There's a lot of restricted airspace in Utah. The salt flats are inhospitable and useless for agriculture so the military use those big flat salty spaces for bombing practice, and secret alien experiments. It's always a good idea to heed such restrictions. Even if you aren't directly in the line of fire of a bomb or alien death ray, they will send up interceptor airplanes. You might get shot down. You might just be required to land, interrogated, and have a lot of paperwork to do. Pilots will do things to avoid paperwork that they wouldn't do to avoid death, so it's a serious threat.
The straight line flight to my destination would take about an hour, but I will be an hour and a half en route, because I have to go the long way around to get into the unrestricted space between two vast chunks of restricted airspace. I depart from an uncontrolled aerodrome, bid farewell to the people in the pattern, then call the centre controller (or "center," I suppose) to ask for flight following to Wendover.
"What is your planned routing?" asks the controller.
I tell her "Direct Lucid, outbound on the Lucid 230 radial for 25 miles, then using visual landmarks to avoid the restricted airspace." The boundaries of the restricted airspace will show up on my GPS, and it will warn me if my track will intercept a restricted area, but I don't just depend on the GPS to stay out of trouble. I have planned a route around the restricted airspace that I can fly visually, in case the GPS fails, or the data in the GPS doesn't match the boundaries on the current chart. Twenty-five miles out on the 230 radial from the lucid VOR there is a place where a railroad track approaches a road very closely, just before a ridge. At that point I can fly due south to the other side of the ridge, and I'l be clear of the restricted area as long as I remain west of the ridge until I'm past a particular peak, and then I can fly direct the aerodrome. This kind of flying is called "pilotage," so it's clearly in my job description.
"I'm just checking that you were familiar with the restricted airspace," she says, "You're obviously very familiar."
Nice work, controller. "Are you familiar with the restricted airspace?" has a nagging "Did you remember to go to the bathroom before you left?" kind of feel to it. It's my job to be familiar with the airspace where I'm working, but it's her job to make sure pilots receiving flight following don't blunder into it. If I'd told her I was planning direct, she'd probably have said, "I recommend you fly heading 280 to avoid restricted airspace." Or maybe she would have had an even more diplomatic way to put it. Also if she had asked if I was familiar I would have said no, because I'd never been there before.
Some controllers mean "familiar" to mean that you can find the place on a map, while others expect that a pilot who claims familiarity will know all the local landmarks, quirky clearances and other oddities of the local environment. Like being told to fly direct the Lagoon, outside SLC. Now it was marked on the chart, but looking for a lagoon at your twelve o' clock, you'd tend to be watching for a body of water. This Lagoon is an amusement park.
As I continue around the north of the lake over this deserted land, I find myself wishing for more fuel. I have plenty, but this desolate landscape engenders the same desire for extra extra fuel as the barren north. The nearest usable airports with fuel aren't even in the same state.
The flight goes as planned, with the landscape unfolding just as the chart did, only much bigger and without the creases. I can see what look like guardhouses on the roads leading into the restricted area. Makes sense. Pilot Peak, the mountain I mentioned that was used by the pioneers for an earlier form of pilotage, is inside the restricted area, but visible as I circumnavigate.
Wendover appears right behind two welcoming rocks on the ridge north of the city and I go around them to the west to make straight in for the into-wind runway at the big but mostly deserted airport. There's a single parked on the apron. I think it was a Bonanza. I park next to it, but no one comes out of the FBO. It's six twenty-seven p.m. as I pull on the locked door of the FBO. The sign on the door says they close at six-thirty. They let me in, and agree to waive the ramp fees when I tell them how much fuel I'll be taking in the morning, and daily for the rest of my stay.
I feel like a high roller.