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As I was perusing the Bay Area Ridge Trail website a couple weeks ago, thinking of all the trails we had run this year, one in the list jumped out at me. It was the Dias Ridge Trail, listed in the North Bay region. I’m not sure why it caught my eye, but I hadn’t seen it before. Surely we ran this section as part of the Ridge to Bridge benefit and it was just lumped in with all of the other seven sections we ran that day. But on closer inspection we realized that we hadn’t run it at all. It is a spur off of the Miwok Trail that leads down to Muir Beach. We cursed, and then we started making plans. There were only a few days left in 2012 so we had to squeeze this section in between traveling to Nebraska to visit family and hosting a holiday gathering.

So on Saturday, December 29th, we awoke early and raced to Marin County to finish the Ridge Trail. We parked on Highway 1, just after the split with Panorama Drive along the Miwok Trail. A short spur connected us to the Dias Ridge Fire Road. We ran in a stream of water up the hill. Though it wasn’t raining today it had been for the previous several days. This left the trail soupy and slick. After a short out and back to Highway 1, to be damn sure we finished every step of this section, we retraced our steps to the Dias Ridge Trail. The trail rose at first, giving us views of Mt. Tam and the surrounding Marin Headlands, before following the water downhill towards Muir Beach. We slipped and slided our way down and before we knew it we could see Muir Beach in the distance. The trail takes its time descending along several long switchbacks, giving us great views of the little community. There was lots of coastal scrub restoration happening, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area had most of the trail roped to discourage trespassers. As is true with most of the headlands, it was all very well signed. We popped out into Muir Beach at Golden Gate Dairy Stables and the Pelican Inn. On another day I will definitely revisit the Pelican Inn for a frosty brew during a hike. We took in the sights a little but were quick to return to our car to get on with our day.

To spice it up a little we returned via the Redwood Creek Trail. It stayed low for about a mile and hugged Highway 1. This section was a muddy mess. As much fun as it was it was a lot of work to stay upright. Corina took one tumble when she misplaced her foot on the side of the trail, trying to avoid a puddle. We worked our way back up to the Miwok Trail and eventually back to the car. A quick 6 miles to finish all of the publicly accessible sections of the Bay Area Ridge Trail in exactly 364 days. Whew! What a wild ride!

If you look back in the archives you’ll find our post describing our first attempt at this section. We made it about half way on a day when the winds were howling, the icy rain was falling, and the temperatures dropped quickly into the low 40′s. Fearing hypothermia, as we were ill prepared, we turned around. Today we were back to finish it up. We drove straight to the the middle of the section, parking at the end of Gold Hill Drive in Castro Valley. After a brief conversation with a older Chinese woman, who was out for her morning walk and didn’t speak a lick of English, we stepped through the gate and into the hills. Based on the scenery I think she was mentioning how beautiful the hills and the trails are, and we couldn’t agree with her more. It was a cold but sunny day – the exact opposite of the last time we were here.

We started off on the Newt Pond Trail and went through a gate into North Garin Regional Park after about 0.3 mile. This section is an easy run through the rolling hills of the East Bay on the Chabot-to-Garin Regional Trail. Due to the recent rains, the hills were green and because the cold temperatures, there was no reason to be worried about snakes. As we headed down into the canyon the light faded and the temperature dropped. There was a herd of cows milling around on the muddy trail near the bottom of the canyon. As we headed uphill, so did they. Normally cows will move along and eventually head off the trail as we approach. Since there was a steep drop off to the creek below on one side of the trail and a steep wooded hill on the other side they stuck to the trail. We slowed to a walk and herded them along. We thought this would pass after a little while, but it didn’t. The cows  stayed in front of us for more than a mile. The trail was a mess. Muddy, with puddles of cow poop all over the place. We tried not to fall and eventually reached the top where the cows could move off the trail into the pasture. They scolded us with moos as we slipped by out onto the ridge. The trail skirted the edge of a large valley that had a pond, and on this day, three coyotes hunting ground squirrels. We rounded the valley and found the end the section and the end of the Chabot-to-Garin regional trail, a wonderful trail that connects to the great parks and open spaces of the East Bay. This is the southernmost section of the trail. From here there is about a six mile gap to the next section of Ridge Trail in Mission Peak.

