First Trip to Washington

Curious Web Sites

This page last updated on 01/26/2019.

Copyright 2001-2019 by Russ Meyer

Ever since moving from Washington state to the Dallas area in 1988, I had dreamed of flying back to visit family and friends.  I had never been on cross country of more than 370 nautical miles, and really wanted to try a truly long distance flight.  Finally in 1997, the required money, time, and justification all came together.  Jane, Serena, Katie and I planned to fly back to Washington for a family reunion at my parent's cabin.  We rented a Cessna 172, tail number 5252Q, packed it with our gear and took off.  This is my flight log from that trip:

  • 6/28    Addison, TX -> Cordell, OK    2.1 hours
    Diverted around central Oklahoma due to T-storms.  Bumpy.  Jane got sick.

    I planned to depart Addison at about 8:00 AM that morning and fly up to Hutchinson, Kansas where we would stay the night.  Unfortunately, thunderstorms had developed over central Oklahoma and blocked our direct route north.  I waited around for two hours on the ground at Addison, occasionally checking weather, but there wasn't much change.  In talking with Flight Service, I realized that by diverting about 150 miles west of our planned course, we could skirt the weather.  I filed a flight plan and took off right away, headed for Cordell, Oklahoma.  Man, was it bumpy...constant bump and tumble all the way.  The atmosphere was really churned up.  No one puked, but when we got on the ground in Cordell, Jane had to lay down on a couch in the pilot's lounge.  She said the whole room looked like it was spinning.  The kids seemed fine though, thank goodness.  It looked like it was going to be a while before Jane would be ready to brave the airplane again.  Since it was almost lunch time, we decided to take a courtesy car into town and grab a bite.  We stopped at a diner in the center of town.  We were the only ones there.  Jane wouldn't eat anything, but the kids and I got hamburgers.  Jane lay down in the booth and held very still as the room continued to spin around her.  After about an hour, we left Jane lying in the diner and took a walk around the downtown square.  It was dominated in the center by an old courthouse and ringed by small shops.  We stopped at a drug store and bought some Dramamine pills for Jane.  We returned to the diner about an hour later to collect our ailing co-pilot.  We found her sitting up at a table, sipping water; still woozy, but ready to give it a go.  She choked down a couple of Dramamine pills and asked "Did you close your flight plan?"  Gaahh, I forgot!  I called the FSS and sheepishly requested that my flight plan be closed.  "Sure!" came the perky reply.  Gee, here I was over three hours late closing my flight plan and they didn't even seem concerned.  Good thing I wasn't bleeding to death in the center of a smoking crater somewhere thinking, "Just...hold on...ol' chap...the search and rescue boys will be here soon.  Just a few...more...minutes...ack...cough..."
  • 6/28    Cordell, OK -> Hutchinson, KS    1.7 hours
    Smooth uneventful flight.  Skimmed under sct clouds at 5500'.

    We were back on track to Hutchinson.  I climbed up as high as I could to get to cooler air since that usually helps the nausea.  Mercifully, we didn't run into much turbulence.  Flight Service said most of the thunderstorms had drifted further east.  The atmosphere had settled down considerably.  There were small scattered cumulus clouds all along the route.  About 4/10ths coverage with bases around 6200 feet.  We arrived at Hutchinson right at sunset.  I made a great landing; one of those landings where you can't even tell when the wheels touch the ground.  Got a hotel for the night.
  • 6/29    Hutchinson, KS -> Wray, CO    2.7 hours
    Deviated west around T-storms in OK and NB.  Good flying.  Unfriendly people at Wray.

