"Warrior one six four delta papa cleared to the Salinas airport via after departure left turn 290 radar vectors Salinas direct, climb and maintain three thousand expect seven thousand five minutes after departure, departure frequency 120.3 squawk 5754."

Too fast, I write like a madman and manage to get it all. Reading it back is easy. I begin setting it up on the panel, we can't get Salinas from where we are so SJC gets entered and identified just in case. I make a couple minor errors and Travis corrects me. Runup is normal and we're ready to go.

"Warrior four delta papa runway 31 right cleared for takeoff."

Everything's looking good and we're climbing away. 300 feet hood on, 600 feet left turn to 290, and "Warrior four delta papa contact departure seeya."

Departure greets us with radar contact and gives us climb and maintain five thousand, left to 250 and direct salinas when able. After a few minutes they give us seven thousand. I am in the system for the first time and doing well so far... but the hard part is coming... It's 800 overcast in Salinas, my first time doing an approach with actual IMC conditions. This is why we chose Salinas today. The overcast layer is only a few hundred feet thick and nearby Watsonville is reporting clear, no problems there.

"Warrior four delta papa, descend and maintain four thousand." Here it comes, we've been on the downwind for almost 30 miles while someone else shoots the approach but now they're down and it's our turn. "Four delta papa, right turn to 280 maintain four thousand until established and cleared for the ILS 31." I must admit I'm getting a little nervous. It's gotten dark since we took off and the clouds have taken on a more sinister appearance than they wear during the day. Travis must sense my apprehension because he tells me to relax and do it just like I have done it in the sim and under the hood.

Localizer needle's alive and so is the glideslope... we're above it by 2 dots, a common occurence out here, says Travis. The needle centers as I turn in and pull out some power to steepen the descent and bring the glideslope back. Once it looks good I adjust for 90 knots and track with small corrections. "Four delta papa change to advisory frequency, report back with me on the missed." I call Salinas traffic and tell anyone who's listening that I'm on the ILS to 31.

1500 feet, 1200 to go before minimums, three hundred above the cloud layer the overcast is reaching up to grab us and my mind is trying to talk me out of it... but I can't listen to it right now, I've got needles to watch. Travis says "go ahead and take your hood off, but try not to look up." Now my mind is screaming. I want to look up, and I'm forcing myself back to the instruments. 1200 feet, 1000 to go and we're in the clouds... christ it's dark in here... get back on the needles you dummy. 1000 feet and I can start to see city lights out of the gloom, it's highly distracting and I laugh at it, but in that moment I'm now 3 dots left of the localizer, "get it back." says Travis and I yank it back to the right. 800 feet and we're out of it. up ahead I can see the runway and Travis says "Stay with it until minimums and then go missed."

I did it... but I can't celebrate just yet, now I'm at minimums and I cram in the power and start a climb, the missed approach procedure says climb straight ahead to 800 feet and then a left turn to 3000 and track the 275 degree radial outbound and hold at MARNA. The climb to 800 puts us back into the clouds... I forgot about having to climb back through them but somehow it's not as bad this time, I can't tell, though, wether it's because I'm getting further from the earth instead of going toward it, or if it's because I now know that there's no magic hand of doom waiting to smite me for being so foolish... Up through them takes no time and all and we do a couple turns in the hold and ask for vectors back to Reid Hillview, which is very much VFR.

Back above them the moon is shedding just enough light to outline the ridges, valleys, and little fingers reaching up from the cloud layer. I decide that while I must still respect them as nothing less than serious business... They don't look so scary after all.