We tagged the post, snapped a picture, and headed back. We passed by the cows again on the way back. They were still in the pasture and we marveled at their calfs. Apparently they didn’t care for our remarks because one charged Corina. It didn’t make contact but it was enough to scare us down the trail. It was more treacherous on the way back down. Slick and wicked. We made it back down and up and hit the car about an hour and a half later. It felt good to conquer this section of the trail that had once forced us to turn around. Another great day in the East Bay Hills.

A Truly Regional Trail

The Chabot-to-Garin Regional Trail is an example of why the East Bay has one of the best trail networks in the country. Today’s trek took us through regional parks, public watershed lands, private lands, and through the edges of town to connect Chabot Regional Park to Castro Valley. We parked at the Chabot Staging Area off of Redwood Road. It was a cold morning, but there was no rain, for a change. The Rampage Peak Trail skirts the edge of a Christmas Tree farm, buzzing in the holiday season. We climbed our way up through East Bay Municipal Utility District lands onto Dinosaur Ridge Road. The wet creek bed gave way to sunny chaparral and 360 degree views of the Bay. We exited EBMUD lands onto a private trail easement. These regional trails are what make the East Bay great. They allow for regional connections between protected areas and allow trail users to interface with working lands. Today we were greeted by a couple of friendly horses as we entered private land. They were curious and let us pet them. The Bay Area Ridge Trail promised a pasture full of llamas, but the fence around the llama pasture was in pretty rough shape and there were no llamas in sight. So the horses saved the day. The trail through this portion leveled out and we had about a mile of flat running through scrubby oaks. We exited through a gate into what looked like someone’s backyard. On the way back this same gate was blocked by the same three horses, now a little more stubborn, and possibly hungry, forcing us to wiggle under a barbed wire fence. At this point we were a little confused – we felt uncomfortable just running through someone’s back yard! With a little searching, we saw a sign for the Garin Regional Trail headed downslope. The nice thing about these regional trails is that they meander through the already inhabited areas, so you might find yourself rambling through a backyard before diving back into open space. I believe these were the house at the end of Columbia Drive, shown on the Bay Area Ridge Trail map.

We were quickly back into the lush forest and now in the Cull Canyon Regional Recreation Area. This is a little known (at least to us) regional park that is gorgeous. We crossed a creek a few times and worked our way up and down some challenging terrain. We saw one birdwatcher along the way and talked to him about Varied Thrushes. We also heard some Brown Creepers, a rarity outside of the redwoods. Eventually we made it to a more developed part of the park where there were bathrooms, picnic areas, and a swim lagoon. We heard an interesting duck call only to find out that it was an actual a duck call commandeered by a young kid on the edge of the lagoon.

We took a small wrong turn as we followed Cull Canyon Road straight down to Crow Canyon Road, rather than turning east and running through Canyon Middle School, home of the condors. We would pick that up on the way back. The final section leaves Crow Canyon Road and travels along a neighborhood trail to Independent School. The next section picks up there and continues on to Garin Regional Park. We retraced our steps on the way back except for the occasional reroute to climb to the top of some high peaks for better views or to run through the creek as it runs through a large culvert under the road in Cull Canyon Park. Couldn’t resist. Our legs were pretty tired by the time we reached the EBMUD lands and the steep downhills were slow going. Originally we had planned to run another short section today but decided to save it for tomorrow. After 15.5 miles of hills, our legs could use the rest.

Third time’s a charm!

