Friday, December 24, 2021

Nuclear Nightmare


Castle Bravo nuclear test, 1954. This bomb was powerful enough to destroy a small country. By United States Department of Energy - US gov, Public Domain,

I'm old enough to remember the end of the Cold War. We lived in fear of nuclear annihilation. The sense of danger waxed and wained with the changing international political climate. By about '85 or '86 it became clear that the threat had lessened, though some political instability in the Soviet Union persisted until it was finally dissolved and the constituent countries went their separate ways.

I never thought we would be back in that type of fear again, but here we are. There is a crisis in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has been talking nuclear threats, and NATO has deployed nuclear attack aircraft to adjacent areas. Iran has a nuclear project that seems to be nearing completion, and the Peoples Republic of China seems poised to invade countries that the United States is obligated by treaty to protect.

I live within 10 miles of a munitions depot that is listed under the START treaty as "inspectable," which means there might be nuclear weapons stockpiled there. It would be a potential target for a nuclear strike.

I do not let this type of fear affect my day-to-day life but I like to read and be informed and sometimes it complicates my psychology. I had a nightmare last night that I was on the Farallon Islands off the coast of California and the Navy forced all the civilians to evacuate due to pending nuclear war. I looked at the sky with dread. Scully and Mulder from the X-Files were there, leading groups of people up into and on top of a large building that looked somewhat like an old brick church to a helipad to evacuate. One of my cats woke me up.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

The Future Sucks

Photo is a non-sequitur. I just marvel at the athleticism of a young cat.

Those of us born in the latter half of the 1900s always looked forward to the new millennium. But the prognostications of a gleaming, advanced future proved to be premature. In those days, predictions tended to optimism. Technological advances were expected soon with endless positive effects for civilization.

Now that we are in the 2020s, I have to say things aren't as good as I thought they would be. Many of the predictions of the twentieth century have finally come true: space tourism, electric vehicles, and computers that fit in the palm of your hand. We are all now fully and instantaneously connected around the world. But instead of becoming happier, society seems to have lost its collective mind. It seems to be a specific consequence of increased connectedness. The United States is in a cold civil war, and the rest of the world teeters on the brink of World War III.

Futurists now predict a discouraging future. That profession has changed entirely.

There is this crazy conspiracy theory on the internet that says that when they boosted the energy levels on the Large Hadron Collider around 2015, something went wrong and we were forced off into an alternate reality. This is hilarious and I doubt it's true, but things have definitely changed one way or another, and not for the better. By our twentieth century expectations of the future of technology, we are living in the future. But I can't say I like it.  The future sucks.

What I've taken away from it all is the correctness of the ancient wisdom: live in the moment. It was always wrong for the generations who came after World War II to look to the future with boundless optimism. Same for pessimism. We should all live in the NOW and make every day the best we can.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

San Diego: Torrey Pines Hike and Coronado Via Bicycle

Torrey Pines State Beach, from the bluffs.

For my last full day in the San Diego area, I decided to visit Torrey Pines State Beach to hike along sea cliffs. I had reviewed the tide tables the previous day and determined it would be best to be there around midday as the beach can only be safely walked at low tide. I also wanted to fit in a bicycle ride and visit downtown. This compressed my schedule a little but I still couldn't resist taking in a leisurely full breakfast. What's the point in taking time off work if you can't enjoy it?

Torrey Pines was reasonably easy to access, although I was a little confused about where I should park. I ended up having to make a U-turn in front of the famous golf course by the same name which I remember my brother and I playing on a computer game back in the late 90s. Incredibly, it is a municipal golf course, but it looks like 18 holes is over $200 currently for a non-resident.

Actual Torrey pine trees.

After paying the $15 day use fee and parking, I starting hiking uphill with all the other hikers without carefully planning a route. Distances were not marked on the signage so I decided to wing it. The trail on the north end of the bluffs ascends along a road for a while before you encounter side trails that lead to spectacular views of the coast.

The view south along the foggy coastline.

Looks like Arizona by the ocean.

