A Really Splendid Extended Cross-Country

The weather here in the Seattle area has been just abysmal lately.  The quip on everyone’s lips has been along the lines of, “Hey, May? February called, it wants its weather back.”  So in the last few days, as the terrible, cold, blustery garbage finally moved on, my mind naturally turned to the burning question: how to get some good flying in?

I talked Michelle into joining me for an actual trip somewhere.  (It actually didn’t require much convincing; she was just as eager to go.)  I planned an ambitious route for us: a complete lap of the Olympic Peninsula, with a nice stop in Ocean Shores.

Per form, and despite the best of intentions, we actually lifted off later than I’d wanted:  about 9:20.  My skills have sharpened and I’ve reduced my before-flight-ground-errands significantly, but they still all add up.  I’d say we were parking the car at Northway at 8:20, aircraft preflighted by 8:30, done with the FSS briefing and plan by 8:45, and fueled by 9:00.  Figure roughly an hour from parking the car to lifting off, for future reference.

But what a great day for flying!  A total bluebird day.  In fact, we enjoyed CAVU for the first two legs of the trip, with wonderfully calm air and spectacular views of the Olympics off the port side, and the Sound (and Canada) to starboard.  Whidbey provided VFR flight advisories, and did so with their usual crisp efficiency.  I was surprised that there weren’t more aircraft aloft in this fantastic weather, but there were some other planes flitting about here and there.

I was pleased, too, that my flight plan legs were spot-on: to the minute for each checkpoint.  I really like that; flying to exact tolerances is a reward in itself.  (I’ll grant that the conditions aloft made my job easier.)  Continuing to hone my altitude and course holding skills is important to me, and these skills are going to be even more important when I go for my Instrument rating.  Like Jim advised, I’m holding myself to extremely tight tolerances on both, and I think this will pay off.

Neither Quillayute (a short stop) nor Ocean Shores (actual sightseeing) were busy airports.  In fact, KUIL was not only unattended, it had a strangely post-apocalyptic feel to it, with grass growing on some of the taxiways.  The town of Ocean Shores was definitely worth the walk-around, and we basked in the sun and beachy feel.  I want to return to The Sandcastle; that was a fine lunch.

As to be expected, late in the day the heating air finally turned conditions for the worse.  ‘Convection’ was the name of the game, and we endured a fairly bumpy ride under cumulus clouds all the way past Shelton and Bremerton.  We had to dodge around a few rain showers and spots of eerie-looking virga.  The damned ADF wasn’t working in this plane either — do they disconnect them or what? — but the GPS was great.

Adding to my stress was the realization that we’d left Ocean Shores later than we should have, and I was worried we’d be late for the next renter — very discourteous and something I would not welcome being done to me.  I must remember to minimize stress in the cockpit!  Do whatever it takes to leave all that on the ground, and let the flying be enjoyable.  (Or at least, don’t manufacture additional stresses above what are already present in the flying.)  I found myself fretting about the time, and it impacted my scan and my skills.  I’ll make a point of leaving more time on the next trip.  Remember: the flight plan doesn’t take into account pattern time, taxiing, and securing the aircraft.  And there’s always the preflight-taxi-and-runup dance at the departing end.  So think harder about that beforehand, Chris!

It was an interesting, unique and enjoyable way to spend a Saturday.  We saw hundreds of miles of wildly varying terrain and scenery, including a stop in a neat little seaside city, and I got to build hours for my future ratings.  What’s not to like?

I’ve put the pictures online in my gallery.

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