Second Trip to Washington

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This page last updated on 04/17/2017.

Copyright 2001-2017 by Russ Meyer


"The pilot...who has been able to say, `Neptune, you shall never sink this ship except on an even keel,' has fulfilled the requirement of his art."  - Seneca, circa 63 A.D.

On the first trip to Washington, I learned a lot about long cross countries, weather, seat-of-the-pants piloting skills, etc.  It was a fabulous experience.  I thought that would be the end of long cross country flights for several years, but I got another shot at it.  Once again, in 1998, the required money, time, and justification all came together.  This time my friend Tom asked me to be Best Man in his wedding.  If we had to go all the way to Washington, we might as well take our family vacation there.  While we were there, we could attend my family's annual reunion too.  So, it was back into the plane and back to Washington for Jane, Serena, Katie, and I.  We rented a Cessna 172, tail number 9635H, packed it with our gear and took off.  This is my flight log from that trip:

  • 6/20    Addison, TX -> Liberal, KS    4.1 hours
    Landed at Meade...they had no fuel.  With 5 gal auto gas, flew to Liberal.

    It was a perfect day to begin a long cross-country.  The weather along our route was clear all the way.  We got an early start and were off by 8:00 AM.  I planned to stop at Meade, Kansas for fuel.  I had never been to Meade, but both the sectional and Flight Guide said they had fuel available and that the field should be attended.  The flight was uneventful, and we dropped into Meade low on gas.  I taxied up to the fuel truck and shutdown.  We got out of the plane and walked to the office.  It was open, so we went in.  No one was there.  We waited 20 minutes, but there was no sign of anyone.  I looked in the Flight Guide, and it gave a couple of phone numbers for after-hours refueling.  I called those numbers and left messages on answering machines.  We waited some more.  After a half-hour, I started rummaging around the office.  If I could find the fuel truck key, I could pump the gas myself and leave some cash in a drawer with a note.  I had no luck finding the truck key, but I found keys to a whole bunch of other things on the field.  Kind of careless for them to leave the office unlocked like that with all these keys and stuff just lying about.  I went out to look at the fuel truck.  I could tell it had been parked a long time.  The tires were half flat, and tumbleweeds had collected underneath it.  I looked at the fuel sight gauge on the side of the tank and noticed about 3 inches of rust colored water.  I doubted they had pumped much fuel from that truck in a long time.  I stood out on the ramp thinking.  As near as I could calculate, we had 7 gallons of usable fuel left.  That was enough to fly another 30 minutes at 75% power with a 30 minute reserve.  It should be possible to reach Liberal, Kansas where I knew I could get fuel.  The only problem was that there was some uncertainty in my fuel calculations.  If I guessed wrong on a couple of things, we could have as little as 3 gallons of fuel left.  That would put us on the hairy edge of fuel exhaustion enroute to Liberal.  I thought of leaving Jane and the kids while I went for gas.  I could come back later and pick them up.  At least I wouldn't have to subject the entire family the risk of an off field landing.  I didn't see any readily available alternatives, so that became the plan.  Before trying it, I decided to make one last ditch effort to get gas here.  I went back to the office, and tried calling the Meade police department.  I explained our predicament to the dispatch lady.  She said she would send a patrol car out.  The patrolmen arrived, assessed our situation, asked us to sit tight, and departed.  I had no idea what in the world he could possibly do.  After about 30 minutes, an old guy pulled up outside.  He got out and came in.  "You the people that need gas?"  Yeah, we need gas.  I was getting a Wray, Colorado deja vu feeling here.  "The police stopped by my house and said someone was stranded at the airport.  I got an airplane here on the field, that's why they came and got me.  Two guys bought this FBO a few months ago, and they're doing a horrible job of running it.  They're always gone and there's no way to get fuel.  The fuel in that truck is all bad.  It's a darned shame.  Guys fly in here all the time looking for gas, and there ain't none.  It's a trap!"  Well, I was open to any suggestions he might offer.  "I got an airplane in that hanger over there.  I bring in cans of auto gas to fuel my plane.  How much gas you need?"  I figured 5 gallons would be enough to get us to Liberal no sweat.  "OK, come on then."  I got in his car and we drove a few miles down the road to a gas station.  We filled up his 5 gallon gas can and headed back.  I poured the gas in the tanks.  We thanked him profusely and took off for Liberal.  I didn't want to waste any more fuel than absolutely necessary, so as soon as we were at 1000 feet AGL, I leveled out and throttled way back.  I was a little worried about detonation and the possibility of vapor lock using auto gas, so I went ahead and ran the engine full rich.  That and the low RPMs would keep the temperature down and detonation at bay.  We got to Liberal and topped off the tanks.  Based on the amount they put in, I back-computed how much gas we must have had on the ground in Meade.  It was 7 gallons, so my original calculations were right; how about that!  Altogether, we had wasted about 3 good, daylight hours fooling around with this Meade thing.  Grrrr...
     
  • 6/20    Liberal, KS -> Sidney, NB    2.8 hours
    Bumpy flight to Sidney.  Serena puked all over.  Nice but goofy people at Sidney.

    We took off out of Liberal after about a 30 minute stay.  It was hot and bumpy.  Serena lost it about half way through the flight and puked all over the front of the airplane.  Uughhh...I was getting to dread puking passengers on these flights.  Jane managed to get it pretty well cleaned up in about 10 minutes.  We landed in Sidney at dusk.  The FBO people there were really nice, but kind of excessively gregarious in a weird, mentally ill sort of way.  I liked them and they seemed instant pals, but I got this funny uncomfortable feeling when I turned my back on them, so I didn't.  They gave us a courtesy car for the night, and we drove into Sidney.  After getting a hotel room, we ventured out and drove around town for a while.  Nice little neighborhoods, but the town has this really isolated feel, almost like you're way out in the Australian outback or something.  In fact, Sidney is a long way from anything, although the interstate passes through there.
     
  • 6/21    Sidney, NB -> Sheridan, WY    3.1 hours
    Good flight to Sheridan.  Flew through cloud bases (below).  Had lunch and played in park.

