Driving through the darkness, with traffic on the road, I wondered if this place ever slept. It was 2 AM on a Saturday morning. There was hope to catch a glorious sunrise on Mt Rainier. I was waiting for Mani outside his apartment, looking at the stars glowing in the sky and feeling promised.
We drove off, further and further South, before we were alone on the streets driving through the smaller towns. Sometimes expecting a tea shop around corners with a couple of hangers-on and insomniacs discussing Yeddy’s policies and cops taking a break with gaudy leopard skinned bikes parked by the footpath. There were none. It was truly and fully asleep.
We drove on, further and further into the forests. Just trees around us, guided only by the light from the vehicle’s lights. Not a sound around us, not a sight. Inauspicious thoughts kept flowing in – “What if the lights gave out in the middle of this forest?”, “What if the vehicle broke down now?”, followed by flashing the iPhones and Nexuses out to see the lack of signal there and shudder.
There was no GPS to use. The GPS refused to find the place, so I went by memory. Something that I still pride myself on. Going through the forest we approached what looked like a tiny town/village set inside the forest and then a mouse bounded out, right to the middle of the street, followed by a cat. I sped along, hoping for the best. The cat had crossed my path and had crouched there waiting for me to pass. I wondered if I did. There was no thud or bump, so that was a consolation. I looked back. It was just black. The world existed only in front, in the lights of my car.
We entered Mt. Rainier National Park. The gates were open. There was no one collecting any fees. We drove on, looking for Sunrise Rd. It turned up promptly and we took a right. Heading up, gaining elevation as the car, all of 10 years old grunted and grumbled, but pulled along gamely. The road weaved along, but we were now on the edge of a valley with just the blue sky and stars glowing above. It was going to be a clear day.
We reached Sunrise point, but the road led on. We decided to follow it to see where it went. It was still 4 AM and the Sun was not expected to be out before 5:15 AM. So we had time. The trees enveloped us again. There was just darkness and the car’s light.
It was as if we had emerged from a whale’s mouth into the stormy ocean in the middle of the night. The road gave away on the left to a massive valley and on the other side rose Mt Rainier and a chain of other snow-capped mountains glowing eerily in the dark. We were the only car on the road, the only souls visible and it was around the darkest part of the night. We drove in silence, taking the scene on the left, the surreal whiteness glowing in the light from the stars in an otherwise dark night. To say that it was humbling and that we were shown our place in the world would be a tad too sophisticated. All we felt was shit-scared, my heart ratcheting up its beating as I drove on to the visitor centre and parking lot. There are some things no camera can capture, and even words struggle to do justice to.
As to what happened after that…here you go.