I woke early this morning at the backpacker’s hostel in Kona, where I had to sneak in quietly last night at around midnight, still wide awake and excited by the evening’s activities. When I climbed out of the bed the floor felt like it was swaying slightly – I think I spent a bit too long aboard various swaying vessels yesterday!
I got up and found the TV on quietly in the common room, with only one other person watching the inauguration ceremony for the new president. We sat and watched while the rest of the hostel still slept. My timing was perfect, as I was just in time to watch the last couple of speeches, and then the official swearing-in.
After breakfast I walked up to the main highway with my bags, and stuck my thumb out again, heading back to the airport. I had to wait awhile in the hot sun, but eventually got a lift with Kevin, who took me right to my destination – Mauna Loa Helicopters flight training school.
While I was aboard with Captain Zodiac a couple of days before, I got chatting with Kyle, who was working as first mate aboard the boat. When I asked what had brought him to Hawaii, he told me that he worked full-time as a helicopter instructor, and helped out at the weekends at Captain Zodiac.
“Really?” I said. “A helicopter instructor? Fancy that. One of my goals is to take the controls of a helicopter in flight.”
“Really?” he replied. “Maybe we can make that happen. I’ll have a word with my boss.”
So this morning, after a quick briefing, Kyle took me up on a flight along the coast in a little red Robinson R22 two-seater helicopter. We took off and hovered a couple of feet off the ground at the airport while we waited for clearance, and Kyle bravely let me try to hover the helicopter. He had to step in quickly on the controls a couple of times, as the machine swayed about all over the place, with very little in the way of positive control from me at all.
Once cleared we rose quickly and followed the main highway south, and at 500 feet Kyle handed the controls over to me to try straight-and-level flying, which was a little easier. He still had to step in to make corrections, but as time passed he did so less and less, and I started to get a bit of a feel for it.
I was slightly alarmed when Kyle let go of everything, and picked up my camera and started snapping away, but I concentrated on what I was doing, and seemed to manage okay.
We continued south along the coast with me at the controls for quite a bit of the time, with regular verbal input and occasional manual input from Kyle. At the point where we were due to turn around we found the Captain Zodiac boat near the cliffs, and Kyle flew us around it a couple of times as I filmed and waved.
On the way back Kyle demonstrated a dead-engine landing, and then helped me on the approach to the airport. I tried hovering again, and did slightly better than my first try, but it is quite alarming how quickly the thing can get out of hand. One over-correction and it is all over the place, with Kyle quickly having to sort out my mess.
What a brilliant experience. Huge thanks to Kyle, who was incredibly cool and patient, and also to Mauna Loa Helicopters, who offered me the opportunity at a very competitive rate.
So this brings my time on The Big Island to an end, as I am now sat at the airport itself, just along the road from the helicopter school, waiting for my flight back to Oahu. I have had an extraordinary time here, and have experienced so much here in such a short time. Much of it is thanks to Debbie, her wonderful organisation, and her initial contact with Becky at the Big Island Tourism Bureau.
I still continue to be amazed, excited and immensely grateful for the way things just seem to work out so well for me. For example, the set of connections that today led to achieving Goal 28 started with Debbie’s interest in my goals way back in June. I then got to meet her in Oregon, and achieve a couple of goals with her help. She happens to have lived in Hawaii, and made some enquiries here on my behalf. This led her to Becky, who I did not even meet. Becky arranged, among other things, a trip on Captain Zodiac’s boat, which wasn’t one of my goals, but sounded like great fun. On the boat one of the staff just happens to be a helicopter instructor, and in our random chat this came up! And he had some free time just hours before I am due to fly out. Wonderful!
And of course, thanks again also to all the people I have met in this beautiful place. I love it here, and I am sure I will be back sometime soon.