    We arrived at the airport around 8 AM.  I still had a funny feeling about these FBO guys.  I took my time looking over the airplane, checking the fuel, etc. Typical line boy, Sidney, Nebraska. I have to admit I was a little nervous that someone might have tampered with the plane while we were away.  I had absolutely no evidence that anything like that had happened, but I was just uncomfortable with the maniacal ear-to-ear grins, bulging eyes, and Marty Feldman looks of those guys.  They seemed to be buzzing all around us asking personal questions and continuously offering help of various kinds.  I felt like a bug in a jar.  If one of the kids dropped a pacifier, a guy would run over from the hanger and pick it up for us in literally seconds, offering it to Jane with that same bulging eye, foot wide bizarre grin.  Sometimes, two of them would make a break for us at once.  I pulled the dipstick out to check the oil, and in a flash two guys converged on me offering clean rags to wipe the dipstick.  Fifteen seconds later, a third fellow arrives at the scene of the oil checking to inform me that he had already looked at the oil for me this morning and found it OK.  No need for me to bother checking it myself.  Well, I'm kind of anal about these things I chuckled and tried to conceal my alarm at their behavior.  With lots of help, we blasted out of Sidney headed for Sheridan.  We had no weather troubles enroute.  It was partly cloudy with bases around 7500 feet.  As we approached Sheridan, the bases gradually dropped to about 5500 feet.  When we entered the pattern at Sheridan, we picked up some turbulence.  On final and during the landing flare, the wind seemed to gust and change direction a lot.  It was a struggle to set the plane down smoothly.  When we finally got out and tied down, there didn't seem to be much wind at all...hmmm.  We took a courtesy car into town and grabbed a bite to eat at a burger shop.  On our way back to the airport, we stopped at a park for an hour to let the kids play.  We got back to the airport and departed for Missoula, Montana.
     
  • 6/21    Sheridan, WY -> Missoula, MT    3.7 hours
    Good flight to Missoula at 8500'.  Scattered T-storms.

    The weather was great enroute to Missoula.  Just a few scattered thunderstorms, but nothing that posed any difficulty for us.  We landed in Missoula in late afternoon, got fuel, a coke, and some snacks.
     
  • 6/21    Missoula, MT -> Walla Walla, WA    2.7 hours
    Smooth flight to Pullman.  Made great landing in Pullman for once.  Dodged T-storms on way to Walla2.

    While we were on the ground in Missoula, a thunderstorm had been developing about 10 miles Southeast of the field, and now appeared to be moving our direction.  We hurried to load up and take off.  I didn't want to get caught on the field, pinned down by a thunderstorm.  Our destination was Pullman, Washington where I would drop off Jane and the kids with Jane's parents.  I would then proceed to Walla Walla to spend some time with family and friends.  The air was calm on approach to Pullman.  For once, I made a perfect soft landing!  I always seem to prang the airplane down in Pullman.  This was a first for my flying career...whoohoo!  Jane's parents met us on the ramp.  I said my good-byes and headed for Walla Walla.  As I approached Walla Walla, I flew into an area of scattered thunderstorms.  They were easy to avoid.  Closer to the airport, the tower warned me that a thunderstorm had just passed over the field.  I saw the storm, but it had drifted way off to the northwest and was now just a light rain shower.  It was small and isolated, and didn't seem threatening.  I alighted on the rain soak runway, taxied over to the FBO, and tied down.  I called my Mom, who trekked to the airport to pick me up.
     
  • 6/23    Walla Walla, WA (local flight)    1.0 hours
    Duck pond hunting with Dave C.  Got into some wave lift.

    I spent a lot of time in Walla Walla with my buddy Dave.Dave Cochran on the ground at Vista Field.  We kicked around a lot.  He's an avid duck hunter.  He suggested that we buzz around looking for a certain duck hunting pond he was interested in.  That sounded like a good enough reason to go flying, so off we went.  We headed west down the valley.  There was a 25 knot South wind making the air turbulent as it spilled off the ridges Southwest of Milton-Freewater.  We bounced around the valley circling this pond and that with no particular destination in mind.  Finally, Dave had enough of circling round and round in turbulence.  We climbed higher and headed South.  I leveled at 2500 feet, planning to fly over Milton-Freewater then turn back north over Spofford before returning to the airport.  About half-way between Walla Walla and Milton-Freewater there was a big jolt and the vertical speed indicator pegged at 2000 feet per minute up.  I throttled back and pointed the nose of the plane down.  We accelerated to about 110 knots in the shallow dive before the VSI needle dropped off the upper peg just slightly.  We were still going up at almost 1600 feet per minute.  This was cool...I'd read stories about wave lift, and always wanted to see what it was like.  All the stories I had read involved wave lift over big mountain ranges like the Sierras.  I didn't think you could get a decent wave off these 1000 foot ridges.  The lift was very smooth, only an occasional ripple of turbulence.  At about 6500 feet the lift began to weaken, it was down to about 800 feet per minute...still pretty good.  In a few minutes the sun would set, and I wanted to get back to the airport.  I reluctantly turned down wind and headed for home.  In a few minutes, we were out of the area of lift and in a fast power-on descent to pattern altitude.  That was fun.  It would have been really neat to shut down the engine and just glide around in that lift for a while.  I bet I could have stayed up a long time.  Maybe I'll try that someday.
     
  • 6/25    Walla Walla, WA -> Kennewick, WA    0.6 hours
    Buzzed over to tri-cities w/Dave for lunch.  Gusty 20 kt wind made for crappy landing.

    Back in early 1987, I presented myself and a fist full of dollars to Chad Heims, the resident flight instructor at Vista Field in Kennewick, Washington.  I traded $2700 and 6 months of my free time for his patient instruction and earned my wings on July 13th.  It's the best $2700 I ever spent; a bargain by any measure.  I really wanted to go back and visit the field where I whiled away so many happy hours.  My trusty pal, Dave, went with me.  The wind was gusty and blowing a good 20 knots.  It tossed us around the sky.  In the pattern at Vista Field, I just wasn't able to get the final approach stabilized; the result was a hard landing.  Not an auspicious arrival after all these years.My old aerodrome, Vista Field in Kennewick.  I entered the FBO office.  Everything had changed.  The layout of the office, the people, etc.  I spoke to the guy behind the counter.  He said Chad had moved on less than a year ago.  I was surprised he lasted all those years of instructing.  He must have developed an iron clad patience and tolerance for terror over the years.  Dave and I grabbed a courtesy car and drove into town for a leisurely lunch.  After lunch, I wanted to drive by the house Jane and I lived in when we were first married.  I got some photos of it as well as the old nuclear site where I first worked when I got out of school.  It was a real trip down memory lane.  On the way back to the airport, Dave and I decided to zip up to Spokane, just for the heck of it.
     
  • 6/25    Kennewick, WA -> Spokane, WA    1.2 hours
    Buzzed up to Felts Field on a lark.  OK landing, not my best.  With Dave.

