After a night of restless sleep wondering what the weather would be, morning finally came. Mist and low visibility prevented a really early departure, but we were wheels up around half past 8. We were still a little apprehensive about where we'd run into the frontal line that was sweeping across the country, but decided that we'd get as far south and west as we could.
It was, as usual, beautiful flying across the Shenandoah. I actually took a minute to enjoy the Fall foliage (it's really late this year in the Washington area, so it was in full swing). In our typical arrangement, I was the pilot flying and Husband was the pilot not flying, since we thought there would be some twiddling with the G1000 required to stay clear of storms. Flyer was asleep in the back seat, with his head resting on the flight bag.
The first part of the trip was pretty familiar-- we headed out towards Cumberland and Deep Creek Lake... but then, instead of stopping there, we continued on toward the EKN VOR. As we left the lower foothills behind us and got into the taller ridges, we encountered our first moments of uncertainty. The clouds were lower than forecast, and the ridges were rising higher. Husband stayed busy with the charts and the terrain feature on the G1000. I kept my attention outside the plane, eyes peeled for traffic and monitoring our distance from clouds and mountain peaks. We had decided that flying with the autopilot on would be the safest way to go-- to make sure I didn't get distracted and get us too close to the mountain below.
We were thankful that we had picked up flight following-- several times, they alerted us to passing traffic. We were also able to hear what other pilots were seeing in the area. We were especially glad for the extra feeling of safety the few times that we nicked the clouds. Though I do have some time in actual instruments conditions, neither of us are instrument rated, so it was important that we stay clear of those clouds-- and, of course, the ground.
We breathed a huge sigh of relief when we left the mountains mostly behind us. Now, we at least had a few thousand feet between us and the ground. Our first stop was planned for Huntington, WV-- HTS, very close to the halfway point in the trip. As we neared HTS, we started to have another concern. In planning the trip, we expected the entire journey-- JYO to JWN to take around 4.5 hours. We knew with the dog, our luggage, and us, we would only be able to go with fuel to the tabs, so we had planned a fuel stop halfway through, thinking this would be a good break, and give us lots of fuel on either side. What we had not predicted was how strong the headwinds would be. Even with our updated flight plan (you gotta love AOPA's flight planner!), our calculations on headwinds were wrong. Thirty knots of wind, right up the nose is a lot to overcome. Luckily, we always plan 60 minutes of reserve fuel, instead of the usual 30. It's a flight school rule-- and it just makes a lot of sense. Our dilemma became, do we break into our reserve by a few minutes and continue on to our planned stop of HTS, or do we land early at an airport that we haven't studied? The decision was made more challenging because we realized that an early landing would reduce our chance of being able to make it to our final destination without another fuel stop.
We decided to reduce our RPM (and our airspeed) by about 100 RPM so that we were travelling a little slower-- which then reduced the fuel we were burning per hour. As we made these changes, we watched the fuel ring expand ever so slightly (the G1000 has a nice feature allowing you to set how much fuel you have on board, and it calculates how far you can travel, taking into account current fuel burn, winds, etc.). The added distance wasn't much-- but it meant we would only eat into our hour of reserves by about 10 minutes. With 3 or 4 other airports within easy range, we felt good with this. Tower cleared us to land when we were still about 8 nm out, so then all I had to do was concentrate on the landing.
This was my longest single leg of flying since Husband and I did our cross-countries together back in March. I was very aware of this as I came in on final. I was shaking as I touched down (not a bad landing at all!) and taxied past the hold short. Tower was nice enough to direct us to the FBO so that we could fuel up and get ready for the next leg of the trip. I was very glad to climb out into the surprisingly warm air.
... more later... time for breakfast now!