From talking to several instructors, I get the impression that they're not all that comfortable turning a plain ol' private pilot loose in the night sky. A license will let you fly at night, yes, but it's not necessarily the best idea... it's tougher to see clouds, tougher to find your way out of things. And as I learned, much easier to get lost.
You can't see rivers, railroad tracks, small roads or landmarks. You can't see a stadium unless it's lit, and airport beacons are just one of a million things flashing at you out in the world. It was lovely and serene at times, but it was also happening really fast. The only reason I ever realized we were at our destination airport was because I realized we'd been flying for a half hour... we've got to be someplace. I keyed the radio five times to turn on the pilot-controlled lights and they turned on, so that's got to be the place. Right? We hope?
What I didn't expect was the visibility. You may not be able to see railroads, but you can easily identify four separate towns along a highway. And when we were fifty miles from Wichita, we could still see the lights of Wichita, glowing plainly in the distance with distinct features. Flying at night makes the world seem much bigger. The daytime world is all green, gray, brown... towns blend into the countryside and boundaries aren't all that real. The nighttime world is black with obvious clusters of yellow lights where life exists.
So that's really why my flight plan checkpoints failed me. I planned to look for a town every few minutes but they're all the same, what I should have looked for was patterns of towns.
Tomorrow I'm taking my written exam. I'm not terribly worried about it but I will say that failing would be really embarrassing, you can pass with a 70%, it's not that difficult a test and they give you the questions. I've been taking practice tests on http://exams4pilots.org and always pass there. I made flashcards for things I really cannot remember for the life of me... light gun signals, types of fog, incident report requirements for various things that happen to you. I'm spending this evening reviewing. It is not a fun way to spend a night at home, but once it's done with it's done with.
***edit*** I passed! 90%, go me!