The first time we set out to complete this section, we were too wet, cold, and hungry after running at Redwood and Chabot to actually do it. The second time we tried (and we use the term “we” loosely because Corina had the map), we took a wrong turn and only completed 2 miles of the trail. Today we set out to finally finish it. Although it was pouring in Campbell, we grabbed our rain gear and drove north. Since we’d already completed the EBMUD section, we drove straight to Inspiration Point to hit the other end of the section. We were pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t raining when we arrived. We started out at the big Nimitz Way gate and ran along the paved trail past several groves of young redwoods. The trail was flat and easy – definitely in contrast with the run we did through Wildcat Canyon a couple weeks ago when we took a wrong turn! At around 2.5 miles, we made it to the EBMUD boundary, took a picture, and turned back. Along the way we explored the Rotary Club Peace Grove, admiring the names of the honored, and climbed up the muddy trail to the top of Wildcat Peak. Though I’m sure the view from the peak is beautiful, all we saw was white on this foggy day.

Back at the parking lot, we decided to extend our run southeast through Tilden Regional Park – a section of the Ridge Trail that we enjoyed last spring. We hiked up the hill, a little disappointed that the fog was hanging around and obscuring our view. Eventually we turned around, shuffled back down the hill, and actually reran the Nimitz Way section of the trail to reach our goal of running 16 miles as part of our first “long” run in our training plan for our 50 miler in April. So even though it took us three tries to complete this section we did it twice just to be sure. This was the final segment of a about 50 miles that stretches from Kennedy Grove Regional Park south to Garin Regional Park. The folks in the East Bay are spoiled to have these great trails in their backyard.

Final Napa Weekend

Feeling Guilty If you look back a couple months to our Lynch Canyon post, you’ll notice me stating that I was okay with skipping about a mile and a half of trail along McGary Road outside of Lynch Canyon Regional Open Space. Well, our conscience got the better of us, and we decided to go back and finish it up. We were headed up to Napa for the weekend anyway, so it was pretty much on our way. There’s not really much to say about this section – it’s on the shoulder of the road parallel to the freeway, and it was cold. Luckily there’s not much traffic on McGary Road, otherwise it’d be dangerous. The section from the north end of the segment to Lynch Canyon ended up being about 1.7 miles (3.4 miles round trip), making the entire McGary Rd segment about 3.2 miles (the distance isn’t published anywhere).

Rockville Hills Regional Park After a short drive across town, we arrived at the start of our next segment through the City of Fairfield’s Rockville Hills Regional Park. We parked in a nice neighborhood and started off running on a paved path under some huge power lines. Within half a mile, the path reached the base of a fairly steep hill. We zigzagged up the hill, now on a dirt path, but still under the power lines. We caught glimpses of town as we headed up, and made room for several bikers who were also out on the trails. Once at the top of the hill, the single track widened out onto a dirt road as we made our way to a large pond in the middle of the park. If only you could block out the power lines, it’d be a perfect scene – still water, ducks, geese, and herons, nice weather…. We continued on past the pond and up a small hill to an old, paved service road. This took us down the hill to the north edge of the park to complete this segment. At the turn around, we decided to take a different route back. We headed up the Cave Trail, eventually finding ourselves at a small cave at the top of some slick rock. We checked it out and then wandered around, trying to find the trail back to the pond in the middle of the park. Eventually we found it (the power lines came in handy!), and ran along a single-track trail toward the north side of the pond. Here a boardwalk had recently been built that connected whatever trail we were on with the Green Valley Trail, which would bring us back to our car. After pausing to take a Christmas picture under some mistletoe, we headed back to the car. We took a wrong turn into a neighborhood, but those power lines came in handy again, and eventually we found our way back to the trail we’d come in on. We ended up having a great time running 5.5 miles through this park. The weather was perfect (even though it was a little cold), the trails were in good shape, and the terrain and scenery were interesting. We highly recommend this park if you are ever in the Fairfield area.

