The first twenty minutes of every hike is usually where I go on a full on existential crisis mode.

Why do you do this to yourself, Carmina? What do you have to prove? What do you need to see up there you can’t see from where you’re standing now? Or on social media? Can you still do it? You can stop, you know.

But I keep on keeping on.

Flashlight about to die on one hand, I hike in the dark praying I won’t trip on a branch or slip and get myself hurt than I already am. I looked forward. The other hikers’ lights are going farther and farther away, their voices are now whispers slowly fading away.

I’m reminded at how unprepared I was at climbing yet another mountain. While they have mountaineering bags complete with water storage in them, I carry my trusty Jansport bag that goes in my every travel; they have head lamps so they can freely use their hands, my friend had to lend me a flashlight so I won’t have to use my phone’s light to navigate in the dark; they have hiking sticks, I have my hands and branches to grab to help pull myself up on some ascents; and while they have arm sleeves for hiking, I just trust that my skin won’t get bitten by insects and I thought, well, fuck sun burns.

I walk among seasoned mountaineers and I thought my daily walk in Makati would suffice as “training” in mountain hiking. They brought sausages and jelly ace, for hydration and sodium. I didn’t know that. I brought water, crackers, and chocolates for energy boost. Such hubris.

I never really thought a night hike is twice as hard as a day hike. Walking in the dark gives a different kind of uncertainty with every step, can I really trust my questionable 20-20 vision? Would I fall and break my neck? No one knows.

Twenty minutes in, I can start feeling my heart trying to jump out of my chest I worry if my brittle bones can contain it. I wonder if the pounding in my head I felt is my heart trying to find another way out it might explode; I wonder how an organ as big as my fist could make me feel every drop of my blood pulsate within me; I wonder how something like this could suddenly make me feel alive. Again.

I could sense everything slowly, and then, all at once. I can hear the crickets’ sound cutting the silence, joining the sound of exhaustion in my every breath; I can see the patch of lands that were burnt by the forest fire; I can feel my steps had more bounce in them; I can feel the cool wind touching my face, making the hike as bearable as it could be. I was glad of the night hike.

We reached a clearing after a few minutes and took a five. We looked up and was greeted by gazillions of stars. I decided to lie down to get a better view.

And there it was, a sky full of stars, just as Coldplay sang a few nights back as we we’re standing on the sidelines on a parking lot facing MOA grounds. But this was better, premiere tickets to see the Milky Way Galaxy, eventhough in reality, I’m looking at something that’s lightyears away from me.

Someone from the group suggested we all turn our lights off to appreciate more its beauty, and that if you look intently, you’ll definitely catch a shooting star soon, so keep your eyes open. That’s the last I heard and got lost in space looking at something as breathtaking and galactic as this.

Shooting star my ass, I thought to myself. But a few minutes in, and I saw it! A split second ray of light in an ocean of twinkling lights that I would’ve missed had I blinked. And another! And another! I saw three shooting stars that night. They were fleeting, majestic, show stopping. Maybe beautiful things really are harder to find. Considering how I was feeling and why I decided to join the hike, I never made a wish, I wasn’t sure why. But one thing’s for sure, I’m glad of the night hike.

As the dark gets slowly eaten by the light, everyone decided to continue with the hike to see the first light. We were rushing to the top. Like vampires rushing against the light, we find ourselves walking faster; but unlike vampires who hide from it, we’re racing towards it, so we can see it from the mountain top.

I stopped in my tracks, looked up and saw the dark surrendering to the light, a battle is about to be won. Even Polaris, the brightest of the stars, is starting to lose its fight. Like a bulb about to give its last energy of light. I hurried and walked faster.

By the time I reached the top, some of the group started to take photos of the rising sun. We can see it waking up from its sleep, once again shining and blessing us mere mortals of its warm heat. A welcome change from the night’s cool breeze.

We’re here. We made it.

Why do you do this to yourself, Carmina? What do you have to prove? What do you need to see up there you can’t see from where you’re standing now? Or on social media? Can you still do it? You can stop, you know.

The “Chocolate Hills of the North” as it was advertised fails to comparison with the real thing. Photos from the internet and social media don’t give enough justice at how beautiful this view is. Nature, as always, will always render you speechless. So you just have to take it in. Take it all in. A different horizon on a new day.

I did it. I didn’t stop and I am here. Fvcking rewarding.

And then there it was: Clarity.