We are grinding our way westward into a rising wind that is blowing across the islands of Japan and rushing outward over the rapidly darkening waters of the Pacific Ocean, now just barely visible in the pre-dusk murk below us. The captain has been talking for the past 600 miles, while I have split my attention between his story of purchasing a new car and my view of the sun, as it dropped towards the horizon—the light outside the cockpit windows slowly changing from a bright white glare to a subdued bluish-orange glow. We have been chasing after the sun at just over 80% of the speed of sound for almost ten hours now, but despite our best efforts, the sun is finally going to win the race.
The sun sets—a perfectly round marble slipping beyond the curve of the earth in a shimmering mirage of yellow and red—just as the defused ground lights of Tokyo come into view below a gauzy layer of clouds. Even with the sun gone, a pale gradient of orange glow still runs along the horizon line, casting dim illuminations across the softened world that unfolds around us. Off our nose, Tokyo Bay—with the mass of humanity that surrounds it now represented only by the thousands and thousands of points of light—shimmers and reflects a muted version of the orange streak at the world’s edge. Out my right-side window however, farthest from the last rays of today’s light, the world is a ghostly gray and blue swirl of sky and clouds and sea, rapidly fading into the approaching darkness.
We cross over the coastline as the rainbow of orange continues to evaporate into the deep blue of the night. Visible in the distance, although only as a darkened shadow against the landscape, Mt. Fuji’s cinder cone silhouette pushes upward through the low-lying blanket of translucent clouds that seem to crash against its lower flanks. We cast no shadow in the dim light as we fly over the northern edge of the Bay and directly over the top of Tokyo’s Narita airport, while the mountain in the distance grows in size even as it fades into the darkness that fills the spaces between the ground lights.
Fifteen minutes later we pass just north of Mt. Fuji, and I unbuckle my harness and take three shuffling steps across the cockpit to crouch down in the space behind the captain’s seat, staring out the left side windows at the vague form of the mountain drifting by us in the darkness—its 12,000 foot summit still some five miles below our wings. As it slips out of sight and disappears towards tomorrow, I twist and stretch, my back popping satisfyingly. I then sit down again, adjust my seat, and stare forward into the night as a scattering of stars wink into view in the inky black evening sky.