Sunol / Indian Joe Trail

On Sunday 30th June, the East Bay Barefoot Bikers met to hike the Indian Joe Trail in Sunol/Ohlone Regional Wilderness.

Twenty-one barefooters took part including myself, my son Gareth (13), Fred, Darren, Joni, Jan, Phoebe, Carolina, Gloria, Duane, Vic, Ellen, Jeanna (13), Anna (13), Kristen (13), Peter, Sandy, Ivan, Carol, Dan and Debra.

It was a longer drive to the location of this hike than any other hike so far. For this reason, I set the start time to be a (gentle) 10:00am. In retrospect, 9:00am would have been a lot better. We had five first-timers along on this hike: Carolina, Ellen, Jeanna, Amy and Jan. As we gathered at the trailhead, I could sense that we were in for a very hot day. We set out at about 10:20am and crossed the footbridge over the creek. The first part of the trail was nice and sandy (with the sand already becoming warm). Jeanna and Amy first started with the ooh! oow! shuffle typical of people who are feeling the natural ground (effectively) for the first time, and haven’t yet recalibrated their senses. After a short while, they seemed to settle into it.

We crossed a stream (Indian Joe Creek) and the trail got a little rockier. When I hiked this trail back in April with Debra and Eric (an exploratory hike) it didn't seem too bad. Then it was a lot cooler, and the foliage and grass was lush from the winter rains. Debra and her son Eric are two of my most experienced hikers. I could see that this hike was going to suffer from two problems not present then ... heat, and beginners on rocks.

After the stream we climbed uphill to the ridge that leads into the Indian Joe Valley. I spent some time hanging around at the back with Jan (one of the beginners). Debra had gone into the lead, way ahead of everyone else. We passed the now-dry meandering stream bed where we had stopped for lunch and waded back in April. I was disappointed, since the stream was one of the major attributes of this trail. Luckily, higher up the valley, the stream reappeared. We used this stream extensively to cool our feet on the return trip. The party got strung out along the host dusty trail. The leaves of the trees looked more yellow than green in the intense light. Despite the heat, I enjoyed the peaceful beauty of the narrow, tree-studded valley.

We caught up to the main party as they rested in the shade of a tree. By now, Jeanna, Amy and Jan (and a short while later Ellen) had put their shoes back on. I can't say as I blamed them !. It was really hot and rocky. Kristen cooled our faces with a water spray bottle she had brought along. An excellent thing to bring on a summer hike !. We set off again. The ground got even hotter and rockier !!!. I decided it was time to turn this hike around. I caught up with Debra at the junction with the Hayfield Road trail. There was plenty of cool water in the stream there. We stopped for lunch with the stragglers trickling in over time.

On the trip back, apart from the diehard veterans, anyone who had shoes put them on. Joni hadn't brought shoes but borrowed a pair from someone else. Vic borrowed some thongs from Darren. Gareth (barefoot all the way on the last 20 hikes) asked me for the "Emergency Moccasins" that I keep in the bottom of my pack. I was glad to give them to him. The return journey was difficult to put it mildly. First of all, rocky sections are always harder downhill. Secondly, some sections of ground were like frying pans !!. Those still without shoes often sprinted across the sunlit areas to the next shade patch. The heat was a general problem (not just hot feet). I later found out that the air temperature had reached 106 degrees that day.

You can be sure that we availed ourselves of the stream every chance we got on the way back. A couple places where mud was available, some of us applied it as a heat resistant barrier (kind of like the Space-Shuttle). It seemed to help, but wore off quickly. One of the beginners (Carolina) completed the hike barefoot !!.

I had two minor sore spots on the balls of my feet from this experience. They went away in one day and didn't blister. Some people asked me "would you have put the moccasins on if Gareth hadn't taken them". I don't know, but I would have been close. Ivan and Carol said "We've done firewalking ... and this was harder". Ivan also thanked me ... "I enjoyed the hike ... I finally got the challenging hike I'd been asking for".

As the party arrived at the trailhead area, everyone sat down on the broad, earthen stream bank and placed their legs in the water. Gareth got in entirely and spent a half-hour trying to catch the tiny fish that were darting around. I sat in it. I imagined clouds of steam rising off me.

It was an interesting group experience. People laughed and joked and swapped hot-foot anecdotes. They ribbed me for choosing the place and time. I wondered if anyone would ever come on a hike again. They did though ... all the regulars came to Redwood Park the following week :-)

-- Mike Berrow
-- East Bay Barefoot Hikers

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