Why I Strava: Heatmap

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved cartography.  In elementary school my mother worried about my obsession with drawing maps of the world…especially as they related to World War II and how aggressive the Germans were and the Allies’ response…  I know. Silly, right?

Today I get my cartography fix through riding my bike and utilizing the Strava heatmap feature for premium members.

The featured image above is the Strava Global Heatmap for Kansas (pictured here and above) of June 23, 2019.  What is really cool is you can see the plainly see;

bicycling in the United States
A quick glance shows the places I ride a lot. Further examination shows travel that I have enjoyed on my bicycle.

Take a look at the map above.  The blue shows routes…the red shows frequent use. Clearly, without knowing anything else about me, you know I reside in the middle of the country…Kansas! And you can clearly see that I have had great bike rides in;

  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Missouri
  • Arkansas
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Maine

In addition, though it can be hard to see without zooming in, there are traces of blue in;

  • California
  • Nevada
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee
  • Washington DC/Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Cancun, Mexico
  • Tamarindo, Costa Rica

So, as a guy that loves cartography and bicycling you can see how I have come up with my #50Miles50States hashtag that can be searched on this bicycling blog. And clearly, I still have a lot of work to do.  Yet…that is the fun, isn’t it?

How can Strava heatmap help you create purpose and fun in your cycling?

Cycling Kansas
Clearly, I live in the southern suburbs of Kansas City and I get to ride quite a bit around Emporia, home of the Dirty Kanza and the Flint Hills.

Both of these Strava heatmaps are accurate as of June 23, 2019…except…

When I first started riding, I mean really paying attention to my riding I adopted Map My Ride. Map My Ride shows me with over 14K miles since I started tracking in mid-Summer, 2013.  And I still like Map My Ride. I just like the interface of Strava better along with the being able to track my miles per bicycle AND the heat map, of course.

I didn’t really start using Strava until the Fall of 2017…though I did go in and backlog some of my more significant rides…like Dirty Kanza, Seattle to Portland, Biking Across Kansas (BAK),  etc.  Strava has me at just barely over 9K miles.  Imagine how much more red the Kansas City area would be with those extra 5K miles!  Oh, how it pains me to think of all those uncharted rides.

Power meters and heart rate monitors  and the like are not how I interact with technology to make bicycling more fun for me.  Yet Strava heatmap is a classic case of how technology is helping someone like me to enjoy bicycling just that little bit more.  Thanks for reading.  I hope you feel inspired to turn a crank today.

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Why I Ride My Bike

This morning I was watching a newer video by GCN – Global Cycling Network that had tips on how to know if you have lost sight on why you ride your bike.  And it got me to thinking about Why I Ride My Bike.

I’m +50 years old and sit in an office most of my work days and talk with people. Not many calories burned there.  When I ride, I like my body.  I breath better, feel better, sleep better.  I look better.  When I take extended time off the bike, all those positives begin to dissipate.

Another reason why I ride my bike is hidden in the first reason; I talk with people all day.  Happily, my work office sits right in front of a paved trail that can take me on a 33 mile loop. I can get on my bike and just ride. Then I can think…or not think.  I can ponder issues to be tackled or I can just consider my cadence and speed.  Or I can choose to concentrate on any wildlife I may see.  It’s “me” time.

In all of us there are contradictions.  I like my “me” time to recharge. And I like to ride with like minded bicycle riders.  In fact, I lead a Meetup group here in Olathe, Kansas called BOB – Bicycling Olathe and Beyond.  We have strictly social rides and we have rides that go out for 50-60 miles.  Generally, people group themselves pretty well.  You can really get to know people when you spend 4 hours with them cycling week after week.

Perhaps most importantly, I love feeling the wind through my hair as I zig zag down a street switching my body weight from one side of the bike to the other.  Now, those of you that know me know I don’t have any hair, so that may have been figuratively speaking, mind you.  The point is, riding a bike is just plain fun for me.

I would love to hear from you why you ride your bike now that I have shared with you why I ride my bike.

