Thursday, February 23, 2012

San Diego car trip: 2500 miles, again!




On February 15 - 22, 2012, we traveled by car to San Diego, where Naomi played at the Recession Buster Open chess tournament.  

Why San Diego

Last year Naomi played for USA at the 2011 World Youth Chess Championships in Caldas Novas, Brazil.  It took time and effort to qualify in the Girls Under 8 category, by playing at enough US Chess Federation (USCF) rated tournaments across the country.  

This year it’s even harder to qualify, because Naomi is only 8, and she would have to play in the Girls Under 10 section at the 2012 World Youth Chess Championships in Maribor, Slovenia.  

For certain reasons, players are underrated in the Northwest, especially kids.  Therefore Naomi has to travel frantically to tournaments around the country, in hope to increase her USCF rating.  She has to go from 1150 on December 15 to 1500 on March 30, which is the cutoff date.  North American Open in Las Vegas in the end of December increased her USCF rating to 1296, but then it fell again in local tournaments to 1248.

San Diego’s Recession Buster Open chess tournament presented an opportunity to play and increase the USCF rating outside the Northwest on the Presidents Day weekend.

Why Drive

The dates of the tournament, February 17-20, overlapped with the Presidents Day weekend, so plane tickets would cost a whopping $800 per person, even with stopovers.  Flying a couple of days earlier and returning a couple of days later would not help by much, still $500 per person, plus 4 extra hotel nights, plus lost days at school.  

So we decided to drive!  It’s 2500 miles there and back in total, 2 days and 2 nights on the road in each direction.  We already drove to San Diego and back before, in December 2010, so we knew it’s doable.  In fact, those long car trips become simpler each time.  The first one, to Yellowstone, now looks embarrassingly easy, just 1 full day.  We developed a routine of 12 hour driving days with short stops at rest areas, seat swaps and just-in-time online motel booking.

On the Road

After the first day of driving, Google Maps search for “nearby hotel with hot breakfast” brought us to Best Western Garden Villla Inn in Roseburg, OR.  After that, to diversify our breakfast menu, for the 3 remaining nights on the road (1 forth, 2 back) we slept in Motel 6’s, and ate at Naomi’s favorite fast food chains.  Life is simpler when you don’t try too hard to impress yourself.

Click for video of driving through Oregon - California mountain passes.

After the second night, spent in romantically named Lost Hills, CA, the final dash to San Diego took just 4 hours.  This is mainly thanks to the hard lesson learnt a year ago - avoid Los Angeles traffic at all costs.  We left Interstate 5 and took a detour through highways 210, 57, 71, 91, 15.  Remember this magic number sequence, it might save hours of your life someday.

Friday

We arrived to Sheraton Mission Valley on Friday afternoon.  The hotel is very nice and compact.  Our room had a panoramic northern view.  The nearby Danny’s restaurant made Naomi happy, thus we had the food problem solved.

On Friday evening we met some dear friends form the old country (or rather, the old old country) and together strolled along the Shelter Island promenade.  Naomi even got to throw some live small fish to a friendly seal, named Carl by local fishermen.

Saturday

When the tournament started on Saturday, we met a nice couple from Tuscon, AR (and also from the old old country).  They too came by car with their son, who played in same section with Naomi.

They taught us a trick how to break free from parental worries at a chess tournament.  You give the kid a mobile phone, set to silent.  Then you drive away for schedule-free sightseeing.  Once the game is finished, the kid calls you while staying at the chess place, and you come back in 10 minutes to resume parental duties.  Having the cars with us, it was very easy and fun to go around San Diego while the kids were playing.

On Saturday we briefly saw Seaport Village in the morning and Balboa Park in the afternoon, during Rounds 1 and 2.  Seaport Village was one of the few places we missed in San Diego a year ago, and we ended up visiting it every day this time around.  Balboa Park is the perfect default choice for a schedule-free stroll.

Sunday

On Sunday we visited Cabrillo National Monument in the morning during Round 4, and went to Balboa Park in the afternoon after Round 3.  Cabrillo was the first European sailor to set foot on what is today the western coast of the USA, in 1542.  He was born in Portugal but served Span, so both countries have put commemorative plaques at the monument.

The nearby lighthouse showcases a huge Frensell lens and made us understand that a classic lighthouse is essentially a huge weight-operated clock that controls light characteristic.  

After Round 3, Naomi got her monkey on a motorbike in Balboa Park, from an exceptionally good balloon artist.  During Round 4 we wandered randomly around Gaslamp Quarter, settling for dinner in Cafe 21, an Azerbaijani place.


Presidents Day

On Monday we visited Mission San Diego in the morning, Balboa Park in the afternoon and walked along the Embarcadero (seafront promenade) in the evening.  The natural beauty of San Diego certainly puts it at the top of my short list of potential early retirement locations.

After Round 5, Naomi enjoyed a colorful parrot in Balboa Park.  After the final Round 6 same night, she’s got the total of 3 points and her USCF rating has grown from 1248 to 1332.  

Thus, one third of the gap to 1500 has been closed, but two thirds are yet unconquered.  With the March 30 cutoff date looming, Naomi might need to fly on every weekend in March.  


The Road Back

All in all, spending just $150 per person on gas and motels surely beats $800 per person plane tickets for Presidents Day.  Down with the opportunistic and greedy airlines, long live highways!

Plus, there is nothing like Brazilian sertaneja (country) music to make the road smooth.  
Here | are | some | examples.  

Last Year Photos

In case you’re interested in other San Diego attractions, here are my year old December 2010 photo albums: