La Jolla Sea Lions

By: Kevin

IMG_7096When we made a visit to San Francisco last year, we went down to the docks and Fisherman’s wharf to try and see the sea lions, but for whatever reason we were unsuccessful in our efforts. Yes, we have seen sea lions at SeaWorld, both here in San Diego as well as Orlando, FL, but it is just not the same as seeing them in their natural environment.

We were told that the beaches at La Jolla frequently have sea lions sunning themselves, so we made the short drive out to the beaches to see what we could find. The kids heard the word ‘beach’ and immediately changed into their swimming gear, piled way too much stuff into the van, and were ready to go.

On arrival to La Jolla beach, our first hurdle was to find parking. The beach was busy, and due to construction in the area, parking was even tighter than normal. We lucked out and found a car pulling out right at the beach and I was able to swing into the spot before anyone else snagged it. This time, we were successful! There were many sea lions swimming, sunning, sleeping, and playing on and around the beach. There were animals of all sizes and one could hear the barks and calls as they conversed and challenged each other. They didn’t seem to mind people being around either. While I doubt they would let you pet them, they couldn’t care less as we walked among them in the sand. The thing that surprised me the most was the stagnant smell. While I fully understood that there was no zoo keeper tending to them and cleaning up after the sea lions, the stale smell of salt and feces was stronger than I expected with the prevailing sea breeze. We could clearly see droppings around the rocks, sometimes liquified in pools of trapped water atop the rock formations. Miss Kicky Feet was heading straight for these pools of liquid poop and had to be redirected more than once to ensure our van did not smell like sea lion poop for the coming days or weeks.

Despite the smell of nature, the sea lions were actually pretty cool. Watching them “walk” around on the rocks with their two front flippers and kind of wiggle their hind end around was entertaining for me. They were more agile than I would have otherwise thought. They of course are avid swimmers as well, even is strong surf and waves between the boulders and rock formations they swam with ease and grace.

We spent approximately an hour taking pictures and videos of the sea lions and their cubs before moving on to our next activity of the day. All of us enjoyed our little dose of nature in action on the rocks by the sea. If anyone is in the area, the sea lions hang out on the rocks of La Jolla beach most of the year, if you care to visit them too.

Runway 5K

By: Kevin

Many people that read this may have completed a 5K. I have personally completed a number of 5K runs, some official events, and some just on a whim while working out. However, how many people can say they have done so on the runway of an active airport? Well, that is exactly what I did yesterday. Since joining the military I have had the opportunity to experience many new and different things, and yesterday added to my list of cool things I have done.

The event was hosted by Naval Air Station North Island, and as the name of this post implies, the event took place on one of the airport runways. Due to the FOD (Foreign Object Debris) risk we posed to the aircraft, which would be utilizing the runway shortly after our departure, we were limited on what we could bring with us out on the runway. We were allowed to have earphones and phones to play music, but no water, no hats, basically nothing that could get dropped or blown off and be picked up by a jet engine. Even with limited gear at hand everyone completed either the 5K running course, or the 1-mile walking course successfully without issue. We did have to slow at one point to allow an aircraft to pass as it was being towed across the runway from one area of the flight line to another.

Heather and the kids opted for the 1-mile walking course, so we all participated in the event. At the conclusion of the event we all received very nice Dri-wick T-shirts with a pretty cool logo on them.

Now I can honestly state that I have run from one end of a runway to the other and back again. Thanks North Island for hosting the event, and I will see you next year!

Movie in the Park

By: Kevin

Last night we attended a ‘Movie in the Park’ event, sponsored by a local hospital and hosted by San Diego county parks. The setup consisted of a large inflatable screen, projector, and sound system to ensure everyone could hear the movie. The blower to keep the screen inflated, the projector, and the sound system were all run via a 3,000 watt Yamaha generator….the big brother to the generators we have as part of our RV setup. These generators run quiet enough not to disturb the movie sound. In reality it is quite a simple setup, but it was pretty neat to experience. The kids got to play on the park playground for a while as the sun set. Then we planted ourselves in our lawn chairs and the kids on a large towel on the grass in front of us. We brought along some gummy snacks and multiple bags of pre-popped microwave popcorn to enjoy during the movie. It was a little cool down by the reservoir, and we were all glad we brought along hoodies. Miss Kicky Feet, who is now 2 years old, was asleep by halfway through the movie, but that was not a surprise to us. Around 2130 (9:30pm) the movie concluded and we made our way to the van for the trip back home. All in all, it was an enjoyable night out for all.