Olathe Area Bike Rides

2018 was a year of not-enough-rides by Bicycling Olathe and Beyond…BOB for short.  There were personal reasons for that.  2019 will be different. We now have darned near 500 members, most of which I’ve never met.  Here is what I am asking from you…

Additional Organizer
I’m looking to add one additional organizer who will be in charge of the more recreational rides. Rides like 5-10 miles on the Indian Creek or Tomahawk Creek Trails, or just tooling around Shawnee Mission or Heritage Parks.  These rides are strictly for the fun of it.  No drop.  No requirements other than to have a good time.  Social rides, if you will.  Definitely family friendly rides.

Social Organizer
I’m looking for someone that will organize 2-3 Meetups for bicycle riders around southern JoCo.  Not a ride, but a gathering.  Maybe we reserve the back area of The Other Place in Olathe, or space at the new Peanut in Olathe?  Anyone willing to take this on?

Mountain Bike Organizer
Frankly, I gave mountain biking up.  I don’t like rock gardens.  Yet, we have quite a few people that inquire about mountain bike meetups.  So if you’d like to take charge of this, let me know.  We’d love to help you facilitate those.

Contact Chris to be an Organizer

Gravel Rides
Over the last couple years I have really gotten in to gravel riding.  And as luck would have it, I have a small place out in the Flint Hills  about halfway between Emporia and Council Grove, Kansas.  As such, I will be hosting gravel bike rides out there on some Saturdays throughout the warmer months.  So look for those gravel bike rides to come.

Road Bike Rides
And, of course, we’ll re-launch road bike rides.  We have plenty of road riders of all abilities at this site.  Be sure to read our What We’re About link on our home page to get a good feel for our rides and where you would fit in.  Some are no-drop, some are all-out-get-after-it.

And most of all, remember.  This is about fun and exercise and making some good friends.  BOB is not about getting you ready to win a gold medal. It’s about enjoying life.  If that’s you, we’d love for you to join us in 2019.

Join Bike Compulsion’s Mailing List

fun bike riding

Riding the Prairie Spirit Trail

Yesterday I found myself riding the Prairie Spirit Trail in the eastern third of Kansas for Rick’s Birthday Ride.  (Find our riding group at Meetup’s BOB Rides.)  The Prairie Spirit is a rails-to-trails ride running about 52 miles with Ottawa and Humbolt as the trial ends. Over the years I have ridden this trail several times in bits and pieces including the 50 mile round trip (almost exactly!) from Ottawa to Garnett and back.

riding a rails to trail project in Kansas
It’s a long video and yet it shows you the ride and stops. To see the video, click the link below.

Watch the Prairie Spirit Trail Ride

The trail has little elevation, as do most rail-to-trail projects.  In fact, my Garmin showed 745 feet of total elevation over those 50.01 miles. Therefore, recreational bicyclists should feel comfortable that they can ride without too much stress and that way they can just focus on the miles, rather than the hills.  Of course, in Kansas our winds can definitely make up for the lack of elevation in this part of the state.

On this day, however, the winds were minimal and out of the due north.  What I love about this trail is that it is a great trail on which to get back in shape.  Through the city limits of Ottawa and Garnett you are on paved bike paths that are well marked.  Once outside those two cities you are on well cared for crushed limestone. Even 28mm road tires would perform okay on about 85% of the ride, though I definitely recommend something a little wider and not slick.  You will also find restrooms in Princeton and Richmond, though it must be noted that they were closed yesterday and I suspect most of the winter.

As you ride, even in winter, you will see animals scurrying here and there.  Mostly cats, dogs, squirrels, etc., though I have seen wild turkey, deer and a coyote or two.  In spring, flowers abound and birds chirp happily.  Because this is an old railroad line, there are walls of trees that line the trail outside the city limits and can really cut down on the wind, making almost any day a pleasant day to ride.

