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    learn how to google trail routes

    tags: running
    May 30th, 2019

    Initial tentative rambling musings on this perfect intersection of my trail running & PhD obsessions:

    My attention to searching related comments is rapt. Sometimes I feel like I everywhere see confessions of lack of skill or experience (or a magic touch), demands for others to trust or not trust a certain search engine or search approach, and comments on the cost to some from an apparent tendency of others to not search (ex. ghost towns, pantene, the google medical degree meme, proximal social search sharing, the search sublime, did the hol, [Michael Albert Quinn Kaiser], search engine filtering, searchworms, as well as the gamut of LMGTFY mockery and confessions of googling). I’m very interesting not only in how the tools function (and the shifts and tradeoffs in handoffs from people to tools or one tool to new tool), but in how we participate in and talk about how they function.

    And I’m also a bit of a trail runner—I love getting lost in Tilden/Wildcat or Marin and have tried my feet & heart at several trail ultramarathons—including finishing the San Diego 100, Rocky Raccoon 100, and Orcas Island 100 (and failing and learning from truly searching experiences at the Headlands 100 and Kodiak 100). There is something special about running on trails and something special about the trail running community that has attracted my interest these last few years.

    This particular example fit well enough within my twin interests—and those larger ethical questions of the design/use of tools and/or/versus humans—that I figured I’d play it out some here.


    These questions, then, are adapted from those I’ve been thinking about for my dissertation research. They are oriented towards this community and their questions.

    • When do we reach out to, and perhaps burden, trusted human authorities because we mistrust (or perhaps miscredit) ourselves, search engines (and other search tools), or search results?
    • How do we scaffold our & others ability to search better?
    • What is the role of considering our own/others time? What is the role of human relationships forged or fractured?
    • One distinctive feature of trail ultras are the little ribbons set as trail “blazes” (perhaps called dragons (1,2)). We blaze the trails but how do we better trail blaze to share our discovery path? How do we let our light shine?

    Resources: People and Tools

    Mentioned by Candice in that tweet: Gaia GPS & CalTopo

    In replies: Trail Run Project, Strava segments, AllTrails, Suunto heatmaps, UltraRunnerHQ

    All the above does require an awareness of the platforms and time, ability, and inclination to use it for one’s purposes.

    Googling how to [learn how to google trail routes]

    A quick Google search of [finding new running routes] — and an initial scan:

    One response to Candice’s tweet revealed the safety-consciousness that some must maintain while looking for runs:

    See also Rosie Spinks’s “Using a fitness app taught me the scary truth about why privacy settings are a feminist issue” in Quartz (2017) and Lucia Deng’s ““I’m Here For The Waffles”" (2016).

    Further resources?

    I’m intrigued with what people identify (in the links below) as a resource or tactic and the amount of explication or exemplification they provide, whether they imagine varying situations, goals, and abilities or not. I’m thinking about where the people (and the community and environment) are in these searching stories: what are they doing? what is happening to them? what futures are they calling into being? what worlds are they assuming/anticipating/asking exist?

    Here is a tweet—from one year ago—with dozens of suggestions in reply (not constrained to trails)—including asking human search intermediaries (locals, hotel staff, local running stores, social media): Two years ago:

    Here’s a question from the r/AdvancedRunning subreddit: “Where do people go to find good running routes and/or tracks when travelling?”—the range of resources used, and information scents suggested, are fascinating. The affordances of these various paths of searching are varied. The goals and constraints of the many runners are also different—from “finding the local gems” to any place to get a workout in or to simply explore.

    Part of the problem raised by Candice is that different people are going to be able to respond to queries from different people (with varying goals) with different facility and different costs & benefits to themselves and the group. Are people asking for advice on how to find any new routes in some random place or asking for a favorite route at a particular location? Candice sells her services in route finding and planning (and branding, food, first aid, and search & rescue) via her unimaginable races. She also broadcasts training runs on social media—giving to the community by providing some of the content they might be googling for (I for one, learned about Gaia GPS & CalTopo from her running manuals). Many of the mentioned human intermediaries in the threads above may have a different calculus. Employees of running stores may have a mix of incentives. A concierge or cab driver may have other costs or capabilities. What is the manual that ultramarathoners can turn to when told, essentially(?), to RTFM?

    It also makes me think about how sometimes the query itself is secondary. Some people may ask a question of a person not because they cannot themselves google trail routes but in order to develop or maintain a relationship or for external social reward. As one respondent to Candice wrote: > running a custom route by (???) probably comes with better bragging rights…

    While most of my new trail runs are speculative and simply hoping for serendipity (and water sources), two of my “runs” were the outcome of a single social media-found human search intermediary. A slogging snow-training run/scramble up Castle Peak (near Donner Pass up by Tahoe): route, pictures.

    Sometimes while traveling in cities I’ve just drawn big circles on a map (Paris, London — pace in those is clearly grossly miscalculated), hoped for the best, and set out (adapting as I get lost, hungry, or obstructed). One of my city-exploration runs was a 20-mile route through Baltimore with a local runner as guide (I’d asked family (human search intermediary) for route suggestions and my aunt set me up w/ a distance runner from her running group—I now know that this route was in the “white L”, a racial divide visible even on the global public Strava Heatmap). This raises again questions about what is/isn’t (made) (in)visible on those privilege- and company-curated digital traces of runs.

    I can perhaps be a human search intermediary. As a start:

    I should note that multiple times I’ve responded to queries about trails in the Bay Area with my heatmap above. But it has been more, perhaps, to provide hope and to signal some legitimacy? Intended as the start of a conversation and not the end. (Too often, perhaps, we finish searches when they should’ve only just begun.)

    I’ve only asked Candice to plan a route once: the Bigfoot 200

    Candice followed up her tweet yesterday with a post today on Instagram: > I use running as a way of exploring and experiencing the world, to push myself to learn more about any place I am traveling to whether it be city of mountain. I use running to get away from civilization and back to nature, to get to know where I live in a deeper and more meaningful way. Who else uses running to explore the areas you live in/travel to?

    In addition to providing pointers to resources in that tweet, Candice has previously provided straightforward search guidance—a searching blaze: > How do I find trails in new towns? Drive toward the best looking Mountains 🏃⛰🌞🌻🌸

    2019-05-31: This post is referenced in this thread: