It was a bit of a wrestling match, but I got our little Cessna down, and we taxied in to park briefly to stretch our legs.

The picture above is Upolu Point. The runway sits only a few feet away from 96 feet of sea cliffs which close in the airport on three sides. The view however was spectacular, and we were the only people within sight. Remote, but worth the stop.

After snapping a photo, we climbed back in, bound for Maui. Our takeoff was extremely short given the strong winds at Upolu and we were quickly at our cruising alitude of 2,500 feet. Due to our delay in Honolulu, we had to amend our flight plan to indicate we'd be arriving about an hour later than planned at Kahalui. The flight from Upolu to the Eastern tip of Maui was bright and sunny, but the windward side of Maui gave me a very quick micro-climate introduction. Within a few minutes, we had to decend and abandon our instrument route to stay within site of the ground and below the clouds. The 10,000 foot Haleakala Peak kept us out of radar view from the airport until we were almost on top of it. Once in the Kahalui valley, the weather improved slightly, but not much. We entered the pattern and set down, taxiing past all the big fancy business jets on our way to the gas pump.

After getting fuel in the tanks, the weather deteriorated quite a bit with rain falling pretty steady and the cloud cover increasing. We got another weather briefing while taking shelter from the rain in the cockpit of our plane. After the briefing, we waited several more minutes for the weather to improve.

After about 30 minutes in Maui, the clouds started to break. We filed our next flight plan, contacted the tower, and taxied out for our departure. As we made our way Northwest we still had to battle the windward side of Maui's weather but once across the channel to Molokai, we were again in agreeable weather. As we approached Kaluapapa, we were again reminded of the gusty winds forecast for the entire day. Of all the landings I made, the one at Kaluapapa was the one that made me feel like a chump. It was a small runway and I managed to bounce the Cessna twice before it settled on the pavement. We decided not to stop given that the better weather was on our route and the worse weather was on its way to Molokai.

After a quick taxi back, we were off. The cloud layer kept us following the North shore of Oahu instead of flying high and overshooting the island. While it added a significant detour, the winds were at our back as we tracked towards Kauai. A 30 mph tailwind made our trip to Kauai much shorter than planned, however it still made one part of the flight a bit un-nerving for me, the over-ocean rookie.

Between Oahu and Kauai is about 100 miles of open ocean water. With the humidity-driven haze, you lose sight of all land for about 30 minutes during that crossing. It's a funny feeling knowing that there is nothing around you but open ocean, and nothing to trust but the instruments in the plane.

Kauai seemed to pop out of the haze instantly when we were about 17 miles away. We quickly contacted the tower and they sent us into the approach pattern. Lihue, the largest city on Kauai has a wonderful airport, and the approach is over a beautiful harbor surrounded by some small mountainous terrain. Again the winds were gusty, but I focused a bit harder on making sure that I didn't skip our plane across the runway like a rock on a lake. After getting down, we taxied to a parking spot, and went to find some lunch.

We hopped a Marriot hotel shuttle and found a small restaurant with burgers and appetizers that fit the billing. We sat and ate, talked a bit, then hit the road on the shuttle back to the airport for our return flight to Oahu.

After we taxied out on the runway to depart, the controllers gave us the right-of-way and forced two commercial jets, one from Hawaiian Air and the other from United to wait while we departed. We gave the Hawaiian crew a nice wave as we went down the runway while the waited. After we lifted off, we turned Eastbound for Oahu and our return to Honolulu.

About 31 miles out of Kauai, with no land in sight, our engine decided to hiccup. Our best guess was that it just sucked in some moisture, and a quick application of a carbuerator device and the engine smoothed out again. While probably a very inconsequential moment in our flight, the next 15 or 20 minutes, until Oahu was in sight, was a very quiet time in our journey.

After entering the chaos that is Honolulu airspace, we flew directly over Pearl Harbor and entered the pattern for the airport. A quick approach was followed by my smoothest touchdown of the day, a fitting end to my journey.

The wheels were chocked about 5:00 p.m. that afternoon. In all, 5.7 hours of actual flight time and about eight hours in or around that Cessna.

So, I can say that in eight hours, I visited every single island in Hawaii. In fact, getting to some places in Lanai, Molokai and Maui can only be done with a small aircraft.

So, chalk it right up there with St. Andrews.

For those interested, you can view the entire flight path to see exactly how everything relates.

So now I have to think up the next big odyssey...

