These Feet Were Made for Walking

I certainly didn’t set out to circumnavigate the city of Piedmont last Saturday, or to walk a half marathon through Oakland’s hilly northeast quadrant. One thing leads to another, however; that’s just the way life works—or my life, at least. You put one foot in front of the other, and then you do it again—a step, and another step, and then another, and the next thing you know, you’re aimlessly wandering the streets of Oakland, California.

My walk began routinely enough: I thought I’d take advantage of a break in the rains to walk the dog up to beloved Sausal Creek, hoping to see it in full flow after all the storms last week. It was somewhat anticlimactic—even my dog, who doesn’t take naturally to water, was unfazed by the current and waded right in.

Sausal Dog

The clear weather was holding, and I wasn’t in the mood to turn heel and walk back down the hill yet, so I decided to check out the walking and biking trail that leads from Montclair Village up into Shepherd Canyon. It’s a bit surprising that I’ve never been there before, since I walk up to Montclair occasionally, and have even trekked from my apartment up to Redwood Regional Park at the top of the hill a couple of times. I’m glad I finally took a look. The trail was laid where Sacramento Northern tracks used to run, so it curves nicely—and not too steeply—about a mile into the Canyon before ending at a cul de sac off Shepherd Canyon road, near where the train used to enter a tunnel through the hills.

Shepherd Canyon trail

A few panels posted alongside the trail have some interesting history about the railroad and the canyon, including the astonishing fact that CalTrans proposed building a highway up Shepherd Canyon to the east side of the hills. Thankfully, there was enough opposition that the idea never became reality. Oakland is already so criss-crossed with freeways that it’s frightening to imagine that if CalTrans had really gotten what it wanted, then we would have even more. The state legislature permanently protected the canyon from freeway development in 1972, and a few years later the city council set aside land for parks and trails, bequeathing us the Shepherd Canyon that we know today. (You can read the informational panels in pdf form thanks to the Shepherd Canyon Homeowners Association.)

Shepherd Canyon trail

The trail is a pleasant enough place to take a walk, but with truly glorious parks like Joaquin Miller and Redwood and Sibley just up the street, I’d be surprised if it’s used very much for recreation except by people who happen to live in the neighborhood. So it was heartening to see how well-used the trail is for quotidian, utilitarian purposes. In my half hour walking up the trail and back, I passed at least a dozen people who were clearly walking home from the grocery store, or biking home from errands, or walking down to Montclair Village to go to a coffee shop or the bank or wherever. That’s more people than I sometimes see walking around in my own denser, more walkable neighborhood! Since there are no sidewalks on most residential streets in Montclair, and the curvy and steep roads can make for tiring, long, and dangerous walking, I doubt that most of those people I saw would have been walking to and from Montclair Village if they didn’t have the trail. (There are some public stairways around Montclair which serve much the same function.)

After I got back to Montclair Village, I basically had two options: either retrace my steps back down Park Boulevard to home, or make some kind of loop. Park Boulevard is plenty interesting, at least to me, but I always prefer loops, so I headed north on Mountain Boulevard toward Lake Temescal, where two optimistic little girls were using the fleeting sunshine as an excuse for pretending that summer was already here.

I was about nine miles into the walk by then, and beginning to wonder why I had walked to a point in Oakland which happens to have no direct route back to my apartment. Spontaneous rambling is fun and all, but the benefits of planning ahead were starting to sink in. No matter—I still had plenty of fuel in the proverbial tank, and I had planned ahead enough to bring some snacks for the dog and some water for both of us, so onward we went, first down to Rockridge, then down Broadway to MacArthur, and then finally to home.

It seems like I end up taking a long walk like this once or twice a year, when I have a free afternoon and a hankering to see some streets that I haven’t seen before.  Not only is walking the best way, hands down, to get to know a neighborhood, but it also clarifies the relationships between neighborhoods, both geographically and sociologically. The architecture changes, the years and models of the cars parked in driveways change, sidewalks disappear or reappear, or a freeway blocks ones path and forces a quarter-mile detour. Strangers on the street greet you cheerfully, or eye you warily, or flaunt their indifference. Front yards have barking dogs behind chain link fences, or obsessively manicured landscaping, or kids’ bikes left on the grass next to driveways. All these things determine the character of a place.

I wrote a post in June about how great it is to get around town by bicycle, but for me, riding a bike is really a sort of compromise, between the speed and distance possible in a car and the benefits to one’s health and one’s soul that walking brings. As far as I’m concerned, the ultimate in human transportation is not anything designed by Bianchi or BMW or Boeing, but rather a technology devised by evolution, nature’s master engineer. You put one foot in front of the other, and then you do it again—a step, and another step, and then another, and the next thing you know, you’re not so worried about where exactly you’re going.

