Ralph and I had discussed last night where we would hike today. Since we were way behind our usual schedule at completing the 26 miles of the East Bay Regional Trail Challenge, we decided we'd head out to Martinez area and do a 5.07-mile loop in Briones Regional. We had dinner plans in the evening, so a longer hike or one farther away, wasn't feasible.
With my back hurting as much as it did this morning, I wasn't sure an ambitious hike was the best idea in the world--maybe we should stick to a flat paved trail such as Oakland's Lake Merritt or Berkeley hills' Inspiration Point. But we eventually decided to stick with our original plan, so after Ralph helped me with my shoes this morning, I carefully settled myself in the passenger seat of our car. I held onto the grab (panic?) bar for most of the curvy drive through the hills.
When we pulled up to the kiosk off Reliez Valley Road, the young woman attendant asked if we knew that the main trail accessed from the entrance, Alhambra Creek Trail, was closed. We handed her our map that showed the featured Challenge walk in the the park and she studied it for a moment. Then she said, "Yes, the major trail for your hike is closed, but there is a narrow dirt trail that closely parallels the original one and you can use that to do your loop." Sounded good to us--so we pulled ahead and parked and set out.
The featured trail was supposed to be "moderate" in intensity. The narrow trail we followed started moderately, but soon became challenging--at least that's what I would call a trail where you have to use roots and overhanging branches to pull yourself uphill. I paused partway up the slope to let a young man carrying his mountain bicycle downhill get by safely. He muttered, "I sure hope this is the worst of it." My sentiment too, would I be able to get back downhill or would the SAR rescue team have to be called? I wondered.
Luckily, the difficult stretch soon gave way to a more moderate climb and we were able to complete our hike with no problems. And "no problems" included the fact that as my muscles warmed, my back stopped hurting. This represented another narrow escape from seeing the chiropractor and another example of how hiking is good for me!
Our route: Follow the Alhambra Creek Trail (or the narrow dirt trail on its left). Right at the first fork onto Spengler Trail. Left and south at the next fork on the Old Briones Trail. Then right on Old Briones Road Trail; right and north on Lagoon Trail. Right and north on Toyon Canyon Trail; and right to head east on the Orchard Trail, which will take you back to the parking lot.
There are picnic tables, outhouses, and drinking water in the orchard near the parking lot.
Briones Regional Park has several entrances; the Alhambra Creek Staging Area is at 2537 Reliez Valley Road, Martinez. $3 parking on weekends (or when kiosk is open) or free with EBRPD membership.