Icing was a worry. The overcast wasn’t forecast to break up until after I hoped to be gone. I’d had to add a stop at Fayetteville, 90 miles beyond my original destination, so I wanted to be on my way. Ceilings were above 3,000 feet, so there was room to escape if clouds started sticking to the airplane.
Most of my time with Flight Service was spent discussing weather, but I did get a notams briefing. Good thing, too: Runway 6 / 24 at Person County, my second stop, was closed for paving and painting.
Whoops! Person County has exactly one runway. Landing on the taxiway might be frowned on, so a quick phone call was in order. We picked another field; then I called to amend my flight plans.
The clouds proved blessedly ice-free. They lasted just long enough to put a couple more tenths in the “Actual Instrument” column. Skies were clear before I reached the Virginia-North Carolina border.
Fayetteville was using Runway 4. The tower cleared me to land, adding “Winds are from three-three-zero at one-five gusting two-two.” Hello! It’s been a while since I landed in a real crosswind. It wasn’t pretty, but at least nothing broke.
Being more loyal than smart, I buy fuel at every stop. This turned out to be a good thing, because at the next airport nobody answered my unicom calls. The rescuers met me with the second dog.
“We heard you on the radio, but didn’t know how to answer. There’s nobody here!” Sure enough, the FBO’s doors were open, but there was no sign of the staff. That meant no fuel–this field doesn’t offer self-service. Not good: The next leg was the longest, and winds would be 45 knots right on my nose. The route across West Virginia to Ohio crosses some awfully lonely country.
I launched with the four and a half hours’ supply I had left, planning to divert if the GPS-estimated flight time didn’t settle below 3:30 within the first two hours. It didn’t begin well. The wind produced mountain waves; at one point, pitched up at Vy approaching Roanoke, groundspeed dropped to 44 knots. But the waves dissipated as we reached the mountains and groundspeed inched up from 85 knots to 105 farther northwest. We landed in Columbus with 3:22 on the clock and an hour and a half’s worth of gas.
It was dark by the time I finished taking pictures and waved good-bye. The flight home was graced with a 30-knot tailwind. Mist gathering in mountain valleys looked like moonlight reflected from distant rivers.
Only when I tried to squeeze those 8.5 hours into two lines of my logbook did I realize that in one day, I’d seen a pretty good selection of the challenges we face in GA. I hadn’t suffered a mechanical failure or flown an instrument approach. But I had dealt with an airport closure, icing risk in IMC, three tricky crosswind landings, turbulence, mountain waves, brutal headwinds, loss of a planned fuel stop with the uncomfortably close planning that required, and solo single-engine flight over the mountains at night.
Not to mention live animals. It doesn’t get much better than that.
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