    In the morning, we awoke to drizzling overcast.  We stalled around; got breakfast, waited in the room; the kids watched cartoons. I intended to fly north through central Nebraska, but once again, thunderstorms blocked our path.  The weather seemed much better to the west, but Flight Service said the low overcast stretched west over 150 miles.  Finally, at about 10:30 I looked west and saw the edge of the overcast, and beyond, miles of blue sky.  I called Flight Service again.  The briefer said all stations west were still reporting overcast, but if I could see blue sky he couldn't argue with that.  I decided to just go.  The hotel gave us a lift to the airport, we pre-flighted, and launched.  Nothing but clear skies and calm air all the way to Wray.  After landing at Wray, I taxied to the fuel pumps and shut down.  The Flight Guide said the field was attended 24 hours per day, but no one was around.  I walked over to the FBO office and found the door unlocked.  There was a sign on the counter with a phone number for fuel, so I called.  I talked to a guy who said he'd come right out.  With nothing to do but hurry-up and wait, I stepped outside and milled around.  A couple of guys walked over and asked what I was doing there.  They were kind of intimidating.  I said I had just landed and needed fuel.  One of the guys asked loudly why I hadn't stopped to get fuel in Scottsbluff.  Clearly, he wasn't expecting an answer.  They both turned around, got in a car, and drove off.  Scottsbluff?  That's 120 nautical miles northwest...sheeezh!  After about 10 minutes a guy arrived in a pickup.  "You the fella lookin' for gas?"  Yeah, I'm the guy.  He unlocked the pumps, climbed up on the airplane and started filling tanks.  "This is dang inconvenient ya know...I was watchin' TV when you called.  Why'd ya stop here?"  I explained that I needed gas, as he could clearly see, and that both the sectional and Flight Guide indicated he had some for sale.  What's more, the Flight Guide said the field was attended 24x7.  "Lemme see that thing!"  I indicated the appropriate page of the Flight Guide.  "I thought I got that changed a year ago!," he growled.  I paid my bill and we blasted out of there.  Antisocial weirdoes...
  • 6/29    Wray, CO -> Sheridan, WY    3.6 hours
    Nice flight to Sheridan, WY.  Scattered T-storms; flew under anvil of 2 of them.

    A very nice, relaxing flight to Sheridan.  Beautiful terrain; plains and rolling hills giving way to small mountains and eroded cliffs covered with patches of pine forest.  During the mid-section of the flight, we snaked our way through widely scattered thunderstorms.  Just small single cells.  Pretty tame.  I tried to stay at least 10 to 15 miles from them.  They all seemed to be more or less in the dissipating stage with long sinuous tendrils of ice particle blow-off near the tops.  I had to fly under some of this blow-off and was kind of nervous.  Hail usually lurks somewhere under the anvil, if there's any hail at all.  I really wasn't near the main part of the anvil, but I still worried.  When we got to Sheridan, I pulled out my tie-down anchors and screwed them into the grass.  I adapted a set of out-building tie-down anchors for use with the airplane.  I used a big crowbar as a handle to screw them into the ground, and man, did they have holding power.  I had some half inch rope to tie the airplane down.  After securing the plane, we called and found a room at the Best Western.  The hotel sent a van out to pick us up.  After getting settled, we grabbed supper at a Burger King up the street.  Serena and I took a dip in the crowded pool then went to bed.
  • 6/30    Sheridan, WY -> Three Forks, MT    2.8 hours
    Low ceilings and rain showers.  Big T-storm over Butte forced us back to Three Forks.

    In the morning, Jane asked if I heard all that wind and rain last night.  No, I didn't hear anything, I was so tired I just slept through it all.  She said it got very, VERY windy.  Oh great...the airplane!  I could just see it in a crumpled mess, blown up against the airport fence with all the other tumbleweeds.  We ate some breakfast, and headed for the airport.  Hey, the airplane was right where we left it...well, sort of.  It had been blown a bit sideways, and was now pointed about 30 degrees off where we left it the night before.  The anchors had done their job!  I was so glad I resisted buying those wimpy pigtail anchors that Sporty's sells.  They probably wouldn't have held the plane down.  We loaded up and took off.  Ceiling was about 5/10ths coverage at 7500 feet.  We cruised along at 6500, eventually picking up Interstate 90 and following it west.  The plan was to follow I-90 through Mullan Pass and on to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.  Hopefully, we would make it to the cabin by late afternoon.  I-90 tracks along a low broad valley as it crosses the continental divide.  This gave us a lot of advantages.  The most important benefit was that we could land on I-90 if we had an emergency like engine failure or something.  It was really comforting to know all that asphalt was directly under us, especially as we crossed the Rockies.  Another advantage was the low altitude of the valley.  We could cruise lower, and that was more comfortable for us carbon units.  The valley was broad, so if we were forced down under low clouds, we would have plenty of maneuvering room to execute a turn and double back.  As we entered the valley, the ceiling turned into an overcast and lowered to about 4500 feet, so we dropped down to 2000 AGL.  After a while we picked up some light rain.  The rain gradually became heavier until it was a steady roar.  Still, the visibility was a good 8 miles or so, and we had plenty of ground and cloud clearance.  I pressed on.  Finally, just a few miles east of Butte, Montana, a thunderstorm loomed directly in our path over the highway.  I didn't want to chance flying under it, and we couldn't easily go around it without getting pinched between the clouds and the ridge tops.  We had just passed Three Forks, Montana about 15 miles back.  I decided to turn around, land at Three Forks, and wait out the weather.  We stalled around in Three Forks for several hours with the weather deteriorating around us.  The rain increased and the ceilings lowered.  We retired to a hotel for the night.  Walked the main drag in Three Forks and found nothing much to see.  Ate some pizza and went to bed.
  • 7/1    Three Forks, MT -> Coeur d'Alene, ID    3.5 hours
    Low Ceilings and rain showers.  Hairy crossing of Mullan Pass.  Tight squeeze over Wallace.  Landed at Shoshone to wait out WX.

