There must be a better name than heatmap

My heatmap, compiled by almost ten years of gps tracks gathered during bike rides in Ontario.

This image is a representation of all my cycling activity since 2012. It is called a heatmap and will be familiar to most users of Strava and Garmin Connect. The narrow, dark and “cool” lines indicate roads I have traveled upon once or twice; the fatter, warmer and more intense areas indicate roads I have traveled upon numerous times. Bold, yellow lines are “hot.” I have ridden on those roads more times that I can count.

What does my heatmap mean?

To some, it will appear impressive or even excessive. I have done some unusually long rides, and I have seen a lot of southern Ontario by bicycle. Many of my cycling acquaintances think I am a lunatic. Many neighbours consider my riding to be so out of proportion that they have ceased talking to me.

I know others who would be unimpressed with my heatmap. They’ve ridden farther and more often. And they’ve gone further afield, riding into Quebec, in Florida, Alberta, etc. Some of my friends have ridden in France, in Israel, in Nepal, in Brazil. Compared with theirs, my heatmap looks pathetic.

So, one thing a heatmap offers is yet another way of comparing ourselves to others, in this case who has ridden more and who has ridden less. It is one more weapon in social media’s arsenal to make us feel inadequate or superior.

I am not interested in focusing on that aspect of my heatmap. My purpose is not to brag. Rather, I wish to share the sort of knowledge that I have learned while compiling these traces over the last 10 years or so.

The first thing I’d like to point out is that I rode about 80-90% of the rides alone. That means, in addition to being a record of rides ridden, my heatmap is a record of time spent in silence and in solitude on my bicycle. I don’t mind riding with other people, but it is unusual for me to do so.

The second thing I want to draw your attention to is that my heatmap reveals a rather thorough and particular sort of engagement with the land. I look at this map and think of specific experiences and specific feelings, all associated with specific places, and, of course, specific roads.

Which leads to the third and final thing this map shows — how cycling attunes you to the layout of roads in this province. Some roads follow the original surveyors’ lines from hundreds of years ago. These roads impose a Cartesian grid upon the world. Other roads follow rivers, geological formations, shorelines and other land forms. In other words, this map shows how roads either impose an abstract and unnatural will upon the world, or how they bend to the contingencies of nature. Any road map shows this, of course; my map shows that I have submitted myself to it. The conflict between Descartes and nature is in my muscles, bones and mind.

So, I will no longer call this a heatmap, which is a stupid name anyways. I will simply rename it my testament to solitude, a heightened sense of place, and the peculiarities of roads

Perhaps that title is just as bad as heatmap. I will try to come up with something better.

The gps traces as they appear on a map of Ontario.
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