    It was a little bumpy, but we climbed high and got out of most of the ground turbulence.  The turbulence was mostly due to the wind.  On the way up, we flew over an area of eastern Washington known as the "scablands."  Here the land had been scoured clean during the great Missoula Lake floods of the last ice age.  Huge tracts devoid of plant life, the underlying bedrock exposed and sculpted by torrential waters.  The Palouse hills nothing but giant sand ripples on the bottom of a glacial stream, the scale of which boggles the mind.  We arrived in Spokane with an unceremonious thump.  I was having trouble with my landings today; they'd all been a little rough.  We checked around for courtesy cars, but there were none.  There didn't seem to be any place to go sit for a while and shoot the breeze over a coke.  The people we encountered didn't seem very friendly.  In the end, it was just a bust.  We gassed up, piled in, and blasted off for points South.
     
  • 6/25    Spokane, WA -> Walla Walla, WA    1.9 hours
    Cruised over the wheat fields at 100 to 500 feet AGL.  Saw deer and elk.  W/Dave.

    After takeoff, we climbed to about 2500 feet until we were clear of the Spokane area.  The wind had slacked considerably.  Dropping down to about 200 feet, we cruised along at 90 knots.  I knew this Palouse country.  It was so soothing to drift over wheat mantled hills like a dandelion seed on the wind.The Palouse hills between Spokane and Pullman.  We passed 10 miles west of Pullman.  Approaching the Snake river canyon, we dropped down to about 50 feet.  Flying between the saddle-back of the hills, we suddenly launched out into the chasm.  In a flash there were a thousand feet of air beneath us.  Suspended over the void, we turned following the river west into the afternoon sun.  Over-flying Lower Granite dam, we headed Southwest and left the Snake behind.  Skirting wheat fields at 500 feet, we drifted over Pomeroy then Dayton, and up into the foothills of the Blue mountains.  There were deer amongst the wheat fields and tree lines.  Eventually, we overflew Kooskooski canyon and the Walla Walla water shed, finding elk in the mountain meadows.  The sun hung low on the horizon, and we headed for home.
     
  • 6/26    Walla Walla, WA -> Pullman, WA    0.7 hours
    To Pullman for Tom's wedding.  25 kt tailwind.

    It was time to get up to Pullman for Tom's wedding.  My Mom drove me to the airport.  I said a temporary good-bye and departed.  I would see her again in a day or two up at the cabin in Idaho.  It was very windy, and I had a strong tailwind all the way to Pullman.  I made good time and a decent landing.  Jane, the kids, Jack, and Sandy met me at the airport.  I spent some time with Tom that day.  He and Rebecca were married on the 27th.  A fine wedding.  At the reception afterward, I saw some familiar faces.  Folks I hadn't seen in years.  It was fun.
     
  • 6/28    Pullman, WA -> Priest River, ID    1.5 hours
    To Priest Lake for family reunion.  Flew through rain.  Very hairy go-around.

    We stayed in Pullman until after lunch.  I called my Dad and told him I would buzz the cabin when we arrived.  He said they had a bit of rain that morning, but the sky had now cleared.  The plan was to land at Priest River.  We finally departed around 1:00 PM.  The flight up was fine until we got to Spokane.  There we encountered some low clouds that eventually merged to form an overcast.  Almost every time I had flown through the Priest Lake area in the afternoon, I had run into low clouds and rain.  Today was no exception.  Just north of Priest River, we found scattered rain showers.  To maintain VFR, I had to deviate east and come over the lake around Blue Diamond Marina.  I dropped down and buzzed the cabin a few times.  A little door opened and several little figures filed out; some waving.  We waggled our wings and headed for Priest River.  The rain and low clouds had moved east and we had no problem proceeding directly to the airport, although we had to deviate around occasional isolated scud.  I entered left downwind for runway 01 at Priest River.  I noticed some dark clouds about five miles west headed our way.  It looked like we would be on the ground well before they arrived.  I continued around the pattern turning base then onto an extended final.  As I rolled onto final approach, we picked up some turbulence.  Initially, I attributed it to wind spilling over a ridge about mile upwind to the west.  As we continued on final, the turbulence got worse and worse until it was shaking us up pretty bad.  I began to realize that this may not be simple wind induced ground turbulence.  Glancing west, it appeared those dark clouds had advanced quite a bit, now seemingly only two or three miles away.  A few seconds later, I saw the trees on the ridge top begin waving wildly back and forth.  I could also see some debris being lifted into the air off the top of the ridge.  Gust front!  Those were not just dark clouds, they were an embedded thunderstorm.  The increasing turbulence was likely a side-effect of the advancing gust front.  It was on a collision course with us.  We would both arrive over the approach end of the runway at about the same time.  I decided to abort the approach...the last thing I needed was to be low and slow, beginning a flare, and get hit with this huge blast of gusty wind 90 off the runway heading.  I had about 100 feet of altitude and was on an 1/8 mile final when I gave it full power and retracted 10 of flaps.  Almost simultaneously the gust front hit us.  The plane bucked around pretty bad.  We got knocked about 75 feet east of the runway centerline.  I crabbed into the wind to stay lined up with the runway.  There were tall pine trees on either side of the field, and I needed as much ground clearance as I could get.  The plane was pitching up and down alarmingly.  It was a fight just to keep the nose anywhere near the horizon.  The airspeed was winding and unwinding about 20 knots with the stall warning horn bleating periodically.  Worst of all, we were not climbing.  In fact, our rate of descent remained entirely unchanged even with the engine roaring at full power.  There was nothing I could do but just ride the plane down.  In a flash, I decided that if the plane was pushed all the way to the ground, I would try to impact in a level attitude, cut power, and get it stopped.  I very much wanted to hit the runway rather than the grass or trees, so I tried hard to keep the plane headed towards the runway.  This was difficult because the wind continued pushing us east of centerline, even with a 30 crab angle.  The descent finally stopped 20 feet above the ground.  There was a wind sock on a pole just east of the runway; we cleared it by 10 feet.  I was now half-way down the runway, and there was almost no way to land without running off the end.  I tried to maintain best rate of climb speed, but the stall warning horn was still complaining as the airspeed bounced all over the place.  We were just holding level at full power.  Now other problems became apparent.  We were struggling to maintain 20 feet of altitude, but there were 30-40 foot trees at the end of the runway, and mile beyond them, a tree lined bluff several hundred feet high.  I had a fleeting thought of forcing the plane down onto the remaining runway.  Maybe I could force a ground-loop and stop before smashing into the trees.  All we needed was another 15 or 20 feet and we'd clear them.  Very gradually, the plane started to climb.  We vaulted over the trees with 40 feet to spare, right into a wall of horrific turbulence.  The plane bucked and rocked hard enough to be disorienting and the instruments shook so much they were a blur.  We had managed to rise 200 feet above the trees, but now the plane started slowly sinking again.  We were barely hanging on.  I desperately needed airspeed, but dared not ease off flaps.  That would have put us at high risk of sinking into the trees.  The bluff ahead was getting uncomfortably close, and at this rate we would not clear it.  I looked around for options.  Just in front of the bluff was a small stream bed.  The stream flowed from northwest to Southeast.  I could alter our heading 30 left and fly upstream to the northwest, paralleling the bluff.  That would buy us few minutes.  I hesitated for a second because banking the plane would cause us to sink closer to the trees, now only about 100 feet below, but I really had no choice.  I had to turn or impact the bluff, so I turned to follow the stream, losing about 20 feet in the process.  After a minute, the airplane picked up a lot of speed and started climbing normally again.  What a relief.  I eased off the remaining flaps, turned north, and climbed out over the bluff that had blocked our path earlier.  We were still getting thrown about in strong turbulence, but at least we had some air under us.  That was the hairiest go-around I've ever had.  Man, I don't want to go through that again.  We had another problem though.  I didn't want to loiter since we could be set upon by the storm approaching from the west.  I thought about turning South to land at Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, however, with each passing minute, the turbulence was less and the wind seemed to be moderating.  The gust front had moved through, and it looked like things had improved.  I decided to try the landing again.  My plan was to take a look at the windsock while on downwind.  If it looked bad, I would head to Coeur d'Alene.  I re-entered left downwind for runway 01.  The windsock indicated a moderate, slightly gusty, 30 degree crosswind.  It shouldn't be a problem.  I proceeded through the pattern.  We were still being rocked by turbulence, but it wasn't as bad as before.  I kept a lot of excess speed and power on final approach, and only used 10 of flaps.  Everything seemed OK.  At 100 feet, I cut power and slowed.  We touched down, braked hard, and rolled off onto the taxiway.  Whew!  We taxied over and shut down.  I hurriedly tied the plane down, just in case another huge gust came our way.  About 10 minutes later, it started raining.  About 15 minutes after that, my Mom and Dad arrived to pick us up.  I was still kind of shook up from the experience, and felt shaky and drained for an hour or two.  Man, oh man...
     