    The weather looked considerably better the next morning.  It was still spitting rain, but the ceiling and visibility had improved greatly.  We decided to press on.  It was a scenic and uneventful flight through light rain all the way up to Mullan Pass.  Mullan Pass demarks the continental divide in these parts.  The valley we'd been flying in narrowed considerably as it crested the pass then widen back up a little on the other side.  I decided to hug the right wall of the valley, only a few hundred feet from the tops of the trees.  If it looked like the pass was blocked by low clouds, I wanted to have plenty of space to execute a left turn and reverse course within the confines of the valley walls.  The pass has a little S-turn in it, so that if you're down low, it is hard to see the other side.  As we approached the pass, I could see the clouds were lower on the other side.  At first glance it looked pretty hairy, so I decided to turn around and think about it.  I reversed course with plenty of room to spare, and headed back the way we came.  I wasn't able see how low the ceiling was on the other side.  If it was a lot lower, it could force us so deep into the valley that there wouldn't be enough room to turn around...I'd be forced to fly straight ahead, come what may.  I examined the map trying to get a feel for the ground elevation on the other side.  It dropped off sharply, so that was a plus.  It would compensate somewhat for the lower ceiling.  I decided to turn around and approach the pass to take another look.  As I approached, I strained to see where the ceiling and ground were on the other side.  Although we were too low to see very far past that S-turn, it appeared the ceiling was maybe 750 feet lower on the other side.  I turned again and headed away from the pass.  Well, it looked doable, but as I crossed over, I would have to make a descending turn right then left to negotiate the pass and contour along the underside of the overcast.  I still had enough fuel to get back to Three Forks, but in 20 minutes we would be at the point of no return.  I had to decide what I was going to do pretty soon.  It look reasonably safe, so I opted to try.  My ace in the hole should something go terribly wrong was to land on I-90.  I turned around and headed back for the attempt.  Crossing the pass was easier than I thought, although the ceiling on the other side pushed us down near the critical altitude in the valley.  We had just enough room to reverse course if we had to, but it was really tight; the situation would have to be desperate to risk trying it.  I didn't feel very good about that.  It was also raining a lot harder on this side of the pass, but visibility was still a good 4 or 5 miles.  We flew over Wallace, then over Shoshone airport.  About 3 miles west of Shoshone, we saw an almost solid wall of clouds ahead.  The valley had broadened a bit and executing a 180 was pretty easy.  I landed at Shoshone to wait out the weather.  After two hours on the ground, the ceiling lifted appreciably and the rain lightened a bit.  We took off and pressed on.  About 15 miles east of Coeur d'Alene we ran in to more low clouds blocking our path.  Fortunately, the ground elevation had decreased considerably and we could easily cut cross-country over the ridge tops.  We altered course to the southwest, dodging low clouds, and popped out from under the overcast just south of Spokane.  It was like coming up for air!  Ah, sweet sunshine!  We flew north to Coeur d'Alene and landed.  Whew...that was a lot of hard flying.  I'll always remember it.
  • 7/1    Coeur d'Alene, ID -> Priest River, ID    1.2 hours
    T-storm blocked west approach to Priest River.  Went back to Spokane and came in from the east.