I almost forgot, the movie of the night was “Back to the Future”, which was originally released in 1985. It was entertaining to see the “technology” circa 1985 in the movie. I am curious to see the rest of the series and see what they predicted 2015 to look like.

Hiking in Southern California

By: Kevin

IMG_6516There are plenty of options around southern California for those who enjoy hiking! The mountains to the east of San Diego offer some wonderful views of the countryside. The urban interfaces also allow some interesting hikes along the edges of civilization while still being in nature. We have taken a number of hikes and treks since arriving in San Diego back in March. Some have been simple 1-2 mile hikes all the way up to a hike through the mountains that was pushing 12 miles and was threatening darkness by the time we made it back to our starting point. We have all upgraded our hiking boots since arriving in California to meet the challenges of some trails, and to help guard against being struck by snakes should we stumble across them during our hikes.

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There are also a few “truck trails” through the mountains along the Mexico border which offer great scenic views and a decent challenge to the Border Patrol enforcement efforts. While exploring one of these truck trails we even received text messages saying “Welcome to Mexico!” when our cell phones connected to the closest cell tower, which was on the Mexico side of the border. You can see from this map just how close we were to the border. Lucky for us, our blonde-haired blue-eyed kids would not likely be mistaken for illegal border crossers.IMG_6522

Last night we met up with other families at Cowles Mountain for a Full Moon Family Fun Hike organized by MWR, the Navy Morale Welfare and Recreation office. We started at 6:45pm and finished around 8:45pm. This gave us plenty of light for the ascent to the top of Cowles Mountain, then we watched the sunset and moon rise from the summit while drinking water and a having a quick snack. We made our way back down the mountain trail via moonlight and the occasional flashlight beam for harder to walk areas of the trail. The only injury we incurred was a scraped knee and finger when Heather took a spill after her boot laces hooked each other and didn’t allow her foot to move forward any more, effectively hobbling her. The view of the moon and the city lights below were beautiful and oddly peaceful, even while surrounded by over a hundred other night hikers.

SeaWorld San Diego

By: Kevin

IMG_6743One major attraction around the San Diego area is SeaWorld. Now, SeaWorld has been the subject of some negative press over the years because they “extort wild animals for profit” and other similar arguments. However, living on the coast, it has become evident that this is not entirely the case. SeaWorld has a huge division of their operations that is devoted to helping wild animals and performing animal rescues and rehab, mainly not for profit. Their trucks can be spotted on the beaches when a random whale or sea turtle washes up too far to get back in the water by itself. These animals are either helped back to the ocean, or transferred to SeaWorld for medical treatment, rehab, and if at all possible, release back to the wild.

Beach rescues aside, thanks to the generosity of SeaWorld all active duty military and their families can come to SeaWorld once a year for free. We took advantage of this program and spent a full day wandering their park along Mission Bay. We got to pet Stingrays, see penguins up close, and even ride a roller-coaster which Pie requested more than once. We attended the Sea Lion show and avoided getting splashed at the Killer whale show. To make the day even better, Heather’s mom was in town for the week, so the kids got to spend time with Grandma too. The kids enjoyed the large play zone complete with hanging nets and obstacles. Last, but not least, what is a day at SeaWorld with Grandma without visiting the gift shop before leaving the park.

We did add a certain military feel to the day by opting not to indulge in the amusement park-priced food while in the park, but opted instead to bring….M.R.E.s with us for lunch. For those of you not familiar with M.R.E.s or ‘Meals Ready to Eat’, these are prepackaged meals that are designed for the military while on deployment or other field exercises. They are completely self-contained and can be consumed with zero prep other than a little water to activate the heating element if you prefer your entree heated. Heather’s mom wasn’t too sure of this idea and reserved the right to purchase food at the park if her chosen M.R.E. was not to her liking, but she was pleasantly surprised with her meal. This of course, was a single elective meal in comparison to eating EVERY meal via M.R.E.s over the course of a multi-week exercise that some military units must consume M.R.E.s, which may alter one’s view of MREs and their appeal.

