The trip coming up was in some ways easier and harder. The big advantage flying up last Sunday was the weather, the sky was extremely clear and I had great visibility for the entire trip.
Getting to LOU I said my goodbyes to Daniel and my Mom and began to preflight the plane. Central American Airways already filled it up, all I had to do was to pay. Getting back to the airplanes I completed the preflight and went through the pre-start checklist. Keeping in mind my experiences starting the aircraft yesterday, I kept the fuel pump off which did the trick and started the Cherokee nicely.
I was third in line to takeoff, so I completed the runup and waited until it was my turn. Soon enough I was in the air and on my way back home.
Keeping my course was pretty easy, still I was battling a stiff headwind which keeping my groundspeed down to 90 knots. Soon enough though I got to my checkpoint to call up Cincy's Class B, I was anxious to redeem myself from yesterday however when I called approach I got back this response.
"November 52 Tango, remain clear Class Bravo, contact me again in fifteen minutes..."
Uh-oh, looking over the chart I could see it would be tough to hold for fifteen minutes and still stay close to my course. Thinking it over I figured that it would be better to just divert around the Class B. I picked an airport on the perimeter to divert to, and picked an altitude that would keep me below Ciny's outer "shelf." After I made that airport I could turn back towards OSU and climb to a higher cruising altitude.
I went through the diversion procedures, charted a new course, timed it, checked my fuel and even plugged in the diversion airport to my VFR GPS. Listening to Cincy's frequency, it was very apparent that they were extremely busy, and it was best for everyone that I wasn't flying through it. :P
Flying to my new diversion checkpoint, and then back on course went without a hitch, although I had to keep a large crab angle in since my straight-on headwind turned into a left quartering headwind. The new course though took me over Clermont County, home of Sporty's, which gave me an opportunity to snap a picture of the field.
Because of the diversion, I was also using the VFR GPS to help keep my course (and distance to OSU), cross-checking with checkpoints. After I passed Summerford however I noticed the GPS was displaying OSU much closer than I was expecting (6 miles). Now OSU is Class D, which means I need to call the tower and establish communication before entering, and my GPS was telling me I was almost inside of it, while my VFR checkpoints and pilotage were saying something else.
Now here's where it got interesting, it was getting dark, my GPS was telling me I was almost home, however visually I could not see the city (visibility was good, however there was a haze in the distance) and my last checkpoint was telling me I was much farther away.
I circled around pondering what to do, I had a lake nearby which I could identify on my chart and I considered repeating the same trick I used on Saturday, basically plot a course from the lake to OSU. Now, that made a lot of sense, however the other part of my brain was saying "look, just fly the course on your GPS" and unfortunately I listened to that part first and wasted precious time chasing down that heading which cultivated with an embarrassing call to OSU tower. I misstated my position and basically they came back with "we don't have you, call us when you're within 5 miles."
By this time it was definitely dark, I was still close to my lake and I came to a realization. Basically I was looking for someone or something to tell me what to do, the GPS and the tower to tell me where I was. The realization I came to was that I and I alone could figure this out. That helped me to start thinking correctly and I started to evaluate my options again. The lake idea made sense, I knew it would work, and I knew that's what I should have done from the beginning.
Plotting the course from the center of the lake to OSU I flew over the lake and started my timer, suddenly the city became more visible, a couple of minutes later I could make out OSU's runway lights and flashing runway ending indication lights (REIL's). I called the tower again and they cleared me for landing, also reminding me that I needed to close my flight plan with the FSS when I got down.
Landing was uneventful, and I taxied back to park and secured the airplane, immediately I called my Mom and beat a path to NFA's office to call Dayton FSS. They were expecting me and wished me a goodnight. If things had gone really wrong up there I was glad I had filed a flight plan, especially since how close I came to getting lost.
So all in all my first cross-country after getting my license was a real learning experience. Flying is a process of continual learning, and while I made some mistakes during the flight (and some good decisions as well) I thinking I've learned from them and I grown as a pilot.