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Someplace New

The morning sun was streaming through the blinds when I finally awoke after a much-needed night's sleep. I'd just finished up a hard deadline at work a couple of days earlier and finally felt caught up on my rest.

It was a beautiful summer day, I had comp time coming, and it looked like a perfect day for flying. Over breakfast, I spread out the chart on the kitchen table looking for someplace new within about an hour's radius of my home airport, San Jose International. There were several small airports in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada that I'd never visited and Calaveras County—Maury Rasmussen Field Airport caught my eye. No particular reason—it was just someplace new.

I started flight planning, checking the runway length, gradient, elevation, forecast temperatures, and weather, using the computer to prepare a flight log using current winds-aloft data. Everything looked good. That settled it—I was taking the morning off!

I drove the short distance to the airport, pre-flighted the airplane, and soon was climbing out on course. Visibility was excellent for a Summer day. I reached over and dimmed the GPS screen. My chart and flight log were all I'd need for this flight. California's Central Valley, with its vast expanse of farmland and small towns that look very similar from the air can make pilotage challenging, but my waypoints were easily identifiable in the clear air: Stockton Metropolitan Airport and New Hogan Reservoir.

As I rounded the hill to the West of the airport, approaching from the Northwest, I noticed that the field was on something of a plateau, with a fairly steep drop-off on either end, which I hadn't quite visualized from the chart. (These were the days before Google Earth.) This threw me a bit, and on my first landing approach I found myself badly positioned, so I went around for another try. This time I made a descent landing and taxied to the self-service fuel island.

As I gassed up, I looked around. It was a beautiful area surrounded by golden hills with patches of trees. A light breeze was blowing and the warmth of the late-morning sun made clear that it was going to be a hot afternoon. A couple of local airplanes taxied out and took off while I fueled, but on the whole it was pretty quiet—a typical sleepy day at a rural airport in the USA.

Soon I was taxiing out for takeoff and on my way back to San Jose and an afternoon at work. It might have seemed a pointless trip, burning gas for no good reason, and I won't argue the point. For me, though, it was all about the flying.

And going someplace new in an airplane.

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