This was not the first time we have been to SeaWorld. During my time as a travel nurse I was contracted to work in Florida, and we visited SeaWorld Orlando while we were in the area. The two parks are very similar, but each has their own unique attributes.IMG_6721

A night at the Ballpark

By: Kevin

On May 30th we had the privilege of attending the San Diego Padres baseball game for free courtesy of the Padres and VetTix, a benefit they extend to active duty and military veterans. It is really nice to be in a city that truly supports the efforts of the military.

The game got off to a slow start with a few innings of strike-outs, but then the momentum got going for both teams and the battle was on. The game ended with a Tampa error that allowed the Padres to advance the game-winning runner across home plate. The game finished with cheers and fireworks over the stadium.

The cuisine at the stadium was a bit unexpected though. Sure they had the normal nachos and hot dogs, but they also had brisket sandwiches, ice cream, loaded nachos, pizza, and many other more ‘upscale’ dishes from which to choose. Heather and I split the brisket sandwich and loaded nachos, which both got two thumbs up from us.

It was a fun night for all, and the kids enjoyed learning about how the game is played. We have watched a few games on TV and attended a Minor League game back in Springfield, MO, but the kids were more interested in watching the mascots and other activity around the park than actually paying attention to the game.

USS Midway

By: Kevin

One of the most highly ranked attractions around San Diego, the USS Midway, also known as CVN-41, is one of the first slant-deck aircraft carriers in the US Navy. Since its decommissioning in 1992 it has been moored in the San Diego Bay. The ship offers daily tours to the public which are sure to give the visitor a glimpse into the life aboard an aircraft carrier. This floating city was home to around 4,500 personnel while underway. While we were not rushing through it, it still took us around 3.5 hours to complete the majority of the tour. We opted not to stand in line for the superstructure tour because Miss Kicky Feet is not tall enough to attend that portion of the tour, and there was a line waiting to get in that portion of the ship. The tour led us through the hanger deck, flight deck, mess deck, berthing spaces, engineering, laundry, portions of Officer Country, and the brig just to name a few. There were mannequins positioned around some of the spaces acting as crew members, and one moving & talking mannequin who explained part of the Midway story. The tour is self-paced and self-guided, however there is a free audio tour that is initiated in the different areas of the ship by tapping the loaned audio device on pads located around the ship. This method allows the visitor to visit compartments of the ship in any order they wish without disrupting the audio tour play list.

How much soup does it take to feed a floating city? These kettles may give you some idea of the scale on which food was prepared aboard the carrier.

This is part of Officer Country, specifically the berthing spaces for officers. Had this been an enlisted berthing compartment there would have been 3-4 racks in the same space as these two. While there are certain luxuries that are extended to officers, it doesn’t mean that the officers don’t take part in their fair share of work.

The senior officers’ mess or dining room. While enlisted typically ate off metal trays and drank from plastic or metal cups, officers had the luxury of real china plates and true glassware for their meals.

Sick Bay onboard. Comparing this with what I saw onboard an active vessel I recently toured, there are some things that really have not changed much since WW2. The stokes basket in the center of the picture could very easily be taken down and used today without anyone even questioning it, as ones like that are still in service today.

Miss Kicky Feet enjoyed playing with the “spinner” on the front of the bombs located under the wing of an aircraft on the flight deck. The “spinner” is actually part of the arming device on that type of bomb.

This is Bug in the TCC (I believe it stood for Tactical Combat Center) sitting in front of one of the radar stations. When underway this space would be secured by a Marine guard to ensure only authorized personnel were allowed access due to the sensitive information within. Notice the overhead lighting is shaded blue instead of white.

This is just one view of the massive panel of radios aboard the ship. While as a tech nerd I was in my element, there were a LOT of knobs and buttons, and keeping them all running properly would have been a daunting task.

This is topside on the flight deck. One can see a few of the planes on display on the far end of the ship, and the city skyline behind them. The day we visited it was sunny and warm, which is pretty typical for San Diego, but made the day all the more enjoyable. We sat and listened to a lecture by a volunteer which detailed the challenges of landing on a carrier at sea, including the unique challenges of landing at night.

The staff and volunteers aboard the ship are comprised in part by veterans who served aboard the Midway or other comparable vessels/aircraft. This added an extra element of expertise to their talks and explanations of how things worked aboard the ship.

If you are in the San Diego area, I would recommend making a visit to the USS Midway, and if you have active duty ID, your ticket is free.