We last left our intrepid heroine celebrating her landing on the center line at King City airport... then...
Then nothing special or everything special depending on how you look at it. Rollout (on center line of course), taxi off the runway, do the radio call, after landing checklist (flaps up, carb heat off, transponder on standby - skip this one, lights, etc). DRINK SOME TEA. I can't believe how thirsty I was. The whole flight down my mouth was dry. I was so glad I thought to bring a cold tea with me. So I gulped some tea and prepared for the return trip. Switch navigation logs, make sure the chart is available and in easy reach for the flight back. I had a good strong feeling Scott would be right and those clouds would require me to do my eastern turn closer to Hollister than Watsonville. And, I also figured I should take Scott's advice and not hang out down there. I immediately taxied towards the other end of the runway and prepared for take off.
I made sure I had my heading and intended cruise altitude and power setting firmly in mind. Pre-take off checklist, take off checklist, review climb checklist. Did the radio call "King City Traffic, Cessna Niner Three Kilo taking the active runway two nine for a straight out departure, King City". Taxi onto the runway, set HI to the Compass, quick review of fuel setting and trim, check the wind sock, (still a cross wind), advance throttle to full, full ailerons into the wind, rudder as needed to stay on center line, airspeed at 55 knots, the plane begins to dance a bit.. it wants to take off, pull back on the yoke and we're flying! Relax the back pressure a bit, gain airspeed, the trim and a little hand pressure puts the plane at the right pitch for a Vy climb and off I go.
I climbed up to cruise altitude of 4500 feet for the return trip and go through the cruise checklist. I was listening to NorCal Approach (air traffic control) on the channel I was on during the trip down. I got over the town of Greenfield and called in for flight following. ATC didn't respond. The controller was very busy I could hear all of the planes he was talking to. So I figured I'd wait a bit. I made sure to continue listening to ATC though and I knew when he was pointing my plane out to other planes and used that information to spot other planes around me. In the end I waited so long I later decided it was "too late" to call. Out of my whole flight I think that was the one stupid thing I did. Really, is it ever too late to take every possible avenue to make your flight safer? No. That's one thing I won't do again. Especially on a solo flight. *sigh*
So, I flew my headings and it was quite a bit more turbulent on the way back. I could see more clouds where I had clear sky on the way down. As I approached the Salinas airport again, Salinas weather said the clouds were at 4000 feet, in the same airspace I flew through not 40 minutes earlier at 5500 feet there were now clouds. Looking beyond Salinas, I could see up to where Watsonville airport would be, more clouds, the mountains between WVI and South County, dark with clouds close. As predicted, I wasn't going that way. As I approached Salinas I started implementing plan B.
First, figure out how to get to Hollister. I didn't have a pre-calculated heading for this route, so I had to use other methods. I looked at the chart and figured out what radial on the Salinas VOR Hollister sits on. Dialed that into the nav system and made sure I was going FROM, not TO. Started a descent to 3500 so I would be at 3500 (500 feet below the clouds and at the right altitude for an easterly route) when I got over the Salinas VOR and turned eastish towards Hollister. All the while listening hard for traffic advisories given to other pilots in the vicinity. Oh yeah, and flying the plane :) [I can't express how cool it is to be able to fly like that. It sounds like a lot to do, and it is, but it isn't.]
Turned towards Hollister and the radial I was on took me a little closer than I wanted to be to the top of a ridge line.. and the clouds weren't getting any higher. So I swung north of the radial and went over a lower part of the ridge, maintaining my clearance from the clouds and the hills. I don't think I was ever really "close" to anything, but I like space around me and my plane. It was more turbulent over the hills with the updrafts under the clouds and the hills stirring up the air.
As I flew the plane, watched for traffic, enjoyed the beauty of the clouds and the light and the green hills, and monitored how far off my radial I was going, I marveled at how much things had changed since this time last year when I was avoiding doing my first "Pinch Hitter" flight. I remembered how I was scared to death but willing to try in order to get rid of my fear. I distinctly remember a day when we were at the flight club and Jeff's CFI, Scott (he wasn't *my* CFI yet), asked me if I wanted to go up since he had some time and I dug in my heels and said, "Nope." He spent an hour talking to me about what my fears were and why, then we agreed to go up a week later and that was the beginning of the end of my fear and the start of my love of flying. [Note, as I type this I checked my log book, my first pinch hitter flight was on June 4th, 2010. Almost exactly one year before my first solo cross country flight.]