    The final step of the journey would be landing near my parent's cabin.  There was a small grass airstrip, Cavanaugh Bay, where I wanted to land.  It was only about 3 miles from the cabin.  The airstrip was short, we would be coming in near gross weight, and it had been raining for several days making the field soft.  I was worried that I'd get the plane in there and not be able to safely take off again.  I wanted to drag the field and see how it looked.  If I couldn't land, the next closest place was Priest River.  It had a paved runway and was plenty long.  The only problem was the distance from the cabin; my parents would have to drive 30 minutes to pick us up.  While on the ground in Coeur d'Alene, I phoned the cabin and talked to my Dad.  We arranged a signal.  I would make a low pass by the cabin.  If I rocked my wings, it meant he should pick us up at Priest River, otherwise he should pick us up at Cavanaugh Bay.  With the signal arranged, we piled in and departed.  Arriving at Cavanaugh Bay, we flew low over the airstrip one time, and that was enough.  It was narrow, short, sloped up-hill, was surrounded by a thick forest of 40 foot pine trees, and was soaked with rain making it soft.  I might have tried it if conditions were ideal and if I only had a half load on board, but for now it was out of the question.  My parents cabin was right on the lake front.  I got down about 60 feet off the water and flew in a straight line parallel to shore right by their cabin at about 90 knots.  A few of my family spilled out of the cabin and watched us buzz by.  I made another two passes rocking my wings then flew off to Priest River.  We attempted to approach Priest River from the east, but a heavy rain shower blocked our route.  At first it looked like we would be able to fly through, but as we entered it visibility dropped off alarmingly.  I immediately turned around and continued further south in an attempt to fly around the cell.  As we headed south, thick clouds moved rapidly in from the west, squeezing us down to about an 800 foot layer of clear air up against the heavily forested mountains.  The clouds looked like they were moving at something like 30 knots, but I knew the wind wasn't blowing that hard.  Then I realized that the clouds were actually in the process of condensing out of the moist air as it was pushed up over the mountains by the wind.  It was a tight squeeze, but we got through OK.  That obstacle navigated, I turned west and went up over the top of a high ridge, then turned back north.  We were set up for an approach to the field from the west, upwind of the rain shower.  We flew into the west edge of the rain.  Visibility was much better.  As we approached the field, I made the customary radio calls to any traffic in the area that might be listening.  To my surprise, a twin called saying he was on the far end of the field, preparing to depart.  He said he would hold there until we landed.  I spotted the airport, and lined up for landing on runway 01.  It was raining pretty hard.  There's a tall pine tree right off the approach end of the runway, and as soon as I had that cleared, I pointed the nose right at the numbers.  A good landing.  When we were clear of the runway, the twin made his departure on runway 19.  He bid us good-day and was gone.  About 20 minutes later, my parents arrived in the pickup to collect us.
  • 7/6    Priest River, ID -> Pullman, WA    1.1 hours
    Nice flight to Pullman.  Windy landing.

    After a nice visit with the family, my parents drove us out the to airport.  We bid adieu and took off.Departing Priest River airport.  It was a nice, uneventful flight to Pullman on a clear sunny day.  A welcome relief after so many nail-biting weather problems.  We encountered mild sporadic turbulence; nothing big.  When we got to Pullman, the wind had picked up considerably and became quite gusty.  Dang!  I had learned to fly in Washington years ago, and had flown into Pullman many times.  Never once had I made any kind of respectable landing in Pullman.  For some reason, I always seemed to prang the plane down hard.  After a while, I started getting psyched out about the Pullman airfield was out to get me or something.  Truth be told, I had come to loath landing here.  Something always seemed to go wrong.  The high gusty wind just added to my trepidation.  Even on dead calm days landing here was hard for me.  Rationally, I think it had something to do with the fairly high set of hills that ringed the airfield.  They seemed to create an optical illusion that you were too low in the pattern when, in fact, you were at the right height for the airfield itself.  Anyway, this day was no different.  Praaannngggg!  We taxied up and shut down.  Jane's Mom and Dad came out to meet us.  Jane's Mom said they had the airport radio on in the pilot's lounge.  She heard our radio call 10 miles out and scampered out to the ramp to watch us land.  I hoped my horrid landing didn't look too out-of-control from where she was standing.
  • 7/8    Pullman, WA (local sightseeing)    0.8 hours
    Took Roger, Jack, and Bekka flying.  Flew over house, Kamiak Butte, and Steptoe Butte.  Bekka got motion sick.