Yountville Crossing in Two Parts Part 1 It rained. It was cold. It was on the shoulder of a road. We couldn’t find the cross street marking the end of the trail so ended up running an extra mile. ‘Nuff said. After parking at our hotel for the night (Napa Valley Lodge), we headed south along the ridge trail to tackle 5 miles (10 miles round trip) of the Yountville Crossing section of trail. The run through Yountville was pleasant, surrounded by Thomas Keller restaurants. Once we got past town, the run turned rather monotonous, along the shoulder of a road paralleling the freeway and railroad tracks. This is one of those ridge trail copouts (like McGary Road, above) where the Ridge Trail Council just designates the shoulder of a roadway as part of the trail. Sometime there isn’t even a shoulder, so beware if the trail on the maps looks a little too straight. It probably means you will be running along a road. The cold rain made it less than pleasant! We passed the bike rest stop, which was pretty cool, and kept running. Every 20 minutes or so a bus came along… how I wished I had my $5 in my running pack so we could take the bus back! We used it a few weeks ago to get burritos in Mill Valley and unfortunately, I hadn’t restocked. We couldn’t find the end point for this segment, so we ran as far as we could stand until finally turning around near Trower Avenue. Heading back north, we were both chilled to the bone. The Napa Valley Wine Train looked delightful, but they didn’t stop for us. Once back in town, we admired Ad Hoc and The French Laundry’s gardens and chicken coop. I was very relieved to end right at our hotel where we were greeted with hot coffee, cookies, and hot toddies. Even though we’re not quite done with the trail, we decided to celebrate anyway as planned, and cracked open some Iron Horse champagne and enjoyed an excellent dinner at Farmstead in St. Helena.

Part 2 We got up early the next morning to finish up this section of trail (2.5 miles – 5 round trip) before eating breakfast at the hotel. Expecting more rain, we were pleasantly surprised when we headed out on our run without rain pelting our faces. We took a little loop through town (I might have directed us in the wrong direction!) before heading east along Yountville Crossing. Thanks to the older gentleman who pointed us in the right direction. The clouds broke up a little, and we got a tiny glimpse of the sun beyond acres and acres of dormant vineyards. Although we were still just running on the shoulder of a road, we enjoyed ourselves on this section of trail. We ran over the Napa River and then made it to the Silverado Trail, a road we know well from running the Napa Valley Marathon five times. My stomach growled as we ran back to our hotel, and our hot breakfast on arrival was well deserved.

After getting over our disappointment of our SF Watershed hike being cancelled due to storms (resulting in us not being able to actually finish the trail this calendar year because the Ridge Trail Council thinks sections behind locked gates should count), we decided to do another section of the trail today. We’re recovering from running the Quad Dipsea, a 28-mile race with 9200 feet of elevation gain, so we wanted to keep it pretty short and easy. The section from Kennedy Grove to Inspiration Point looked reasonable – 9 miles round trip and the hills certainly couldn’t be too bad.

After a long drive, we made it to the trailhead at Kennedy Grove. The steady rain made it hard to getout of the car, but several other people were there walking their dogs, so we decided to go for it. We headed out of the parking lot and soon realized we were going the wrong way. Once we’d found the actual ridge trail (it’s not easy to find from the parking lot), we were on our way. We ran past a few small bucks, across a small creek, and into the EBMUD watershed lands. We ran past the reservoir and up single-track trail to the main road, through a huge flock of robins (maybe 200), and across the road onto some old, muddy service roads.

Soon, we’d reached the end of the EBMUD lands. I saw a Bay Area Ridge Trail sign (pointing the way we’d just came), so I followed it backwards to make a big right turn onto a paved trail on the ridge. We followed this until the pavement ran out, and continued to run. When we got to a major fork in the road, we consulted the map, but found that this junction wasn’t there. Cursing the map for being so inaccurate (a common problem on these runs), we went to the right. Our gut told us this was correct. Down we went… where we were going…Nobody knows. After about a mile of going downhill, I recalled that the Ridge Trail book clearly states that from Inspiration Point to Kennedy Grove, it’s a steady downhill; therefore, we should not be running downhill as we approach Inspiration Point. We also approached some gates and houses that looked like they might be outside of parklands. Finally, we turned around and headed back up the hill, slipping and sliding in the sloppy mud.

