The return trip, if anything, was more enlightening. After a thorough weather briefing we ended up lifting off at about 4:30 in the afternoon from Erie. Our home airport was supposed to have high ceilings and be otherwise fine for landing at our proposed arrival time.
We elected to stop in West Virginia again as we liked the FBO and fuel prices were reasonable. This time I got a full weather briefing and found that Gwinnett was positively socked in. Low ceilings and poor visibility meant that it was unlikely that we would be able to land when we arrived. That and flying over the North Georgia mountains in the dark in uncertain weather led me to decide to stay overnight in West Virginia.
The next morning, the forecast for Gwinnett showed modest ceilings that were to improve to about 6,000 feet before we intended to arrive there.
By now most of those creaky old skills that I had learned in my flying lessons were coming back to me and I was taking advantage of all the facilities available to me. I had filed a VFR flight plan, was taking full advantage of flight following and was talking with flightwatch to receive updated forecasts to augment my in-cockpit information.
These are valuable tools that tend not to be used so much when you just fly locally and I needed to prod myself to take advantage of them and have now added them to my personal checklist as *must have* items for any cross country flight (i.e. more than 50 miles).
We arrived at Knoxville airport without incident. The ceilings had NOT risen above 7,000 as I was expecting and I could see that the North Georgia Mountains were impassible for VFR flight. So I decided to skirt around them by amending my flight plan to jog over to Chattanooga and then head South to home.
A few minutes later, what I had assumed from the distance to be just lower visibility mist turned out to be a wall of fog (picture the sandstorm scene from the movie â€œSaharaâ€) that extended from the ground right up to the cloud ceiling above. *sigh* there was nothing for it but to turn back to Knoxville and land.