I took the day after my birthday off too... that gave me a 5 day weekend! More flying for me!
The destination for this flight was Mariposa-Yosemite Airport (MPI). Far enough away to qualify as cross country, not too far, simple route and some interesting stuff to see on the other end. I rented 93K, the 172N I trained in the majority of my primary training. It is cheaper than the 172SP I have been flying and I didn't want to get too used to any one plane. No passenger this time and nothing else scheduled for the day so I thought I would fly there, get lunch at a motel bar and grill about 1/4 mile away from the airport and then fly up and take a peek at Yosemite from the air. No time pressures, just an opportunity to explore.
On the approach to Mariposa I had a bit of trouble finding the airport. The airport elevation was 2200 feet, I was cruising at 5500 feet. I thought I could see where it should be, but I didn't see the town that was supposed to be near. So I used the big picture skills I learned, recognized the granite formations of Yosemite proper, the layout of the ridges and the lakes in the area and decided what I thought was the airport should be the airport. Sure enough, it was.
I didn't like coming into this airport's environment. There were hills all around the airport which in turn lead me to not fly a good pattern. I got distracted trying not to fly close to the hills. I don't think I was actually close to the hills at any time but I was uncomfortable. I turned final and pitched for 65 and looked at the runway. The view down the cowling of the plane lead me to think I was aimed almost straight down at the runway! Like the proverbial lawn dart. I thought I was high too. I did a go around.
As I turned downwind I gave the runway a close look and realized it sloped down at the approach end and then back up again relatively steeply, similar to an elongated bowl. Ah ha! I was dealing with an optical illusion. I knew how to handle that. My method for handling runway optical illusions is to focus on the numbers and use that as my visual cue for when and how high to round out, all other visual information becomes secondary. That worked good... I came in on final, rounded out and then kept the plane just off the runway as long as I could. The landing was a little bit harder than normal, I think because I landed into the up slope of the runway, but I landed on the mains and under control.
I taxied up to the transient parking in front of the airport office, pleased with my identification and handling of the optical illusion. It would have been even better to figure it out on the first pass, but I was still happy. As I pulled up to transient parking I saw two King Airs parked there. They looked very new and shiny. I parked my little 172 next to one of them and took a picture. Then I checked my voice mail and found out my daughter hurt her hand and needed to go to the doctor. In spite of being over 100 miles away, it would be quicker for me to fly back and pick her up than my husband finish work and get her. So I had to cancel my lunch and sight seeing plans.
I still needed to eat something and went into the airport office to see if they had any snacks available. They had some chips, candy bars, water and sodas. I talked briefly with the woman who ran the office. She was really friendly and gave me a free bag of chips. She also said they have a crew car and a couple bikes to make it easy for people to get into town and get food when they have time.
I chatted a bit with the First Officer of one of the King Airs as I munched on chips. He pointed out I was eating the standard "lunch of pilots". He was a younger guy and still enthusiastic about flying. The Captain was a "grey hair" just as my CFI described. Obviously experienced and less enthusiastic about hanging around waiting for their clients who were late. I found out how much runway a King Air needs to take off typically loaded and fully loaded. The FO talked about flying a contact approach into RHV once in the plane I saw on the ramp. He made it sound pretty hairy... I'll have to look up what a contact approach is.
It was time to go so I said goodbye to all and promised to return and spend more time there. I did a quick preflight of the plane, took off, and pointed our nose to the west for the return trip. On the return I plugged my iPod into the audio jack of my new headset and turned on some music. The headset has a feature that automatically mutes audio to ensure all radio comms are heard clearly and that worked great. I was also still able to hear the hum of the engine.
On the flight back I reflected on how nice it was to get out of the plane and explore even a little bit. I decided to try to get out and meet people on the other end of these trips more often. I've had a long life of road trips where I've focused on enjoying the journey. I think its time for me to allow the destination to add its part of the adventure.