Ten at night in the Bay Area, the chill’s cutting into the jacket I’m wearing. We’re standing at an elevation of a few hundred feet, perhaps, and the only illumination where we are is a half-moon suspended sedately in the sky. Behind us are rolling hills, peak after peak of unexplored trails that are no more than a cleared dirt path through grass. In front is a grid of light, city circuitry lit up in orange. The silence is absolute; we can hear cop cars down below, and nothing at all except the sound of our own voices.
The contrast is surreal.
We were at one of the stopping points of the Mission Peak Trail in Fremont, in a gorgeous state called California which I wish I’d started living in earlier. When Im, Gsj and I decided we were going to do a night hike, I doubt we imagined it would be anything like this:
Augh, excuse the terrible quality, I have a basic camera and not very good night photo options. But I don’t think even a very good camera could’ve captured those ten minutes. We were reminded irresistibly of the fact that, just a couple centuries ago, the grid below us would have been lit with candlelight instead of electricity, and that long before then, people in the valley below would’ve been navigating the Bay by sheer dint of looking up at the stars. At Mission peak, you’re at a sort of a halfway point between civilization and almost utter wilderness.
And then we saw the fireworks. Standing underneath them is one thing — you see a boom, and then a huge burst of color that dominates half the sky. From Mission Peak, fireworks look like colored drops of light falling backwards into the void, vanishing just as soon as they leave the ground. And the boom, in fact, reached us only about when the light began to fade. It’s interesting to keep two images like that, in your mind — the experience of fireworks, versus the tiny pinpricks of light we saw.
I had a little shiver of fear when I thought about how it would look if the city simply blacked out. Waves of darkness rolling along towards the mountain.
The hiking, though overshadowed by the novelty of the walk, is actually rather hard. The incline at first is almost imperceptible, but soon your legs are straining to compensate for the fact that you’re always headed up. Towards the end of our walk, near the lookout point, it’s almost a 45 degree incline. I was painfully reminded that I needed to step up the (nonexistent) exercise routine.
The solitude came to a pretty abrupt end when stragglers descended the path behind us, talking loudly about politics and murder. We turned and went down soon after that and then lost them, Im and Gsj debating briefly whether to annoy them back by shining all three of our torches directly at them. We decided against it eventually, because we’re not three anymore (sadly).
But we did have a tiny bit of satisfaction when, exiting the place, we saw park security heading inside to catch curfew-breaking miscreants.