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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rodney was 'living his dream' in Kalalau

By Lee Cataluna

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Rodney Ahn on the Kalalau trail. He was found dead at 58 in the valley where he was living off the land.

Nolan S.B. Ahn

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For a guy who spent most of the last six or seven years camping in a remote Kaua'i valley, Rodney Ahn had a lot of friends.

"I'm getting calls from all over," his brother Nolan Ahn said. "He was someone who put relationships at the highest priority."

That may seem incongruent for someone who lived in the forest and fed himself off the land, but Ahn said his brother treasured his friendships. "He made friends easily and he would work to stay in touch. When he came out of the valley, he'd make phone calls, he had e-mail, he'd stay at his friends' houses."

Even before the formal identification was made by police yesterday, Ahn was certain the body found Sunday in Kalalau was that of his brother. Rodney was expected to come out of the valley Feb. 12, and he was precise about things like that.

"If he told his friends, 'Meet me at the trail head at 3 p.m. on a certain date,' he would always be there," Ahn said. When he didn't show up Friday, his friend hiked in to look for him. She found his body at one of his favorite campsites inside his sleeping bag.

He was 58 years old.

The Ahn brothers grew up on the west side of Kaua'i, first in Kaumakani on the lane of graceful plantation houses called "the avenue." Their father worked as a bookkeeper for Olokele Sugar. When the brothers were in elementary school, the family moved to Hanapepe, which seemed like the big city compared to the plantation town.

After graduating from Waimea High School, Rodney went to the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, where he "played all the time," Ahn remembers. "School was just the framework for him being there. He would ride his skateboard and life was great." He went home to Kaua'i after two years.

For a while, Rodney worked as a waiter at several Kaua'i restaurants, and also was a substitute teacher, taking any assignment that came his way. He would win over the students by doing tricks for them, like lining up nine pennies on his forearm, tossing them into the air and catching them all in one hand, or clasping his hands in front of his body and jumping through the circle of his arms. After that, the kids were charmed. He was known as a fun sub.

Rodney had been introduced to Kalalau when the brothers went there as teens with their father.

Over the years, Rodney visited the valley frequently and eventually just made a choice to be where he wanted to be.

Nolan Ahn is a Kaua'i businessman who owns Anuenue Associates, a financial planning, insurance and investment firm. His brother Rodney was a free spirit.

"He was living his dream. He thought it (Kalalau Valley) was the most beautiful place on Earth and he felt spiritually connected to the place."

Ahn said his brother was strong and didn't have any chronic illnesses that he knew of. Still, people worried what might happen to him in that far-away valley only accessible by an arduous hike or by sea.

"His friends would say, 'Hey, you're getting older. What if something should happen to you and you get sick in Kalalau?' And he would say 'Well, if I want to, I'll crawl out on the trail. And if I don't want to, I'll just stay. There's no place I'd rather be when I die."

Rodney was a hunter and a fisherman and knew how to live off the abundance of the remote valley.

A few years ago, the brothers sold some family property and split the money.

"It wasn't very much, but he was so happy," Nolan Ahn said. Rodney said, " 'This is enough to last me the rest of my life!' For me, it was enough to pay bills for a few months. He had a whole different perspective," Ahn said.

There's a place in the valley that Rodney especially loved, a place he thought of as a sanctuary. He took care of the area and kept his parents' photographs there. Ahn says some of his brother's ashes will be put to rest on that quiet place his brother loved.

"What I've been saying that I guess gives me comfort is that though he didn't have a lot of years in his life, he put a lot of life into his years."