Monday, January 30, 2012

An 800 Dollar Chicken Taco

I took to the air in two flights last weekend. One was Saturday. It took 5.8 hours and over 500 NM (nautical miles) from San Jose (RHV) to Healdsburgh (HES) in the Napa Valley and then down to Santa Maria (SMX) which is south of San Luis Obispo and just north of Santa Barbara. This was a solo trip in a Cessna 172N that I used to build up my cross country time and meet one of the requirements for a commercial license. [Commercial license requires a solo cross country flight with one leg over 250NM straight line distance. HES to SMX is 253NM.]  The second flight was Sunday with my husband as PIC in the Bonanza we've been renting. We were going to fly to Harris Ranch for dinner and back. That's it. One would assume the very long cross country would be an adventure and the short flight to dinner would be rather routine.

In the end, the very long solo cross country was mostly routine. It was a gorgeous day for flying. Crystal clear skies, calm winds, warm but not too warm. Being a Saturday and a good weather weekend day in the winter I knew the airport would be very busy very quick. So I took off as close to 10AM as I could to avoid the crowds at RHV. The flight up to HES was smooth and beautiful. I got fuel at HES, met some nice people that helped me drag the plane up to the fuel pumps, etc. HES was very busy... people were flying in from all over to get the cheaper gas... and, I think, it was just a great excuse to fly.

Then I took off from HES towards San Francisco, I asked for, and got, a Class Bravo transition through SFO airspace. I was able to fly along the San Francisco Penninsula ridge line on the most beautiful day I've seen in a while. The Golden Gate Bridge shown in the sun, planes were flying around the Bay, flying to Half Moon Bay for lunch, etc. The ocean was beautiful and blue. I flew right over my town, Boulder Creek, before heading towards Monterey Bay and the Salinas Valley, down over Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, over the dunes of Pismo Beach to land at Santa Maria Airport.  I listened to music and talked with ATC on the way.

I stopped at Santa Maria and fueled up the plane and my body. It was after 3 PM by the time I got to Santa Maria. Santa Maria was a strange airport, two runways well maintained, tower, ground and empty. The airports all around the area were hopping, but not this one. It had a huge GA ramp but only 3 planes on it. My 172, a 152 and a Mooney. Every door was locked, including the GA "terminal" building and the Raddison Inn. I was planning on eating at the Inn, but the restaurant was closed. So I walked with the two kids that arrived in the 152 towards the Commercial Terminal.  We finally got to the one gate we could go out. At which point we found we would have to call either the police or the fuel company to get re-admitted to the ramp. The kids in the 152 opted to call the police to get back to their plane. I went to the Mexican restaurant in the terminal and had a $12 chicken taco (actually a $800 chicken taco if you count the full cost of the trip - rental and fuel).  At lunch I discovered the commercial terminal didn't have wireless. So I got my return trip weather briefing via phone instead of my wireless only iPad.

It was getting late. I called the fuel company to refuel the plane and let me back on to the ramp. Fueled up and I was off again. Up til this point I was carefully flying the plan I planned. But now... I wanted to get home. I had a GPS that worked perfectly, I knew visually the route I needed to fly. Instead of going over Oceano I headed straight for San Luis Obispo, then a bee line for Paso Robles, a quick jog to the side to the BRALY GPS waypoint to ensure I got nowhere near the restricted areas and then up the Salinas valley to King City. The sun was setting slowly and I was listening to music, watching the shadows of the coastal range slip up the edges of the Pinnacles (the remains of an extinct volcano) as I cruised at 6500 feet.

Sunset at 3500 feet or so. Coming back to RHV.
My flight plan was to go up to Salinas then over to Hollister. After I got past the Pinnacles I decided to head straight for Hollister instead, saving myself maybe 10 minutes of flying. It was fun to fly the magenta line to Hollister over the central range.  My flight training focused on pilotage, dead reckoning and using VORs for navigation. GPS sure made things easier. Knowing where I was and how I would go if the GPS failed made me feel much better about the process. After Hollister I started my long (for a 172) descent towards RHV. I requested a switch to RHV tower from NorCal and made my 10 mile call. "Make straight in 31Right". So I did. I landed, taxied back and I was done.

I tied my plane down in the dark and went into the club where my hubby was waiting. I was exhausted and happy. It wasn't an exciting trip... it was mellow and smooth and good. Looking back at where I was six months ago to where I am now... I am very pleased with my progress and looking forward to more mellow and exciting trips in the future.

You may have heard the saying that flying frees the mind from the tyranny of petty things. It does. I have many stresses at work and family with problems that I cannot help. For those 5.8 hours I was in the plane with the engine running .. my work stresses and fears for my family didn't cross my mind. I flew. I monitored. I adjusted and maintained airspeed, heading and altitude. I practiced making minute changes and watching how the plane reacted. I looked for traffic. I talked to ATC. I laughed with other pilots. I watched the world go by. I was free. Next time I'm bringing friends so they can be free too :)


  1. The end of your blog post describes exactly how I feel when I fly. Free.

    1. Free. Its a wonderful way to feel. That's probably why I yearn to fly when I'm on the ground for an extended period of time.

      Funny thing is, I did that particular cross country to take care of a CPL requirement. I misread the requirement and have to do another extra long solo cross country for my CPL. I'm looking forward to the trip. This time it will be to Barstow/Daggett (an airport in the middle of the desert) with a stop at Paso Robles on the way back. I'm looking forward to some more hours of freedom :)