First off, I LOVE the East Bay Parks. There are four main parks that you can run through continuously (Tilden, Sibley, Redwood, and Chabot - listed North to South and weblinked for your convenience). My go-to park is Redwood, just because it's the most convenient for me to get to, but I've run through Chabot and am working my way up into Sibley. Also, Redwood has a great variety of trails. There are shady, wet, fern-covered trails down in the canyon. There are sunny, dry, scrub-brush trails up on the ridges. All of the trails are dirt, which is great.
WHERE TO START AND PARK
My go-to trails in Redwood are the Ridge trails: there's an East Ridge trail and a West Ridge. There are several points of access for these trails- my favorites are the Skyline Gate, Moon Gate, or Big Bear Staging Area. Skyline and Moon Gates are at the top of the park, so if you're running from here, be prepared for a lot of downhill on the way out, and a lot of uphill on the way back. Big Bear is at the bottom of Redwood Park, so visa versa- be prepared for climbing up into Redwood and a lot of downhill on the return. Big Bear is also right on the border of Redwood and Chabot parks, so this is a great exploration point.
WATER AND BATHROOMS
I like to carry water when I'm running more than 10 miles or I plan on dilly-dallying out there for 2 hours or more. I recommend the same for everyone… when in doubt, carry water. Redwood Park is amazing because there are plenty of water fountains if you know where to look for them. Skyline Gate has water and bathrooms. There are water and bathrooms down on the Stream Trail (bottom of the canyon). Once you cross into Chabot, water is more spread out (located at the "Chabot Equestrian Center" or "Clyde Woolridge Staging area") to the next fountains.
There are horses on the West Ridge trail and offshoots, and there are lots of horse facilities on this side of the park. As a runner/walker, you must yield to horses and it's courteous to give them a heads up before running past (I just holler hello!) Bikes must yield to everybody. Just be mindful; the trails aren't usually too busy, and I've only ever seen horses twice.
WEST RIDGE + MORE
The West Ridge trail gives you a great sample of all of the beautiful parts of the park - you get the Redwood Bowl, the windy ridge, and a good mix of "flat-ish" trail and very steep trail. My favorite off-shoots are the Baccharis Trail and the Toyon Trail. There is a marshy part of Baccharis where you can hear bullfrogs croaking- it's incredible! Toyon is a narrow horse trail that twists down the side of the ridge- watch your ankles!
Ever since June 2013 when I ran the DRTE Santa Barbara 100 in my Hoka Stinson, I've wanted a shoe that sits closer to the ground but still maintains the cushy properties of a beefy Hoka. While the Stinson's responded reasonably well on trails, the height often left me feeling unconfident in my footing, resulting in a slower, more tedious descent on technical sections. Enter, the Hoka Rapa Nui 2 Trail: a lightweight, low-drop Hoka, providing plush cushion without sacrificing responsiveness.
I've only put ~30 miles since I got them on Saturday, but those 30 miles have been a pleasure. One of my biggest complaints with the Stinson was the heel; it felt sloppy and allowed the shoe to move laterally on my foot, which resulted in some nasty blisters on the outside of my heels. Compared to the Stinson, the heel cup on the Rapa Nui 2 fits a tad narrower, securing my foot in place without feeling uncomfortable.
You'll find that the upper material is almost identical to that of the Stinson and Tarmac and even includes speed laces already laced on the shoes. The narrow heel transitions to a slightly wider midfoot but tapers off into a narrow forefoot, which became uncomfortable after a while. I found that I had to loosen the laces considerably for my foot to not feel cramped. On my first sockless run, I did get a blister from where the upper creased on top of my fourth toe. I think the stiffness will work itself out over time.
The Rapa Nui 2 uses a proprietary oversized IMEVA foam, but there is noticeably less beneath your foot. The debut run for these was in Rancho San Antonio park where my buddy, Anthony, and I did a Black Mountain ascent --17 miles, 3300'/3300' climbing and descending. The trail can be very uneven and rocky at certain sections (especially towards the top) but I was able to confidently pick a line when descending thanks to the lower profile. I even threw in a few low 6 minute miles on flat trails and was surprised by how fast they feel! It has the same "bounce" effect as the other Hokas, but overall it is stiffer and more responsive. The heel doesn't feel as chunky as the Stinson trail, and the 5mm drop keeps your foot nice and level with the ground (just for comparison, the Stinson sits at a 6mm drop.)
One of my favorite features about Hokas is the full contact sole, which provides inherent stability without the addition of medial posting. With the exception of super technical trails, I've felt really confident while climbing and bombing hills in these. The lugs are deep enough to bite into the trail and are spread wide enough to shed mud, and the forefront is definitely more flexible than the other Hokas I've tried. Surprisingly, though, I've felt a couple of sharp rocks through all of the foam in the forefoot, so I do wish it had a rock plate, even if only a thin one.
I'm glad that Hoka released a lower profile trail shoe that feels fast yet still provides fluffy cushioning. I'll definitely be using it for some of my slower long runs, but I'm very interested to see how it does on race day. I have a night marathon coming up in the Marin headlands which may be the ideal place to put it to the test. They'll probably feel even better after I've logged ~100 miles in them, so check back for an update!