photo caption: Bob Coomber (pictured front and center), also known as Four Wheel Bob, joins the ribbin cutting in 2014 for the 74 acre addition to Sycamore Grove Park which will now allow for a regional trail connection. photo by Carolyn Newton.
by Laura Ness, Tri-Valley Conservancy Volunteer & Writer
Many have seen him wheeling along the trails of the East Bay with the look of determination that enables him to conquer any challenge, including summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro. That peak has come to represent an achievable goal for many with physical challenges, and so, Bob Coomber and his wife, Gina, dedicate themselves to gathering supplies to help others in wheelchairs make their own ascent. But it’s the trails in his back yard that he loves most.
Coomber, a lifelong Bay Area resident, author, hiker and nature enthusiast, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at 19, a disease that led to bone weakness and multiple catastrophic leg fractures. Since he can’t put weight on his legs, Coomber has relied on his wheelchair for over two and a half decades. He was the first to summit Mt. Diablo in a wheelchair, which he describes as treacherously steep and slippery: it took him about six hours. He’s especially passionate about the East Bay’s vast trail system and is a staunch advocate for expansion of American with Disabilities Act-suited pavement.
Bob has lived in Livermore for nearly 30 years, and has worked with the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District for many of them. As a board member, he worked frequently with Tri Valley Conservancy, who he credits with helping to preserve open space and creating additional trails. “These are people with altruistic motives who translate them into reality,” says Coomber.
In 2014, supporters helped Tri-Valley Conservancy donate 78 acres around the Veterans Administration complex to the Park District to help connect the Sycamore Grove Park area all the way to Fremont—which is now close to reality. Eventually, this trail will also be extended along East Vineyard to access Shadow Cliffs.
The plans for multi-use trails in the District are quite ambitious, but Coomber has faith they will happen. “The Sycamore Grove extension is a very cool thing because the trail crosses Arroyo del Valle, but the bridge is [currently] barely wide enough to accommodate a chair,” says Coomber. “Tri-Valley Conservancy is going to help build an all-weather bridge that everyone can use – wheelchairs, bicycles, carriages, strollers.”
Adds Coomber, “Tri-Valley Conservancy thinks the way do.
They help make things happen. We don’t run into roadblocks with Tri-Valley Conservancy. A lot is done behind the scenes. It’s like Christmas when I come to a meeting and find out the things they’ve done for us. We have a capital improvement list a mile long. ”
He’d love to see a loop trail that people could use to commute via bicycle into Livermore, Pleasanton and Dublin. He notes that you can currently bike 35-miles between Concord and Pleasanton on the Iron Horse Trail.
He tells me that he’s among the lucky wheelchair wielding trail users: it’s a lot easier to get around most trails with a self-propelled chair like his. “Motorized wheelchairs have a much harder time going over gaps in the pavement,” he explains. Real multi-use trails have to be designed and implemented properly to accommodate those who want to enjoy the beauty of nature without, as Bob says, “making a career move” while crossing an unsafe surface.
One of Bob’s favorite places to go outside of the East Bay is the Eastern Sierra. “I love spending time in the high Sierra. It’s a lot of work to get camp set up, so I’m usually in no hurry to get up in the morning!” he shares, with a perpetual grin. He says one time while camping up near the Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains, he and his companions awoke to realize they had been joined overnight by a flock of big horn sheep. Now, that’s a sight he will never forget.
You can watch a film trailer about 4 Wheel Bob at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vd9rthZ-_Q4.