Friday, July 10, 2015

Road Trip: San Diego (sort of) by storm

San Diego skyline off in the distance
Mother Nature can be a real pain in the ass, especially if you enjoy activities that are heavily weather dependent. During the days leading up to our trip, I was checking the weather obsessively. The plan was for my wife and I to go skydiving on Saturday morning, but there was a greater than 50% chance of rain that was threatening our chances. As the week proceeded, the probability of rain seemed to drop ever so slightly and by Thursday evening, when I picked up our long-term MDX for the weekend, the forecast was looking promising, with less than 10% chance of rain in the area surrounding our jump zone. Fingers-crossed, I loaded our bikes into the back of the MDX along with our luggage and after work on Friday, we hit the road headed south.

Lucky for us, since we opted to wait until after we had eaten to depart, traffic was not too heavy, despite being on the notorious 5 Freeway. We cranked up the tunes, set the cruise control, and just let the miles roll by. By the time we closed in on our accommodations for the evening in the town of Chula Vista, the skies were clearing and some stars were starting to become visible as we moved further away from the lights of San Diego. While there was some dampness on the grounds, things were looking up for our jump early the next morning.

Up at the crack of dawn, we geared up and headed for the airfield, the skies above us gloriously clear of clouds. Eager to reach the field, and with a nice winding road ahead of me, I pressed the MDX a bit and hustled the big crossover around Lower Otay Lake. Being early, there were few cars on the road, though several cyclists had gotten an early start and were dotting the landscape. We showed up at the airfield to find that there were a number of people who had already arrived before us, but luckily we were scheduled for the first session of the day.

A few hundred pages of liability paperwork later, we headed back outside to discover that the clear sky we had left not moments before had started to fill with clouds. Concerned with visibility, the decision was made to delay the first jumps until they had a clear view of the airfield from 13,000 feet. We paced around for a while, chatting with some of the staff. At one point, they called the first group over to be briefed on how the jump would go and got us fitted for harnesses. All the while, the skies became darker and more ominous. Thick clouds started rolling in from the southwest and a fine mist began falling from the sky. Our chances of going up were looking ever slimmer.

Two hours of waiting later, we finally gave up and decided that it was time for us to pack it in. After inquiring about a refund, we hopped back in the car and hit the road in search of breakfast. To our chagrin, the skies opened up and a brief, but intense, thunderstorm rolled through, drenching everything in site. Certain that we had made the right decision, we found ourselves at a nearby mall, scarfing down some crepes followed by a bit of gelato for good measure. Since we had not yet eaten that day, the food tasted fantastic and after a short stroll, we retired to our accommodations for a nice mid-day catnap.

The afternoon proved more promising, with the cloud cover burning off and the sun starting to peek out and warm things up. We loaded up our gear and took the MDX into Chula Vista and parked it somewhere out of the sun. Unloading the bikes, we set out to bike our way to Coronado Island along the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge and San Diego Bay. Aside from starting out with a rather unpleasant view paired with the unpleasant odor of sewage wafting up from who knows where, the majority of the ride offered fantastic views of the bay. We passed by the famous Hotel Del Coronado and found ourselves at the Ferry Landing Marketplace. A popular tourist hot spot and home to at least one brewery of fine Southern California craft beer, we stopped to take a break and grab a snack.

A plate of BBQ and a beer later, we found ourselves wandering around the marketplace as a chill started to set in from the sea breeze blowing over the island. Taking that and the setting sun as our cue to depart, we headed back towards Chula Vista, stomping hard on the pedals to keep our pace up. Along the way, we passed many young couples, dressed in ball gowns and tuxes. Clearly, it was prom season here on Coronado. There was one planned detour to a local market to pick up a bottle of Golden Coast Mead. Mead, for those who do not know, is an alcoholic beverage that is brewed from honey. All that sugar in the honey is allowed to ferment into alcohol and the resulting beverage retains much of the floral character of the honey while providing an alcohol punch closer to wine with the carbonation of beer. It is a delightful beverage to drink on a warm summer day and seems like it would pair nicely with many things that would normally go well with champagne or a dry white wine.

Our headlights staving off the encroaching darkness, we arrived back at the MDX just before the sun fully set. Stowing our bikes, we set off on foot for our dinner destination, the nearby Tacos El Gordo. Apparently named the best Mexican food you can get outside of Mexico, we were intrigued to see if the food could live up to the expectation.

Not sure what to expect, since I had not really looked at any photos, what we found was a surprisingly unadorned structure with a massive line of cars trailing out of the parking lot. Inside, only about half the floor contained seating while the rest of the space was consumed by people, waiting in line to order food. Smartly, the proprietors had set up their lines to allow people who wanted to order less popular cuts of meat, including such things as cabeza (head), lengua (tongue), and spicy pork, their own lines while the more popular cuts resulted in ridiculously long and absurdly slow lines. As adventurous eaters, we opted for the short line and the tastier cuts.

Unlike your local taco joint, watching the pros behind the counter work is downright mesmerizing and it is clear that they put the traditional concept of "healthy" eating out of their mind. Each corn tortilla is doused in some sort of fat and then dredged through the juices used to cook the protein. With expert knife work, the staff prep all the varied cuts of meat that have been stewing for hours in a mixture of spices that fill the entire restaurant with a divine odor. We ordered a whole bunch of tacos between the two of us in four different varieties and just went to town. The afternoon ride, totaling about 25 miles, had worked up quite an appetite and combined with the delicious tacos that literally melted way the moment they hit your lips was just too much. We gobbled up the entire order in about five minutes flat and sat for a moment to catch our breath and sip on our drinks. Looking around, there was clearly a dire need for more seating so we vacated our seats.

Returning to our accommodations for the night we got cleaned up and cozied up in bed, each with a glass of mead in hand as we settled in to watch a little TV to ease us into our slumber.

I have always loved the San Diego area and now, being back in Southern California, it is more accessible to me than ever. While the city itself has much to offer, the surrounding towns that border San Diego itself have a tremendous amount of character of their own that makes them worth seeing as well. While this was a short weekend trip and Mother Nature foiled the primary reason for the trip, we still managed to enjoy ourselves and to have a great time.

Maybe if I am feeling particularly adventurous one of these days, I will see if I can bike down there instead of driving.