Saturday, July 5, 2014

Mai-Tais, Mars, and Mahalo

Most of you probably haven’t noticed, but other than the pop quiz yesterday, I haven’t been my usual snarky self ‘round these parts for a while. Not that I haven’t been snarky, just that I’ve been too busy to do it here.  June is a big month for me at work with the planning and execution of an annual conference, coordinating working group meetings, a lunch for some of the senior attendees, followed by a big report that takes a while to consolidate and staff around Navy leadership.

That’s not the only reason I’ve been making myself scarce here on Chez Sarge.  I also went on vacation.  
"Where?" might you ask?  Well, if you didn't already figure it out, I alluded to a while back with a post and this picture:

"Thank you Sir!  May I have another?"

How about two?

I  do like that Boeing Clipper.  I even came across a couple in Kauai.  Okay, not real ones, but I'll take what I can get.

So another title for this post could be "What I did on my Summer vacation."  As for "vacation," I highly recommend it- in large and frequent doses if you can handle it.

Several years back, I was offered one of those cheap deals at a resort, something like five days and four nights for a paltry $299.  "All you have to do is sit through a 90 minute presentation."

Yeah, right.  And by "presentation" they really mean 2 hours or more of the hard sell as they explain why a timeshare is a great investment.  I'll say it again- yeah, right.  Except they were right.  

While I didn't all of a sudden lose my cognitive abilities, rendering myself unable to discern between fact and fiction, truth and BS (I spent 20 years with sailors and aviators- I know BS when I hear it), they did a good job of truthfully laying out the costs and benefits, and we bought it.

We didn't buy a traditional timeshare though, we just bought vacation points that can be used anywhere- Hawaii, Europe, a cruise, or for the company hotels, for any length of time. The trip my wife and I took to Rome last year was all covered by vacation points, air miles and credit card miles.  So, in a sense, it was "free," if you don't count the money already paid out for the points in the first place.

For those of you shaking your heads, saying "Tuna, how could you be so stupid?"  I'll respond with it was the best investment for our family, outside our home, that I've ever made.  Yes, it was expensive, and yes, the annual maintenance fees (which are forever) can be a tough pill to swallow, but we're getting great family time and I'm having more fun than I ever have on vacations.

While I was in the Navy, our "vacations," if you can call them that, consisted of the occasional three-day weekend, and stopping along the way during a change of duty station, moving from one part of the country to another.  We never did much more than short road trips out of town, Disney or Six Flags, visiting family, and the like- not really relaxing time away from the daily grind.

That type of vacation is what has changed with our "investment."  A co-worker said "Timeshares aren't worth the money, except in the time you spend with your family, and they force you to go on vacation and spend that time."  And for us he's right.  Nobody's holding a gun to my head to make us go on vacation, but that money is already spent, so we might as well use it.

And boy do we use it.  The best part is that I sleep so well on vacation.  I'm a pretty lousy sleeper as it is, maybe getting 5-6 hours a night.  I'm a light sleeper anyway, and if nature doesn't call me in the middle of the night or early morning, I'll start to think about the things I have to do during the day, and that's it- I'm awake. Getting back to sleep just doesn't happen for me.

On vacation, though, I almost always get in a good 7-8 hours a night, and the thoughts about work and general life stuff just don't creep into my head.  It's been over a week since we returned and I'm still sleeping well, up to and through my alarm, actually using the snooze button.  So I'd have to say that - yes, vacations are wonderful.

We spent our points on a 2BR in Lihue Kauai, Hawaii's Garden Isle.  It is a beautiful place, and all my other experiences in Hawaii, all in Oahu, pale in comparison to it.  When stationed in Japan, we had to spend about two weeks every summer completing our Anti-Submarine Warfare qualifications by dropping torpedoes on the acoustic range off PMRF, which is on Kauai, but I hadn't been on the island.  We would work from Barber's Point on Oahu's leeward side, flying either a morning hop, leaving the afternoon / evening open, or an afternoon flight, leaving us the night (and morning hangover / recovery time.)  Mai Tais or Lava Flows at the Hale Koa's Barefoot Bar was a popular choice for us VS-21 Redtails.  

I pulled into Pearl Harbor on several deployments, and even worked for a command based in Hawaii, although I was in San Diego, but that required annual trips out there, and I always enjoyed it.  So for all I knew, Oahu was Hawaii.  

It's not.

For starters, there are 5 times as many people in Honolulu as there are on all of Kauai.  Oahu has big box stores, malls, freeways, etc.  Kauai has barely any of that. One is pretty much undeveloped, the other is essentially over-developed.  Instead of "interstate" freeways, Kauai has a few narrow highways, ones that take you through some absolutely beautiful land. 

The road to Poipu Kauai.  The roads lined with trees are characteristic of roads on formerly royal land.
On the north shore, that landscape practically takes over the road, narrowing it even more.

On the drier west side of the Island, it's not quite as lush, but it's still much more green than it is on the leeward side of Oahu.  This side is the home of PMRF.  

Definitely a little sleepy-hollow of a base there.  Very low key, quiet little missions, but they are quickly trending toward big and loud missions.  Remember when our current President promised the Kremlin "greater flexibility" on missile defense after his reelection?  He pulled missile defense sites out of Poland and the Czech Republic to mollify Putin.  In their place, the Navy was required to increase its mission burden by deploying Theater Ballistic Missile Defense ships to the middle east, Europe, and the pacific. Stressing our busy DDG fleet, but I won't get on my pithy political soapbox more here. 

The U.S. is also building shore-based AEGIS missile defense sites in Romania after tests from PMRF have proven successful.  Here's a picture of the one there.

