Want to go walking around nude at night outside without being hauled off to jail? Imagine hiking naked guided only by your flashlight in the East Bay Hills, with the trail silhouetted by a full moon and small herds of horses coming up to greet you.
"It's absolutely surreal," says Jurek Zarzycki. "The horses come within inches of you, so close you can feel their breath. It's like being on a moonscape with aliens. You may be a little afraid at first, but the horses are very friendly."
America's only nude "Full Moon Hikes" have been taking place on summer full moon nights in Castro Valley for more than seven years. The next ones will be held July 29, August 31 (arrive by 6 p.m.), and September 28 (starting at 5:15 p.m.)
"We start early so that we have the full moon already risen by the time the sun sets," says San Leandro's Dave Smith, who leads most of the hikes. "Then we hike up the trail around sunset."
Coordinated by a partnership between The Sequoians Naturist Club and the Bay Area Naturists, based in San Jose, walkers leave the property of The Sequoians fully clothed at dusk and walk through meadows and up hills until the moon rises, before heading back down the slopes completely nude, with their clothes folded neatly into their backpacks.
Some people walk partially nude, especially near the top of the main ridge used by the hikers, where, says Zarzycki, "there can be very cold winds." Adds Smith: "We make about a 1,200 foot ascent up ridges and trails to the Las Trampas Ridge. "We usually pause long enough to drink some water and take in the views of the sun settling over the bay and even Mount Tamalpais, on the coast, plus the moon rising south of Mount Diablo. Then we keep walking. Soon, the coastal air just starts pouring over the hilltop. And the wind begins howling." Once on the peak, almost everyone dons a windbreaker.
"Whether you are clothed or not, participating in the Full Moon Hike is a big treat," adds Zarzycki, who suggests hikers bring good hiking shoes, a flashlight ("Most of the time you won't need it, because of the moonlight"), and bug spray. "And don't forget to have some baby carrots with you to give to the horses."
"It's truly wonderful," says Smith. "We're usually the only ones on the path."
Agrees Zarzycki: "It's one of the best experiences I've ever had. The fields look absolutely shimmering on the way up. And then when you're coming back down, the path is lit only by the moon, so you're walking in this silvery light. You're in nature, the moonlight is flooding everything, and then suddenly there's this big horse silhouette coming out of nowhere. You feel like you're in the middle of a beautiful dream."
As for the horses, they're real enough -- in fact, they usually beg for snacks.
The hike isn't easy. Some parts of the walk are "mountain-goatish," tells Smith. One time, the path was so slippery that hikers crawled along it on all fours, while grasping for bushes hidden by the darkening sky. Everyone in the group fell down on their butts at least once in the most slippery spots, but they helped each other and continued down the ridge.
The route downhill usually takes the nighttime naturists past a field of wild sage, which smell great after dark.
After the walk, most hikers shower at the Sequoians Naturist Club, and, for a fee of $5, take a dip in the 86-degree pool there and enjoy a plunge in the facility's hot tub. "It was fabulous," says Zarzycki about an earlier trek. "I pitched my tent right there at the Sequoians and then slept under the sky."
Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, where nudity is prohibited.
How to find it:
Contact the Sequoians Naturist Club at http://www.sequoians.com or BAN at http://www.bayareanaturists.org or Dave Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org for details on how to join a walk. Participants usually meet at and return to the Sequoians, in Castro Valley. "We usually meet about two hours before sunset at the Sequoians Recretation Hall for a quick pot luck," says Smith. To get there, take Highway 580 east to the Crow Canyon Road exit. Or follow 580 west to the first Castro Valley offramp. Take Crow Canyon Road toward San Ramon .75 mile to Cull Canyon Road. Then follow Cull Canyon Road around 6.5 miles to the end of the paved road. Take the dirt road, on the right, until the "Y" in the road and keep left. Shortly thereafter, you'll see the Sequoians sign. Proceed ahead for about another .75 mile to the Sequoians front gate.
Expect five to 20 participants.
Must go as part of a guided group; pay fee for pool/hot tub; visibility limited so bring a flashlight; use of bug repellent advised; some of the trail is steep and slippery; walk only held two to four times a year.
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