With gorgeous trails throughout the San Ramon Valley, Sunol, Pleasanton, Lafayette and beyond, it's no wonder that members of hiking group San Ramon Trailblazers enjoy exploring the wonders of their own backyards. But the 3-year-old group has evolved from a means for exercise to a full-blown social circle for Baby Boomers and those slightly beyond.
"The Trailblazers...has been a tremendous success. It has met the intended outcomes originally set and beyond," said founder and hike leader Nido Paras. "This is something I found to be very useful when I got to be older (because) I can no longer do the things that I used to do like play more sports and run. Hiking and biking are the things that primarily keep me in shape and to do it with the a group of people who have a common interest, I find just delightful."
Paras, a San Ramon resident and retiree in his 60s, originally founded the hiking group with his wife Patty after volunteering at the city's senior center. An avid traveler who has hiked all over the world, Paras said he and his wife were looking for an easy means of exercise as well as a social group.
"The initial group started with five energetic hikers and currently has 51 active hikers. Sixty percent of the hikers are Boomers, which was our target audience," Paras said, adding that the group ranges in age from 46 to 82.
Trailblazers meets every Wednesday morning and has hiked over 27 trails, visited several historical sites such as the Eugene O'Neill homestead, and continues to challenge members with a variety of terrain. Trailblazers began with 2 to 3 mile hikes on level ground and have since averaged 5 miles over easy and difficult terrain, with maximum elevation gains of 1,500 feet. Hikes include discussion about some of the flora and fauna, history and geology.
Brenda Hill, 66, said she joined Trailblazers at the behest of a friend as an "experiment." The retiree said she stayed for the people and positivity.
"When I joined the group about a year and a half ago, I had just retired and couldn't really walk more than a couple of blocks; last time we went 6 miles," Hill said. "The first walk was rough -- it was a mile and half, 2 miles -- and they all waited for me at the finish line and gave me a hug and said good job. It was very encouraging."
Seventy-year-old Steve Buckser wasn't an avid hiker before joining Trailblazers but used to walk two miles each morning before he retired. Now a weekly participant, Buckser said hiking improves his health and the group keeps him motivated.
"One of the advantages of going with a hiking group is (Paras) picks out very, very interesting hikes and the distances are longer. If I were going alone, maybe after 2, 2 1/2 miles I would say 'Gee wiz it's enough,'" the retired electronics and software engineer said. "When you're going with people, you're talking and before you know it you're done with the hike."
In addition to improvements in social and mental health, Paras said Trailblazers have reported improved agility, coordination and flexibility, as well as the confidence to undertake outdoor physical abilities.
"The most rewarding overall observation or experience would be to see people who could hardly walk a mile when we first started or nothing but flat, and now we're going up to the Pleasanton Ridge and Las Trampas," Paras said. "They're telling me that their blood pressure is down, cholesterol is down, they feel so much better, have so much endurance and stability and balance."
"I'm really proud of some of our walkers. There are people in our group that are in their mid-70s or older and they usually out-hike me," Hill added. "It's a great activity, every week we just push a little bit more and a little bit more and now were at 6 miles."
Paras has gone on to schedule specialty walking trips and social events for the group, which often gets together for lunch or drinks after hikes. The group has toured San Francisco's Chinatown and Barbary Coast, and has plans to visit Black Diamond Mines in Antioch later this month. Several members were particularly excited about a walking tour of San Francisco's Mission District, which features dozens of murals.
"People love these tours, these are things they don't do on their own but there's so much interest, so much curiosity," Paras noted. "For my wife and I, it's been tremendously rewarding, we just love to see this happening -- all these people participate in a regular physical activity."
Boomers and seniors that are interested in joining the Trailblazers and would like to receive weekly announcements about hikes should email Nido Paras at firstname.lastname@example.org with a phone number and mailing address. Completion of a city emergency card is required at the time of the hike; hike leaders are trained in first aid and CPR.