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Updated 12:17pm - Sep 29, 2014

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Del Norte People: Flying away for new perspective

Melissa and Chuck Blackburn during their recent visit to the Pacific Island in Kauai, Hawaii.
Melissa and Chuck Blackburn during their recent visit to the Pacific Island in Kauai, Hawaii. Photo courtesy of Chuck Blackburn
Trips to islands offer more than just a change of scenery

As we travel through life we have the opportunity to experience new countries, states and communities.

As I am now 76, I reflect many times back on those enjoyable times. As a young boy growing up, it was with my father Wes who tried to show me it all. I treasure these memories and now have allowed myself to reach out and experience new people in new areas. My wife Missy and I are pretty much on the same track in this frame of mind.

I am writing this story sitting in a lawn chair feet from the Pacific Island in Kauai, Hawaii. I sat very close to this very spot eight years ago with a note pad and the tape recorder and at Missy’s urging, “Get off your butt and start writing your book.”

I grabbed my tape recorder and took a deep breath and started to record my thoughts. I stopped after about three minutes and decided to replay back a little to make sure it was recording correctly. To my delight I heard my voice, but the sound of the surf was more pronounced. I solved that somewhat by putting a handkerchief over the microphone as I had to do in my broadcast days during a windy football game. At least my voice could be heard over the surf or wind.

Our first visit was to attend the wedding of Missy’s son Matt Starcke to his new wife Deziree. Both Matt and Dez earned their master’s degrees from Texas A&M University. It was a private wedding at Shipwreck Beach at Poipu. The Hawaiian minister administered the vows in English and the native tongue. We loved the setting and the friendship that abounded here.

A year later we returned for a week and found valuable private time to add to the story of “Kneebockers.” It now seemed more natural to put my thoughts and memories into book form. It created a solid foundation of my experiences that my father Wes provided for me as a teen, but carried on in my adult life until his death in 1976. Dad died on Easter Sunday morning of a heart attack at 71 years old.

In 2007, I had retired from the Board of Supervisors in January and was looking forward to semi-retirement and returning to Kauai again that late spring. Easter Sunday morning my wife Missy rushed me to Sutter Coast Hospital in record time as I was having a major heart attack. In my subconscious state I was thinking of finding my dead father on that Easter Sunday morning and thought “Oh, boy, here I am in the same boat” on Easter Sunday.

I was also three months from being 71. A lot of fine professionals helped save my life. That irony has crossed my mind many times since that event. I have always thought that the good Lord has a plan and I guess that I was given an opportunity to be a part of my family and community for another day, week, month or year.

If I’ve gained anything from this, it’s “live your life to its fullest each day.” As Tim McGraw says in his famous song, “Live Like You’re Dying.”

Our fourth visit to Kauai is one where we set our priorities as total relaxation. We stay each year at the Aston Islander at Kapaa overlooking the beautiful Pacific. Our second story room overlooks the water and surf, which is 150 feet from the beach and breakers. Yesterday, which was cooler and showery, was a totally relaxed time for both of us. I always enjoy sitting here and watching south to Lihue where the airport is located. Like a kid in a candy store, I am intrigued by airplanes and watch the large jets take off and land.

I also love “reading the water,” and yesterday I saw one blow from a whale about eight miles away toward the airport. That was followed by several more in succession. It turned out to be a large pod heading north, probably toward the Aleutians. These were probably humpbacks and several times we saw them breach out of the water. They were traveling fast and were soon out of sight.

Today, Sunday, the weather is nice and the ocean is more settled. The activity today has picked up both on the beach and out in the ocean. I am watching two paddle board surfers on a surf break on an outer reef. We also watched three outrigger canoes with six paddlers in each boat heading south to Lihue.

On Friday we drove on the two-lane highway to Princeville at the northern or wet side of the island. It is about 25 miles to Princeville and Hanalei Bay and about another five miles to the road’s end at Ke’e Beach. Farther southwestward from this area are the tall volcanic cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. There are no roads and the access is by hiking, boat or rafts, or helicopter. The great volcano Mt. Waialeale is central to this part of the island and is the world’s wettest spot with 463 inches of rain in a year.

On this Tuesday morning, we decided to spend the day heading to South Shore past Poipu on the Kaumualii Highway to Waimea. This is the dry side of the island with its major coffee plantation and its major Kauai coffee processing facility. Waimea Canyon Road takes off from the town and quickly climbs the mountain on the south side of Waimea Canyon, which is the Grand Canyon of Kauai. This two-lane steep road is one steady climb of about 20 miles to Kokee State Park that overlooks the Na Pali Coast. This overlook is at about 4,000 feet above sea level. It is spectacular.

On the way up we stopped at the state parks’ Waimea Canyon lookout with its safe platforms and railings for the many tourists to view more than a thousand feet down. Numerous helicopter tours fly up its many side canyons and volcanic cliffs. Many trails for hikers abound on this canyon road. This is a site that is exciting even after several visits over the years.

Thursday morning brings the remarkable sounds of the surf through the open sliding glass door. We have three more wonderful days to go on our vacation. We returned for the second time to the North Shore and visited Hanalei Bay, its resorts and golf course. The old town of Hanalei is at the bottom of the hill and has several historic sights including its one-way steel bridge. A sign on each end asks people to take their turn before crossing. A good sign of good old rural America.

We had a wonderful lunch at the Kalypso Island Bar and Grill. Missy had fish and chips and I had specially prepared prawns. After sightseeing, we returned to Kapaa. Our last afternoon brought quite an adventure as we watched two Hawaiian divers bring in their catch with spear guns. As they put their catch and equipment in the foliage and turned toward the water, we were looking down from the second-story lanai and all of us were treated by an 8-foot shark swimming within 10 feet of the shore.

What a sight to see this creature with its tall dorsal fin and tail sticking out of the water. We all enjoyed the experience of being entertained for about 20 minutes. What a send-off from Kauai back to good old Crescent City. This finished another great visit to the Garden State. 

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