The weather was cliche California coast weather: overcast, windy, and slightly foggy. It was positively atmospheric and it felt like walking in a movie. I took several trails through the pines and past a peculiar mix of pine barrens, desert vegetation, and coastal plants. Some of the ravines leading down to the beach have eroded into hoodoos and clefts reminiscent of Arizona. I decided to skip the interpretive center and followed a trail down to the beach to make a loop back to my car. I first checked with a couple of "docents" to make sure I understood the tide correctly. They assured me I had a good two or three hour window in which to avoid the waves.

The steep trail down to the beach. You can find photos and video of this spot with waves crashing on the steps.

The trail down to the beach featured many knee-stressing steps and finally down a stairway. I've been using the word too much but it was spectacular! The sea cliffs tower over you with waves crashing ashore. There are rounded rocks mixed in with the beach sand and huge slabs at the base of the cliff, marking previous rockfalls. Signs warn to stay away from the base of the cliffs. You can feel the salt spray on your face and see the thin fog in the air.

The beach was wide here at low tide but you can see the narrow spot ahead. I assume that at low tide the waves wash all the way to the base of the cliffs, even in good weather.

I walked along the sand for a while and then decided to go shoeless and wade a little. All the foot traffic was going in the same direction, which I found interesting. I assume people like to do the loop in the same direction I was going. One might hope for less of a crowd but it was the first day of November and a weekday, and the weather was less than warm so I guess Torrey Pines must never be a lonely place.

I noticed a nervous-looking ranger drive past a couple of times in a small truck. I'm not sure if he was looking for some particular behavior or if he was just worried about people lingering too long for the turning of the tide. I think it would be a terrible place to get caught in the waves when they crash against the cliffs. Probably they have had to rescue people before, or worse yet, recover the bodies.

I had plenty of time to return to my car before the tide turned, though there was a short stretch of the beach where it is a relatively narrow strip between the waterline and the cliff, and I could see that a rogue wave or two could occasionally reach the rock even at low tide. It must be a fearsome place in winter.

I really enjoyed my visit to Torrey Pines and highly recommend the experience. It's beautiful! It would be best to visit at low tide so you can walk the beach below the cliffs.

I finished up my hike early enough to go back to the Airbnb and pickup my bike and get a snack. I drove down to Coronado, which didn't take long but was an unpleasant, hectic drive through downtown and over a ludicrously high bridge, high enough for giant cruise liners to pass beneath. I found parking quickly and easily in a public park next to the bridge and right on San Diego Bay. I noticed my back tire on the bike was flat. This was a bad sign. I pumped it back up and it seemed to be holding so I went ahead with the ride.

I guess this is San Diego Bay. The bridge pictured is tall enough for cruise ships to pass beneath.

There is a nice greenway along the waterway, but I followed signs for the beach and soon wandered into the downtown area. I had to ride some streets to get into the beach area and took a few photos. Along the beach there are some old houses with interesting nineteenth to early twentieth century stylings.

There are a few grand old buildings in Coronado.

The beach is wide on the outer side of the Coronado peninsula and you can see mountainous islands out in the Pacific. There are multiple military installations on Coronado, and Navy and Marine Corp personnel are all around, especially visible on motorcycles1. Coronado is the major west coast station for the famous US Navy SEALS, as well as other types of units. San Diego Bay has a huge naval base and there were many large warships in port.

Coronado Beach. I think that is possibly San Clemente Island behind the cruise ship, but I'm not certain. I had to zoom because there was a sign saying no bicycles on the beach and I didn't have a lock to leave it behind.

Warships under construction (behind the white wrappings).

I finally found my way back onto the greenway and headed back toward the car. Then I realized that there was another .8 mile or so that I had not ridden in the opposite direction so I continued all the way to the end, where there is a ferry that can be ridden over to downtown San Diego. My knees were sore from all the walking and riding over the past few days so I headed back to the car. When I unloaded back at the Airbnb, I could hear air escaping from the bike's back wheel. It was a split in the tire, so I got really lucky to finish my ride.

The harbor at Coronado. The place shouts "wealth!"

