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May 25, 2009
Over hill, Over dale (by Gail)

Today Gail walked 7 miles!
Total walked so far = 7 miles

“I have found that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
– Mark Twain

By Sunday evening, I was starting to regret having mentioned to Russell that I would like to walk the Pleasanton to Niles/Fremont leg with him. Well, not all of it, but some part of it. He really seemed to like the idea – but by that evening it was getting too complicated to arrange, and I just couldn’t see how I could on such short notice. The boys had to get to the train station for a trip to SF for school; I had to keep Joss on track with homework; I couldn’t decide where I wanted to walk (bathrooms were a requirement). How would I get there and back, since I hate relying on other folks for help? Plus, I have not walked a long distant like this in years – since our world trip – and was just a bit worried about being able to do more than a couple of miles. Finally, we agreed to let me sleep on it and I would get back with him in the morning – but he should leave at his intended time. If I came up, I would just meet him wherever he was.

Next morning – after thorough research on Google Earth – I finally gave in to the siren call of the road. I saw how pretty and fun the walk could be. This would be the last chance to walk in the “country side,” and the RR tracks and fun historical sites were too tempting. The thing that really pushed me over the edge of nay-saying was Russell telling me that”Iit’s easy to come up with a hundred excuses to not do something.” He’s right; it is. Inertia is a terrible thing. I would not do the Pleasanton portion, but opted to walk the Sunol-Niles section.

Before Russell and I were married, we went on our very first backpack trip through the Sunol wilderness. I have very fond memories of climbing up the peak with 30 lbs of gear on my back. That was 25 year ago (at least) and time fades the pain.

So my only decision to make was jeans or shorts, long sleeves or tank top? My sister-in-law Joanne talked me into shorts and a tank with an over-shirt. I burn easily so a shirt on top of that would help, but there is no help for the folks who would have to see my very pale winter legs. Sorry everyone. I printed off a Google Earth map and marked all the historical sites, grabbed my water bottle, my box of Good and Plenty (appropriate for those who remember “Choo Choo Charlie”) and was ready to go.

We left my car at the motel. The very questionable appearance left me not-too-hopeful for a great stay for Russell once he actually checked in. But I told myself, this was a low after the high of his rooms the night before. The six mile drive to Sunol went by very quickly. I knew the walk back would not be the same.

Once we got to Sunol, there were tons of people. Certainly not what I expected; I had a vision of a small crossroads with a closed train station. Quiet and rural. They were all there to take a ride on the historical steam train. It was just so fun to see all of them so excited. Kids, parents and grandparents. The open-sided cars were equipped with what looked like restaurant chairs back-to-back facing outward. How fun is this?

I had found the regular in-use tracks on my Google map and had wanted to try walking along them. Russell spoke to a local guy who said “NO. The trains are fast and come often. Walk on the steam tracks instead.” So we started off on the tracks, with me very aware that we probably should not be there – that someone was going to say, “Get off.”

Right away we started to see rail spikes.

Russell: Pick them up for the grandkids, they are historical.
Me: No. They are not historical, just rusted. And Dawn would not appreciate us giving the boys long heavy sharp objects.

Walking on the tracks is not as easy as you would think. The ties are spaced just so you can’t get a good rhythm, and the gravel on the side moves under your feet. We were on the tracks for about ten minutes when the first run came down the tracks, so we stepped off to wave at people on train as they went by. I wonder what they thought of us.

Rail walking

We were in for a real treat though, as the cottonwood tree fluff was blowing in the wind like snow. It was magical. Here we were walking down the tracks, white fluff in the air, and good conversation. How could it get any better?

At about one mile out we came to the gated train yard which was marked “Do Not Enter.”

Gail: I think we should go down to the road. They might throw us out.
Russell: Nah. Let’s go on.
Gail: Uh, no. Let’s go down to road.

OMG. how scary is this? Traffic zooming by, no shoulder. Have to walk single file. Can’t converse. Yuck. How has he done this so far? People barely move over for you, and the shoulder has picky grass that sticks to your socks. This is NOT fun.

Gail NOT having fun

I saw families on other side of the road going down an embankment. From Google Earth research, I knew the river was right there. So Russell says, “You cross when you feel safe. I’ll cross when I feel safe.” Safe? Safe? People are whizzing by at 50 mph, we are on a blind curve both ways, and the cars are spaced just so you can’t get a long break both ways. Safe? Shoot, just run!

Well, I am writing this, so you know we made it down to the river. I was not expecting to see so much trash strewn everywhere. It was absolutely tragic. There were families sitting on the river edge, BBQs, music, beer etc. Since this was my bright idea, I asked if anyone knew if there was a trail along the river. The group pushed one guy forward – the only one who could speak English, I think. He had no idea, but supported my idea to try. Thanks.

The water was low, so I suggested we try walking in the river.

I had my shoes and socks off, quickly tied together and strapped to my fanny pack.

Russell had to remove his shoes, remove his socks, pack his shoes, pack his socks, put on his sandals THEN take off lower pant legs. This took about five minutes. Geesh.

The water was to mid-calf, warm and fast. There were guppies, pieces of crab, mostly smooth rocks – but enough sharp ones to make it not totally fun – and ducks, ducks, ducks. After trying to tough it out, I finally put my shoes back on and trudged through water that way. It was so fun and great way to stay cool. Periodically along the bank there were people sitting enjoying the day. That told us that there were miscellaneous paths up to the road – so when we needed to get out we could.

River walking

Gail gave this "treasure" to some young children

We came up to a small set of rapids and then water started to get too deep to walk, so we decided to take one of the paths up to the side of the river and try to walk there. We didn’t count on the poison oak, and after several tries to get back into the water we wisely moved back up to the main road once again. But once again the traffic was just too much for me, so we moved back to the RR tracks. We saw town markers, but where were the towns? How long ago had they disappeared? We could hear traffic and see the river, so we knew we were on the right track to ultimately end up in Niles.

Relics of places long since gone

At one point we met up with the tour train coming back from Niles, but all passengers were off for demo of engine power up the hill. We couldn’t go by because the train had moved back down the tracks to get a good run up, and the (about) 50 people cheered as it smoked and steamed its way uphill to where we were all standing

Waving at the steam train

One thing I had found during my research was that there had once been a brick works along the tracks. As we walked along, I spotted the chimneys above the tree line. We climbed up the embankment and came out to a large opening with three standing brick chimneys about 30-40 feet high and thousands of bricks everywhere. It’s a landscapers dream. We found bricks stamped with six different names. There was old machinery and – of course – the usual vandalism and graffiti you get in places like this.

The Niles Brick Works

Since there was a road right there we decided to follow it into town. I had read some postings that folks had driven up there, and based on the graffiti we knew it went somewhere to civilization. When we got the end of the road it was a gate – barricaded, locked, looped with barbed wire – and there were signs saying “You are being videotaped,” “No trespassing,” “Property of the San Francisco Water District.” Eeeck. My “follow the rules genetics” kicked in, but I was not walking back out of this the way we came. So over the fence I went. (Days shy of 53 and I can still climb over an eight-foot fence. Yay, me.) Russell – with his pack – had a harder time than I did, but he made it after a few tries and getting the walking poles stuck.

The last mile or so was just an easy walk down the street. Our adventure together had come to an end.

Final outcome? Seven miles walked since we did go off the road, no sunburn, and I am not sore at all. As Russell said, had he been alone he would have walked along the road. I am so glad he convinced me to join him, and that he let me convince him to go off-road with me.

A perfect way to spend a day

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