On Sunday, March 17th, the East Bay Barefoot Hikers met in Tilden Regional Preserve and hiked the Vollmer Peak, Quarry and Big Springs trails.
Eighteen people took part including myself, my son Gareth (12), Tim and his children: Christopher (7), and the twins Jonathan and Hilary (5), Ellen and her son "Boofy" (13), daughter Iris (16) and her friend Ethan, Jeff, Peter, Lorna and her daughter Phoebe (10), Paula, Genny, Karen and Phoebe (yes we had two Phoebes).
Gareth and I got to the "Steam Trains" parking area at around 10:00 AM. It wasn't long before vehicles were pulling in and disgorging groups of barefooted people. Tim, his kids and the Phoebes had hiked with us before ... the rest were all newcomers.
We made our introductions. Paula, Genny and Karen were three young friends from Concord who had called me just the day before. I had been telephoning some of the others for quite a while. People call up and ask to be on the phone-list, then it can turn out that they are too busy to hike that often. I'm fairly patient with that. It only takes about a minute to leave a voice-message. It's annoying though when people are too polite (or lazy ?) to let me know that they are not interested enough after all ... and leave me phoning for six consecutive unattended hikes.
At 10:15 we moved as a convoy over to the trail-head parking area. I had wanted to start from a different point, but the park road required to reach it was closed for the annual newt migration. We set off quickly leaving the graveled parking area for some nice packed dirt. This didn't last too long as the Vollmer Peak trail began to descend the hill.
I've noticed that the steeper the trail, the rockier it gets. It's clearly a function of the potential for erosion once plant cover has been removed in order to create the trail.
Everyone honored my rule of beginning the hike barefoot, but two people almost immediately re-shod on the way down the hill. I expected Phoebes mother, Lorna to do so (she is diabetic and has been given much advice about never going barefoot because of that). Lorna was mostly along to enable young Phoebe to be there ... they would have to leave early to go to another engagement. The other re-shod was Ethan (invited along by Ellen).
The trail really wasn't that bad, but the rocky stuff is always much harder going downhill. I try to make my hikes beginner- friendly where-ever possible. It's not always possible to ensure nice level soft surfaces with no rocks. I actually like a moderate amount of rocky sections. It gives my toes and soles a good workout. On the other hand, I guess I'm an intermediate (maybe advanced) barefooter. It's tricky to strike just the right balance as a hike-leader. On the same hike I've had some people grouse that it was too fast ... and others too slow, it was too long ... and too short, it was too rocky ... and not rocky enough. Whatever, it pays off when people come again and again and say "Thanks for a great hike!, Mike".
On the way down the hill we were treated to a very interesting section of steely blue-grey mud (all the other mud around was shades of dark brown). Someone said it was from a clay deposit. A very lonely clay deposit apparently. A good number of us had blue feet for a while after that.
The weather on that St. Patricks day was absolutely beautiful. We entered a shady pine-needled covered avenue at the bottom of the hill and everyones spirits picked up (especially the newbies). I chatted with Peter. He was telling me about his childhood in Hawaii ... the usual story. Went to school barefoot, hardly wore shoes until he was eighteen. Sounded marvelous. He also told me about a certain kind of thorn that they were prone to getting in their feet until they learned to avoid them, or quickly pluck them out.
Young Phoebe walked alongside me asking me all sorts of questions about the hikes my group had been on. "This is so great !!" she said, "Mom can't tell me to put my shoes on !".
The trail turned from level and got rocky again. Christopher bailed and got re-shod by his dad. After passing a spring bubbling up in the middle of the trail. We went through a very muddy downhill section. This was a real pleasure if one wasn't struggling to avoid the mud. As soon as we had passed that we arrived at the final bottom of the hill and a nice picnic area with tables by a stream. First lunch break.
We all unpacked our lunches and chatted amiably. Karen went down to stream and re-shod herself. At the time I'm thinking "What is this ? A chain reaction ?". Is this hike really that tough for beginners ?. If people are having too tough of a time, I'm not going to give them grief for putting their shoes on. I can encourage people to tough-it-out and give their feet a chance to strengthen and recover from shoe- imprisonment ... but only up to a point. On the other hand, I can tell you I'm not interested in leading the "East Bay Mostly (usually ? sometimes ?) Barefoot Hikers.
I've had people say that want to bring along a terminally- shod spouse, friend or significant other. Seems reasonable from one angle .. but when you consider that many of the barefooted folks are there for the moral support, camaraderie and world view that comes from walking with a barefoot group ... why would I want to dissipate that ?. It also does not help (particularly for a beginner) when you are picking your way through a rocky section .. and a re-shod goes smugly skipping past you. Psychologically, you feel you have to keep up and you are embarrassed to be so slow. I can certainly see why Richard Frazine instituted his "strictly barefoot" rule.
I'm trying to teach people who live in a hurried world that it's OK to slow down and let the landscape set your pace. So we "pick our way" over rocky sections ... who cares ?. It's not a race, we notice the changing geology and it's safer anyway. I was navigating a rocky section in Tilden the day before (I had been pre-walking some trails in preparation). Two (shod) women passed me at a clip. Twice, on the way down the hill, one of them fell down. On the way back (along a different return trail), I was astonished to find a bare footprint in the mud, coming the other way that wasn't mine. It seems that there *are* others out there :-)
After our 1'st lunch break, Ellen, her crew, Phoebe and Lorna headed back (out of time). Young Jonathan joined his brother among the shod and we set off again.
The trail was level now, passing through brilliant green meadows (we savour these in California because later it all dies off and turn yellow for summer and autumn). We had nice stretches of mud alternating with varying kinds of leaf cover. Jenny and Paula tried to encourage Karen to get barefoot again .. but no, the state-change had been made.
Phoebe showed us an interesting pocket sun-dial. Jenny was worried about ticks.I showed them my tick-removing tool (used once to very good affect). They wanted to know where they could get one.
As we looped back along the Big Springs trail, the smaller group was knitting together quite well. Little Hilary steadfastly continued barefooted.
We arrived back at the same lunch spot for our second stop, and shortly continued up the hill. I found it a lot easier going up .. from a footing point of view. Others found it quite challenging ... aerobically. One more dip in the blue-grey mud and we were back at the trail-head.
An interesting hike, to be sure !!.
-- Mike Berrow
-- East Bay Barefoot Hikers
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