After three and half days in San Diego, I was very relaxed and pleased with my adventures in new places, but I was also ready to go home. The return drive seemed faster to me, but it was uninteresting and I was almost ecstatic to be home. I love a good road trip but the driving wears on me more the older I get.

There are many other things that I didn't do in San Diego, such as visit Sea World and the San Diego Zoo. Those are better for families and I doubt I would go to those places on a solo trip anyway. I also have a few ethical reservations about the confinement of wild animals for exhibit, but never say never. There are also many other hikes and mountain bike rides in the area, as well as many other places to paddle or rent boats. I think people who live in the area have an abundance of interesting things to do.

I'm really glad I took the time off work to visit the Pacific Ocean and San Diego. It was a great fall trip!

Back in Ocean Beach at the Bluewater Grill, the best meal I had the entire trip. Grilled mahi-mahi. I wish I'd gone there first!


1 In California, "lane splitting" is legal for motorcycles. On a multi-lane road, motorcycles may ride down the dashed white line in between full sized vehicles. Some drivers find this unnerving but it has been shown to be statistically safe (within reason). Unfortunately some motorcyclists do it at unreasonable speed, but mostly it doesn't cause issues.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

San Diego: Ocean Beach

One of my first views of the Pacific Ocean. This is the "dog beach" in Ocean Beach - literally a beach for dogs. You can see it was overcast, which is somewhat normal for San Diego beginning around late October or early November. I got pretty lucky though, mostly it cleared off around midday.

(I apologize for posting this out of chronological order - this was the first day of my trip to San Diego)

Until this year, I'd never been to the Pacific Ocean. This needed to be addressed. I made reservations in a San Diego Airbnb two blocks from the beach for late October. The timing wasn't ideal, because this time of year often turns foggy and overcast. I seem to have just missed the clear October weather by a few days, but it was still very much worth it, and most days it cleared off in the afternoon.

Better weather for sunset the following day.

The beach did not disappoint, with cool air and seaweed washing ashore, waves crashing on the breakwater and spraying me with salty water. Since it was a Saturday, there were too many people, but this is to be expected on a weekend, even in the off season.

A classic California scene from the pier at Ocean Beach.

I had no specific expectations of Ocean Beach, but having arrived and walked around for a mile or so, it soon became clear it was a different place than the Atlantic beach towns I've been to before. Upon research, I found out it used to be a hippy town. I don't think I would describe it that way now but despite the abundance of obviously well-funded homeowners, there is a bit of a seedy feel to it and a few interesting-looking people walking around and hanging out in alleys. About every fourth or fifth store front seems to be a liquor store. There was a hand painted sign on the house next door that said, "Ocean Beach: a sunny place for shady people."

The Airbnb, just about a two block walk from the beach. It was adequate, but it's a very old building and there are some gaps around the doors, etc.

The crowd is overall youthful, with an abundance of what I suppose are the modern equivalent of "beach bums." They remind me of the raft guide scene back when I lived my weekends on the whitewater rivers of the Southeast. There are a lot of young people here with hobbies and habits they can't afford. In whitewater, we talked about quitting our jobs and living in a van down by the river. We had "boater trash," is there such a thing as "surfer trash?" Funny. Maybe I'm getting old and grumpy? This is an interesting place but it isn't my scene.

It looks like 800 square feet here goes for up to a million. Yikes! But we are in a housing bubble and we are talking about a very desirable place to live, except for one thing: the air traffic.

There was a lot of this, and I do mean A LOT. Noise, noise, noise.

Ocean Beach is directly under the flight path for the San Diego airport. This means every day, all day, there are large airliners flying over at one or two thousand feet. It's loud. It seemed most every plane I saw was climbing out which means the engines rumble. It slowed down at night but I still awoke a few times over four nights. For that reason, I think if I go back to the area again in the future, I will try to remember not to pick Ocean Beach. There are many other beach towns along the coast of California and I assume most of them do not have that particular problem. I visited the other beach communities of La Jolla and Oceanside. These were more posh, so probably more expensive, but do not have loud air traffic flying over. I also visited Coronado but it is beside the port and has a lot of military air traffic. I'll blog on that later.