  • 6/29    Priest River, ID (local flight)    1.0 hours
    Sightseeing with Lori and Dad.  OK landing.

    While at the cabin, I suggested that we take a sightseeing flight up over the lake.  My Dad and sister, Lori, came along.  We drove out to the airport and took off.  The day was a bit windy, but bright and sunny.  First up was an over-flight of the cabin.  I got down to about 100 feet above the water and flew in a straight line paralleling the shore, right in front of the cabin.  We made several passes and took some pictures.  The cabin lies out on the tip of a broad peninsula.  I would fly past, do a steep 180 turn, and fly past again.  I got the feeling my Dad was a little uncomfortable with this maneuver.  I asked him about it, and he said he was fine...I don't know.  It caused me to think critically about what I was doing.  It probably wasn't the best idea in the world to be performing a hard turn like that so close to the ground.  If I stalled for some reason, it would be real ugly.  There had to be a better way, but I couldn't think of a different way to approach it at the moment.  After looking at the cabin, we turned north and climbed out over the lake.  It was beautiful.Priest Lake.  When we got to the north end of the lake, we turned around and headed for the airport.  We flew along the mountains on the east side of the lake, looking at old forest fire damage.   We dropped into the pattern at Priest River.  Left downwind for runway 01 again.  We navigated the pattern, immersed in moderate to heavy turbulence.  I suddenly noticed that my hands were hurting.  Looking down at my fingers, I realized I was gripping the control yoke so hard my knuckles were white.  I guess I was still shook up about that go around we did the last time I landed here.  I tried to relax, but it was hard.  On final, we were bounced around so much that I couldn't stabilize the approach.  We were too high and were being blown east of centerline by a stiff breeze.  About halfway down final, I aborted the approach and went around for another try.  Maybe I was letting bad memories get to me or something, but I had this deja vu feeling.  Our second approach worked out much better, and we landed OK, but I had to fight the turbulence hard all the way to the ground.  After we landed and got out of the airplane, I realized that I was very tense.  I know the memory of that nail-biting go around the day before was affecting me.  It was a challenge to see if I had the nerve to get back into the plane and operate it with confidence again.  I wondered if Dad and Lori sensed my tension.  Hope not.
     
  • 7/3    Priest River, ID -> Coeur d'Alene, ID    1.3 hours
    Sightseeing with Dianne and Elaine.  Went to Coeur d'Alene for gas.

    The next batch of jolly sightseers were my sisters, Dianne and Elaine.  We planned to fly over the cabin then buzz down to Coeur d'Alene for gas and lunch.  After takeoff, enroute to the cabin, I tried to think of a better way to make our low passes.  Something that didn't involve hard maneuvering.  Then I realized all I had to do was fly a really large circle, with one part of the circle coming approximately parallel to the shoreline.  Well duh!  The airplane would be turning, but at a constant shallow bank angle; it seemed inherently safer.  To give the passengers a clear view of the cabin would mean I would have to fly right turns.  That meant that about ths of the circle would be over the peninsula.  So, on every circuit, I would have to climb up over the peninsula, then drop back down low over the water.  That didn't seem to pose a problem, but I was worried the noise of the plane over other cabins would upset some people.  I decided to climb to clearance height out over the water and throttle way back over the peninsula to keep the noise down.  We would be in a descending right turn as we cleared the peninsula, so I wouldn't need much power.  That should keep the noise to a minimum as we swept down past the cabins on the shoreline.  I felt pretty good about that plan, so that's what we did.  It worked out fine and we snapped a few more pictures of the cabin.My parent's cabin (dock with two boats).  We cruised up the lake a bit and then turned towards Coeur d'Alene.  I was getting low on fuel, and didn't want to mess around much more than I had too.  I should land in Coeur d'Alene with a 30-35 minute fuel reserve.  That was cutting it pretty close and I chastised myself for allowing my reserve to get that low.  Everything would probably be OK, but it would reduce my options should something unexpected happen...like a deterioration in the weather.  So far, the weather had been nice.  Less wind and turbulence than I'd had on previous flights, partly cloudy, and moderate temperatures.  We should be OK.  Nevertheless, I throttled back and leaned out to conserve fuel, just in case.  When we arrived in Coeur d'Alene, there were a lot of aircraft in the sky, and we had to do some extended maneuvering to safely enter the pattern.  See, there's an unexpected event that caused us to use more fuel.  We were still fine, but I took note that a series of these kinds of incidents would have created a very uncomfortable situation.
     
