Sunday, August 05, 2007

Day 17 Part Two: Home Sweet Home

Evanston, WY (EVW) to Palo Alto, CA (PAO)
804 statute miles (699 nm)
time enroute: 6:15 (excludes time during fuel stop)

I made it. I was on the road for 17 days and I flew on 13 of them, including the short discovery flight with my niece and nephew in Carbondale. I flew 5776 miles (5018 nm) and logged 48.1 hours of piloting. I increased my total pilot hours by over 10% on this one trip.

I flew in 16 states, visiting four (Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi and Nebraska) for the first time. I landed in all but one (Tennessee). I logged landings at 21 different airports, 19 for the first time. I am 10 landings short of 1000 and 20 hours short of 500. It's fun compiling the facts and statistics and I will do more of that in an upcoming post. Today I just want to journal the experience of the longest day of flying I have ever done and capture my immediate reflections upon completing my trip.

I awoke at 5:00 am and after briefly trying to get a little extra sleep before a long day, I gave up and arose. I had a breakfast of leftover peanut butter, cheese and crackers that saved me a long trip up the hill to what would surely have been a dismal meal. I was at the front desk to check out just before 7:00. I was a little worried about getting to the airport, since to the best of my knowledge there is just one cab in Evanston. My fears were warranted, I learned upon asking that the cab was off on a trip to someplace more than an hour away. Putting on my most desparate and needy face, I was able to get one of the hotel staffers to drive me to the airport, a favor I repaid by offering about twice what the cabfare would have been.

At the airport, which had been pretty quiet the day before, there was a relative bustle of activity. There was a family in a Piper just pulling away from the ramp as I walked in, and a charming little Lakes amphibian parked next to 96934.

I initiated a conversation with the pilot. Her name was Carol and it turns out she is based in Palo Alto (PAO) and Pine Mountain Lake (E45). Linda Monahan, my insrument ground instructor commuted from E45 to PAO, so I asked Carol if she knew her. It turns out they are friends. The world of flying is still small enough that these meetings are still possible.

Carol was heading eastward, eventually going all the way to Maine. I asked how her trip in was the day before. She flew over Salt Lake City and arrived in Evanston at around 3:30, less than an hour after I gave up for the day. It's disappointing to think that if I had hung around a little longer, I would have had a reassuring pilot's report and felt comfortable making the trip over. Still, that's life. There will always be another day to fly.

Ready to taxi over to the self-serve fuel stand, I started up the plane and gave it some power. With enough power to easily pull out, it was glued to the ground. I had the depressing thought that I had made the classic error of trying to taxi with the tail still tied down, in front of an audience. Shutting down the engine, I climbed out and evaluated the situation. Tiedowns were all removed. Closer inspection revealed that all three wheels were in fairly deep ruts. I leaned into a strut and rocked the plane back and forth mightily. Eventually, I had it out of the ruts and ready to go. Still time for embarressing error later in the day.

I taxied out for takeoff at 8:50, with N5LY right behind. Because of the altitude and high temperatures, Evanston has a 7300 foot runway. I pulled out and gave the engine full power. Engine RPM was good and manifold pressure was in the low 20s, which seemed normal for the conditions. However, the plane was surprisingly slow to accelerate, even compared to the other high density altitude takeoffs on the trip. It finally broke ground and immediately jumped with what felt like extra power. After a moment of wonder, I realized my feet were positioned so that they were riding the brakes. It was just enough to slow the plane while on the ground, not enough to trigger my reaction under the conditions.

Once in the air, things got better and I was gaining altitude nicely as I followed I-80 toward the path through the mountains. With good weather, the flying was pretty relaxing as I zoomed toward Salt Lake City.

When you arrive at SLC from the east along I-80, you get a big surprise. The road passes through a canyon and you are spit out over the city spread thousands of feet below. You have to act fast to stay out of the Class Bravo airspace of SLC International Airport. A quick turn to the left and a rapid descent got me started, and an excellent approach controller offered vectors to simplify navigation around the south end of the airspace. Looking at my GPS track, I came within a mile of my friend Mark's house. It was frustrating to be so close, yet so far away. With most of the day still ahead, I pressed on to the west. After the city, I-80 runs along the south end of Great Salt Lake and then out into the Bonneville Salt Flats. This part of the trip became quite routine. Flying at 10500, I leaned out the engine, tweaked my oxygen flow, and listened to mediocre comedy on XM radio. The weather ranged from clear to high clouds, but the visibility was limited to about 20 miles for a while. There wasn't any noticeable obscuration, but the world gradually faded out in the distance. Around Elko, NV, there was an area of rain on my route. I made a slight course deviation and caught just a minute or two of it as I passed around.

I made Lovelock (LOL) right around 11:00, as planned. This was my other off-moment of the day. Arriving from the north, I planned a downwind arrival based on light variable winds. I announced I was entering the pattern for left traffic on runway 19er at Lovelock. Then as I transitioned from the 45 to to the downwind, I saw that the 19 marking was on the wrong end of the runway. Oops! I had the sight picture reversed in my head. Re-announcing that I was on left downwind for RWY 1, I landed and taxied into the ramp.

Lovelock is unattended, but there is a small office with a restroom. The airport is guarded by an old MIG-15. I don't know if it flew in, but it doesn't look like it will fly out. Avgas at Lovelock is $3.65/gal, so I filled to the tippy tops of the tanks. After this, 96934 and I were ready to head home.

I was a little anxious about heading across the Cascades. Mountain turbulence is at its worst on summer afternoons and climb performance is limited at the high density altitudes. I didn't expect any danger, but I wasn't happy about the possibility of a rough and challenging flight.

As it turns out, it was not too bad. From the time I left Lovelock, light turbulence was pretty steady and I spent a lot of time climbing back up to altitude as downdrafts sucked it out of me, but it was never really a threat. I crossed Reno climbing to to 10500 and bumped my way over to Truckee and then Blue Canyon. After that, the mountains started falling away and within 15 minutes I was cruising again.

The last hour of flight was relaxing and pleasant, a good end to what had come before.

Arriving back in the Bay Area, I was quickly plunged into the typical Saturday afternoon traffice jam at Palo Alto Airport. The tower asked for a 360 out over the bay and then told me to extend my downwind to make room for a departing aircraft. Then, as soon as I was on final, he asked me if I could make S-turns for extra time. I made several but as I lined up on short final, the previous aircraft was just exiting the runway and departing traffic was in position. Despite the tower's best effort, I called a go-around. The second time around was fine. I landed and taxied back to my tie-down at L-28.

To punctuate my return, we had pre-existing plans to go up to SF for the evening. We had a fantastic dinner at Fresca, featuring Nouveau Peruvian cuisine, and then saw Swell Season at the Noe Valley Ministry, in a room of about 200 people. I was pretty exhausted when I made it home at midnight, after a 20 hour day.

The trip is over now, but I have a few thoughts that I plan to share in follow-up posts in the coming days. I hope to have some of you along. For those signing off, thank you for staying with me on this little adventure.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, so now I am sorry I didn't join you ...

2:45 PM  

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