Another Odyssey Begins

October 12, 2008 10:07 PM

Tomorrow I depart at 2:25pm on NWA0808 bound first for Seattle, Washington, gassing up, and then stepping out across the majestic Pacific Ocean bound for America's 50th state.

Five years ago my brother was married in Honolulu, and during his reception dinner, the entire family decided that we would return in five years time to celebrate their anniversary together. I'm keeping my promise, and so is almost everyone else who was there that first time. Even my buddy Nick, who has only flown once - To my brother's wedding.

I'm all checked in, exit row all locked up. I'm looking forward to plenty of sun and fun, food and beverage, and a nightly cigar while listening to the waves of the Pacific Ocean wash up onto the bright sandy Kaimana Beach.

Life could be a lot worse.

While I'm looking forward to the R & R, something bigger looms on my horizon. I'm not going to say what it is, but it ranks right up there with golfing on St. Andrews. At my destination awaits something much larger than the destination itself.

Everybody should have ambition in their life, something to look forward to and to work hard to obtain. Its with that work that the success of achievement is truly enjoyed.

I've been working long and hard this past year. With every down has (what seems) been and even bigger up. While I lost my Grandmother, while I spent weeks in and out of hospitals, While I've spent countless weekends in front of a computer at my office, I also have a fantastic woman by my side, I've circumnavigated the Earth, I've found good health, and I've been frighteningly successful with my projects at work.

It's with all that work that I attempt another odyssey. Where I would attempt to write my own thoughts on it, Errol Morris, a brilliant film and TV director, has said it as best I could.

There comes a point in any man's life, where the daily cares of the workday world become too much. At this crossroad, even the strongest of us will consider drastic measures to easy our anguish.

That's right, it's time for vacation.

Now, vacation is not synonymous with lallygagging. It's no mistake that buried deep in vacation is the word action.

It's not an excuse to go soft, nor is it a time to "get away from it all." Only a fella with a guilty conscience needs to "get away from it all."

For the man who has lived a good life, a high life, vacation is not an escape, but an odyssey. A journey of discovery.

I close by saying Godspeed - To wish one a safe and prosperous journey.

The Campaign

October 4, 2008 12:47 PM

I saw this posted the other day over on The Daily Kos and thought it was pretty funny.

Sidebar: The train appearing next to Obama is a Japanese Shinkansen called the Nozomi that runs from Tokyo south through Osaka and Kobe. Do you think the editor of the image above knew that that the Japanese translation for Nozomi is "Hope"?


October 4, 2008 12:43 PM

That's the stamp in big black letters that's carried on my freshly minted FAA Third Class Medical Certificate.

A requirement to fly, even as a student pilot, is a third class medical. I can break down the "examination" into three parts: You can hear, you can see, and you exhibit no physical or mental symptoms that would result in loss of awareness or consciousness.

The only strange part of it is an FAA requirement to "catalog" any identifying scars or tattoos. Now, I don't have any tattoos, but I have a hell of a scar.

Last fall, I had the joy of about three CT scans and one MRI to help diagnose some strong pain in my lower abdomen. Even walking hurt. After the first two CT scans, the doc's answer to the image was "That's funny" which is not the most encouraging thing to hear a doctor say. The third CT scan was at a different hospital with a higher-resolution scanner. It again showed "something" but not nearly in enough detail. The final MRI, which is MUCH higher in resolution than any CT (and also about fout times as expensive) showed some necrotic (dead) tissue and a tear of my abdominal muscle off my pelvic bone.

The end result to all of this was a surgical procedure last November where I was sliced open about 5 inches just under my belt on the left side of my body. The doctors completely detached my abs from my pelvic bone, and stitched in a complicated muscle mesh to hold everything together. They then stitched the muscles back down to the bone, and another mess went over the top of the whole mess.

I was reminded of this entire episode last Friday when The Designer and I took Pepin for a walk. We went around Lake Harriet (about three miles) and kept the Pup going at a pretty good clip. The Designer made a comment that it was the first time in a long time I've walked that fast. Recovery from the surgery was NOT fast, and despite going to Japan and hiking around everywhere about six weeks after, I'd get back to my Brother's condo and need to sit around with a bottle of Tylenol.

So, after all the health trials and tribulations last fall, its reassuring to hear that I have NO RESTRICTIONS.


This is the word barf of a guy named Bob (Ethics major turned Software Engineer) who lives in Minneapolis.

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