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May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, October 2000
By Stephanie Gregory

I gulped 100 ounces of water during a full-day backcountry snowboarding trip, while my friend only drank before the trip and at the end, and felt fine. Is he superhuman?

—James Leonard, Menlo Park, California

SOME PHYSIOLOGISTS believe that those who live in hot climates may have adapted to use less sweat to cool off, thereby needing to replenish less water. Genetics and physical conditioning also play a role; daily water needs vary by as much as two gallons from one person to another, and well-conditioned athletes, who perspire faster and in greater quantities than the average Joe, generally lose more water. Regardless, experts insist that you can't consciously train yourself to need less water, nor is it worth the risk. On your trip, your friend most likely didn't work hard enough to sweat much, or he refilled just before dehydration set in. Had he exerted himself more or not drunk soon enough, his blood would have thickened, causing his heart to pump harder, compromising his ability to diffuse heat—even in winter—and causing fatigue and lightheadedness. Next would come serious dehydration: His muscles would begin to burn, his vision would blur, his ears would ring, and he'd pass out. Ultimately, unless his fever was reduced with intravenous liquids, it would scramble his brain like eggs in a frying pan.

What is space trash? And who's throwing it out into space?

—L. Felton, Santa Fe, New Mexico

MORE THAN 100,000 used-up rocket bodies, shards of broken glass, computer chips, batteries, propellant tanks, and nuts and bolts have wrenched free from spacecraft during the last half-century of exploration. The result is an orbiting garbage dump, most of it compliments of Russian and U.S. spy satellites and rocket boosters—which remain, and often explode, in orbit after disengaging from spacecraft anywhere from 124 to 22,356 miles above Earth. Unfortunately, it's more than mere clutter: Some 9,500 pieces of junk are at least the size of softballs and upon collision could shatter a space shuttle traveling 4.9 miles per second into millions of tiny pieces. With this in mind, NASA's Orbital Debris Program tracks the garbage with radar to prevent catastrophic crashes; officials even delay launches to ensure safe passage. So far, there've been no disasters, though NASA's not taking any chances down the road. Every U.S. satellite and rocket booster now launched is equipped with a mechanism (usually a small motor) to power it back within gravity's reach once it's no longer of use—and they're lobbying Russia, China, and all other countries with space programs to follow suit.

What animal has the warmest fur of all?

—Tyler Clayton, Boise, Idaho

LET IT FIRST be said that a seal's three-inch-thick fatty jacket can provide five times more protection against sub-zero water temperatures than even the densest of fur. But when it comes to cold, dry conditions, the four-inch-thick winter coat of an Arctic fox would beat out the plushest down parka any day. "I defy you to get your finger to the skin of an arctic fox," says Glenn Walsberg, a zoology professor at Arizona State University. "They get heat-stressed at minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit chasing lemmings across the tundra." And when the mercury on the treeless plains of western Alaska and northern Canada drops to minus 50? The hardy fox won't so much as shiver.

When did roughing it in the woods become recreation rather than a way of life?

—Tim Orme, Charlotte, North Carolina

THE COMPLETE HISTORY of ideas behind our love of camping is too long to encompass briefly, but here's a rough outline of how things got rolling: The 18th and 19th centuries' Gothic revivalism sparked an interest in all things mysterious and exotic; European Romantics such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and William Wordsworth inspired a return to wild nature (and preferred sensation and emotion to citified decorum) and helped change the Western view of the woods from a godforsaken, threatening place to one that rejuvenates and inspires. Here at home, Emerson and Thoreau celebrated wilderness while painters in New York's Hudson River Valley portrayed gorgeous raw landscapes.Outdoor societies like the Appalachian Mountain Club, founded in 1876, sprouted. The 1890 U.S. Census didn't hurt when it made headlines with Frederick Jackson Turner's famous declaration that the frontier no longer existed, since the entire nation had been settled from coast to coast. Americans began to think of the West with nostalgia rather than with ideas of conquest and Manifest Destiny.Enter John Muir, founder of the first Sierra Club High Camp in 1901, which offered well-heeled San Franciscans an opportunity to bring horseloads of linen and silver to roomy, canvas-walled tents in the Sierra and rough it in style.   

Illustrations by: Brian Rea

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