Back at the junction, we turned left this time. After about a quarter mile, we finally spotted a Bay Area Ridge Trail sign. Phew! (or so we thought). We ran up and down some pretty steep rolling hills, shielding our faces from the wind and rain. As the fog rolled in, we could no longer see more than a hundred feet or so in front of us, so we couldn’t tell how much further we needed to go to get to the “inspiring” parking lot we were headed towards. I was starting to get cold and tired, and the miles had been ticking away. We should have been there by now. I finally decided that it wasn’t worth it to me anymore. I’d be okay with being a quarter mile short because I was too cold. We turned around and retraced our steps back to the car. I was exhausted by the time we got back. Our 9 mile run ended up being 12 miles, which wouldn’t normally be that big of a deal, but on tired legs, those extra 3 miles made a big difference.

Curious how far we had cut the route short, I went back and read the chapter about this section of the trail in the Ridge Trail book. It describes the trail through EBMUD and then states, “When you reach the ridgetop, go through a gate into Wildcat Canyon Regional Park.” Check. Did that. “Turn left (south) on Nimitz Way.” Well shoot… No wonder our map didn’t match the trails we were seeing. We’d gone right and actually spent our morning exploring Wildcat Canyon. Why there’s a Ridge Trail sign out there is beyond me. I had a small breakdown in the car, but eventually pulled myself together as we cranked up the heat in the car and headed home. I guess we’ll be back!

Lynch Canyon Open Space Preserve

Even the best-laid plan sometimes has its faults. When the State Parks were on the chopping block, we made sure to complete all of our runs within the “listed” parks before July 1st. We scheduled our docent-led tour at Crystal Springs. We paid our $10 for an East Bay MUD permit. And, we planned out our last couple of months so that we’d complete all segments by December 31st. So imagine my surprise when we sat down to print our maps Saturday night and noticed the statement, “Lynch Canyon is closed during the fall and winter months (except for Solano Land Trust docent-led events).” Okay… we could change our schedule by running somewhere different on Sunday and doing a docent-led tour through Lynch Canyon; however, when we checked the schedule of events, we noted not a single event at Lynch Canyon for the rest of the year. What were we to do? Not finish the ridge trail this year and wait until March? Try to pull some strings and get permission to enter the park? Neither of these seemed like very good ideas. Shouldn’t Lynch Canyon Open Space Park be open? Now, you must know that I’m a rule follower. Sure, I drive a couple miles an hour over the speed limit on occasion and I sometimes take liberty in my interpretation of “professional dress” at work, but that’s where the rebel in me ends. In this case, though, the best option seemed to be to run in the park (some might call this trespassing…). Run we did.

We’d planned to do this section at the end of the day, but we moved it to the beginning of our day, just to reduce the chances of a ranger being in the park. We parked by the start of the Hiddenbrooke segment, and ran along McGary road (1.6 miles) to the entrance of Lynch Canyon. Though neither the Ridge Trail book, the website, or the Ridge Trail Trail Tracker cite the mileage for this segment, it is on our big wall map, so we figured we should check it out. This mystery segment along McGary road was uninspiring, and, in fact, and bit terrifying as we ran right next to freeway traffic, with only a small 3-wire fence separating us from 65+ mph traffic.

Once at the entrance to Lynch Canyon, we stealthily climbed the locked gate, past the closed signs, and headed in. I ran quite a bit faster than normal to get past the entrance of the park, which was in clear view from the freeway. I’m sure the sheriffs have more important things to do than bust some runners trespassing in a park, but I was still paranoid! We ran into the canyon, out of view of the freeway, and up to the top of the ridge. We held on to our hats as the wind tried to blow them off, and kept up a quick pace to keep ourselves warm.

