A couple of newsletters ago, I mentioned the Navigation Challenge that APA helped sponsor where pilots flew a fun route around the valley and captured photos of landmarks from clues given. I've thought about the multiple levels of safety something like this can provide pilots. Yeah, it's an excuse to fly where you won't find pancakes or hamburgers, but there's so much more.
I learned to fly with paper charts, pencils, plotters, and the venerable E6-B. On my initial cross-country flights, I was intimately aware of my position over the ground as I methodically plotted my actual course as compared to my planned course. I was in tune with my plan, my plane, wind conditions, and my surroundings. The challenge here was that no GPS was to be used during the flight - this was strictly chart-based flying. Yes, you could use an EFB for the charts, but no GPS input was allowed. Back to PPL days, right? On every one of my flights today, I have at least four GPS devices providing input to my charting tools. It's important to remember how to navigate when GPS isn't available. Yes, it does happen.
This exercise also required pilots to transition through multiple controlled airspaces and communicate with towers along the way. This helps stretch radio skills of pilots who may typically fly in uncontrolled airspace to become comfortable on the radio again. While this could have been planned outside of the Class B airspace, communications requirements were intentional.
Perhaps the biggest benefit this challenge provided was a chance to get out of a comfort zone. Many of us go flying once a week to one of a handful of airports with a regular group of pilot friends. While this helps keep us current, it doesn't do much for competency. This challenge was a different mission type. Different waypoints, locations, airspaces, etc... It highlighted the importance of mixing things up in your flying routine.
Find some new airports. Plan and execute a long cross-country flight. There are festivals, landmarks, and gatherings around the country that our planes and licenses were built to take us to. Take advantage of the amazing destinations that are within a fuel stop or two, and remember why you learned to fly in the first place. Have fun!