  • 7/3    Coeur d'Alene, ID -> Priest River, ID    0.9 hours
    Back to Priest River.  Dodged T-storm.  Landed in heavy rain.  5 min. later, hail.

    We left the plane at the FBO to be fueled and walked to the airport cafe for lunch.  Unfortunately, it was closed.  We thought about taking a courtesy car into town for a bite, but decided to just head back to the cabin.Elaine and Dianne walk back to the FBO.  When we returned to the FBO, I discovered the airplane needed less gas than I thought.  Turns out we landed with a 40 minute fuel reserve...that wasn't bad.  We got in and took off.  The clouds had thickened a bit, but it was still a good flying day; partly cloudy with just a light breeze.  We took off and headed directly for Priest River.  When we were about 15 miles South of Priest River, I saw a rain shower ahead.  It looked like it was a few miles Southeast of the airport.  It was just an isolated little shower.  There was no reason to fly through the rain underneath, so I altered course west to fly around it.  As we swung around the shower, I noticed that the cloud from which the shower emanated was growing.  The shower was rapidly becoming more intense.  This thing was on its way to becoming a full blown thunderstorm.  In the 15 minutes it took for us to navigate around this little shower, the clouds around us began to build up ominously.  The atmosphere had become very unstable and it looked like all points on the compass were in overdrive generating a multitude of little proto-thunderstorms.  I wanted to get on the ground as quickly as possible, before the situation in the air got out of hand.  I couldn't believe how fast this stuff was developing!  We approached Priest River from the west.  The little shower had graduated to heavy rain status, and had drifted northwest, toward the airport.  We flew into the northwest edge of the rain as we maneuvered to enter the pattern at Priest River.  Visibility dropped to about four miles, but there was no perceptible wind or turbulence.  I entered left downwind for runway 19, and flew the pattern as quickly as I could.  Remembering the gust front we encountered several days ago, I kept power on and was ready for a go around all the way through final.  On short final, when I knew we were going to make it, I cut power and dropped full flaps.  We touched down just fine, but the runway had about a half inch of standing water on it.  I expected to hydroplane, and we did.  I used the brakes sparingly so as to not aggravate the situation.  We slowed and taxied off the runway.  I quickly shutdown and immediately ran to the upwind wing to tie it down first, just in case a big gust from the storm hit us.  It was raining hard.On the ground in Priest River, just before the hail started.  About five minutes after we arrived, as we were unloading, hail started coming down.  It was only about pea to dime sized, but was very heavy.  It made a deafening roar as it reverberated on the metal skin of the plane.  If we had arrived five minutes later, we might have flown into it.  I shuddered at the thought.  The ground was covered to a depth of about inch with hail pellets.  We got in the car and returned to the cabin.  On the drive back, I looked up at the clouds and marveled that they could form so fast.  Man the weather was unpredictable in these parts.  My sister Dianne said she thought I was a really good pilot.  I searched her face to see if she was just being polite or if she really meant it.  It looked like a genuine sentiment on her part.  I didn't feel worthy of the praise.  It seemed clear to me I had a lot to learn.
     
  • 7/5    Priest River, ID -> Walla Walla, WA    1.3 hours
    Nice flight to Walla2.  Dust devils off final.  Up and down a lot.

    Well, it was time to head for home.  It had been a good visit.  My parents dropped us at the airport.  We loaded up and launched.  I had decided to take a different route back to Texas.  Usually, I crossed the Rockies by following Interstate 90 over the Idaho panhandle and into Montana.  There was an alternate route I had looked at a number of times.  It was to fly through Southern Idaho, cross the north part of Utah up over Bear Lake, pick up Interstate 80 over the continental divide, on to Cheyenne, Wyoming and then Goodland, Kansas.  I had avoided it on previous trips, because the general elevation of the terrain was much higher, forcing us to cruise at higher altitudes.  The airports along the route were also at higher elevations, which could give us problems on takeoff.  With a full load of fuel, the airplane was right at gross weight.  Couple that with a high altitude takeoff, and it seemed like an invitation for problems.  There just wasn't as much air for the plane to work with; it operated closer to the edge, and I didn't like that.  Still, some things could be done to mitigate the risks, and I really wanted to try this route to see what it was like.  This might be my last chance for some years to come.  So, an attempt at this Southern route became the plan.  The first stop was Walla Walla, to get gas and food.  We had a pleasant flight, but encountered several large dust devils on long final approach to landing.  I threaded my way through, doing gentle S-turns.  We still got knocked up and down a lot, sometimes way above glide slope and sometimes way below.  I had to jockey power to stay on track.  We landed, taxied over to the FBO, arranged for gas, and retired to the airport cafe for a bite.
     
  • 7/5    Walla Walla, WA -> Pocatello, ID    3.7 hours
    Good flight to Pocatello.  Flew over neat lava formations.

    After a mediocre lunch, we went back to the FBO, retrieved our airplane, and took off destine for Pocatello, Idaho.  I started climbing right after takeoff and continued climbing to 9500 feet.  Over Baker City, Oregon, I started getting a headache and feeling woozy.  At first I thought it might be carbon monoxide, but then realized it could also be hypoxia.  We had been quite high for a while now.  I asked Jane how she felt.  She said she was fine.  I looked at my fingernails to see if they were turning blue; an early sign of hypoxia.  They were a bit dark, but seemed basically OK.  Nevertheless, I descended to 7500 feet and in about 10 minutes was feeling much better.  It must have been the early stages of hypoxia.  I'd never come up against it before.  I guess I've spent too much time living on the low plains of Texas.  With Jane and the kids zonked out, we droned past Boise, Idaho, following highway 84.  The land seemed very dry.  Everything was brown and dusty looking.  Just west of Pocatello, right around Minidoka, we began to over fly a series of little volcanoes.  They were really interesting.  I dropped down lower to about 2000 AGL.  The largest one was probably a mile across at the base.  They appeared to rise a few hundred feet, at most, above the surrounding terrain.  At the top of each was a little crater about 30 feet deep.  The volcanoes were not cinder cones like you find around Bend, Oregon.  They appeared to be comprised of layer upon layer of congealed lava.  The lava varied in color from grey at the base, through brown in the mid-sections, and finally black near the top and in the crater.  Apparently, as the lava weathered, it changed color from black to brown to grey.  Some of the volcanoes seemed to have erupted in the recent past, with slick, shiny, black lava from the crater having run through channels partway down the sides of the cone.  Very cool.  I wanted to drop lower and circle for a while, but our fuel was getting low.  Any lower and we would be out of gliding range of a safe landing area in the event of a engine failure.  I reluctantly passed them by, but would like to go back someday and hike around in there.  It was really, really cool.  One of the neater things I've seen from the air.  There were no roads leading back into there very far, and you just couldn't have seen some of that stuff except by air.  It was late afternoon and very hot when we landed in Pocatello.  We got out of the plane and ambled into the pilot's lounge.  We grabbed a coke and relaxed a bit, reveling in the technological marvel that is air conditioning.  Ahhhh...
     
