Free must be one of the most powerful words in the English language. Junky old couches or broken lawn equipment. If the sign next to it on the side of the road says free, I’m taking a second look. Free Queso at Moe’s Southwest Grill? I’ll have some of that. It’s just my nasty cheese gravy till it’s free. Recently, “Free Premium Strava ” grabbed my toddler like attention span and whisked me away from social media surfing like a bad breaking wave.
I like using Strava. I feel the need to hide my Strava fandome like I’m secretly following Justin Bieber on Instagram or something, whhich I don’t do, even though I wouldn’t admit to it if I was. But I’m always tracking my rides with Strava, making sure I’ve got at least one picture to post, and always waiting for that quick fix of kudos from my followers.
So, I accepted the free trial. I used it quickly, like a junky who had just scored, to download a gpx track, which I used for my “Gussy Expediton”. But free wore off, and before the 2 week trial ended, I diligently cancelled my subscription. Then I had this great idea.
As a blogger, in one vein I’m trying to express myself creatively. In another, I’m scheming how to snare the elusive attention of potential readers to capture page views and stoke my dopamine levels for a saccharine fix of self esteem.
So, how about writing a blog series about the features included in that illustrious “premium” subscription. That’s something people might want to read. Premium sounds so, well, expensive; and subscription, that so horrifyingly squawks “commitment”. And there lies the opportunity. I could be the guinea pig for other late adopters like myself and help those who are on the fence about the big $8/month obligation finally decide whether pulling the trigger would be worthy investment or careless spendthrift folly. I could try out some of their training plans, I’d be able to download fGPS tracks for places I’d never ridden, and get knee deep in all kinds of nerd tech that would no doubt absolutely digitally enhance my cycling enjoyment.
As the paragraphs in this epic blog post started to percolate like Rice Krispies in milk in my head , the morning was almost over as noon was approaching on a busy Monday morning. A text message caught my glance as I checked my iPhone. My friend Art was looking for someone to ride with that afternoon.
I had my bike and gear all loaded up, and was planning on getting a ride in at one of my usual familiar spots after work. Art was in Machester, about 15 miles from where I was, in Hartford, and equally far from my home than I would have been from West Hartford, where I planned to ride. I decided to meet him over at Case Mountain. Art is some kind of mountain biking whiz. After a handful of rides under his belt, not just this season, but ever, he can handle pretty much any of the roots, rocks, and unwelcoming grades our local trails offer.
I ride Case Mountain often enough, but I’m always with a group, which for me means at the end of the group, following others, and not paying attention to where I’m going. As my friend Rob says, when you’re with a group, it feels like you’re following one trail which makes few or no turns over the two or so hours you ride. When you come back to the same location, you realize that there are actually dozens of trail intersections you need to navigate, which were also there before, but you didn’t notice as you just focused on following the person in front of you, and for me, trying to keep up without puking. Despite my questionable proficiency with this trail system, I knew I had a general idea of how to get a route in and we had plenty of daylight, so we left the parking lot that afternoon with a reasonable amount of confidence.
As we climbed up the Carriage Path from the Case Pond Parking Lot, my legs started to loosen up with a mild burn as we pedaled up the familiar climb at an adequate warm up pace. As we turned right, Art and I had a disagreement on which way to go. I was pretty sure we should go straight up a steep technical climb based on my experience with my group ride. Art’s opinion took us along a more gradual but equally technical section. Against better judgement, the slightly easier way won, and we headed on. I recognized this way also, but was pretty sure it was taking us along the older trails, which would keep me in range of my familiarity, but wasn’t sure what kind of outing we were getting into. As we clamored through bulbous mini boulders, exposed and littered across that path by decades of erosion and wear, I sensed Art growing impatient with my flow halting stops to check our course on my iPhone. Once you get the blood flowing and the adrenaline pumping, any impedance to forward progress is grudgingly frustrating. I know this, but I also wanted to know where we were going.
At one of my stops, which was well placed atop a rocky hilltop, another biker appeared climbing out of the bumpy mess leading up to our rest stop. We asked for some guidance, and after discussing potential routes with him, decided to just follow along for a while. Having parked at another trail entrance, Dan, who we exchanged salutations with at our next stopping point, cautioned that we would have a longer ride than him should we follow his entire route, which he was more than willing to lead us on.
We decided to keep following Dan down to the girder bridge, a familiar landmark and hub in the trail system of Case Mountain. We were keeping a quick but manageable pace following Dan, with Art and I alternating the middle position. At the girder bridge, we decided to commit to a long haul out the Tinti trail towards the southern end of Case Mountain.
After a long uphill procession, we crossed a man made clearing under the power lines. This led out to some amazing downhill sections I’ve ridden a few times while on NEMBA rides. Note to self: “these trails need to be filmed. Maybe even by a drone if you could find the right spot.”
After the downhill fun, we took a route unfamiliar to me which led us down some really fast downhill routes, and led me around a corner which I hit with a little too much speed for the sandiness of the dirt underfoot, and my front wheel washed out sending the bike sliding out from beneath me. I wasn’t hurt, but I scraped the skin just enough to create a chainsaw massacre looking stream of blood flowing down my knee. I wondered if the movie Fight Club was really inspired by mountain bikers the next day at work as I noticed stains on my dress pants where my bandage had become supersaturated.
A few more miles of climbing back up hill followed and then we split from Dan who was parked at Line Street. The yellow red trail led Art and I up an old worn out multi-use trail to the Case Mountain Summit just in time for the requisite Case Mountain Summit selfie. The daylight that seemed plentiful at the onset of the loop started to fade as we raced down one of the newer descending routes to our starting point at the Case Pond Parking Lot.
As much as I do love my Strava, this day had a very throwback feel to it. That,’s how we did it back in the nineteens, sonny boy. Before they had the internet and way before it was in your camelback pocket on your phone. It was a welcome reminder of what this sport or hobby or passion or whatever you want to call it is all about. I felt like a kid riding his bike in the woods again for a little while. Going out on a ride with a buddy, finding someone to lead along the way who knew their way around, getting a little bloody, and beating darkness to the parking lot. All ingredients for day that’s tough to beat. In fact, I dare say, it hearkened of a mountain bike gospel revival, disk brakes, dropper posts, Strava and all.