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South Africa is a wild and wonderful place. Wonderful, in the sense that there are wonders to be explored. And wild, in that many of those wonders can be hard to find. But South Africa is also scalable: it can be climbed, by any range of climbers, and those climbs can be measured according to a scale.
Strava was launched in 2008 by two Harvard graduates who combined social media sharing with personal fitness data tracking. The app empowers everyday athletes to act a lot like elites, recording and uploading a wide range of sports activities and comparing their statistics to those of other users.
This is not a niche endeavour – ten years after launch it passed one billion uploaded activities. It now has 42 million users, and adds another million worldwide every month. Every time you walk, run, cycle, kayak, or just plain get off the couch, you can track that activity, upload it and use that data to make new friends, challenge yourself and explore your world. Strava brings order to a complex environment, by giving you access to accurate data in the middle of nowhere.
This is especially useful for hikers, who know well the dangers of becoming isolated, alone, in a remote and unpredictable space. Strava puts a map in your pocket, and much more.
1. Strava is social / Explore
Your Facebook feed is filled with friends, family and colleagues – even people you’ve never met. Your Strava feed is different: it’s filled with activities. Install the app, sign up, open up the Dashboard and immediately you’re exposed to a whole new world that’s actually right outside. Head out on your favourite trail; uploading your activity when you’re done will show your friends what you’ve been up to.
Or you can click over to Explore, where you’ll find Segments. This is where the magic happens. Segments are popular trails, or sections of trails, that have been popularised through the sheer weight of being used: navigate through to the start, get moving, and claim your spot on the Leaderboard. Just under Segments you’ll find Clubs – a collection of social gatherings designed to help you make new IRL, activity-based connections.
2. Strava is personal / Training
How seriously do you take your hiking? Strava gives you so much data-driven feedback on your physical journeys – for free – that it’s easy to geek out in the detail. Distance covered, average pace and total moving time may be simple enough to track without this app, but have you ever thought back and wondered how much elevation gain you achieved? How many calories you burnt up there? What your km-by-km splits were like, uphill or downhill? Strava can even give you a split-by-split grade-adjusted pace, showing you how fast you’d have been moving if the terrain was completely flat – yet another yardstick of relative effort.
Strava tracks how much mileage you’re doing in a pair of shoes. How much distance you’re covering in a week, or month, or year. And it grades your efforts, too, by tracking your performance over time – if you regularly hike the same trail, it’ll let you know if you’re managing the route faster, or slower, every time.
3. Strava is local / Record
Your favourite mountains are your favourite mountains. You probably know them by how they feel underfoot. But change cities and every turn feels like the wrong one. In remote mountains, hikers can’t afford to follow a path that isn’t mapped. This app maps everything. If there is a mountain out there, there is a route on Strava. Here are three of our favourites.
- Western Cape / Cederberg
Cederberg is catnip for adventurers: vast, exposed, relentless. On the desktop version of the app, click the drop-down menu under Explore, then click on Segment Explore. Either of these options will give you access to a range of track options in and around the Cederberg Wilderness Area, from brutally steep 1km climbs to the full 100km traverse.
- Pretoria / Magaliesberg
Cutting through the heart of suburban Pretoria is a mountain range that will take your breath away. Literally – it is over 2km above sea level. Type Magaliesberg in Strava’s Segment Search and you’ll find a long, meandering mountain trail on a ridge directly on the border between Gauteng and North West Province. Don’t worry if most of the segments refer to the daunting Salomon Magaliesberg Challenge; the renowned trail race has distance options from 12 to 50km.
- Durban / Drakensberg
South Africa’s most famous mountain is not for the faint-hearted, nor for those in a hurry. Take a big sense of humour and an empty schedule, then open up Strava. Search for Drakensberg, under either Segment Search or Segment Explore, and you’ll find enough adventures for a lifetime of exploring. Be warned: if you’re focusing on distance, you’re looking at the wrong number. Examine the elevation grade instead. Some of the smallest challenges pack the biggest punch.
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