Samuel P. Taylor State Park

The East Bay Barefoot Hikers met on Sunday 21st July, 1996 in Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin County. We hiked the "Devil's Gulch Trail".

We had twenty barefooters along including myself, my son Gareth (13), Fred, Darren, Phoebe, Vic, his wife Ellen and daughter Jeanna (14), Kristen (12), Robin (16), Melissa (14), Miko, Tomoko, Morgan (13), Peter and his wife Sandy, Ivan, April and her companions Mike and Janet.

We had further to drive to this hike (about 90 minutes for most people), so I set the start time for 10:00AM. Gareth and I brought Robin along (our French exchange student). I hadn't been sure if he wanted to go barefoot with us ... but apparently he was willing to give it a try. We arrived in the area early, so the seven of us visited a country store in Lagunitas to kill some time (Melissa, Miko, Tomoko, and Fred also got a ride with us). Fred said it was the first time he'd been into a store barefoot since he was a kid.

I normally check out and pre-walk any trails I take my members on. However, in this case, because of the distance, I was relying on a guidebook. It had said "One of the most popular trails in the park, with its gentle slopes and deep forest settings". Sounded good to me.

It took a while for everyone to arrive and we used the opportunity to get acquainted. Melissa had brought two Japanese students (Miko and Tomoko) that had just arrived to stay at her home. I wondered what they thought about being invited to go on a barefoot hike just 36 hours after arriving in the country. It was certainly turning into an international event. April, Mike and Janet asked for "beginners tips".

We set off on the paved road leading into the forest at about 10:20am. It took a short while to reach the actual trail. Dark, thick foliage surrounded us as we paralleled a clear stream. The path was strewn with rather a lot of small-grade gravel. I wish the maintainers wouldn't do that. It didn't bother me and my regulars, but some of the newcomers were have a tough time. I pointed out (with my toes) the texture of some thick moss on tree trunks near the path to April. She felt it and brightened considerably.

The reason for so many young teens being on this hike is that four of them were from Gareth's competing dance group. They went along together in clump, laughing and joking.

I hung around at the back to ensure we didn't leave Janet behind who (initially) was having some difficulting in adjusting to being barefoot in the forest. After a while, the people ahead of us on the narrow trail started relaying back that they were encountering a lot of poison oak. This is stuff to avoid shod or not, shorts or long pants. I've never suffered from it myself, but I'm told that exposure can "use up" any free passes you might have. Gareth has been on more than twenty barefoot hikes and has gotten poison oak twice ... but never on his feet. We now keep some poison-oak-oil dissolving liquid soap (brandname TECNU) around to rinse any suspect areas.

The trail got narrower and narrower. The front-runners reported back that they could not get through ... so, we stopped for lunch. Checking the map, I saw that if we backtracked for a while, be could explore an alternate trail. On the way there, Robin took us on a side trip to sit on a dry stone ford and splash our feet in the stream. All the dance-girls followed instantly. The teens started splashing each other. Despite all the squealing, they were clearly having fun. A Kodak moment.

We got to a footbridge over the stream and about half of us went on a spur hike up the hill and through the woods. The others hung around and relaxed at the stream. We eventually got back to the trailhead at about 2pm. Despite the difficult start, everyone went barefoot the whole way. Nice forest. pretty stream, Long drive. Too bad about the first narrow, gravelly trail. Obviously needs more *barefoot* exploration :-)

-- Mike Berrow

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