  • 7/5    Pocatello, ID -> Laramie, WY    3.4 hours
    Interesting mountains.  Tried for Cheyenne but T-storms got in way.  High winds at Laramie.

    After relaxing a bit at Pocatello, we got back in the plane with the plan of stopping in Cheyenne, Wyoming for the night.  It was 6:00 PM now, and we should arrive in Cheyenne before 10:00.  The combination of elevation and heat made the density altitude close to 5500 feet.  During run-up, I leaned the mixture for peak RPM, then backed off to the rich side a bit.  I was worried about climb performance, and wanted all the power I could get.  We took off without problem.  At 500 feet, I enriched the mixture to help engine cooling, and dropped the nose into a cruise climb.  We picked up some speed and that got more cooling air over the cylinders.  We climbed to 7500 feet, settling on a course that would take us over Bear Lake in northern Utah.  I then planned to intercept highway 80 around the town of Granger, Wyoming.  I found following interstates over the continental divide a very good idea.  In the old days, Indians had found the easiest way over the mountains.  They generally chose routes which led through low, broad, smooth valleys, where they could find food and water.  It also afforded better protection from the elements, and kept them at low altitude, making the trek easier.  Later on, settlers followed the Indian trails.  Those trails eventually evolved into roads, the roads into railroad tracks, and the tracks into interstates.  This was all good for me.  It meant the best route over the mountains for a little airplane was the same one the interstate took.  This gave me the added benefit of a ready made airstrip all along the most inhospitable leg of the flight.  If we had to make a forced landing, people would be around to help us.  That would not have been the case had we struck out cross-country on our own.  There's a lot of desolate country out there.  Right around Thatcher, Idaho, we over flew some really interesting terrain.  The hills and layers of rock had been folded and twisted like taffy when the Rockies were uplifted.  I could have stared at it for hours.  This Southern route was proving much more interesting in terms of geology!  We eventually found our way to Granger and turned east following the interstate.  It was getting on to twilight when up ahead in the distance, I saw much more mountainous terrain.  As the sun set and the world became all shades of grey, it dawned on me that I may have made a mistake.  Here I was heading into unfamiliar rising terrain at night with few airfields along my route.  My planned destination was near the endurance limit of the plane.  The skies were clear now, but if the weather closed down, I'd be in an awful pinch.  Although the moon was due to rise at 6:00 PM, it wouldn't climb high enough over the mountains to provide much light until maybe 9:00 PM...it would be very dark most of the flight.  Generally speaking, the surrounding terrain further along my path would be too high to climb over.  What a pathetic lack of foresight; how could I have made such a strategic blunder.  Sure, everything would likely turn out alright, but I was needlessly stacking the deck against myself without even realizing it until it was too late.  I was beginning to doubt my ability to make sound judgments.  I should have stopped in Pocatello for the night.  Maybe if I survived enough of these stupid mistakes, I'd gain enough experience to become a competent pilot.  One of these days, one of these stupid mistakes would catch up with me and that would be the end of it.  The airplane was safe enough if flown by a competent, conservative pilot, but I had been regularly proving rather unworthy of that moniker.  Hopefully, I was learning though.  Back to the potential pickle I'd gotten myself in.  I needed a fall-back plan, just in case the worst happened.  The worst that could happen would be:  stuck in a narrow valley, forced down low under a low ceiling, not being able to see the walls of the valley because of darkness and/or rain, and not being able to risk making a 180 turn for fear of impacting the valley walls.  I decided that if I couldn't clearly see the mountains around me, I would fly directly over the interstate.  The lights of the cars provided a definite ground reference.  If I avoided collision with the cars, I would also avoid collision with the ground.  Furthermore, if the weather closed down, I would descend to maintain visual contact with the interstate, NO MATTER WHAT.  I would have to fly straight ahead into whatever came, unless I could clearly see the valley walls and assure myself that I had enough room to turn around.  If I was forced down to within 100 feet of the interstate, I would land on the interstate as soon as practical rather than risk collision with high tension lines that occasionally cross it.  With these contingency plans in place, I pressed on.  The night did indeed prove to be very dark, but I could still make out the lay of the land in the gloom.  Passing Rawlins, Wyoming, we flew under some high scattered altocumulus, about 3/10ths coverage.  That made the night even darker.  Everything was proceeding OK so far.  As we passed McFadden, Wyoming, the cloud cover became more dense and lowered a bit, but way in the distance, I could see the lights of Laramie.  Just a bit further on would be Cheyenne.  We were getting close.  About 20 miles out of Laramie, I saw a flicker of light up ahead on the horizon.  Lightning!  Now I really began to worry.  It seemed my worst fears were about to become reality.  Still, the lights of Laramie were shining clearly in the distance.  The thunderstorm must be beyond Laramie.  As we got closer, I could see the thunderstorm was indeed on the far side of Laramie, blocking our route to Cheyenne.  We would have to land at Laramie instead.  I was further alarmed when lightning flashed about 10 miles to the left and right of us.  It looked like we were becoming encircled by thunderstorms.  If I couldn't land at Laramie for some reason, I would have to turn back to Rawlins and I hoped the thunderstorms wouldn't close off our path of retreat.  I got on the radio and called ahead to try to get a reading on the weather from someone at Laramie.  Laramie does not have a control tower, so I tried calling on the Unicom frequency.  Almost immediately an FSS weather observer answered our call; what a stroke of luck, especially this late at night.  When she briefed me on the weather, my heart stopped.  The winds were 40 knots with gusts to 55!  It would be very difficult to land in that kind of wind.  Even if I got the plane on the ground, I couldn't imagine how to taxi it.  There would be no way to turn it without getting blown over, and I would never be able to get out to tie it down.  Sheezh...the airplane stalled at 42 knots.  I could just hover down to a parking spot!  If I couldn't manage a landing at Laramie, I would have to turn back to Rawlins.  I would have time for two landing attempts before my fuel situation got critical.  There wouldn't be enough fuel to try it a third time and still comfortably make it back to Rawlins.  I entered the pattern at Laramie.  I was expecting to carry huge crab angles to maintain proper ground track, but I just didn't need it.  The windsock was standing out stiff as a board, but it didn't seem like a 40 knot wind.  With that hairy go-around at Priest River still in my mind, I carried a lot of power and only ten degrees of flaps through the pattern.  On final, I had to correct for a cross wind, but the wind was steady and although strong, certainly not 40 knots.  The final approach proceeded so well, that I went for it.  I cut power and touched down without problem.  Whew!  We cleared the runway and headed for the transient parking area.  The wind was rocking the airplane back and forth, making it hard to taxi but it could be done.  I estimated the wind to be a relatively steady 25-30 knots.  No problem.  We taxied up and tied down.  I found a phone and called a hotel in town.  They sent a car out to get us.  I lived to fly another day.  Hopefully, I was now wiser for the experience.  It would be a great waste of stress hormones, if I failed to learn anything from this.
     
