My alarm starts screaming. I stand up out of bed, walk to the dresser to turn it off. I’ve never woken up well with alarms, placing my phone across the room forces me out of bed, greatly increasing the probability that I’ll wake up. It’s miserable. My eyes sting from tiredness.

It’s 5:15 am.

I have to get to the airport early, in order to fly 120 nautical miles round trip to Modesto and back before work.

Standing hunched in the shower, I quietly mutter to myself “I’m out of my damned mind.”

Traffic to Hayward Executive Airport (KHWD) is light, so I arrive at 6:30, earlier than planned. No sense delaying, I drive up to the flight line, call to get my weather briefing, and pre-flight the Ugly Duckling.

Flight line at sunrise

My instructor arrives, his usual cheery self. My tiredness has worn off, replaced with the anticipation for the flight, and a dose of anxiety over the review of my flight log and plan. With clouds creeping from the northwest towards the field, we head into the FBO’s office to review my work from the night before.

My numbers and route of flight seem sane enough, despite being only the second real cross-country flight I’ve planned. Satisfied with our briefing, we head out to the flight line, beneath the clouds which have now encroached on the north half of the field.

“Forget I’m here, if you had your PPL, what would you do about these clouds?”

Well, the entire southern half of the field is clear, bathed in sunshine, while the northern half has clouds at 1100ft. “I would request special VFR clearance and fly a south downwind departure until we’re clear.”

My instructor is the only person I know who has requested SVFR clearance, and I only know it because of a cautionary tale he told us in ground school about scud running.

“Great, let’s request special VFR and downwind departure to the south”

The controllers at Hayward are generally nice and accomodating. I receive my SVFR clearance, and we start rolling.

Initially after takeoff, we’re climbing directly at these damned clouds. Turning right over the golf course, still looking at at these damned clouds. One more right turn and we’re headed south, still under this damned mat of clouds.

SVFR let’s me cuddle up close with the cloud layer, which I do until we’re south of the field.

“Hayward Tower, Seven-three-seven Golf-mike, we’re clear of those clouds, I’d like to climb”

In recent lessons I’ve learned that I’m allowed to ask for things that I want to do in controlled airspace.

“Seven-three-seven Golf-mike, clear to climb, maintain VFR”

Gaining some altitude, I’m perplexed. I need to go east, not south, but I was told to go south, what do I do? “Ask for an east bound departure” suggests the right seat.

“Hayward Tower, Seven-three-seven Golf-mike, requesting an eastbound departure”

They clear my departure, I turn towards Livermore and climb to my cruise altitude of 3500ft.

Now we’re flying cross-country again. I call up Oakland Radio, open my flight plan, then switch over to NorCal approach, stumble through my initial call-up and request flight following to Modesto and back.

As we overfly Livermore Municipal the “setup work” of the flight is done.

The air is quiet this early, news choppers, commercial flights and a few tin cans like mine flying around in the cool late summer air.

Not one to waste time between checkpoints, my instructor is discussing emergency landing options, navigation-worthy ground references and so on. Flying over Tracy, we spot a powerplant and some dust devils, which give us an idea of the current wind conditions.

Calm winds, not as strong as the 8 knots forecasted I used for my fuel and time estimates in my flight log. We would be traveling slower there, increasing the amount of fuel burn, not something to worry much about with a short flight like this, but on a longer one it would definitely be more impactful.

The trip to Modesto is much faster than the previous cross-country I had previously flown to Monterey. This flight there wasn’t much time between check points to shoot the shit, all business this time around.

Nearing Modesto, I pick up the current weather and make my initial call-up to the tower.

“Modesto Tower, Skyhawk Seven-three-seven Golf-mike, 9 miles to the northwest with information lima”

“Seven-three-seven Golf-mike, enter traffic downwind, runways 28 left and right are active, what’s your preference?”

Uh, I don’t have the airport diagram in my lap. I do my best imagining what I had studied the night before.

“Seven-three-seven Golf-mike, uh, I’d like 28L”

I picked the shorter runway. Landing on mile-long runways doesn’t impress my instructor, nor will they make me a better pilot.

Entering the pattern on the downwind, I start slowing down, carb heat on, flaps to 10. Turn base, CGUMPS mental check list, flaps to 20. Turn final, line up center-ish and push the flaps to 30.

“Give me a short-field landing”

In my eagerness, I put the 30 degrees of flaps in maybe 30 seconds too early, and needed to carry a bit more power to keep my glideslope correct.

Just a tad left of center, we cross the numbers, the mains touchdown and I apply the brakes slowing us to taxi speed.

After having trouble during my Sunday morning solo work with short-field landings, I was thrilled to have performed a good one while somebody was watching.

We exit the runway, and call tower.

Idling off of 28L, I request a taxi back to the start of 28L. I don’t remember what tower said after my request, but I was pretty sure he didn’t tell me I was clear to taxi. With my feet holding the brakes, I think for a second or two.

“Modesto Tower, Seven-three-seven Golf-mike, I might have missed it, but did you clear me to taxi back to 28L?”

“Seven-three-seven Golf-mike, yes I cleared you, taxi to 28L via Bravo.”

The exchange scored me big J-points with my instructor, “he’s wrong, he never cleared you to taxi, I was waiting to see if you just went.”

I release the pressure on the brakes, and start rolling.

Within minutes we’re back in the air, on our way back to Hayward.

On the flight back we took the opportunity to practice emergency procedures, VOR navigation and a few other items. The right seat was mostly quiet though.

I knew I was being watched from the right seat, he was sizing me up to see if I would be safe and able to fly the same cross-country on my own this coming Saturday.

Closing in on Hayward, I pick up the weather and contact the tower, get clearance to enter the airspace.

“This time, give me a soft-field landing”

Damnit. I perform soft-field landings just fine unless he tells me to perform one.

I fail to flare enough, and we land flat, on the left (my) side of the runway to boot.

“You owe me a coke.”

Damnit. I’ll find that centerline soon enough.

Cross-country is over for the day, after wrapping up I hustle off to work.

I’m exhausted from what feels like a full day’s work, but that avgas isn’t going to pay for itself.