14 Responses to “These Feet Were Made for Walking”

  1. Shawn @ Entroporium says:

    Next time, start at either the Bienvendes cul de sac or at the trail head at the end of Bridgeview. Either way it leads you up a trail that hits Mountain a bit south of Park and the driving range. That way you can avoid walking up yukky Park Blvd freeway.

    Alternatively, when you get to Mountain on the Bridgeview trail you can continue south on Mountain. There’s a secret pass under Hwy 13 that connects to a trail on the other side that heads all the way up into Joaquin Miller.

  2. dc says:

    Shawn: Thanks. I’ve sometimes taken the trails you mention to avoid the freeway-ish part of Park in the past, and it’s pretty amazing how you can use those trails to walk from El Centro all the way up to Skyline Boulevard and beyond without having to walk on more than a hundred yards of paved street or sidewalk. The tunnel under Highway 13 between Monterey Blvd and Mountain Blvd is especially handy, since there are so few places to cross Hwy 13.

    For whatever reason, I still sometimes walk up Park instead of taking the trails—either for variety’s sake, or to avoid muddy trails, or because it’s a more direct route. It’s a good thing that there’s a wide shoulder on that section of Park, so that one doesn’t feel too threatened by the speeding cars. I think I read somewhere recently that there are plans in the works to improve the “sidewalk” on Park between Leimert and Highway 13, but I don’t have time to remind myself of the details just now.

    (In case anyone else is interested in the trails Shawn describes, there’s a nice map available at the Friends of Sausal Creek website which shows the trails in Dimond Canyon and how to connect with the trails in Joaquin Miller park by passing under Highway 13. The area makes for a nice urban hike if you don’t want to have to get into a car or bus and go higher into the hills.)

  3. ruth gutmann says:

    David, because of my own preference for walking, I hugely enjoyed your story and count it among your best blogs ever. Your pictures are wonderful and remind me that we too will sooner or more likely later see our surroundings green again.

    It’s not imminent and just now we have 16 degrees.
    Bring warm stuff!

  4. dc says:

    Ruth: That’s an improvement over 13 degrees, which was the temp there when I checked last night, but I’m packing my sweater anyway…

    I’m glad you liked the post.

  5. Gene says:

    Yowza! That was a heck of a walk. You were all the way up into my neck of the woods. I ride up the Montclair RR trail to get back home (it ends at Saroni, which I then follow up the hill) when I’m out on the e-bike. When I’m coming from the north, I usually ride past Lake Temescal, so you covered some familiar ground.

  6. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    Such a nice walk, and we are lucky to have the Shepherd Canyon Trail, but it’s depressing to think that 70 years ago we had electric interurban service from Montclair to downtown Oakland continuing on to San Francisco. Now we have … the 18 bus.

  7. Andy K says:

    Great walk. Love that trail from Bridge View to Mountain, under the freeway into JMP. My kids and I call the area from Bridge View to Monterrey the “Enchanted Forest.”

    I love walking for the many of the reasons you speak of. I always discover something new when I take a walk in areas that I have ridden or drove through many times before.

  8. Mark says:

    Inspiring! Thanks. We lived on Scout Road in our previous life, and much of the terrain you covered is familiar from those old days. I’ll be heading up to the hills tomorrow (if it’s not too rainy) to retrace some steps.

  9. Mark says:

    PS — It looks like you passed Zachary’s Pizza on College on the way home. Too bad they don’t have a doggie dining room — you could have stopped for a delicious pizza! Did you use some sort of GPS tracker to retrace your route or is it something you drew on a map later?

  10. dc says:

    Mark: I do have a gps trackmaking tool on my phone, but I forgot to turn it on, so I used a nice site called gmap pedometer to map and measure (13.4 miles) my route after I got home. It’s very useful, easy-to-use site. I did pass Zachary’s, and the smell was even more alluring than usual!

  11. jabel says:

    Beautiful post.I miss the green of Northern CA in winter.That pic of the trail looked so lush.Loved the doggie in the water and the two little girls playing on the “beach”.

  12. MarleenLee says:

    Shawn – I just walked from my house below the Mormon Temple over to the trail from the edge of Bridgeview and made a loop by walking along Mountain back to the Temple. Thanks for the heads up – I never knew that trail was there!

  13. unique distance from isolation says:

    Nice post. I’m jealous; it’s been a while since I’ve been on a long ramble.

  14. Andie says:

    I really enjoyed this entry, D. Hope you’re having a great time on your vacation.

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