We wound our way around the ridge and up to a rocky outcrop where the trail turned to single track. We followed it through the grass along the southwestern edge of the park, back in view of the freeway. Following our map, we turned around shortly after the junction with the Kestrel Trail, though the trail did continue on a ways. I’d had enough with my nerves, and I was ready to head back. Although we appreciated the hills the Ridge Trail segment had to offer (we’re currently training for the Quad Dipsea), we were ready for a little shelter from the cold wind. We returned to the entrance of the park via the Kestrel and Middle Valley Trails. This route was much warmer! On the way back we heard some hunters and saw some fresh footprints. Needless to say, I ran a little faster yet and was certainly relieved when we hopped back over the fence and out of the park!

Though the trail on McGary Road continues north for what looks like 1.5 miles or so, we decided not to run this segment. It doesn’t really go anywhere, and it’s really not fun. So… I guess we’ll be about 1.5 miles short of actually completing the Ridge Trail, but we’re okay with that.

Hiddenbrooke Open Space

We headed back towards the car and continued on to Hiddenbrooke Open Space. Though it’s a short section, it was fun and challenging. The trail started off on the sidewalk adjacent to Hiddenbrooke Parkway, which leads into a golf course-centered neighborhood. Soon, it veers right and continues up the hill. There were several trails that veered off from the main trail, but all were closed to the public. It appears that this open space isn’t really all that “open” either. We saw a tall peak in front of us, but the trail brought us around it and to the backside where the trail ended. We turned around and found the trail up to the peak. We were feeling good, so we decided to make the little climb. We wandered around the rocky ridge at the top of the hill and decided to take a short cut on the way back down. Instead of heading back on the trail, we thought we could continue north and hit the trail on the other side of the peak. This turned out a little trickier than expected. The grass was tall, and the ground was rocky. We eventually scrambled our way back down the hill and found our trail again. The run out of the park was an easy down hill back through the grassy pasture to our car.

Benecia-Vallejo Buffer

We hopped in the car and headed to Blue Rock Springs Park for the second half of our run. After parking, we headed out on the northeast extension. We were greeted by a peacock at the base of the trail, and then ran up a steep little hill with warning signs for rattlesnakes all over. It was cold enough that we didn’t need to worry about snakes. We zigzagged up the hill and eventually headed west. I took a hard fall into a bunch of star thistle along the way. After picking the spines out of my shorts, we continued on; however, we soon realized that this trail was much longer than what the map led us to believe it should be. We finally turned around and realized we’d actually taken the wrong trail (for about half a mile). We found a little offshoot of the main trail up a little peak, which seems to be where the extension ends. Hopping over broken beer bottles (damn kids), we circled the little peak, and ran back down the hill, admiring the 2 or 3 additional peacocks at the base of the trail.

We then headed south along the sidewalk and began the main trail along the Vallejo-Benicia buffer. After a couple miles of pavement, we finally entered the buffer and enjoyed the single-track trail. We headed up and up past some sort of a mine until we reached the Doris Klein bench. Still windy, we didn’t spend much time admiring the view. The buffer trail continued south, winding up and down the hills. We saw a few lone souls along the trail, but mostly had it to ourselves. When we finally saw the freeway peeking out in front of us, we knew it was almost time to turn around. The trail finally dead-ended at a Kindercare. If you cross under the freeway it connects with Benecia State Park. We ate some gels and headed back into the buffer, up and down the hills. The wind died down, so we enjoyed the view from the bench for a couple minutes longer before heading all the way down the hill and back to the pavement. We picked up the pace for the last mile or so, and celebrated another three sections completed by eating at our now favorite spot in Benicia, Aroma Indian Cuisine.

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