Fremont, California's popular hike to Mission Peak boasts gorgeous views over Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. The mostly exposed trail rises steadily through cattle farms before reaching the summit. There, a summit pole doubles as an art piece and artifact emphasizing environmental and social awareness.

I had never hiked to Mission Peak before, but my best friend has made it her yearly ritual ever since she moved to the area from New York.

This time, we would hike to Mission Peak together. With me at the close of my travels and her at 6-months pregnant—we were both celebrating milestones in our lives and preparing for the next chapter to come.

Back on U.S. Soil—Celebrating In the Bay Area

I caught a 9-hour flight across the Pacific after my day of shopping in Tokyo. I had flown all the way around the world over the course of 15 months and now I was about to land back on US soil.

I looked out the window next to me and caught a glimpse of the familiar California coastline below. There she is: America.

I had departed from the East Coast over a year prior and was now arriving on the West Coast. I thought to myself, "Wow. I literally traveled around the world."

My plan was to stop over in the San Francisco bay area for a few days before returning to New York. While the Bay Area is not exactly all the way home, it's definitely one of my homes. I've visited the area numerous times since it is where my best friend, Erin, has lived for the last 10 years.

You may remember Erin from my 10-day road trip in New Zealand that took the two of us from Auckland down to Wellington. We certainly made the most of her short visit there.

It had been almost a year since we took that trip together and, in that time, she became pregnant!

The both of us had much to celebrate upon my return—Erin was turning 29, she was almost 6 months pregnant, and I had completed 15 months of constant travel. So we kicked things off with a lovely birthday dinner with her Californian friends.

The meal was at Nola in Palo Alto, California. Nola serves New Orleans style Cajun cuisine which I definitely had not eaten in a very long time. It was a great re-introduction to American food. My belly was happy!

Climbing Up to Mission Peak

Continuing the celebration, we decided to climb the Coast Range to Mission Peak in Fremont. The peak boasts views of Silicon Valley at 2,520 ft (770 m) and possesses the iconic "Mission Peeker" artifact as its summit pole.

Donning workout clothing the next day, Erin and I had a laugh over how funny her belly looked under her shirt. "I look like Winnie the Pooh," she said.

We drove over to the Mission Peak Regional Preserve in East Bay Regional Park where we found the trailhead.

The trail led us through three cattle gates and next to a trailside cave. The majority of the path was exposed to sun but the air that day was cool and breezy. I couldn't help but look around at all the cows and the general landscape and think to myself, "This looks a bit like parts of New Zealand!" It's funny how sometimes it takes a trip around the world to admire the beauty of your own country.

Hobbit hole?

We had a bit of cover only on one tree-lined portion of the trail. As soon as we were out of it again, the breeze turned into a strong wind that got stronger as we ascended.

There was a drop toilet about a half hour from reaching the peak.

We stopped there for a break and to admire the cows when I spotted a few coyotes in the distance! I couldn't react with my camera fast enough but there were at least two coyotes that ran over the hill in the distance and disappeared.

The wind continued to blow super hard as we completed a short rock scramble up the final incline.

The Mission Peeker

Climbing to the top of Mission Peak took us about 2 hours. When we arrived, my eyes immediately fixated on the summit pole. Marking the highest point, the pole was designed by Leonard Page, a sculptor and park ranger.

Jutting out of the pole are dozens of steel tubes. You can look through each of these little nozzles and "peek" through the other side at the views across the Bay Area.

In 1990, a group of people helped Page put up the over 6-foot pole in order to promote environmental and social awareness. How could a 6 foot pole of concrete and steel placed at the peak of a mountain possibly be about the environment and society?

Well, embedded within all the concrete are several artifacts meant to be opened in 100 years or more. There's a crystal, a charmstone replica from the native Ohlone people, and a bottle of local wine with a yeast overshoot representing the overpopulation of the Earth exceeding the environment's carrying capacity.

Additionally, there are several time capsules with articles and photographs inside. These focus on rainforest protection, AIDS, and homelessness. Of course, the artist could not resist throwing in a few pop culture references such as the Simpsons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Far Side cartoons.

How cool would it be to be around when they open this time capsule in 2090? If I am still around, I'll be 103 years old!

The Views

The sun was just beginning to drop in the sky offering some of that "golden hour" light across the bay. Excellent time of day for a photo shoot!

To the West, we could spot the vistas of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Then there was the Coast Range's huge Mount Diablo in the distance and the Sierra Nevada Range to the Northeast.

I was glad to get lots of photographs at the peak despite struggling to stay standing against the wind!

Reflecting On Accomplishments

Mission peak was named after nearby San Jose missionaries established from 1769-1821, but I prefer to think of the peak as a metaphor for accomplishing a mission.

In this sense, Mission Peak was very symbolic for me at the close of my travels. I had reached the summit, accomplishing over a year of constant travel while on a budget. And now I was returning home.

For Erin and her Winnie-the-Pooh belly, reaching the top was a celebration of accomplishing anything despite all odds, so long as we put our minds to it!

I couldn't agree more.

Mission Peak was a lovely way to sum up my travels. It was like a bow on a gift I had given myself. Reaching the summit represented the close to an amazing journey I had designed and implemented completely on my own. It was the ultimate present to myself and something I can look back on for years to come.

But the journey only continues on from here. It's the close of one chapter and the start of a new one. Stay tuned for tales from my home state of New York.

The sun sets over the mission peak trail as a plane passes below the moon