Don’t scud run.

Whew, so this made for good learning… I needed to fly back to Steamboat to head off on my annual adventure motorcycle ride. The weather pattern between Minneapolis and Steamboat had been locked in place for days with low clouds and some areas of thunderstorms along the route. As I watched the weather I found a window that looked doable with a plan to head to North Dakota before making the turn south. The first leg was low key, the second half of the flight the clouds kept me at 4,500msl which was all good. Nice fuel stop at Linton, ND. Super friendly operator and good prices. After a nice break it was back up into the air towards Rapid City.

As I climbed up I realized that the ceilings to the south were lower than in North Dakota forcing me to cruise at 2,500 msl for bit before dropping to 1,500 msl. Huh, this isn’t good. So I put down in Mc Laughlin, SD. As I walked into town from the airport I called for a weather briefing (second of the day). It seemed the low ceilings were stable but continued for 50-60 miles. Damn, I wish there had been time for some instrument work as getting above this layer on an IFR flight plan would make it an easy decision. Not convinced of a game plan yet, I called my friend, former flight instructor, and former co-owner of an Aztec. We talked for about forty minutes and Jeff thought that I should see at least 1,500 msl but there were a lot of big voids in the weather reports (many of the smaller airports along my route were not reporting ceilings). Getting back to the airport I figured I’d hop up and take a look.

On climb out it did seem that the ceilings were 1,500-1,600 msl. Given it was now only 30 or so miles I started to press on. Welp, as I headed SW the terrain rises and unfortunately the ceilings were not rising so soon it began to look like a scud run. Never a good idea. Pulling the plug I executed a 180 and headed to the nearest airport which happened to be just a couple miles away. I had a mostly smooth touch down on the turf strip at Isabel, SD. I say mostly because it was clear that grass had not been trimmed in a number of weeks and there were a few small divots. I taxied up and shut’her down. Committed to waiting until the weather improved.

I walked the town and was happy to see a cafe. Isabel is a cute little town that is well kept and looks like a nice place to live (Mc Laughlin not so much). After walking the town and walking the runway to check its condition, I headed to the cafe for some lunch. I threw them for a loop asking for a chicken cordon bleu sandwich (which was on their menu) but ultimately they got it figured out and a tasty meal was had. As luck would have it the clouds had risen and broken up while I ate.

After getting back to the airport, I was back on my way. The rest of the trip was smooth from a weather perspective, however from 60 miles north of Casper until Rawlins it was a bumping, mostly continuous moderate turbulence. But hey, no complaints I made it to Rawlins in one piece.

Shout of to the FBO at Rawlins. Here is the comment I left on, “I’d be hard pressed to remember a nicer experience at an FBO. Extremely friendly and helpful, set me up with a hotel (everywhere showed sold out) and crew car for my overnight stop, neither of which I expected. You should absolutely stop here if you need fuel or to break up a trip.” Absolutely could not have been a better place to stop for the night.

The next morning I capped off the last hour of flying to pull into Steamboat just in time for breakfast. In replaying the trip, I made a smart decision to land in Mc Laughlin, ceilings were lower than I felt/feel comfortable with, but I should have stayed until the weather improved. That was a mistake that thankfully did not cost me and thankfully turned out well however it was an unnecessary risk and for that I kick myself. Flying is a lifetime of learning and I’ll use this experience to make better decisions going forward.

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