“Are you guys waiting for me?” is a pretty standard question to ask a group of twenty somethings sitting in an empty park at 3 am in my world.
“Nope, sorry we’re just eating pizza. Why? Who are you?”
“We’re with Brew City Safari, we’re about to go on a hike to watch the sun rise”.
They each raised their slice of post-bar time pizza to us as we went about our business. People seem to be doing their own thing at 3 am. Two MPD squad cars were around the corner having a meeting. No doubt busy with early morning shenanigans that get under way after Saturday night in Miltown. The North Point Water Tower looming over us, I hop up on the park’s water fountain and get everyone’s attention.
“Welcome to another edition of Brew City Safari Urban Hiking everyone. My name is Christian Matson-Alvirez and I will be leading us through about 7 miles or so of city streets, trails and lakefront.”
I list off the rules and regulations. The basic stuff, don’t shoot anybody, don’t have your heart explode while we’re out here, and be respectful. We head west on North Avenue into empty city. I get the usual questions as we depart. Who are you? Why do you do this? Etc. Answers are always the same. Life tried to kick me down and I wouldn’t stay down. People want to join me so I say the more the merrier. You need to show love for your city and this is the best way I know how. By this point we hit Oakland and make our way to the Oak Leaf Trail ramp.
A bike flies by as we get on the trail. “Alright everyone, make sure you stay to the right since it looks like we’re not the only ones out here”. Ahead of us is just blackness. It’s a solid 1½ to 2 miles of pure darkness when you’re on those trails. This night in particular has been illuminated by the occasional paper lantern. Everyone is mystified by these lanterns and their existence which we find out about later They set the mood perfectly with this void of Milwaukee night and these small pockets of street art lighting the way.
The darkness breaks when we reach our first street light. Amateur photographers take this opportunity to get some good shots in, people take out snacks and water. I have to keep things moving though because it’s only 2 hours til sunrise. We make our way back up to the city streets, a long set of stairs knocking the wind out of a few hikers. I point out a statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns to everyone and how he has little to nothing to do with Milwaukee at all. Some people just really like his poetry. Back on the road and back into the night we go into Juneau Park. The streets are illuminated but the statues in the park are not. All well and good for one drunken Milwaukeean we walk by, passed out on a picnic table.
At this point the mood has been set and we reach our main event: The Lakefront. The sky has already started to turn this purplish/slate grey that is the appropriate mixture of natural blue sky coupled with city light pollution. It’s nature’s fireworks show as we make our way up the coast of Lake Michigan. The waves hit the rocks and the birds scream overhead. People have small conversations but for the most part it’s just silent. We make our way up to Mckinley Marina for our next break and then the sky really starts setting on fire. People are feeling the burn now. It’s been worth it to watch all this unfold. You never really stop and think about how much a city belongs to you until you see it like this. We’re all part of this giant machine of concrete and metal but now you feel like a true individual. Looking at this colorful display and taking it all in you can appreciate a city like you would a painting or a poem. You really begin to feel like you can accomplish something great and you’ve gone this distance to figure that out.
And then dawn is finally here.
“I don’t know about all of you but I can go for some god damned breakfast right now”.
The group rings out in unanimous approval.
We make our way up the abandoned Ravine Road in Lake Park. The city blocked it off to cyclists and motorists but it never said anything about a group of hikers. We make our way through Lake Park, by golf courses and people walking their dogs. Good mornings are distributed to everyone we see. The city is waking up finally. And they have no idea what they just missed.
Editor’s Note: Images are from Matthew Evan Balz, and can be found Here.