    While staying at the in-laws house, I spent some time talking to Roger, the SO of Jane's sister, Bekka.  Roger and I decided to go on a little sight-seeing tour.  Jane's Dad, Jack, and Bekka wanted to tag along.Roger, Bekka, and Russ just prior to sight-seeing flight.  No problem, we should be just under gross weight.  We arrived at the airport around 10 AM.  After the preflight ritual, we loaded up and took off.  On climb out, at about 150 feet, my door popped open.  There was a rush of wind and noise.  Over the din, I heard Bekka let out a sharp, funny little sound like "aaahhhoooh!"  I think it scared her a bit.  I tried to concentrate on what I was doing and continued the climb until we had a bit of altitude.  When we got up to 800 feet, I reached over and tried to push the door out against the slip stream so I could slam it shut.  It seemed harder than normal to push the door out, and I failed on three attempts to close the door.  I looked around to see if a seat belt or something was caught in it.  Then I noticed that Jack, who was sitting directly behind me, had his hand on the door trying to hold it shut.  I asked Jack to let go, and then succeeded in closing the door.  Everyone seemed shook up, and I realized they may have really thought they were in danger.  In fact, doors do sometimes pop open in flight if you don't get them closed right.  On Cessna aircraft, it's no big deal.  The door cannot open outward in flight because of the 100 knot slip stream blowing past it.  You have to push very hard just to get it to open 6 inches when you're flying.  I can't even imagine how much force it would take to open it far enough to actually fall out.  I suspect it would take more strength than the average person possesses.  Of course, my passengers were apparently not aware of this fact.  Bummer.  Murphy's law...if anything is going to go wrong, it will happen at the most inappropriate time imaginable.  After a few minutes, everyone seemed to settle down.  We flew over Jack's house, then over Kamiak and Steptoe buttes.  On the return leg, Bekka said she was getting queasy.  I gave her a sick sack and tried to make very shallow appreciable bank angle at all as steep turns seem to really jangle sensitive stomachs.  We landed...this time it was only a very firm landing rather than a prang...thank goodness for minor miracles.
  • 7/9    Pullman, WA -> Walla Walla, WA    0.9 hours
    Low ceilings, light rain.  Flew alone through low clouds.  Fun flight.  Little wind.

    I left Jane and the kids in Pullman for a visit with her parents, and proceeded to Walla Walla to visit friends.  I departed Pullman at about 6 PM into scattered low clouds and widely scattered light rain showers.  There was virtually no wind.  It was good to be alone in the airplane, with plenty of fuel, and flying over familiar terrain.  It was a beautiful flight.  Buzzing along serenely, occasionally dodging a stray cloud, the periodic hiss of light rain on the wind screen; it really felt like I was up amongst the clouds, in their element, on their terms...almost at one with them.  This is why I like flying!  I couldn't help but smile.  I approached Walla Walla from the east.  Cutting across Kooskooski canyon, I crested the top of Scenic Loop up above Russell Creek Road.  I cleared the ridge with 200 feet to spare, and was surprised to see about a dozen people with cameras and tripods out taking pictures of the sunset.  They all looked up and waved.  I returned their salute with a waggle of my wings and descended into the valley beyond.  I looked ahead and saw why they were busily taking pictures.  The sun was setting and rays of sunshine were filtering through the rain streaks underneath a little rain shower hovering over the valley.  Boy, was it pretty.  I contacted Walla Walla tower, jockeyed around their airspace, and made a pretty good landing.  I taxied up to the local FBO, tied down, and called my Mom.  She came out to pick me up.  It had been a good day.
  • 7/11    Walla Walla, WA (local sightseeing)    1.1 hours
    Sightseeing with Rick and Dave Cochran.  Flew over Dad's house then over to Fishhook.  Bumpy.

