It was 28 degrees on the ramp and we'd just done pre-flight in the dark. We had needed oil and the cold and wind were enough that it actually hurt just to hold the dipstick.
The problem is, it's hard to start a small plane in the cold. It can be hard to start a car also, but modern cars have a bunch of gizmos that sense air temperature and stuff and mix fuel and air just right to get you going.
In this plane, there were no gizmos. Just me and some knobs. The knobs control the primer, throttle, mixture and ignition. Most combinations of those things result in the engine not starting. A few result in success and a few result in an engine fire. After about 10 minutes of the first set I moved into the second. The third I thankfully skipped altogether.
Honestly, it felt like the mission was complete the moment the tach came alive, but there was more to be done. We had to navigate home in the wind and the cold and the dark and land safely at Leesburg Executive - our home base away from home (real home is of course KSBA).
The flight back went okay. Winds aloft were pretty stiff but not too turbulent. I added a bit of time on to the trip by following the highways a bit more due to it being night time. During the day you can land on a field safely if the engine goes but at night roads might be your best bet. I added a bit more time on to the trip by going around some hills.
Dulles airspace lies over Leesburg so pilots are required to come in pretty low on their approach. That's okay during the day when you can see and avoid hills, but my altitude wasn't high enough to make me feel safe coming in so I went the long way around to keep ground clearance.
The night landing was actually surprisingly smooth. The wind was high at the surface but mostly down the runway. Surface temperature was 25 degrees. We made it home safe and sound and made for the warmth of the pilot's lounge.
Trips home don't happen without a trip out though, and the trip out was the day before. We had planned to take off around 9 but pushed the flight back about an hour in order to allow for frost to melt.
The destination was KCHO - Charolttesville. We were going to visit with Will and Erik, two college friends, and their spouses. I went to school in Charlottesville but had never been to the airport prior to landing there.
We didn't fly direct. We made diversions to overfly Lake Anna and Lake Monticello. The first as it was a childhood vacation destination for my family and the latter so we could fly over Erik's house. We also took some time to fly over the UVA grounds to take some photos of my college.