  • 7/6    Laramie, WY -> McCook, NB    2.5 hours
    Tried for LBL but line of 60k T-storms forced us east.  Flew through rain.

    The day dawned overcast with light rain.  By the time we packed up and got breakfast, the ceiling had lifted quite a bit and the rain had stopped.  The sun even peeked through occasional breaks in the overcast.  We headed to the airport and loaded the plane.  While in the pilot's lounge planning the next leg of the flight, I ran into a woman flight instructor.  She seemed to be a hyperactive ball of nervous energy.  There were several pilots in the lounge, doing the same thing I was doing.  She came around to each in turn, asking all kinds of questions and offering advise.  She admonished everyone to be careful of the effects of altitude on aircraft performance.  Told anyone who would listen to lean the engine on run-up.  On and on.  She was really making a nuisance of herself.  A guy quietly stepped out of the lounge and made a break for his airplane.  She followed him out to the ramp. He fired up and taxied out to the runway.  As he started his takeoff roll, she seemed to get upset.  She talked rapidly and writhed about with nervous tension...what in the world did she think was going to happen?  The guy departed without incident.  A few minutes later, another guy departed and she seemed to get quite agitated again.  I just couldn't stand to watch.  Maybe she had recently seen some horrific crash or something.  She sure seemed to be carrying something around inside her; either that or she was mentally ill.  We got in the plane and taxied to the runway for our shot at oblivion.  The field elevation at Laramie is 7500 feet...very high.  I'd never taken off from an airport this high before, but the temperature was only 50 degrees making the air denser, and we had plenty of runway.  There was almost no wind.  With the engine leaned to maximum RPM, I taxied onto the runway and took off.  No problem.  The takeoff run didn't seem appreciably longer, and the airplane climbed at about 450 feet per minute.  Not too bad.  We turned east, destine for Liberal, Kansas.  I tried to stay as low as practical to avoid hypoxia.  For about 30 minutes, we flew between 8000 and 9000 feet, contouring the terrain.  East of Cheyenne, Wyoming, we picked up some light rain, but the visibility was still a good 5-6 miles under the overcast.  With the worst of the mountains behind us, I was able to descend.  We were over open prairie now, so I felt it was OK to leave Interstate 80 behind.  We struck out cross country, flew past Sterling headed for Burlington, Garden City, and points further South.  Around Yuma, Colorado, we flew out from under the overcast and into clear skies.  Visibility was now great...better than 30 miles.  Out in the distance, I could see a line of huge thunderstorms on the horizon.  Monitoring EFAS, I discovered this was an almost solid line of thunderstorms stretching from Goodland, Kansas, northwest to Colby Nebraska.  Maximum tops were 60,000 feet, so these were real monsters...welcome to the mid-west!  The IFR guys were probing the line, trying to find a way through, and some were making it.  I immediately altered course and flew directly east.  The line was rapidly lengthening and extending northeast.  If I was fast enough, I could do an end-run around the line, right around McCook, Nebraska.  We arrived at McCook just ahead of the line.  I needed to get gas because the next fuel stop was quite a bit further on.  If we stopped here for fuel, the approaching line might catch us and pin us down.  Well, I needed fuel and that was that.  We flew through some light rain just before entering the pattern at McCook.  The clouds 10 miles Southwest of the field looked black and mean.  We taxied in and arranged to get gas.  I shut off the fuel valve, and the FBO guys went to work.  Turning off the fuel valve prevents the tanks from cross feeding during fueling, and lets you squeeze in another gallon or two.  After a few minutes, I went outside and was amazed to see the line had extended rapidly and was now almost overhead.  It started raining hard.  Well, we were caught.  There was no point in trying to take off now, we had to wait out the weather.  We grabbed a courtesy car and headed into town while the FBO guys towed the plane to a hanger for safekeeping.  We stopped at Taco Bell for a leisurely lunch.  I wondered what to do.  The line would blow completely through soon.  We'd then be on the back side of it again, and would need to cross over.  At the rate the line was extending northeast, I doubted I would be able to catch it and do an end-run again.  Seemed like my only option was to fly Southwest down the back side of the line, looking for a hole.  We should be able to make it to Garden City, Oklahoma, and if we had not found a break in the line at that point, I could land and re-assess the situation there.  I decided to try this plan.
     
  • 7/6    McCook, NB -> Oklahoma City, OK    3.8 hours
    Found gap in T-storm line.  Dodged T-storms all the way to PWA.

    We returned to the airport and looked at the weather radar.  There appeared to be breaks in the line, however, it wasn't entirely clear how wide the holes were.  I didn't want to thread the needle between 60,000 foot monsters...the break would have to be a good 20 miles wide before I'd try it.  I walked to the hanger with the FBO guys to retrieve the plane.  I got in, fired up, and started taxiing to the pilot lounge to pick up my passengers.  About halfway there, the engine quit.  I tried to restart it several times but couldn't.  What was wrong?  Mixture rich, magnetos on, carb heat off, good solid cranking from the starter.  Why wouldn't the engine run?  I got it to sputter a couple of times, but that was it.  I sat there for several embarrassing minutes trying to figure out what was going on.  I looked down and saw the fuel valve closed.  Sheezh, the fuel valve!  Of course, I had closed the valve when we got gas.  I hadn't used the engine starting checklist and had forgotten to open the valve.  I had only planned to taxi to the pilot's lounge and shutdown.  With the fuel turned on, the engine started right away.  There's a lesson here about using the checklist all the time.  How embarrassing.  I picked up my passengers and took off headed Southwest.  We were flying under partly cloudy skies with good ceiling and visibility.  Fifteen miles to our left loomed the monsters.  I watched for holes in the line.  I saw a couple, but they were very narrow and would have pinched us between a couple of thunderstorms.  Finally, near Winona, Kansas, I found a huge hole.  It had to be at least 25 miles wide.  There were some wispy clouds and light rain hanging over it, but I could see sunshine on the other side.  I turned left and went through.  I slowed to maneuvering speed just in case any severe turbulence lurked inside the line; there was only moderate chop and a few rollers.  We popped out the other side around Utica, Kansas.  I set a course for Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Enroute, I had to dodge several thunderstorms, but nothing like what we had just come through.  On our way to Oklahoma City, I skirted a couple of restricted and prohibited areas.  The air was pretty clear, and I looked carefully at the ground in those restricted areas.  I saw nothing; no roads, trails, or signs of disturbance of any kind.  No evidence that there had ever been any activity on the ground.  I always thought these prohibited areas were there to protect something.  If there was anything there, it was well hidden.  We landed in Oklahoma City at dusk, got fuel, and were ready to go 30 minutes later.
     