    Rick and Dave are high school buddies of mine.  I've actually been friends with Rick since 5th grade...nearly 30 years.  They're both great guys, and I really value their long standing friendship.  When I got to Walla Walla, we spent a few days kicking around together.  We decided to take a little flying tour of the area.  In the afternoon, we piled into the airplane and departed.  Our first destination was my Dad's house.  I wanted to get some aerial photos of the place.  After that, our plan was to fly out to Fishhook State Park on the Snake river, follow the river, buzz over a few dams, then head back.  It was mid-afternoon and the air was hot and bumpy.  That's a recipe for nausea, and I half-way expected Rick or Dave to start turning green.  They surprised me though and didn't really seem bothered by the turbulence.  We looked at Fishhook, flew down the river admiring the grain barges plying their routes, gawked at Ice Harbor dam, then turned for home.  On the way back, we flew over the ranch that Dave's family owns.  We circled the old homestead a few times commenting about the cistern on the hill and other accouterments of remote living.  We then flew over the family ranch of my brother-in-law, Johnny.  I had never been there on the ground before, but had seen photos that my sister Elaine had sent.  It looked interesting, and I thought it would be fun to visit sometime, although it was a ways out from Walla Walla.  Finally, we landed back in Walla Walla.
  • 7/12    Walla Walla, WA -> Pullman, WA    0.5 hours
    Flew up to Pullman to get Jane and kids.  Bumpy.  25 knot tailwind.

    It was time to say so-long to my friends and head back to Pullman to collect Jane and the kids.  The day of departure was a bit windy.  My Mom and Dad ferried me to the airport to see me off.  After climbing to altitude and settling on course, I was gratified to see the ground flashing past at a good clip.  There was a 25+ knot wind right on my tail.  I made excellent progress.  Per Standard Operating Procedure, I pranged the airplane down in Pullman.  I could swear that stupid Pullman airport was out to get me!  Grrrrr...
  • 7/12    Pullman, WA -> Coeur d'Alene, ID    0.9 hours
    Met with Bekka and Roger in COE for lunch.  Bumpy flight made Serena sick.  Puked in Roger's car.

    Jane, the kids, and the in-laws were all waiting for me at the airport when I arrived.  We loaded passengers and cargo then departed for Coeur d'Alene.Just before departure from Pullman.  We were to meet Bekka and Roger there for lunch.  Along the way, we got into some turbulent air; thermals were beginning to pop up as the hills warmed in the late morning sun.  Serena started turning a little green, but managed not to puke.  We landed and found Bekka and Roger waiting for us.  They were driving a little sub-compact Ford.  We had to squeeze tight to get four adults and two kids in the car.  We decided to go to McDonald's because that was the kids favorite.  About half way there, Serena lost it and puked all over Roger's car.  It was really embarrassing for Serena.  I honestly thought she had made it through the worst of the nausea.  Oh well.  Roger was unruffled by the incident and was very understanding.  His noble poise amazed me.  We spent an unhurried two hours lingering over lunch and letting the kids play.  It was good to let the kids get the wiggles out of their system before the long flight home.
  • 7/12    Coeur d'Alene, ID -> Sheridan, WY    4.1 hours
    Fun flight to Sheridan.  High ceilings let us cruise at 9500'.  20 knot tailwind.

    We took off and headed for Sheridan.  I tentatively planned to stop at Butte, Montana for gas if I had to.  It turned out we had a very strong tail wind, and easily made it to Sheridan.  According to the GPS, our peak ground speed was 142 knots; pretty good for a Cessna 172!  The sky was entirely clear for most of the route, and we cruised high above the ridges that we struggled through eleven days ago.  About the time we got to Bozeman, Montana, we encountered scattered clouds that eventually merged into a solid overcast.  We went under the clouds, and about 20 minutes later, it began to rain.  I was really getting used to this kind of flying; 6 to 8 mile visibility, 4000 foot ceilings, and rain.  By the time we got to Sheridan, we had flown out from under the rain and overcast.  It was partly cloudy in Sheridan with ceilings of 5500 feet.  It just so happened that we arrived in the middle of the annual Sheridan rodeo.  It's a big deal in these parts, filling up the hotels and restaurants.  We were lucky to find a room at the Best western for the night.
  • 7/13    Sheridan, WY -> Goodland, KS    3.6 hours
    Bumpy flight.  Serena got sick and puked all over.  Landed early at GLD.