Which looks amazingly similar to superstructures on these:

But it doesn't take as many people to run, and you don't have to feed or house them, so it's a lot cheaper. Kind of a no-brainer if you're not all that interested in a large Navy.

That's not the only testing going on there.  Remember how the Mars Rover landed on the surface of Mars?  

Pretty amazing technology if you ask me.  Apparently, the problem with that deployment system is that it's only useful for getting something onto a smooth surface as you see in the illustrations.  What NASA is hoping to do is land a rover onto more rugged surfaces.  While this rover landed on something akin to a desert, a future system may be deployed into something more like the Colorado Rockies.  That's where the most recent testing is headed.

Below is a picture of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) that I took while CAPT Bruce "Flounder" Hay gave my family a tour of PMRF.   Oh-so-long ago, Bruce and I were flight school classmates, and now he's the C.O. of the base.  What you see is a large disk, a rocket, and between them, a parachute pack which is the heart of the decelerator.  

The link is pretty good for an explanation of the system and it has more pictures, but here are a couple of videos giving even more background.  Pretty interesting stuff, and they're only about 2 minutes each.

Essentially, NASA put something into space, then tested the deployment of a drag system to slow it down. This was the launcher to hold the disc.

You can see the disk on the now-elevated launcher below, which is connected to this large balloon, inflated to carry the system to the edge of the atmosphere.

A rocket then fired to launch it into space.

Then the LSDS drag system, really just an inflated cushion and parachute to increase the size of the disk and allow more drag in the thin Martian atmosphere, deployed.  How did it work?  Check out the videos here
And here.  They aren't Youtube videos so I can't figure out how to post them directly, but just click the links.  

It wasn't a perfect test, but the system did deploy and there was a great deal NASA learned about the system, so it was a good test.  

Navy EOD, on the job!

Picking up the trash after work.

All in all, it was a great visit to see my friend and his wife, who definitely laid out the red carpet for us.  The expansion of the base's mission is beneficial for the Navy, NASA, and Hawaii.  They are all working in cooperation to hopefully bring jobs, and possibly, a whole new industry to Hawaii that doesn't involve tourism.  With it, they may add some stability to the economy and attract college kids to either stay on the islands or come back after college for something other than tourism.

As for the rest of the vacation, it was great.  Some ATV riding in the mountains and across landscape you've seen in Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tropic Thunder, Jurassic Park, The Descendants and dozens of others.  My wife even used a rope swing into the river like Indiana Jones did at the beginning of the first movie to escape the natives and climb into a sea-plane.  This picture is similar to what you saw in George Clooney's The Descendants.

That movie is a fictional account of a true story, and an extended family does own this beautiful piece of undeveloped coastline in Kauai.  It may revert to the state someday, but it's bordered by rocky cliffs on three sides.  The only access is via a steep, tight and windy one-lane road over a mountain through private property, so it would be a massively expensive area to develop, probably preserving it for a long time.

The wife and kids did some zip-lining and tubing down some old sugar-cane irrigation canals, while I did the best part of the trip.  Thanks to a gift from my wife's mom, I was able to get pictures like this:

Wailua Falls (remember "Welcome to Fantasy Island?")

The falls seen in the opening of Jurassic Park

and this:

Which I took from this: (cue the music)

To put it briefly, it was a great trip.  Thanks for suffering through the slide-show of the Davis family vacation. Go on vacation if you can, Kauai if you can swing it (Beach Cottages on PMRF are a great deal for you military types).  And maybe consider timeshare points.  Also, pay attention to NASA TV every once in a while.  It's pretty interesting sometimes.

I'll close with some music, and somebody else's scenery:



  1. I visited Kauai the first time, one year after Iniki hit. We stayed at the Hyatt Poipu and got a $1000/night room for about $100. Recognized the tree tunnel photo above right away. Been back several times and are rapidly becoming overdue. I think its about time. Thanks for the photos to remind me. One of my great successes as Dad/Husband was planning a vacation for the family from Oahu. Got them all up at 0530 and onto the Aloha flight over. Car rental and drove over to Waimea canyon. Arrived at the top just prior to sunrise. Spread the blanket and opened up the backpack with breakfast. Served them breakfast on the edge of the canyon just as the sun came up. Hero for a day (or maybe longer). However, that's hard to top.

  2. I'm sure you earned a lot of points for that! We really loved Kauai, and with my buddy there for a few years, he said we can extend our next vacation by staying a few days with him! We'll be back either way.

  3. An alternate to the Sunrise at Waimea Canyon is the Sunrise on Haleakala over on Maui.
    Granted, there's a lot more development, but you don't have to go far (read away from Kihei, Lahaina, and Kahului, in particular) to get away from it.
    The only thing that ruins a trip to Hawaii for us is that dealing with flying and the TSA.

  4. My Beloved Air Force sent me on a two-week TDY to Hawaii from Yokota AB back in 1975. I was part of an Engineering and Installations outfit at Yokota and my team and I were tasked to perform pre-depot maintenance surveys on two HANG radar sites: one on Oahu and the other at the top of Waimea Canyon on Kauai. Those sites were also joint USAF/FAA long range radar stations, so I had to get permission from the FAA to take the radars down for maintenance... which the FAA usually denied for one reason or another. The upshot was my "two-week" TDY morphed into 30 days, all of which were THOROUGHLY enjoyable. I made a lot of money on that trip (for the time), seeing as how our team got "non-A" slips for both Kauai AND Oahu. Thirty days of Hawaii per diem, even at 1975 rates, was enough to buy a new-to-me used mo'sickle when I got back to Japan.

    Ah... Former Happy Days! Thanks for firing off those synapses, Tuna.

  5. Yep, Kauai is a nice place! I've actually had to 'work' out of there a few times... :-) And you can't beat the beach cottages...