Ocean Beach isn't a bad place, and I enjoyed my stay for the most part, but the air traffic is a big negative.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

San Diego: Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, Oceanside, and the Sunset

Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside, California. The flags from left to right are the flag of the United States with the flag of the State of California beneath, next to the right is a historical flag of Mexico, then on the right the flag of the Spanish empire.

After my kayak tour, I was sore and exhausted, and a little sunburned despite having used sunscreen. I didn't sleep well. It was Halloween night, the neighborhood was rowdy, and I had one of the worst nightmares of my life. It will make good starter material for a horror story or novel.

For the next day, I decided to change my itinerary from bicycling to visit one of the old Spanish catholic missions in the region for a rest day. I chose Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, California, which required less than an hour drive from Ocean Beach, mostly on freeway.

One of the idyllic courtyards in the mission.

The extensive and well-tended gardens.

The mission was established as part of a Spanish effort to occupy territory and get it into productive economic activity (as they saw it). This involved the conquest and enslavement of the local indigenous people, the Kumeyaay and Quechnajuichom peoples. The official interpretive materials at the modern mission site and museum do not use the words slave or slavery, though material in the audio tour of the museum does mention that the native peoples were not free to avoid agricultural work or flee the area. Spanish soldiers would bring them back forcibly and administer corporal punishment. It's funny to me that the Roman Catholic Church still can't openly acknowledge their own role in slavery, even in this day and age.

The gorgeous chapel at Mission San Luis Rey.

The mission is still in use and features a beautiful church, which still contains elements of the original construction, dating from the late 1700s, although the mission fell into disrepair after the Mexican revolution. The Catholic Church was interpreted to be hostile to secular Mexican rule so they ordered the missions disbanded. After the Mexican War, the United States used the mission as a location for troops occupying California, though there was no fighting. The centerpiece of the museum is a document signed by Abraham Lincoln gifting the property back to the Catholic Church near the end of the US Civil War, as the military no longer had any use for it. The mission was eventually rebuilt and expanded into the complex of buildings found today.

The grounds are beautiful and the interior of the church is spectacular. It's worth a visit for the architecture and the art within, and if you have patience, for the museum. I've wanted to visit the old Spanish missions in California for many years and I found this satisfactory and interesting, though now that I've done it, I think I would probably skip more detailed visits to other missions. I like the architecture but it can be viewed just by walking around and taking a few photos.

Dive Mexican food. Both the green and red salsas were face-melting hot and I suffered for twenty-four hours.

After visiting the mission, I was starved and searched the internet for a Mexican restaurant with good ratings and ended up at a little place near the beach in Oceanside. It was one of these hole-in-the-wall independent takeout places like I wrote about before. The food was tasty but eventually set my mouth aflame and I suffered for about a day afterwards. It was good but not as good as the all-knowing internet would have had me believe.

The wooden pier in Oceanside. This is one of the longest wooden piers in North America. The Ocean Beach pier is longer but is concrete and steel.

Since I was in the area and had plenty of time in the free two hour parking in front of the restaurant, I walked over to the beach. Though the restaurant was a hole-in-the-wall in an old building, the rest of the neighborhood was posh. It's obviously a place for the wealthy and spendy tourists. It's beautiful though, and the long, wooden pier is a bit nicer than the concrete pier in Ocean Beach. I enjoyed the walk, took a few photos, and headed back to my Airbnb rental to watch the sunset. With all the walking I did, the day ended up not being much of a rest day but at least I didn't waste it sitting around.

The western sky afire just after sunset at Ocean Beach, San Diego.

Speaking of which, one of my life goals for travel was to see a sunrise on the Atlantic coast and a sunset on the Pacific coast. I got a sunrise in Florida all the way back in the 90s and this trip completed that process with a sunset on the west coast. It was spectacular! The somewhat cloudy weather during the trip produced some of the best sunsets I have ever seen. I highly recommend it!