To all the volunteers that have tended this trail over the years I want so say a hearty “Thank you.”  As I understand it, beginning January 1, 2019 I will no longer need to purchase a permit to ride the trail.  Hopefully, that means more people will get out and enjoy riding the Prairie Spirit Trail.

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Gravel Riding in Costa Rica

There was a moment when I stopped, listened carefully to the sounds of the jungle and wondered what Marie (my wife) would think when she got the call exclaiming “We found him!” Logically, I knew I was only a mile or so from some kind of sign of civilization. Yet here I was at road’s end. Yes, the road had simply stopped at a stream. This is where I found myself on a bike ride in Costa Rica a couple weeks back.

***  ***

Earlier in the day I had rented a bike several notches below my usual standards, as I wrote last week, for my inaugural ride in Costa Rica.  A short ride, to be sure.  Yet a ride that brought smiles.  On this ride I had decided to be a bit more adventurous.  Without much thought and certainly very little planning, I took a glance at my Google Maps and headed off from the Tamarindo Diria Hotel.

The noise and cars of Tamarindo soon began to disappear quickly as the asphalt road turned in to gravel as I was heading up a slight incline past the Banco Nacional.  I smiled to myself having to admit that I had never seen a bank so modern and protected by security fences located on a gravel road.  Surrounding the bank was an area I can best describe as Hostel territory.  Apparently, as I learned upon arriving, Tamarindo is well known for its surfing.  (See the video of our adventures below.)

Bicycling Costa Rica


As such, the hostels bubble over with the young and adventurous looking to spend a week or month or year chasing the perfect wave with little on their minds but how to get just enough work done to survive until tomorrow’s ride.  As a bicyclist, I immediately could appreciate the sentiment.

As I continued my ascent I would see a sign pointing out some sort of establishment here and there and was really quite stunned how quickly I was “out of town.”  I looked down at my Garmin Edge 25 and, if memory serves me, I was less than two miles from the hotel. As I continued up the hill, nothing too steep, I caught a glimpse of a sign that said “Lots –>”  As it is my fantasy to someday live in Costa Rica, or at least have a part time residence here, I followed the arrow down around a dog-leg left, up a small rise and down a  bit followed by a serious, serious climb.  As I am still not back in bicycling shape I am sheepish to say the hill was so long and steep that I did walk my bike the last quarter of the climb.

Walking the bike did not help my heart rate.  My thighs burned and lungs cycled quickly because after spending most of the year grieving my daughter the bike had been put aside.  Why?  I really don’t know and didn’t realize it for the longest time  Without my usual miles at this time of year I had to admit to myself, “Chris, this isn’t Kansas.”

gravel bike ride

As I reached the peak I had found the “Lots.”  Luxury homes poked up over the right side and still more up and up.  The road laid out in front of me with a downhill that beckoned, the tree down over three-quarters of the way over the road be damned.  “Maybe that should have been a clue for the initiated,” I would later think to myself as the road quickly turned in to what I would most definitely deem to be a “minimum maintenance road.”  To say the very least.

No worries.  I’m here having fun with no real direction to go and so long as I beat the sun, I’d be okay.  I stopped to take a picture of the road and after crossing a stream, the first of three, I stopped to set up my GoPro to take those video snippets in the video above. It was fun and I was enjoying myself.

Sure, the mud leading to the flowing stream had paw prints I had never seen before.  And yes, the howler monkeys were howling away somewhere in the distance and, “Hey, what was that?” was happening here and again as unknown leaves would rustle not that far from the road.  Yet, this was my first jungle experience and I was tickled to death.  Without the power of a bicycle and the courage to rent one an go I would not right now be sitting here, out of breath, enjoying all that God had provided around me.  Pretty cool.

Which, after crossing another stream with unknown prints around it in abundance, brings me to where the story began…in the middle of nowhere with only one safe way to go…back the way I came.  So back I went.  Remember that hill/mountain I had to walk part of the way up? Well now let me tell you, that was a lot of fun on the way down!

