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Tweets from the woods with Hiking Bob 

Local View

Colorado Springs is no stranger to lists of fittest cities. But last week it became Facebook official when the social network itself named us No. 2 in the U.S.

Yes, if you'd recently felt as though you were being stalked on Facebook, you were. The top cities were determined via the oh-so-unscientific approach of counting fitness-related mentions, check-ins and use of fitness apps over a three-month period. Translation: Whether or not we're the fittest folks, we brag about our fitness more than most.

Even before he saw the details, Bob Falcone could understand why we made the list again. Over on that other major social network, Falcone is better known as @HikingBob. He is among many locals on Twitter who have built a digital identity around a handle.

Calling Hiking Bob a brand doesn't do the hiking advocate justice — though he did recently start offering "I Hiked with Hiking Bob" gear through the online merchant Cafe Press. For Falcone, the lifestyle started long before Twitter hosted its first message in 2006.

Falcone's day job for the last 36 years has been as a firefighter. But with a 24-on, 48-off schedule and a wife who works Monday through Friday, he has plenty of time to explore local trails. And though he started on Twitter as @BobFireman, he wanted to separate his work-related tweets from the hiking tweets.

"I see my role as helping people discover the vast amount of opportunities there are in this immediate area for recreation, fitness and education," he says. "I want people to see the treasures we have here and learn what they can do to help preserve and expand them."

As a board member of Friends of Cheyenne Cañon, he helps train other volunteers to take care of that park. And he hosts regular "Tweetup" hikes.

Falcone employs a "no hiker left behind" approach, taking frequent breaks to allow everyone to catch up. He uses these breaks as teaching moments, pointing out things we might not otherwise notice as we trudge along trails. In consideration of people's schedules, he varies the time of his hikes. (Wednesday evening, he is scheduled to lead a hike up Mt. Muscoco in Cheyenne Cañon. For more details and to learn about future hikes, hikingbob.com is the place to go.)

Falcone came to Colorado Springs in 1991 from New Jersey, a land full of flat land and pine trees — "not that there's anything wrong with that." He and his wife just didn't see themselves retiring in New Jersey, so they set out to find a place where they could retire and settled on Colorado Springs.

Twenty years later, he doesn't have a favorite trail, but he does frequent a couple. If time is limited, he gravitates toward Red Rock Mountain above Manitou Springs; for a longer hike, he's drawn to Columbine Trail in Cheyenne Cañon. "I try to not hit the same place too often," he says. "In the back of the mind there's another trail I need to do."

Last year Falcone hiked 411 miles. (He keeps track of his mileage using GPS and mapmyhike.com.) He was on pace to surpass that this year, but has missed about six weeks due to surgery to repair a work-related injury. With 199.21 miles logged as of last Friday, he's still not too far behind.

But in Colorado Springs, Falcone stands out for a few other numbers. Since @HikingBob joined the ranks of Twitter in May 2012 (about a month after @BobFireman), he has sent out 6,234 updates, or better than 14 a day, through that account. Along the way, he's acquired 274 followers (one of whom is me). It's not Justin Bieber's 41 million, but for a middle-aged firefighter who just likes to trek some trails, it's nothing to simply dismiss, either.

Of course, Falcone didn't get into it to sell water bottles and T-shirts with his name on them; in fact, he says he's surprised by the popularity of Hiking Bob. Perhaps the greatest benefit he's derived from Twitter is a source of new hiking partners. And while Facebook's "fittest cities" algorithm may not care much about that, it's an example of social media at its best.

leurich@csindy.com

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