On the Road Again!


            Four friends representing a world-renowned company from the “Lone Star State” found themselves travelling together to a highly respected technical conference in San Francisco.  It was in the dead of winter of 1999, middle of February.  The conference is held annually typically lasting five days.  This one started on Sunday with tutorials and ended on Thursday with a short course.  The primary objective of the conference was to present state-of-the-art discoveries to the general engineering community.  Papers were presented all day Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  Panel discussions were arranged for two of the five evenings.  The travelers, Mike, Bob, Gabe, and Wei, took advantage of the free times in-between sessions to visit the beautiful sites of San Francisco.

            Mike, Wei, and Bob were all married.  The former two already had children roaming at home and the latter had one on the way.  Gabe was the bachelor of the group.  They are all prominent professionals holding post-graduate degrees, Master’s and Ph.D.’s, in the field of electrical engineering.

            Anyway, the foursome had Sunday afternoon and evening free to wander around the city and perhaps visit some of the sites beyond the city limits.  They chose to visit Muir Woods, north of Golden Gate Bridge.  The drive took approximately half an hour to an hour from Fisherman’s Wharf.  The visit was refreshing!  The site was adorned with majestic trees aging several hundreds of years.  The weather was very humid and the scenery quite green.  A creek pierced the mountain through the motley wooded site.  Relaxing sounds of water running through rocks and around trees permeated the environment.  It was cold!  The thick and tall trees filtered the sunlight but not the wind; at least that is how it felt.  After seeing and experiencing enough of this natural wonder, Bob suggested that we should perhaps visit Mount Tam, short for Mount Tamalpais, a tall mountain about another half an hour away from Muir Woods.  It overlooks the bay and the Pacific Ocean with a great view of Alcatraz.  The like-minded group agreed immediately and without a hesitation.  By now, the time was about thirty minutes past five o’clock in the evening.

            The roads leading to the mountain were great!  They winded up and about the mountain.  Every corner was filled with picturesque views of the mountain, the bay, or the ocean.  Bob, the designated driver, kept alluding to a short drive to the entrance of the park housing the peak of the mountain.  Bob had already made this excursion several years ago.  The drive, however, actually seemed a little longer than what Bob’s impression seemed to suggest.  No one in the group seemed to mind the wait though.  The stunning scenery was sufficient to more than satisfy and even entertain the passengers.

            The entry gate to the park was finally reached.  At this point, it was a quarter past six o’clock.  Unfortunately, a sign posted on the entry read “Park closes at 6:00 p.m.,” a bomber!  The park apparently closed fifteen minutes prior to their arrival.  A metal bar interrupted the inward traffic; however, the outbound traffic did not have any such obstacle.  “LET’S DRIVE IN THROUGH THE EXIT!  What is the worst that could happen anyway?” Gabe said animatedly.  “Yeah!  Lets do it!”  Bob replied with equal enthusiasm and vigor.  Mike and Wei both agreed.  Of course, the gate was not manned nor was there a ranger overlooking the entry.  Bob said the drive should be short and quick.  The winding roads past the gate illustrated even more beautiful scenery than before.  The turns were tight enough to warrant speeds of under fifteen miles per hour.  Sounds that are characteristic to raw nature were loud and omnipresent.  Several cars were driving in the opposite direction, down the mountain, to no surprise to the group since the park was closed.  After several minutes of driving through the road, another gate was encountered.  This gate had the same sign but the entry was not blocked. The group kept driving up!

            Finally, after passing yet another sign indicating that the park was closed, the top was reached.  The small parking lot led to a walking trail, which supposedly led to the peak of the mountain.  Some people were walking out of the trail and into their cars.  At this time, the sun was setting.  Disregarding yet another sign, the group decided to continue onward and follow the trail.  “After all this, lets go all the way!”  The trail, at first, was outlined with pieces of wood.  However, this ended soon thereafter.  The trail became narrow, crooked, and filled with rocks and stones.  Preventing an ankle sprain was a chore, even with the light emitted by the sunset.  To no one’s surprise, Bob said:  “it is only a short walk, we should reach the top in no time!”  Well, needless to say, it was not a short trail but the group found the scenery and the adventure sufficiently stimulating to prevent them regretting the ride.  Mike eventually reached a point where he decided to stop, enjoy the view, and go back the trail.  The others, however, were not so inclined and therefore pressed on.  About twenty yards further, Gabe thought he had reached the peak and Bob confirmed it.  They both yelled out:  “Mike:  come another twenty yards, we’ve reached the top!”  Less than forty seconds passed when they realized that they had not finished the trail.  Mike, upon arriving to the misidentified peak, decided to stop and go back.  The group, except for Mike, continued to walk up the trail.

