I learned some great stuff today... or re-learned as may be the case.
Big picture means B I G picture. It means looking out at the mountain range in the distance or the line of hills or cities, not at the road right under the plane. By the time you figure out what the road is its gone. At the speeds you move in an airplane, you have to look OUT, way out to see landmarks that won't change.
Its a process of balance and discovery and don't know what will happen next. I came to the airport this morning with only one real thought in my head, that I didn't know what I was going to do or where I was going to go for sure, but I knew that I would learn something today. And the idea of learning something, instead of achieving some specific goal, is what made me excited and relaxed about the idea of flying today.
One of the advantages and disadvantages of my personality is the way I am very "detail oriented" which is a nicer way to say really anal :) I think in recent flights I was so incredibly focuses on a specific goal and planned so much that I overloaded myself with data. Especially on my last attempted cross country. I spent hours and hours looking at google earth and google maps trying to make absolutely sure I knew where I was going. It got to the point that, before I got in the plane that day, I knew I had no idea at all.
Today we did something different, my CFI told me we were going to go somewhere but he wasn't going to tell me until we were in the air. So he told me to request a downwind departure and go. Then we get about 10 minutes out and he says, "Ok. We're going to Marina." And I had to get us there. He said that means I had to figure out where it was, what route to take, what altitude to fly, how to avoid the Class C airspace the airport sits under, get there, descend into the pattern, do the radio calls and land. Oh yeah, and don't forget to fly the plane. I won't go into detail about the process, but everything went GREAT, except the landing. God I suck at crosswind landings right now.
It was a lot of fun to figure it out "on the fly". And I did well. Also, this is an important skill to have. You never know when you have to divert from your well planned route due to weather, sick passenger, mechanical issue, etc. So its very good to get some exposure to this process sooner than later. And its fun!
On the way back I got fixated on a heading for a bit and forgot I was climbing into (potentially) class C airspace. He stopped us from getting too high and I figured out where I would be safe to climb again and corrected. Then I got to learn about how you have to use those big picture land marks instead of what's right in front of me if I'm going to fly a straight line. :) My approach into RHV was much better this time than my last straight in approach to RHV. Landing sucked again. Too high and fast and I didn't KEEP it on the center line. But I landed safely if not right.
So I think next time we may go and practice (relearn) cross wind landings tomorrow... or maybe he'll pick another random airport while we're en route. Either way I'll be happy, I'll be learning.
A final note about today. I think I do best when I am open minded and don't think I know what will happen. And realistically, even when a pilot has a solid plan, he/she never knows exactly what will happen. There are so many variables at play when you fly, wind, weather, equipment, airspace, passengers, self, other traffic, etc, etc. I think I would be a fool to ever think I'll know exactly what will happen on any flight. Which is good in two ways. 1. If you know what's going to happen all the time, you lose the joy of discovery and adventure. 2. I think keeping that fact in mind as I fly will improve my flights significantly. I close my eyes and my mind when I think I know what's going to happen, and then I fail. Knowing that I don't know, I am open to the inputs coming to me and I respond appropriately AND have an adventure at the same time :) That is very cool.