  • 7/6    Oklahoma City, OK -> Dallas, TX    2.5 hours
    Easy night flight; no clouds.  ADS field closed; diverted to Love.

    We had an easy, uneventful night flight to Dallas.  No wind, turbulence, clouds, or anything.  I have to admit that I felt a bit tired after worrying all day about thunderstorms.  About 15 miles out from Addison, I listened to ATIS and found the airport had been closed for maintenance that evening.  I diverted to Love field in downtown Dallas.  It's a big airport that serves scheduled airline traffic.  I landed, taxied to the transient parking area, and tied down.  It was about 11:30 at night, and my car was way up in Addison.  The whole family was beat.  I tumbled out of the plane and started walking to see if I could find a phone.  Maybe we could get a taxi to come get us.  I took Serena with me and left Jane and Katie with the plane.  Serena and I walked for what seemed like a mile before we came to an FBO that was open all night.  I called a taxi.  After a few minutes, it arrived, collected Serena and I, and drove out to the airplane.  We unloaded the plane and piled all our stuff into the taxi.  The driver dropped us at Addison airport next to our car.  We transferred all our stuff to the car, paid the taxi driver, and went home.  Wow, what a trip.  We all collapsed in bed and slept like logs.
     
  • 7/7    Dallas, TX -> Addison, TX    0.4 hours
    Ferried plane back to ADS.  Twin landed gear up at ADS.

    The next morning, I had to get up, go down to Love field, and ferry the airplane back to Addison.  Jane drove me down and dropped me at the plane.  She immediately turned around and headed to Addison where she would pick me up.  I taxied to the FBO and topped off the tanks.  I got in the plane and took off.  My takeoff was actually pretty bad.  There was a moderate gusty cross wind, and I didn't exactly deal with it very well.  I kind of skidded the plane sideways on takeoff as I allowed the wind to pick up a wing.  Man, I know I can fly better than that!  I must have been tired, bleary, or something.  I zipped up to Addison and landed.  As I was taxiing to park, I saw a Beech Baron on it's belly in the grass strip between the runway and taxiway.  It had apparently landed gear up and skidded off the runway into the grass.  I was glad to be flying a fixed gear airplane.  After tying down, I went into FlightLine and talked to Scott, the proprietor.  He asked me how many quarts of oil I used on the trip.  I had only used 2 quarts, and that counted topping off the oil at Love field.  He was astounded, and so was I.  The plane had a really good engine in it, and I usually ran it at 75% power during cruise.  He asked me about weather, and I told him about the hail storm at Priest River.  His eyes bulged out a bit.  I told him it was only pea sized hail and didn't do any damage, but he went out to inspect the plane anyway.  Satisfied all was well, we returned to the office, swapping stories of aviation derring-do.  Scott was amazed that I would take such a long trip in a Cessna 172.  "Why don't you fly something faster?," he marveled.  Well, because it's about the journey, not the destination.  After about 20 minutes, Jane arrived to pick me up.  Thus ended our odyssey.


Some facts about the trip:

  1. Flying time from Addison, TX to Walla Walla, WA - 16.4 hours
  2. Flying time while fooling around up there - 10.1 hours
  3. Flying time from Priest River, ID to Addison, TX - 17.6 hours
  4. Total flying time altogether - 44.1 hours
  5. Flying time at night - 4.0 hours
  6. Number of landings - 23
  7. Number of legs - 23
  8. Number of legs which required flying through rain - 4
  9. Number of legs in which someone became nauseated - 1
  10. Quantity of fuel consumed - 346.6 gallons
  11. Average fuel consumption - 7.86 gallons/hour
  12. Total fuel cost - $752.87
  13. Total oil burned:  2 quarts!

Some things I learned on the trip:

  1. Don't stop at unfamiliar little po-dunk airports for gas.  Try to stop at larger airports.  I've had too many bad experiences trying to get gas at little country airports, especially on the week-ends.
  2. Be flexible and make contingency plans.  You need to "go with the flow" when flying long cross countries.  You're going to be thrown a lot of curve balls, and you have to be prepared to think on your feet and make new plans the minute conditions change.  The situation is dynamic, and your thinking should be fluid to match.  It's not just the tactical aspect of flying the plane, it's thinking ahead and planning strategy; a dynamic mix of tactics and strategy.  Most of all, force yourself to continuously think of what could go wrong to spoil your plan, and come up with alternatives.  It's better to make a contingency plan ahead of time rather than trying to come up with something under duress.  As you're droning along, you have plenty of time to mentally probe the situation ahead; use that time.  It will save your butt some day.
  3. Think BEFORE you takeoff.  Before you get out to the airplane and are distracted with the preflight ritual, sit down in a quiet place and mentally go over the whole flight.  Evaluate what could go wrong.  Think of the terrain, weather, lighting, fuel endurance, navigation problems and the likelihood that one or a combination of these factors could endanger the flight.  Then make a deliberate decision whether to go or not.  Don't do like I did in Pocatello and just pile in and blast off.  Think first, then act.  For me, this has been the hardest thing to discipline myself to do, because I seem to just instinctively act first.  There's an old pilot's saying that goes, "Never let your airplane take you somewhere your brain hasn't already visited."
  4. Stay sharp on your go-around skills.  You never know when you might need them.  Always be prepared to go around, and once you make the decision, don't hesitate, just do it.  I shudder to think what would have happened had I hesitated during that go-around at Priest River.  I've now adopted the attitude that I am definitely going to execute a go-around on every approach.  Only if everything is compellingly serene will I proceed to land.