            Bob, Gabe, and Wei reached the top soon after.  The sun was already asleep by now.  The view was amazing though!  Wei enthusiastically proclaimed:  “THIS IS BREATHTAKING!”  All three shared the sentiment.  Less than a minute passed before, out of the blue, a voice emerged out of the dark and lonely night.  It said:  “Would the driver and passengers of a red rental car please come back to their car immediately.  THE PARK IS CLOSED!”  Gabe, Bob, and Wei looked at each other with amazement and perplexing expressions!  “We are in trouble!”  someone said.  “We might as well finish by taking another minute or two to watch the rest of the scenery though!”  a compatriot exclaimed.  “Yeah!  Lets see the rest of it since we have already committed the infraction!”  the last one agreed.  All this from the mouths of highly educated engineers on the verge of perhaps being taken to jail!  After taking a good look, the bandits finally decided they should head back.  After several yards, all of a sudden, they realized that they were not on the trail.  This realization did not surprise them since it was pitch dark; nevertheless, it did startle them.  “This is not the trail!” Wei said with a hint of agitation.  “This way!” Bob replied reassuringly.  After another few steps, they realized again that their newly found path also led them astray!  How could they expect to find a trail in the darkness of night, especially one that did not resemble much like a trail!  Another possible route was found that somehow looked, or perhaps felt, more familiar than the others did.  Since the available choices were limited and they had already concluded that the other two possible paths were not the right ones, they pursued this last option.  The presumed trail continued and more familiar turns were found.  This looked like the right trail after all!

            The lack of light and the abundance of stones and rocks made the trail very dangerous.  Arms and hands had to be extended outward to partially feel the way through the rocks as well as to provide leverage and balance.  The temperature dropped and only the sounds of the wind, as it penetrated the leaves of surrounding trees, and the sound of moving rocks, as they were inadvertently kicked off the feet, could be heard.  A few jokes along the way seemed to relax the group a bit but the danger of tripping and falling was prevalent and in everybody’s minds.  The topic of snakes also came up!  This fear-prone topic was quickly dismissed to alleviate tension.  Suddenly, the voice of the ranger again polluted the environment:  “Would the driver…”  The group, of course, knew they were in trouble, not only because of their present physical predicament but also because of the awaited punishment.  “Didn’t Mike reassure the ranger that we were probably on our way back down?” someone commented.

            The march through the crooked and narrow trail persisted.  Finally, the part of the trail that was outlined in wood was encountered!  Depth perception, however, was limited and the stairs were not discernable to the naked eye.  Visual impairment was compensated with small, though rapid, strides.  A light source was finally identified far into the distance.  The emitted light was that of light post illuminating the parking lot located at the foot of the trail where the final warning of a closed park resided.  Two cars became distinguishable, the familiar red Pontiac and a truck with roof lights.  A somewhat heavyset gentleman with a jacket stood by the truck with a note pad.  Mike was leaning against the truck with his hands in the pockets of his long black winter coat.

            As Wei, Gabe, and Bob approached the parking lot, the ranger turned towards the group and began by saying:  “Hello gentlemen.  You have committed two major violations!  You entered a closed area despite repeated warnings against doing so; at least four warning signs were posted.  Furthermore, you also neglected to pay the entry fee to the park.  The…”  The group stood quiet and attentive throughout the long sermon awaiting the inevitable conclusion, the punishment!  “…had it taken a few more minutes for you to come back down, I would have had to call in for rescue,” the ranger continued.  “The way I see it, you have one of two choices:  you can either send the money for the ticket I am giving you through mail or you can let the rental car agency take care of it.”  A sigh of relief was felt when the bandits heard this last statement!  The punishment was only a ticket!  What is even more astonishing is that the rental car agency seemed to be liable and not the group, a bit unfair for the agency.  As the ranger drove off, Gabe said:  “LET THE AGENCY TAKE CARE OF IT!  I think it is only a parking ticket.  In any case, they will bill us if they see fit.”  Bob, a little nervous and shaken, replied:  “Sure!  However, if I get billed, I will bill you guys for an even cut!”  The car was under his name after all.  After a second or two, when they started to open the doors to get into the car, Wei said:  “Mike:  you missed a BREATHTAKING VIEW!”  Gabe, on the same humorous note, supported this sentiment with:  “If you had only kept going a few more yards, what a shame!”  The adventure ended as they headed down the mountain towards Golden Gate Bridge culminating the evening with dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf.

            Who said children ever grow up?