One thing these airplanes are supremely good for is an annual (or more often) flying odyssey. No hurry, just lollygag along and take some time and see the country in what is the best possible way.
I'll tell you a tale about a trip that was, to me, one of the most fun things that I have ever done in an airplane and one that illustrates what you can do with one of these basic single-engine airplanes.
It was April of 1962 and I was looking for something to write about in relation to the Cherokee, which was just coming upon the scene in numbers. Cherokees were made at Vero Beach, Florida, in the lower right hand corner of the United States. How about ferrying one to the upper left corner?
Hillsboro, Oregon, was what worked and early one morning I had the keys to the airplane, N5490W, a 160-horsepower version with a full-panel, VFR avionics, a $13,700 price tag and a useful load of 948 pounds.
When I took off and pointed the Cherokee's perky snout toward the northwest I knew there were 3,000 miles ahead, many of which involved the Rocky Mountains through which I had never flown.
The first day was over familiar territory to Tulsa, Oklahoma, with stops in Dothan, Alabama, and Little Rock, Arkansas.
The next day the territory was unfamiliar after Wichita was passed and the sightseeing was great. The first stop was at North Platte, Nebraska. Then it was on to Sheridan, Wyoming, where the big mountains start. The weather was deteriorating but, as I was to do for the rest of the trip, I started getting advice from local pilots.
Following the good advice I had a most beautiful ride up the Yellowstone River valley, then down highways and railroad tracks to Helena, Montana, for the evening.
The next day there was more inclement weather. I found those local pilots who described valleys to follow, told of landing strips along the way just in case, and assured me that the valleys to be used were wide enough to turn around in and retreat.
I made Hillsboro on the third day. It wasn't a trip over the mountains but a trip through the mountains. Thanks to the advice from those locals, it was an uneventful trip and a fine adventure.
The total flying time was 23:10, which reflects some tailwind at various points along the way. The fuel burn averaged 8.4 gallons per hour and the total fuel bill for three days of great flying was $89.11. I left the airplane in Hillsboro and took the airline home to New Jersey. The airplane must have liked it in the West because, according to the FAA Registry, it now lives in Mount Shasta, California, which is not far south of the border with Oregon.
That was a great trip. Maybe I'll do it again someday. It was a different type of flying than I do today, and also enjoy fully, but the simpler flying life and those really friendly airplanes will always have a strong appeal.