When the Waldo Canyon Fire hit in June 2012, evacuating 32,000 residents and ultimately destroying 346 homes, Bob Falcone’s Twitter presence, as he says, “blew up.” Back then, the Colorado Springs resident was simply known as @BobFireman, and as a longtime firefighter with the Pueblo Fire Department—and equipped with a bank of four radios and online scanner access at home—he became a resource for many locals who wanted to know what was going on and why.
He would find the same Twitter handle busy once again during the Black Forest Fire in 2013, which would prove even more deadly than Waldo, consuming 14,000-some acres and more than 500 homes.
But Falcone also hikes, and he wanted a way to be active in a different way on social media, to step above the noise. “Some of my @bobfireman stuff tends to be occasionally a little political," he says. "And not everybody would care what I think politically, but they might want to know what I'm doing as far as hiking, so I said, 'I should probably change this.'”
It was then that @HikingBob was born. These days—and 13,000 tweets later—you can follow his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, his blog for the Colorado Springs Independent—or out on the trail, where you can come home with one of his “I Hiked With Bob” stickers.
We spoke with Hiking Bob Falcone about his passion for the trails, why he’s not conquered a fourteener (yet), and his thoughts on spring hiking.
Were you a hiker when you were a kid?
Not as much. I grew up in New Jersey, and not that it’s the big industrial [state] that every thinks it is, but we lived in kind of a rural neighborhood, so we didn’t have to go far to be outdoors. We were able to do a lot of stuff in our own neighborhood and our own backyard.
So when did that bug hit?
You know, probably really hit right about the time we moved out here, which has been about 24 years ago now, moving from rural New Jersey to here—actually I should go back a little further. It actually started even before that, when I was in the Air Force and I was stationed up in Rapid City … seeing the vast open spaces and mountains and stuff like that.
What do you love about hiking?
Just being out there, the sense of exploration. Even if it's a trail that everybody's been on and it's a well-used trail, there's still always something new to see out there. And getting unplugged a little bit, slowing down a little bit. Not that I’m a slow hiker. I mean, I move along pretty well, but it’s not like being in your car and driving along at 65 or 70 miles an hour or something and things are passing you by.
When we spoke last summer, you’d never hiked a fourteener. Have you yet?
Not yet. I am planning to this year. It may be an easy one. For me a fourteener, I don’t know how to describe how I feel, why I’m ambivalent about doing a fourteener. You know, like Pikes Peak. Everybody does Pikes Peak. … But for me, it's like a long hike straight up, and I can do that long of a hike on something different. It is an accomplishment. It's something I should do and a lot of that has to do with time, and my work schedule, and not having long stretches of time off, and when I did, I'd simply go somewhere else. Now that I’ve retired, I'll probably at least try and do a couple to just say I did it. Probably something relatively easy like Quandry or something like that. It is on my radar. There's a lot of stuff on my radar. Talk to me in December and I'll let you know how it went.
How many miles do you put on in a year?
Every year it goes up a little bit. I actually do keep track of all this stuff on a database. So let me start it a few years ago. Last year was 550-point-something miles. … Yesterday I hit 146.84. And just to put that in perspective, that was as of March 20. Last year I didn’t get to that until April 9. And then in 2013, I didn't hit 146 miles in 2013 until May 15. And that year I did 460.89 miles. In 2012 I did 411 miles, 411.3.
What would be your top spring hikes?
You know, it just would be a lot of the same hikes that I would do in the winter, but only because the snow's starting to melt, you can probably go a little further on them and they extend a little differently. The Crags Trail is always a good hike, no matter what time of the year it is. The Mount Herman Trail is probably one of my favorites a little later in the spring, because there are so many wildflowers way on the bottom of that trail. It's one of my favorite places to go and photograph. I mean there are just fields of columbine and other wildflowers at the bottom of that trail, and of course the views up there are great. The Catamount Falls Trail in Green Mountain Falls. By now the ice is starting to melt. That always made it a tricky trail in the winter unless you really were equipped with some pretty good spikes and a desire for something daring.
Any tips or tricks about hiking in the spring that people should remember?
Well, it's probably gonna be a little wet and muddy since the snow is still melting so try not to make that trail any wider than it is. … The mountain lions are starting to come out. I know some have been seen in Manitou Springs in the last couple of days, up by the school up on Pawnee Drive. And the bears are probably waking up a little bit and some might be out looking for food. They really are as afraid of you as they are of them, but on the other hand they may not know that. Mother Nature there forgot to tell them to be afraid.