I climbed the Mission peak -- three times!

Posted by Joe, edited by Phyo in July 2022

Mission Peak is a popular hiking trail near Fremont, California. I have come here three times so far.

First time: surprising

In late August 2019, I just finished my internship in San Francisco. The plan is to fly to Seattle several days later to reunite with Phyo. I have a couple of days in between, so I decided to stay at my friend Tom’s place in Fremont, on the east side of the Bay Area.

Naturally I started to look for a trail. I didn’t have a car, but Uber was still cheap then. As I scrolled Google Map, I saw Mission Peak trail. I didn’t know how popular Mission Peak is, but the hundreds of positive Google reviews assured me.

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Map of Misson Peak Region. I started at Stanford Staging Area.

On an early morning I ubered to the trailhead of Mission Peak at Stanford Staging Area. I was in good physical condition that summer – I trained almost daily in San Francisco; I went to races during the weekend. I finished among the top 3 in my age group at the FireCracker half marathon (a small local race). I also completed the San Francisco Marathon, though my time was 2 mins above my 3:30 goal time.

Upon arrival I started my hike. Mission Peak trail is very runnable. The first half mile is flat, then the trail gradually climbs up until the peak. There are a few steep sections that make running impossible. I ran most of the way, surpassing locals who were panting hard. When I arrived at the top, there was a line of people waiting to take a picture with "the pole" – erected by rangers to promote awareness for environmental protection.

My run downhill was a thrill. The trail is wide so even at steep sections I can zigzag and keep the forward momentum. Overall I was surprised by how well-maintained the trail is, and of course how nice the view this trail offers.

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When I arrived, there was a long line of hikers at the peak, waiting to take a picture with the pole!

Second time: unexpected

I went to Mission Peak again the second day. Sometimes you meet a girl and you text her immediately after you part ways – maybe it’s good to wait for a while but you just can’t wait. That is how much I like the trail.

Filling my water bottle, calling an Uber, riding for 10 minutes, set, go! This time I was already familiar with the trail. After yesterday's workout, my legs now felt stiffer, calves heavier. I ran at a slower pace than yesterday, but the views remained gorgeous.

At the peak I snapped a few pictures again. Before I put the phone back to my pocket I opened my Gmail. There was an email from the director for NYU Center for Data Science PhD program. In the email the director told me that next semester I still need to work with Professor R. My heart sank.

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The view was amazing, but I was not in the mood to fully enjoy the scenery.

Let me explain what happened. I just finished my first year of PhD at NYU. During the first year, each student can rotate with different professors and see which areas of research they are interested in. I rotated with two professors – R and J. R's work is more theoretical, J's more applied. Both professors are very nice teachers, but after a year I know I am not good at, and not interested in theoretical work. I struggled everytime I proof, and dreaded implementing an algorithm based on a theoretical equation.

Earlier this summer I told my concerns to our director, that I will wrap up my projects with R and only work with J. Now for some reason, our director did not listen to me. Perhaps my research with R looked promising and sophisticated, even though I struggled internally and cannot make much progress.

"Excuse me!" A voice interrupted my threads of thoughts. I was still standing on the trail and blocked other visitors from coming down. I apologized and stepped to the side. What should I do? I asked myself. Arguing with the director is probably not a good idea. Maybe our director is right. Maybe I just have to try harder. People say "that which is most difficult to endure is most satisfying to reminisce," I haven’t tried harder, have I?

With a jumbled mind I began to descend. I ran as fast as I could. In my mind my worries became ghosts and zombies, following me behind. I need to overrun them to get rid of them. After about 20 minutes I arrived at the base. I suddenly felt hungry and wanted to have breakfast. I searched on Google and found a Taco Bell along Mission Boulevard. I ordered a breakfast burrito and gulped it down, trying not to think about the email…

I did not go to Mission Peak again that summer.

3 time: peachful

Three years later, on a breezy afternoon in 2022, I went to Mission Peak again with Phyo. I already graduated, Phyo had a summer internship in the Bay Area so we were staying in Cupertino for a month. Whenever we are free we would go out for a hike. Today I proposed Mission Peak.

To be exact, we came on July 4th, 2022, the Independence Day of the United States. Who will go on a 10-km hike on Independence Day? Lots of different people! We arrived at 4:30pm. Cars parked all along the neighborhood road. Fortunately we found an empty spot at the main parking lot and started our hike right away.

Phyo and I didn’t talk much at the beginning. Maybe it was the heat, or it was the news. That morning, a gunman in Highland Park, Illinois opened fire to a parade and killed 6 people. By the time we started, the suspect was still at large.

In undergraduate, I worked on a research project to understand the discourse of gun control on social media. After the Parkland School Shooting in Florida, I started to collect tweets containing keywords such as “gun”, “nra”, “gun control.” I then analyzed the tweet-retweet graph to identify pro-gun and anti-gun clusters.

What I find is a worrying pattern – right after the shooting is anti-gun cluster was large, with activists, media accounts, celebrities advocating gun control. That cluster gradually shrinks as weeks pass. On the other hand, the pro-gun cluster, lead by NRA and a few conversative accounts, remains the same size. This means the NRA has been advocating guns all along – and the media, at least most media, only follow the trending news.

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Visualization of pro-gun (red color) and anti-gun (green color) clusters on Twitter. Each node is a user, two nodes are connected if one retweets another.

That is when I realized the power of social media in promoting gun culture. Pro-gun groups can always find pro-gun reading materials, and if they stay within their cluster, they don’t hear other opinions or arguments. One solution is government regulation on gun culture, but that is a political impasse in the United States given how divided senators are on this issue. As I thought about gun control, we were quietly approaching the summit.

Compared with morning hiking, the afternoon hike is hotter. The view is nice but a bit glaring, since the sun is in front of us on the west side. We took a photo with the pool and stood in silence, just absorbing the view. I cannot stop thinking that three years ago, at this same place, I got an email from our PhD director, feeling dejected. I decided not to check my email this time.

As we descended, the sunshine became milder. From the silhouette of the Bay Area we can see San Francisco and Oakland. We had to stop once to make way for a group of cows. I imagine their milk must be USDA-Organic certified because they eat grass and roam freely. When I arrived at the parking lot I checked the news – the Highland Park shooter has just been apprehended by the police after a pursuit. Finally a peaceful Mission Peak hike.


This time I want to share a book about race, identify and society. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration is one of the best books I've read on the topic of race in America. I have huge respect for the author Isabel Wilkerson for putting what must be an enormous amount of time to interview, research and weave together an epic story in modern history.