After a short time I was over flat land again and looking for the Hollister airport. I redirected the plane to intercept the radial, but I couldn't see the airport. Oh boy, this reminded me of that bummer of a flight to Los Banos, when I couldn't find Hollister at all on the way back. But I remembered what I learned too. Look at the chart, look at the big picture. OK, chart, where is Hollister airport? Right by Hollister the city. OK, find the city, find the airport north of it. There was the city. There was the airport. Right where it should be and right on the radial I drifted off of in the wind when I allowed myself to get distracted trying to find the airport. Back on radial, adjust for winds, beeline for Hollister. Amazing how well this stuff works if you use it right.
I got over the center of Hollister and turned northwest. I started descending again to 3000 feet. I saw a plane take off from Hollister going the same direction I was going so I watched it carefully as I descended and swung to his left to make it easier for him to see me as I passed. He did see me and instead of just turning left to head towards Salinas or Watsonville or whatever, he did a turn to the right and climbed high above me to head west eventually. I was so focused on monitoring ATC because I didn't have flight following (I switched to 120.1 when I got back into our valley), I didn't switch to the CTAF frequency for Hollister so I could communicate with the other plane if I had to. I was 2000 feet over pattern altitude so it wasn't required but it probably would have been a good idea. It got the weather from Hollister so I was sure my altimeter was accurate.. but being able to have a better idea of what was going on in that airspace would have been a good idea.
Once I was sure I was clear of the other plane I descended to 2500 and continued to cruise up the valley back to home. I reviewed my descent plan and went through the descent checklist and got RHV weather, and set the tower and ground frequencies for RHV on the radios as I had the time to do it. Get to UTC, call in to the tower. I wanted to say "Hey guys, I'm back from my first solo cross country!!!" but I didn't. I kept it professional.:
"Reid-Hillview Tower, Cessna five zero niner three kilo over UTC with Victor. Inbound for landing."
"Cessna five zero niner three kilo, Reid-Hillview Tower, straight in runway three one left."
"Straight in three one left, five zero niner three kilo."
That's the magic handshake to enter class D airspace. You call and if they respond with your full tail number, you can come in.
At seven miles out I started my descent to pattern altitude. I could hear the engine revving higher so I pulled power back to keep the speed under control. Once I was at pattern altitude I was still too fast so I pulled back power to idle, down to 85 knots, 10 degrees of flaps and monitor glide slope. The tower cleared me to land. I was still high so 20 degrees of flaps, then 30 degrees of flaps. Keep lined up with the center line no matter what (winds were at 10 knots 20 degrees off the runway heading, so some crosswind). Keep airspeed at 65, add a little power. Got over the fence, pulled power back to idle, more and more aileron and rudder to stay on center line as I slow down, roundout, stare at the end of the runway, keep flying the plane and ...... touch ...... as light as can be. I was down, on the center line, aligned with the runway, then rolling down the runway **ON THE CENTER LINE** with plenty of room to get off on Delta in a very smooth manner.
I was elated! the tower directed me to cross three one right at delta and contact ground. I read that back, did as instructed. Crossed the runway, taxied clear of runway and did my after landing checklist. Flaps up, carb heat off, transponder on standby (for real this time), time note. Contacted ground and I wanted to say "Hey guys! I'm back from my first solo cross country, and I landed ON THE CENTER LINE TWICE!" but I didn't. I kept it professional. I got clearance to taxi back to the club. Pulled up by my spot, do the securing checklist. Avionics off, mixture lean, wait for the prop to stop spinning, mags off, master off. Now headset comes off and there I was. Sitting by myself in a plane that I just flew, by myself, over 180 nautical miles, over hills, around and under clouds for 2.1 hours. Listening to the gyros spin down and trying to figure out if I was more happy about successfully completing my first cross country or finally landing on the center line in crosswinds *twice*.
In the end it didn't matter. It was just a doubly good day.
[Some other notes. The three training flights I had before this one.. and even the flights before that which I considered, at the time, failures, prepared me well for this trip. Now I'm glad I had that rough time finding Hollister on the way back from Los Banos, and that I had to figure out how to get to an airport I wasn't planning on seeing on the fly, or how to use a VOR the right way to fly from point A to point B. I'm even almost glad I had struggled long enough to get pissed off enough to not let the plane drift off the center line. All of those experiences lead to a successful trip. Next flight I need to do better at getting flight following, hitting the timer when I'm over way points, and flying a ground track accurately in the wind. I did good on the last thing on the way TO King City, on the way back I lost some focus and didn't do as well. There are always things I can improve on. Thus that old cliche, "A good pilot is always learning." My approach to this particular flight was open minded and ready for adventure, and it worked. What a blast!]