Monday, March 16, 2015

The End of Unknown Trails


The world often changes without us noticing right away. Hindsight is the lens through which we identify when something new had started. Only then do we appreciate its significance. Many years ago in New England I was exploring the woods in an area that was somewhat off the grid. I heard a rumor that people used to ride mountain bikes there so I wanted to look for signs of old trails.

After several trips I finally stumbled upon what can only be described as an illegally built freeride park. It was full of high jumps, wild rollers, daredevil skinnies and a ten foot high wooden berm. It had long since been abandoned with no sign as to who the builders were or if they would ever come back. The nails had rusted, the wood had grayed and cracked. The story of how it all came into being might be lost forever. That was the world before Strava.


The internet has changed the way we shop, date and do business. It has also changed the way we ride. Or more specifically, it has changed where we ride. It used to be that in order to discover new trails you would have to explore endlessly. You would often chase bad directions, ghosts of paths past or rumors of new construction. You could also hit the local bike shop and find a guide but still that meant being reliant on other people. That would be fine if not for the fact that other people can be quirky and complicated or merely time consuming. You just want to go for a ride.

Now you simply visit Strava.com. You look up the name of the town or the trail and in seconds a map appears with much the information that you need. You learn who has ridden there, how fast and long the ride can be plus you can follow the map on your GPS so as to avoid getting lost. While Strava has been criticized as the App for speed junkies who throw down bone rattling times, it has also developed a very important function that benefits everyone. A trail, no matter how well manicured, will never be properly appreciated until it is on Strava because this is the ultimate way of advertising the whereabouts of active trails. This service has become the blinking neon sign that reads "Ride Here!"


It was with this in mind that the Sarasota County Off Road Riders (SCORR) put together a "Strava Party" on March 15th, 2015 at Myakka State Forrest. The idea was to introduce the public to the Palmetto Trail Loop, a newly designed route that SCORR had built, and to record electronic times that would mark the place for future users. 25 riders attended the event, many with the required technology. After a brief speech to explain the terrain everyone set off for the first 7 mile loop.

The Palmetto Trail starts at the East River Road parking area and can be accessed any time of year with a $2. parking fee. It was completed in 2014 and deemed as a place that stays relatively dry while the summer rains flood other parks. SCORR volunteers put numerous hours into crafting a swerving path that crosses and touches a double track giving riders bail out points. The riding is appropriate for the beginner level but it does have its share of technical spots.


The "Strava Party" was a success! Most riders enjoyed two laps of the Palmetto Loop while many of them recorded times. The King was Don Pence with 37:42 and the Queen was Sierra Stafford with 49:31. Many others took top rewards in the smaller segments. Afterwards they gathered back at the trailhead for a cookout.

In the past it could have taken years for the reputation of this trail to leak out to new riders. People might have lived within minutes of the park and not known that it contained singletrack but thanks to this brilliant technology, any rider, anywhere in the world can go online to seek it out. Hopefully with the expanded use of social mapping systems like Strava, we'll never have to lose another trail to obscurity.

Be sure to check out the following links on Strava and give this trail a try.





If you enjoyed this story be sure to check out my book of mountain bike tales, Twisted Trails.

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