Orinda Road Runners Leave a Trail Legacy

Hannah Christopher, Staff Writer

Unknown to many, often congregating early in the mornings before anyone ventures out of their homes, a group of Lamorinda men and women meet to run. However, instead of following the usual windy Orinda roads, these runners trek along uncharted trails, often through private property. Started in 1976 by a man named Jerry Wendt and Co- founder Tom Sturges, the Orinda Road Runners has expanded to over 100 members, averaging 10 runners on weekdays and 30 on weekends. The men who joined the group over 30 years ago pioneered a network of trails before San Pablo, Briones, and the Orinda Downs were in existence.
John Fazzel, a man who has been running for over 30 years through Lamorinda, was a key player in the creation of the secret network of trails. Over the years, he has created over 160 different trail runs and was eventually invited to be one of the few members of the National Trail Committee for the U.S. His fellow Orinda Road Runners dub him as “the John Muir of our century”. He has gained infamy among East Bay Mud for trespassing and sometimes even being chased by trucks and at one time, a helicopter. Although he has never been caught and charged with anything, he is known by name among officials and lives on as the illusive, quick-footed explorer of Lamorinda.
His trails all hold unique memories reflected in their names, like ones such as “Rattle Snake Gulch,” “Dead Cow Hill,” and “Sunset Trail.” Before San Pablo and Briones Reservoir were put in place, there were large valleys with trails running through them. Fazzel modified his “Sunset Trail” starting along the edge of the San Pablo reservoir at dusk and chasing the sun to the top of the hill before sunset. Many of us know Orinda by its downtown, friend’s neighborhoods, and schools; but to know Orinda by the back of the hillside in the distance and the fringes of the woods is truly remarkable.
Ed Kantaba is another Orinda local in his mid 60’s who has been running through the Lamorinda hills for years. With a degree in forestry, Kantaba is constantly spotting obscure plants and insects. He is full of useful and interesting facts that can keep him as well as his fellow runners out of danger. One early morning, Kantaba was running when he spotted a newt inching its way across the road. He said to not touch their skin because as a defense mechanism, they can release a neurotoxin that could paralyze the recipient. Kantaba currently works at Microsoft in the research department laying out maps and landscapes throughout the country, again proving useful in preventing morning runs from turning into all day rescue missions.
While many dream about exploring, joining an organization, and leaving a legacy that is all their own, few dare to take the first step. The Orinda Road Runners, starting with Wendt’s ambition, have taken the first step and elevated it to an entirely new level. They have created a network of trails and formed bonds with others within their local community who they might have only glanced at in the supermarket otherwise. So go explore and invest in the community; there are trails waiting to be discovered and curious, unique individuals who are looking for an adventure.