When I left off in telling the tale of our holiday travels, we were overnighting in Greensboro, NC. The next day, we did an early morning weather briefing and developed a plan for the day. Our main concern were the pretty high surface winds along our route. We found, though, that we could go a little more south to Athens, GA, and then go west from there and avoid the worst of the winds. After about an hour of flight planning, including a long phone call with a briefer and making sure we had all the necessary-- both IFR and VFR, just in case-- we departed GSO off the same runway on which we had arrived (and in front of a US Airways jet).
On departure, we almost immediately entered the clouds... and then popped up above them. The cool thing was that as we climbed above the clouds, we saw towers poking up through the clouds so that you could just see the tops of them. Cool looking-- but scary to think about those towers lurking just below that you couldn't see!
After about three hours of flying-- with a a fair amount of turbulence and a little actual instrument thrown in for good measure, we landed in Athens to refuel and do another weather check. On landing, the winds were gusting up to 23 knots-- at about 30 degrees to the runway. We checked in with a briefer to get a picture of what was happening with the cold front. After some consultation, we decided we could continue on and filed appropriately.
With Husband flying, we departed Athens, quickly being cleared and climbing to 4000'-- and approaching Atlanta. The turbulence was awful. We were being bounced up and down and sideways. Husband was having difficulty keeping us in a climb-- and at times couldn't even maintain altitude. As we discussed what to do between the bumps, we asked ATC for any pireps on the bumps ahead. The news was not good-- pilots in airplanes bigger than ours were reporting moderate to severe turbulence all along the path in front of us. To make matters worse, our ETE (estimated time en route) to Dallas (we had gone ahead and put in DFW as our destination as we new we'd have to likely make some diversions, etc) on the PFD now read 9:33-- 3 minutes MORE than it had read when we left GSO that morning. Though we knew that number would come down some once we were able to increase to a reasonable cruise speed, it was still a very LONG way to Texas. That, combined with the unrelenting turbulence was enough to make Husband to declare (and me agree) that we needed to land.
Though there was an airport right off the nose, we decided to turn back to Athens as it offered a nice, clean FBO and friendly staff. We also had seen how close the town was to the airport as we departed earlier. So, we asked ATC to return to Athens. The tower controller seemed a little surprised to hear us back on frequency-- and kindly asked if we had any mechanical problem or needed any assistance. We told her no, we just found conditions to be too much for our taste. Husband then battled the same high and gusty surface winds for a fine landing back in Athens.
I have to say-- if you're going to get stuck somewhere, that was a pretty good place. We found a nice little inn right on the edge of downtown. We took a taxi there and a hotel shuttle back the next day. The town itself had awesome restaurants and great little shops-- and was almost empty as the university community was gone for the holiday break. We had fun exploring-- and finished up some last minute shopping for our family.
We also called my family and let them know we would not be seeing them in Texas for Christmas. They were not surprised as they had been watching the weather and figured we'd need to call off our trip. We also called Husband's brother and asked if we could come crash with him the next day. He graciously said yes, so the next day, after Husband finished a few work calls, we set out for Chattanooga.
This leg helped restore our faith in general aviation flying. After all the clouds, icing, bumps, and headwinds of the last few days, this day gave us the gift of beautiful blue skies, low winds, and a calm ride. We had a short 1 hour hop over to Chattanooga and after getting sequenced in behind a few planes practicing instrument approaches, we landed without further issue. We had a great time in Chattanooga with Husband's brother and sister-in-law. I especially enjoyed touring the organic farm that J manages. Unfortunately, the weather got bad again and we were not able to depart for Nashville where we were all spending Christmas. After waiting it out one day, we decided to cry "uncle" and rent a car to drive to Nashville the next. Of course, the weather promptly and unexpectedly cleared up as soon as we arrived in Nashville.
After lots of fun with Husband's mom, brothers, sisters-in-laws, niece, and nephew, we drove back to Chattanooga for the flight home. I got the pleasure of this leg as Husband was not night current. We had a nice flight home and landed just behind a couple of friends (fellow students) from our flight school. Our long adventure was over-- and we had never made it to Texas. But we did both get to practice our actual instrument flying skills-- and I even made an approach in instrument conditions. We had encountered and survived an icing encounter, and probably doubled our experience of flying IFR with ATC. Finally-- we definitely deepened both our knowledge and our questions about flying in winter conditions.