Summertime brings the monsoonal flow to San Diego. It oozes up from Mexico and its tropical storms, bringing hot, wet air to meet the cold, moist air lurking over the ocean. (Later, we'll get the Pineapple Express, as Hawaii dumps its tropical moisture on us. But this is Mexico.)
If one were to overlay a map of hang gliding sites in the region on a chart depicting areas of thunderstorm buildup, you'd see that the piles of cumulus clouds tend to develop over mountains. You can pick out the various mountains by their cloudy top hats; Palomar, Laguna, Otay, and down in Mexico, Laguna Salada often kicks off huge booming thunderheads.
They're all spectacular monsters, wonderful photo opportunities, and unpleasant to be under.
Thunderstorms have many belly fruits. Rain the size of grapes, hail the size of bigger grapes. Sleet is annoying, and lightning can be more than troublesome. But inevitably, you will wind up crossing a mountain or desert reach, and the beast is unavoidable. I still shudder at the account of a guy high up in the mountains, approaching a stretch of highway that was being squatted on by a fat, black ominous cloud. It had devoured the road, an opaque wall of heavenly energy. Seems there was a cafe a few miles back they'd passed before; suddenly it looked pretty good. (It wasn't. He got a bug in his soda.)
In the same spirit of “Oh look, it's clearing up,” I headed off on a ride to Borrego Desert. You can expect to invest a day running around in a place that makes other places look tiny. Fat, puffy clouds scooted by, fueled by a spanking breeze. Way out from the mountains, thunderheads sulked, their soggy, damp skirts making the desert day tolerable when playing peekaboo with the sun.
Here's a fun fact about clouds; they will form whenever the dew point average, the point at which air gives up its water vapor into cloud form. A big thunderhead can contain tons of water. Tons! It's all in vapor form, but when it unleashes as rain, you can believe it. Water weighs 14 lbs. per cubic foot. And all that is just magically suspended in the sky. Usually.
So, after a day of bikerly revelry, a final storm cloud shattered our plans to be home before dark. The Riverside squids headed home. Our pal from El Centro headed home. So there I was, waiting for this stupid storm to move on. Pulled out my music and, strangely appropriate, 'Ride of the Valkyries' came up first. This is bad music to listen to while hang gliding or riding motorcycles. Trust me, it just is.
I went crazy and stuffed my helmet on my head and hit the road. There was thunder. There was lightning and wind. I came screaming down the mountain surrounded by clouds, with Wagner ringing in my skull.
At one point near Alpine, I had to take shelter under an overpass, as lightning turned night into old black and white snapshots, and thunder rumbled so close it shook my bones.
I figured I was fine, perched on a motorcycle with rubber tires. A couple of cars joined me under there when the rain hit. And when I say hit, I mean like some prize fighter who doesn't bite off ears.
The storm cell finally moved on, taking its lightning with it. Only problem, it moved on between me and my destination. I was not going to sit there all night. I fired up my Gotterdammerung Bavarian Motorwerks machine, and rode back to San Diego trailing Wagner, storm clouds and lightning.
Briefly, I felt what it must be like to be Thor, only without the goat cart, riding through the clouds and wielding Mjolnir, his mighty hammer. By the time I got home, however, I was just another dumb human; soaking wet, kind of pounded by rain, and squishing in my boots. It was a remarkable ride, made even crazier by the background music, a German motorcycle, and a thunderstorm worthy of the denizens of Asgard.
I do not recommend doing this, btw. Being in southern California, I don't see a lot of this kind of weather, it usually hovers over the mountains and desert. Basically, I forgot these things have rain in them, and it was kind of like being assaulted by a Little League team with aluminum bats.
Some guys are laughing at me now. Hey, don't blame me for living in paradise!