    Bumpy, bumpy, bumpy.  We slogged through thermal turbulence all the way to Goodland.  We were downwind of the Rockies, and I think we were also picking up some turbulence from wind spilling off the back side of the mountains.  At one point, the airplane started climbing at over 1500 feet per minute.  I closed the throttle and nosed down a bit, but we kept going up.  We drifted up as high as 10,800 feet before coming back down to our cruise altitude of 7500 feet.  That's the highest I've ever flown a Cessna 172.  It was probably just a strong thermal, but could have been a bit of wave lift.  As we approached Goodland, Serena puked all over the cabin.  I expedited our approach and landed.  We scrambled out of the airplane, turbulence weary, hot, and in a bad mood.  It was late afternoon.  After getting the plane cleaned up, we decided to go into town and grab a bite to eat.  We borrowed a courtesy car and ended up at McDonald's again.  The restaurant was filled with nasty biting flies.  We grimly gnawed at our chicken McNuggets, choked down our fries and headed back to the airport.  The whole Goodland experience was not good.  We were happy to be leaving.
  • 7/13    Goodland, KS -> Addison, TX    4.3 hours
    Smooth night flight.  Serena kicked flap handle down when we were 110 kts.

    We took off from Goodland at dusk.  Everyone was asleep by the time we were 45 minutes into the flight.  I had the satisfying feeling of being alone with my thoughts and the airplane.  The night was very dark with no moon.  The sky was clear and the stars brilliant.  We were flying over desolate terrain with almost no ground lights.  I imagined that I was floating in space amongst the stars.  It gave me vertigo, like I was falling or dizzy.  It was kind of cool.  I reveled in the darkness of the night.  Turning off all the instrument lights, I cruised along in total darkness.  The darkness was supreme, omnipresent, permeating.  I drifted along for some time, letting the mood wash over me.  Way up ahead, there was a faint yellow-orange flicker; lightning.  It was directly ahead but probably at least 40 miles distant.  Over the next half hour as I drew near to the source, I could see that it was confined to a small thunderstorm.  I altered course so it would pass to the right.  It was just an isolated little cell, about one mile across at the base and 15,000 feet high.  A cute little thing, just sitting there, spitting rain and occasional bolts of lightning.  The flicker of lightning illuminated the interior of the plane.  The storm almost seemed alive, being possessed of personality and humble ambition.  I felt as though I had been fully accepted into some secret society and was being shown an inscrutable treasure.  I felt I understood this thunderstorm or nature or something in some special way; on a level beyond just dew points, barometric pressure, and wind speed.  As I looked off to the east and west, I noticed that I was actually crossing a line of small thunderstorms spaced about 20 miles apart.  They were forming along a little dry-line running from Oklahoma down through west Texas.  About 60 miles north of Dallas, the sky ahead began to brighten appreciably.  I turned up the instrument lights and started getting ready for approach to the huge Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.  I felt a little sad leaving my quiet solitude and those secret little thunderstorms behind.  About twenty minutes later, I contacted Addison Tower and began to arrange for our arrival.  Nosing over into a power-on descent to Addison pattern altitude, we edged up to 110 knots.  Now about 10 miles out, everything was OK.  Serena, sitting next to me in the front of the airplane, stirred a bit in her sleep.  Suddenly, the nose of the airplane started coming up.  I pushed on the yoke to bring it back down, but it continued to rise.  The nose was now about 10 degrees above the horizon, and the airspeed was rapidly bleeding off.  Uh oh, I had a problem.  I pushed HARD on the yoke to get the nose down.  I was unable to stop it from pitching up.  If this continued, the plane would keep losing speed finally culminating in a stall and possible spin.  I had no idea what was causing the problem.  My mind raced.  I might be able to add power and hang on the prop.  That would give me a few more seconds to solve the problem before we fell out into a stall.  Maybe there was an elevator control failure.  If that were the case, I might be able to control pitch attitude with the elevator trim wheel.  What could have cause the elevator problem?  Maybe we had hit a bird, or a balloon was wrapped around the stabilizer, or a control cable snapped, or a control horn had broken.  All this blazed through my mind in literally five seconds.  The airspeed had wound down below 85 knots and was still falling, with the nose now pointed about 30 degrees up.  I was still pushing HARD on the yoke with little seeming effect.  I began to turn around to see if the elevator was somehow jammed or damaged.  As I turned my head to the right, I noticed movement out on the wing.  Aghast, I saw that the flaps were about half deployed and still coming down.  I looked over at the flap switch; it was set to the 40 position!  I reached over and snapped the flaps back up.  As they retracted, I was able to get the nose down and resume normal cruise.  How did THAT happen!?  I looked over at Serena, still sound asleep.  I grabbed her foot and stretched it out as far as it would go towards the flap switch.  With her toes pointed straight out, her shoe just grazed the flap handle.  When she stirred in her sleep seconds earlier, she must have just nicked the flap switch and moved it to the full flaps deployed position.  Wow, what a heart stopper.  We arrived at Addison without further incident, unpacked the plane, and headed home.  Glad to be back and much richer for the experience.

