Essay: On the Six Degrees of Strava Heatmap
I am sure nearly every person in the United States is familiar with an old game called ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.’ For those unaware, the game consists of one person naming an actor - the obscure the better - and working it back to Kevin Bacon using no more than six moves. It is based on the belief that any person anywhere in the world could be connected to another in no more than six moves. As in Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, getting to Tom Hanks helped us to connect to anyone.
In true Strava vanity I check in with the app’s heatmap just to confirm that I overuse the same fifteen-mile route. Roads used the most are glowing red; roads traveled once are barely blue. Looking at the heatmap every once in a while reveals the regular throughways taken during rides. But it’s the roads outside of the regular routes that interest me. Give me five minutes to update the heatmap and twenty minutes later I will have planned out the next five years of riding. This leads me to my new obligation for cycling.
This past Thanksgiving I rode my bike in frigid weather to celebrate with family. The ride was uploaded, the kit swapped out for formal wear, and the whole shipment was loaded into the car and escorted home. A revelation took shape as I realized the route I took connected my home mileage to the Oktoberfest route. An idea took shape as I developed the idea to connect all my Strava routes at some point. Riding from Bucks County to Montgomery County unexpectedly started an idea for my desire to connect all the routes since establishing Strava a few years back.
Wouldn’t you know there are six major routes I would have to ride to in an attempt to connect them all? Starting from Bucks County I would have to firm up the connection to Montgomery County. I could continue on to Berks County and connect the third area of the Bicycling Magazine Fall Classic route. Frankly speaking connecting the three southern counties is the most likely achievement. Connecting the other three will take a lifetime.
Having circled the Catskill Preserve several times (one major ride without Strava) my heatmap is dark in the middle of New York State. The distance from Bucks County to the Catskills is a solid 200 miles, a serious undertaking though not unbelievable. Approximately 60 miles to the north is another route around Lake George. Sixty miles beyond that is the big Adirondack ride up Whiteface. (It’s too bad I didn’t tote a Garmin around Battenkill all those years ago to make a connection easier.) All told, covering three hundred miles is not something that could happen directly. And let’s not discuss whether or not connecting the Adirondacks to Berks County should even be a thing.
What is inspiring is the fact that among all the six major areas is roads that have not been ridden. Every mile would be a new experience in both cycling and sightseeing. There have been a few messages fired back and forth among cycling friends suggesting a ride from Bucks County to the Catskills. It is the longest distance between two preferred routes. It would be a new experience to ride dozens of miles from the office to the Catskills; riding from sunrise to sunset knowing the distance is just within reach of determination. Luckily I’ve never ridden Montana. That would be a bomb in this idea.
This is a new goal that is will take an indefinite amount of time. Perhaps a slow chipping away along the edges of each route will help with a minor leap. Or perhaps the setting aside of a weekend to cover significant mileage is the answer. Maybe the approach lies somewhere in between, working its way back to one answer or the other. I love riding the Adirondacks, the Catskills, and nearby roads. Connecting all six major spots on my Strava Heatmap could be just the focus needed for the next challenge. It would be a challenge that would continue to expand further and further onto new roads. Spreading out could increase the chances of encountering more people, Kevin Bacon included.