Briones: Alhambra Creek, January 28th.

On Sunday, January 28th the East Bay Barefoot Hikers met in Briones Regional Park and hiked the Alhambra Creek and Diablo View trails.

Eleven people took part including myself, my son Gareth (12), Duane, Tim (an old friend of my family, out on his first full-scale barefoot hike) Ivan, his "SO" Carol and his daughter (whose name I've forgotten, sorry Ivan), Ray (a beginner from Benicia), Debra, her son Eric (11), and his sister Nicole (10).

The media (TV crew for the "EXTRA" entertainment magazine) had been scheduled to come on this hike with us, but they postponed the filming. Actually, I think they would have had trouble with the "steep" bit.

That's all from me because, This time ... I had a "Guest" Writer along !!!. Over to you Duane :-)

Sunday, 28 January dawned clear and windless in the San Francisco Bay Area, surprising after the torrential rainstorms of Saturday. By 10 A.M. the temperature was about 60 F (16 C) in the Alhambra Creek Staging Area parking lot of Briones Park in the East Bay hills. Alhambra Creek runs through a line of trees and brush on one side of the sandy, gravelly lot; softly rounded emerald hills all around. Cars started pulling in and disgorging barefoot people of all ages. At 10:15 Mike Berrow led about a dozen Barefoot Hikers through a wooden gate and up the shady narrow path to the left of Alhambra Creek.

The earth was moist and cool, covered in places with damp leaves. Other sections of the trail were quite wet, and there were stretches of deep squishy mud. Alhambra Creek trickles down the narrow, dark canyon. Occasional shafts of sunlight backlit the carpet of new grass under the thick oaks on the steep hillside to our left. Many tree trunks and fallen logs over the creek were covered with thick furry moss.

Soon we came to a slick uphill portion of the trail, 60 degrees or steeper. People helped each other clamber up the sides of the muddy path, extending hands and walking sticks. On something this steep and slippery, it seems wise to stay in the vegetation as much as possible. Someone commented, "Kind of like an Outward Bound expedition." Mercifully, the trail soon leveled out. The path felt uncomfortably cold to a few hikers. Even the classic deep toe-flexing with each step was not helping out much. We stepped through the small creek (the water was noticeably warmer than the muddy path), and spent a few moments warming in a sunlit pocket of the canyon. A beginning Barefoot Hiker said she had stepped on something thorny in the creekbed, and was worried if it was poison ivy. Duane assured her that poison ivy doesn't have stickers.

After almost a mile, narrow Alhambra Creek Trail joins the wider Spengler trail, much churned and muddied by shoddlies and a recent horse. The ankle deep mud caused some very slick going, and we stayed to the side of the trail to improve traction. When the trail leveled out again, we found three of the faster hikers already sitting on a log in sunlit meadow [This was Debra, Eric and Nicole -- Mike].

We all took a short stop for breath-catching and snack. Calories raise body temperature. Soon we slogged on through the oak forest, and came to another fence gate. The trail mud deepened into a wet stew some hikers found delicious.

After about a third of a mile, we took a smaller, unnamed narrow trail off to right up a fairly steep hill, now in full warm sunlight. We passed through a small grove of oak trees which had dropped many sharp-needled leaves on trail, which slid around surprisingly on the slick trail. Just after crossing the crest of ridge Mike pointed out a fantastic view of Mt. Diablo across the sagebrush and chaparral. Lunch break.

The spot was calm and sunny. Someone asked how far we had come. It seemed about a mile and a half. How fast do Barefoot Hikers normally go? Mike said he goes much faster when alone, but doesn't mind at all slowing down with a group. Quality, not quantity, seems to be the point of a barefoot hike.

We continued on the small trail through the low shrubbery, then across a ladder sty over a barbed wire fence, and up a steep hillside. At a natural level opening, we had a sweeping view of Mt. Diablo, Suisun Bay, the mothball fleet, and the Delta. Some of the hikers were beginning to think about the time and afternoon appointments. To make it back to the cars by the planned 1:00 P.M., it was now time to turn around. Ivan related his firewalking experiences; said it was based on 'mind over matter.'

Back down the hillside, through the chaparral, past the lunch spot, we turned right at the main Diablo View trail for the one mile trek back to the parking lot. Mike related the SportMart Saga for the "Internet Challenged" Barefoot Hikers. Ivan made the point that since barefooting is on the fringes of expected social behavior, barefooters are more likely than most people to come under the scrutiny of security personnel and even law enforcement officers. Someone else mentioned how this social disapproval of bare feet is a relatively recent phenomenon. Duane mentioned that his father (a police officer for almost thirty years) once talked about how as a child in the early 1920's he couldn't wait until the First of May when his parents would allow their children to go barefoot. But by the 1960's the elder Thompson had apparently forgotten the barefoot pleasures of his youth, because he would never allow his son to go anywhere without shuze.

The surface of the broad trail soon turned into deep slick churned mud in places, and warm almost springy mud in others. We plunged on under gnarled Live Oaks, then down a rocky hillside. One of the first-timers decided it was time to put on the boots, to a round of "Well done!" and "Best to know when..." A gravel road came into view. Mike said that there was grass on the sides of the road, and it one watched out carefully for debris, they could walk there instead of on the gravel. Mike and Duane walked on the gravel without discomfort. A first-timer remarked, "That's impressive."

As the main group descended the steep hillside, we noticed the faster hikers crowded around on the side of the gravel road. It seems one of the children [Eric] had cut his sole while running in deep grass off the road. He was prepared with a clean-up and first-aid kit, and was shortly hiking on downhill, in fact soon passed everyone else. The narrow earth trail led through intense green grass. We came to a spot where a gopher hole had caved in and washed out a deep hole in the path.

Back at the staging area, we washed the mud off our feet under a faucet beside the creek. A shod couple asked, "You're the new style of hikers I read about in the paper." We all said our good-byes in the sandy parking lot.

Briones is a very clean area, with no dangerous debris of any kind on the trails. The single injury was attributable to youthful exuberance and not watching exactly where the bare foot was going.

Thanks Duane !!
-- Mike Berrow
-- East Bay Barefoot Hikers (San Francisco Bay Area, California).

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