We woke up early enough to have breakfast and check out of the hotel by 8:00. CO-MAR picked us up shortly after that and took Kathy out to start preflighting while I paid the bill. By the time I got to the airplane she had loaded the luggage, removed the tie downs, cleaned the canopy and organized the cockpit. All I had to do was burp the engine and check for overall integrity. Teamwork!
The weather check was good but some clouds could be expected once we got into Arkansas. We departed KBWG and climbed on course to 6500'. About 25 miles out ATC had us switch to Clarksville Approach and asked if we were familiar with the restricted military areas surrounding Fort Campbell. I said yes, but would take a vector to keep us clear of the hot areas. She obliged by vectoring us south of the MOA. The most difficult part of this leg was trying to listen carefully to the controller. The radios were weak with a lot of background static. Every call got my immediate attention while I tried to decipher if it was a call for us. I was glad when were passed to Memphis Center.
As we continued southwest the scattered layer thickened to broken. Slowly a line of clouds started building up to our level. An hour out from our destination I had decide to go over or under. Checking METARs on (I love my) 696 showed low ceilings on the eastern side of the Mississippi River with clearing immediately after crossing over. I decided to go up and over. The air was still smooth at 8500' and we were well clear of any build ups.
As we started our descent Kathy asked if this would be our lunch stop. Oops. She was already hungry and I hadn't planned on a full meal until we got to Hot Springs. A quick check showed that Arkansas International was only a short distance away. Maybe we could go there? Unicom answered and said that we could land on his taxiway if we wanted. The main runway was under repair. Also, no fuel was available so we scratched that plan and went back to "Plan A". Blytheville Muni is a crop duster strip in the middle of farm country. I had been maneuvering for Arkansas International so when we changed back to the original plan I wasn't set up for a normal entry. I was way too high and could do a 360 or slip, but wasn't sure if Kathy would appreciate an uncoordinated descent. Turns out she loved it. (phew). Although it had an "old" feel to it, the place was clean and well maintained. The manager was courteous and helpful and let us sit in the pilots' lounge munching of carrots and celery while we were fueled. (I like KIND Bars) When the fuel truck driver came in we heard him say that there was a real nice Piper on the line. Thanks!
With 11 gallons in each side we climbed back up to 6500'. We both enjoyed maneuvering around the clouds as we climbed to cruising altitude. Once settled in Kathy found her blanket/sunshade and took a nap. I enjoyed the smooth air and listening to fellow travelers on the radio. Little Rock was very busy and I watched a C130 depart from Robinson AFB. The white contrails overhead gave a good indication of where the VOR station was as they made their way outbound. Soon we passed over the Arkansas River and planned for our descent in Hot Springs. Once again I was a little high (distracted by the hills on the right) and needed to add a touch of slip to bring us down on glide slope. (Sweet landing). The first thing we noticed was the Tower, but I had no tower frequency. I would later learn that it has been unmanned since PATCO went on strike and were subsequently fired. This is a great rest stop. Courtesy van provide free for two hours, we went into town and found a Cracker Barrel for lunch. We returned refreshed and ready for our final leg.
Sally had a rough start. The engine smoothed out above 3000 RPM but it was not like her to be a rough runner. I had noticed this trend earlier and knew it would have to be addressed. I'm glad to have the full set of instruments on the EMS so that I can evaluate engine performance. Extra care during the run up convinced me we were good to go.
Crossing the Red River I began to get a little nervous. I don't fly much in controlled airspace anymore and the thought of working with the controllers at the DFW Class B was a little intimidating. How rusty am I? I shouldn't have worried. The only real confusion was differentiating another "4PopaSierra" in the congested airspace. That, and trying to spot the airfield at sunset. As it turns out I was able to enter a left downwind without any problem. I intentionally landed a bit long to take the most convenient taxiway over to US Sport Aircraft. It was about 6:30PM, Hertz was closed and we didn't have any transportation. Now what?
Second day summary: 652 miles in 6.0 hours.