The Long Way Home
The Long Way Home

The Long Way Home

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This post originally appeared on Medium on 10th July 2018

2018 has not been a successful cycling year for me so far: a combination of a new son and a succession of less important issues gave me reasons to lazily excuse myself from the daily commute and anything longer. My Canyon remained hanging forlornly in its niche with the Brompton stubbornly folded below.

A brief false start in May when I took my Brompton north to Sheffield came to end when I cracked the aluminium handlebars going up a steep hill (a quick read of their warranty suggests replacing them every 5,000 miles which I passed some time ago). A few weeks ago I got my both of my bikes serviced and started commuting again. Then I did a few laps of Regent’s Park and decided to turn my attention to my neglected Explorer Max Square.

The Explorer Max Square is a feature of the excellent VeloViewer which for a modest annual subscription provides a wealth of data about rides uploaded to Strava. The Explorer score is a simple sum of all of the OpenStreetMap Zoom Level 14 Tiles you have passed through in your rides. The tile size varies with latitude but in the UK they are approximately 1km square. The Max Square is the largest overall square you can make from the tiles you have passed through and has lead to a challenging international competition to see who can create the largest.

It’s easier to do this in countries with dense road networks and few natural barriers so it’s no surprise that the top of the leaderboard is dominated by Belgians, Brits, and Germans. At the time of writing the largest square is 89x89 and covers most of Belgium.

Dominique's Max Explorer Square 89x89
Dominique's Max Explorer Square 89x89

Before I set off on Friday evening my Max Square was 17x17 — puny in comparison to Dominique’s but good enough for 96th percentile on the VeloViewer leaderboard. The Max Square doesn’t reward the fastest or the longest but those who are determined and stubborn enough to cycle through all sorts of unpromising places. It gets increasingly hard to add to your score as more tiles are required for each additional expansion of the square and that the tiles are located further and further away from your home.

I enjoy cycling as a way to see the country in all its facets and on a bike you can cover a reasonable amount of distance but at a speed where you can still appreciate your changing environment. By contrast, trains and cars are too fast and walking too limited in range. The Max Square encourages me to visit areas I otherwise wouldn’t.

The red squares are the Explorer Tiles I have ridden through. The large blue squares are the Max Squares (three of 18x18) following my ride on Friday
The red squares are the Explorer Tiles I have ridden through. The large blue squares are the Max Squares (three of 18x18) following my ride on Friday

Over the past few years, I have intermittently attempted to increase the size of my Max Square with the forays into the outer Docklands, Romford, Mill Hill, Thamesmead, and one day where I cycled to work via Tooting and back via Ealing. Along the way I stop and take photos, visit sights of interest, and keep my eyes peeled for blind windows.

So on Friday, I decided to add to my Max Square and take the long way home through Hertfordshire. Due to the heatwave, we have been operating flexible working hours in the office so I took advantage, arrived early, and set off shortly after five and headed north through Swiss Cottage to Hampstead. After grinding through the heat and traffic in Finchley, Whetstone, and High Barnet I was glad to turn off onto Galley Lane and descend between fields towards the footbridge over the A1 at Trotters Bottom. From there I skirted the M25 and then the A1 in a loop around South Mimms. After suburban Potters Bar came a nice fast stretch through dappled woodlands — Coopers Lane Road — before a couple of commuter belt villages beloved of footballers: Cuffley and Goffs Oak.

At Goffs Oak, I turned off onto a gravelled bridleway through the Theobalds Estate to pick up some tiles where the only road that otherwise passes through is the M25. There was no-one else around — except a lost-looking Morrison’s delivery van — and I was disappointed to leave the bridleway when it reached the edge of Cheshunt.

I mistakenly took only a single bidon with me but that had run dry by 55km as the heat got to me. In Cheshunt I stopped at a petrol station to stock up on water — and a Yorkie which I devoured on the forecourt. Setting off again I negotiated some bland dual carriageways before looping through a large housing estate north of Hertford Regional College to pick up the northernmost tile of the ride.

I then headed south picking up the final few tiles of the ride on my way to Waltham Abbey where I stopped briefly to photograph the church in the pink glow of the setting sun. Over the M25 — the beginning of the end for any ride into London — and along Sewardstone Road towards Chingford. When planning the route I thought I might divert and have a tilt at the climb of Mott Street if I still had the energy. No chance — I cruised past the turn-off without any hesitation and continued homewards.

I stopped a few kilometres later to photograph the red sun dropping over the reservoirs and then in Walthamstow at the remnants of the greyhound stadium immortalised in neon. I picked up the pace on Hoe Street and finally turned on to Lea Bridge Road, over the canal, and home to dinner of Korean pork.

My Max Explorer Square before (17x17)...
My Max Explorer Square before (17x17)...
...and after the ride (18x18)
...and after the ride (18x18)

My Max Square is now 18x18 — good enough for 325th out of 73,449 — and I have laid the groundwork for 19x19 if I tackle a few trickier squares to the west of Epping – ambiguous tracks and muddy paths. Before then there are some easier pickings in South-East London around Eltham and Bexleyheath where a single ride could get me to 20x20. I’m already planning it.

© Thomas Corrie 2021 · Built with Notion and Super