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I glanced at the message on the GPS: "RAIM not available. Cross check position."

This came as no surprise. The GPS had been unreliable lately and the message was all too familiar. Fortunately, I'd anticipated this and had prepared a paper navigation log and the sectional charts I needed for my route. Two days earlier, my buddy Anders and I had found our way to Bend, Oregon flying in the "traditional class" in the Hayward Air Rally with the GPS turned off and papered over, so navigating by pilotage and dead reckoning back home would present no problem.

"Aim for Mount Shasta and miss," I chuckled to myself as I followed US Highway 97 South. Anders had joined our fellow club members Hal and Mike and Mike's daughter Heather in our A36 Bonanza for the return flight to San Jose so that I could stop off overnight on the Northern California Coast to visit my parents and retrieve my wife Janet who had been staying with them. I had the sky to myself.

The sky was incredibly clear. I didn't see a single cloud during my three-hour flight. Surprisingly for such a clear day, the air was also silky smooth at 10,500 feet as I approached Crater Lake. I saw a snowy peak that had to be the Eastern rim of the crater, but I didn't see the lake yet. Then suddenly it registered in my awareness: a mirror-like, crystalline surface that perfectly reflected the snow-covered cinder cone called Wizard Island set like a jewel in the almost perfectly round crater. My jaw dropped. Every time I see Crater Lake it's just as stunning as it was the first time I saw it as a young boy. "Oh, that's incredible," I thought to myself as the magnificent lake slipped slowly by on my right side.

A little farther South, I passed along the Western edge of Upper Klamath Lake as I crossed a low spot in the Cascade Range heading towards Weed, California. Majestic Mount Shasta loomed larger ahead and to my left. Some of the lower peaks still had snow on their tops in mid-June because of the unusually cool Spring. After riding out a few little bumps as I crossed the ridge, the air smoothed out again.

Passing abeam Weed, where US Highway 97 intersects Interstate 5, I marvelled at how small Black Butte appeared from my altitude. From the highway it rises quite steeply several thousand feet above the road and it seems quite imposing, rivaling Shasta itself. The view from aloft put that illusion to rest as I passed four thousand feet above its peak and gazed up at Mount Shasta towering another fourth thousand feet above me less than ten miles off my left wing.

Now flying a Southeasterly heading, I descended to 9,500 feet as I followed I-5 through the Siskiyou mountains toward California's Sacramento Valley. The terrain dropped sharply away as I approached Lake Shasta and the town of Redding. I'd chosen Benton airport as my jumping-off point for crossing the Mendocino range on my way to the coast. Turning the chart so its orientation matched the terrain below, I saw that Benton would be just South of a sharp Eastward bend in the Sacramento River. Sure enough, as I got closer, that river bend was obvious, and Benton airport appeared just beyond it. As a cross-check, I noticed that Whiskeytown Lake was off to my right.

"Yup, that's Benton," I thought to myself. Passing overhead, I could see the airport name painted on the runway far below. I turned Southwest and began a climb back to 10,500 feet. I was punching a dead reckoning heading for Round Valley airport and the town of Covelo. I chose Round Valley because from the chart, it appeared to be quite distinctive, a very low, round valley surrounded by high peaks.

Sure enough, when I got there, it was unmistakable: a tiny, green oasis of farmland with orderly roads laid out in a grid. Looking South, I saw another town in a long valley. Looking at the chart, I decided it must be Willits. Looking again, I saw Willits airport up on a ridge Northwest of town. Almost due West of there, standing out clearly from the redwood forest and rugged coastline, was my home town of Fort Bragg. From my perspective high above Highway 101, I looked directly down Oak Street towards the ocean over 20 nautical miles away. I smiled as I recalled the hour's drive from Fort Bragg to Willits over State Highway 20.

Descending now from my lofty 10,500 feet, I was preparing to enter the traffic pattern at Little River airport, a 20 minute drive South of Fort Bragg. I had flown into Little River many times before but had never approached it from the North as I was doing now.

"Little River traffic, Skyhawk 80377 one zero miles to the North descending through 4,500. Will cross overhead the field at 2,000 feet and enter left traffic for runway 29, Little River," I called on the common traffic advisory frequency. Another Cessna doing touch-and-goes in the pattern acknowledged my presence and extended his upwind leg to allow me to enter on a left 45. Minutes later, I taxied to a stop and parked the airplane.

"There he is!" shouted Janet, stepping out of the little airport office. "How was your flight?"

"Oh, it was stunning!" I replied.

"Tell me about it!" she said.

As I described the trip, I was struck yet again by the utterly unique perspective that is my privilege as the pilot of a small airplane. A famous quote by T.S. Eliot came to mind:

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."

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