Some facts about the trip:

  1. Flying time from Addison, TX to Priest River, ID - 17.6 hours
  2. Flying time while fooling around up there - 5.3 hours
  3. Flying time from Coeur d'Alene, ID to Addison, TX - 12 hours
  4. Total flying time altogether - 34.9 hours
  5. Flying time at night - 3.3 hours
  6. Number of landings - 17
  7. Number of legs - 17
  8. Number of legs which required flying through rain - 4
  9. Number of legs in which someone became nauseated  - 4
  10. Total fuel cost - $634.75

Some observations about flights like this:

  1. When the weather is acceptable, fly as much as you can.  The weather is so variable that if you hit a window of good weather, you should capitalize on it to make as much progress as possible.
  2. If the weather is marginal, don't push it.  Something bad will happen.  Be ready to land and wait out the weather for a couple of days if it comes to that.  You'd better plan for one or two non-flying weather days.
  3. It's amazing what you can accomplish VFR.  In my opinion, the only reason for an IFR rating is if you are going cross-country and must keep a schedule.  If you're just flying around for fun locally, you'll fly on good days because there is no reason to fly on poor weather days.  If you're going cross-country and don't have to hold to a rigorous schedule, then you can afford to land and wait out the weather.
  4. When flying cross country, monitor EFAS on 122.0 MHz.  There is a wealth of weather information going back and forth between Flight Service and other pilots in the area.  Just monitoring it for an hour really helps develop an awareness of the evolving weather situation around you.  You can learn quite a bit about what's going on, even if you are unable to contact Flight Service yourself for some reason.
  5. In mid-summer there are almost always thunderstorms of some type scattered across central Oklahoma and Nebraska.  The thunderstorms seem less numerous and less severe on the west side of these states and points further west.  I think the air tends to be drier, giving the thunderstorms less "fuel."  The character of thunderstorms seems to change as you go north.  Thunderstorms seem worst in intensity from Texas through Nebraska, but by the time you get into Wyoming and Montana and further northwest, the thunderstorms seem much smaller and significantly less intense.  They are generally wimpy by comparison to the monsters lurking in the mid-section of the country.
  6. A weather pattern appears to entrench itself in late spring and early summer over the Idaho panhandle and western Montana.  It is characterized by low ceilings, light rain, and scattered embedded thunderstorms over a wide area.  For several years I've watched the weather radar in early summer and often noted this pattern.
  7. Give your passengers Dramamine.  I know this is going to sound politically incorrect, but it is true in my experience:  women and children appear to be significantly more susceptible to motion sickness brought on by turbulence.  For some reason, children 3 and under don't even seem to notice it, but any older than that and they'll likely have problems.  The optimal method for inducing nausea is a hot stuffy cabin, constant moderate turbulence, lots of turning and maneuvering, with a bit of fear-of-flying stirred in for good measure.  They'll puke for sure.  Modify any one of these variables and things improve markedly.  If one of your passengers is predisposed to getting motion sick or is beginning to feel nauseous, have them stare at a fixed point ahead on the horizon.  Don't let them look down at their lap or at something directly below the airplane on the ground.  Looking down seems to amplify the effects of nausea.  Staring at a fixed point ahead on the horizon helps the nausea dissipate.  Get some cool air blowing directly on their face.  That helps a lot too.
  8. I puzzled over hearing protection for the kids for a couple of years.  I finally settled on a cheap ($12) pair of headset type hearing protectors from Home Depot.  The kids adjusted to wearing them very quickly.  They just can't stand ear plugs in any form.  I tried innumerable ear plug variations for about a year before finally giving up.  They can even sleep in the headsets.  I thought the headsets would slip off all the time.  They do slip off occasionally, but not enough to become a nuisance.