Soon I found my way back to the “Lots–>” sign and continued my original direction, up and up the hill, on gravel, on a bike that did not fill me with confidence.  Finally, and not too far up the road I saw a weather-worn sign pointing out the DreamSea Surf Camp to the left and (happily) I cut the climb short and took the sharp left with a quick downhill.  It wasn’t too long before I saw the camp on my left with what looked like a showing agent convincing someone this was the place to stay.  Frankly, if I were a surfer I’d give it a go.  After all, it’s surround by nothing.  What a great place to hang after a tension filled day of finding the right wave and not hitting the volcanic rock if the tide is out.

It wasn’t long thereafter that I headed up what I thought was a hill and then quickly realized as I turned slightly right that it was mountain…with a sharp switchback followed by the steepest, straightest climb I have ever attempted.  Now understand, while I do live in Kansas, I do ride the Flint Hills.  What are the Flint Hills you ask?  The are a beautiful ecological tallgrass challenge that run north and south in Kansas and made bicycle-famous by the Dirty Kanza.  Hop on over to the DK200 website to find out more.

That said, this mountain kicked my bicycle hiney.  Can I blame it on the bike?  Probably not.  I stopped three times on the way to the top. And, at one point, I found it curious that a motorcyclist cut his engine at the peak and as he came over he was super slow and using his brakes. He stopped next to me and said in broken English that I was just about there and with a smile, he was gone again.  Helmet on, engine off as he went down the steep descent.

Mountain Keeps Going
The mountain just kept going up!

Encouraged, up I went and was so relived when I hit top.  So relieved.  I stopped and took a picture where you can, if you look closely, see the Pacific Ocean a couple miles off.  (See feature image.) And then down I went. Another ordeal.

You see I came to Costa Rica without bicycle gloves or a helmet.  The clipped shoes I remembered though the shop didn’t have clipless pedals.  That descent?  That motorcyclist with his engine turned off and ever so slowly going down the other side? Me not wearing a helmet?

Off I went. Terrified.  This I should have walked! It was probably a 350 meters long and my guess is a 15% descent, or more.  Maybe some smart guy can look at my Strava and figure it out for me.  As the gravel would fly by I glanced down at the Garmin and saw speeds creeping past 26 mph even as I feathered the brakes as best I could.  One ounce of pressure too much and the back brake kept locking and sending me in to very uncomfortable skids.  Keep in mind, I am an experienced gravel rider.  Yet with this negative pitch, large chunks of gravel, rain trenches snaking and cutting their way through the Costa Rican dirt roads leaving trenches inches deep and, remember, no helmet, I was a little stressed.

Should I lay it down and take the road rash?  Should I keep going and do the best I can?  Which tree exactly will I be hitting?

Finally, the road began to level.  Slowly but surely.  Almost to the end of the hill I found three men changing out a radiator on a very used Toyota.  I’m not sure what the deal is with radiators in Costa Rica but the one hour ride from the airport to the hotel featured several radiator repair shops.  (Make a note: I’ll need to look in to that.)

And like magic, the pavement of the “highway” appeared in front of me in perpendicular fashion.  Since this road is the major way in and out of Tamarindo I slowed to be sure I could make it and jumped the highway to a path running parallel just off the pavement.  Though not cared for this path had to be safer than the road itself, at least in my current jittery mode having survived the longest, bumpiest, gravelliest, steepest, straightest descent I have ever ridden.

tamarindo costa rica bike rideAnother mile or so and I was back at the bike shop before they closed for the day so the blonde German girl could check me in as she made plans to go out for the evening immediately upon her release from work duties.

From there I walked across the street and headed back to my hotel.  It’s a short walk from Kelly’s Surf Shop to the Hotel Diria with the merchants interspersed on both sides of the road, the Pacific Ocean calling on the west side only, the sound of waves crashing muffled slightly by cars passing and music from the open air bars. As I took one quick glimpse at my Garmin before shutting it off my bike ride had totaled 6.4 miles and 222 calories burned. Are you freakin’ kidding me?


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