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The Land No Man Would Claim

"No man’s land" is a term that, to the modern ear, can sound like stepping onto a battlefield. In fact, the phrase refers back to the idea of unclaimed land (recorded as "namesmaneslande" in the Domesday survey of England of 1086) and still carries an echo of perennial hopes for free land, for places beyond the control of others. Ordinary places become extraordinary in no man’s land.

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Such in-between places remind us how dependent we are on borders—that our sense of order and certainty draws deeply from the knowledge that we are in governed territory. No man’s lands may be vast stretches of unclaimed land or tiny scraps left over from the planning of cities, though the uncertainty of the no man’s land is especially keenly felt in places that the outside world refuses to recognize or that appear to be between borders.

The notion that places might slip down between borders led me on a geographical quest. I went looking for the farthest possible distance between the border posts of two contiguous nations, to see how far they could be stretched apart.

Most border posts face each other. A change of signage, a different flag, a line on the road, all combine to signal that no sooner have you stepped out of one country than you have arrived in another. But what happens if you keep on opening up that space?A few years ago, with the help of hours spent blinking at the tiny fonts favored on travelers’ Internet chat forums, I found what I was looking for. Along a road between Senegal and Guinea in West Africa the distance between border posts is 27 kilometers.

It is not the world’s only attenuated border area. The Sani Pass, which runs up to the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho from South Africa, is the most famous. It’s a rough road, although much visited by tourists in 4x4s seeking out the highest pub in Africa, which sits near the top of the pass. The drama of the trip is heightened by the thrill that comes from learning that this is no man’s land. The South Africa border control, complete with "Welcome to South Africa" signs, is 5.6 kilometers away from the Lesotho border office.

Another specimen is to be found in the mountainous zone between border posts on the Torugart Pass that connects China and Kyrgyzstan. Central America also has a nice example in Paso Canoas, a town that can appear to be between Panama and Costa Rica. It is habitually described as no man’s land because, having left through one border post, you can go into the town without passing through immigration to enter the other country. Some visitors relish the impression that the town around them is beyond borders. Partly as a result, Paso Canoas has developed a darkly carnival atmosphere, as if it were some kind of escaped or twilight place.

What these gaps reflect back at us is our own desires, especially the wish to step outside, if only for a short time, the claustrophobic grid of nations. We probably already suspect that it’s an illusion. Shuffling forward in a queue and making it past the passport officer does not mean you are, at that exact moment, leaving or entering a country. Such points of control exist to verify that you are allowed to enter or leave. Their proximity to the borderline is a legal irrelevance.

Yet this legal interpretation fails to grasp either the symbolic importance of the border point or the pent-up urge to enter ungoverned territory.The fact that Paso Canoas is split by the Panama– Costa Rica border rather than actually being between borders doesn’t stop people from describing it as an "escaped zone."Similarly, the steep valley up the Sani Pass is nearly all in South Africa, and the road down from Senegal into Guinea is always in one nation or another, but that isn’t how travelers experience it or even what they want.

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The attraction of these in-between spaces has a lot to do with the fact that they are on land. Going through passport control at an airport provides no comparable thrill, even though international airspace is far more like a genuine no man’s land than any number of dusty miles on the ground. It seems that escaping the nation-state isn’t all that is going on here. There is a primal attraction to entering somewhere real, a place that can be walked on, gotten lost in, even built on, and that appears to be utterly unclaimed.

Some of the overland tourist trips that occasionally rumble along the Senegal–Guinea highway offer camping in the no man’s land as part of the package. Like other examples, it’s a zone that provokes people to muse on allegiance and belonging. In his essay Life Between Two Nations, the American travel writer Matt Brown describes encounters with villagers along the Senegal–Guinea road that provoke speculation on the nature of national identity:

I stopped my bike to chat with the woman pounding leaves. I asked in French (my Pular only goes so far), "Is this Guinea?" "Yes," she answered. Surprised that she even understood French, I posed a follow-up question. "Is this Senegal?" I asked. "Yes," came the reply.

A little later Brown sits on "a nationless rock" and imagines these villagers as freed from the "archaic, nonsensical national borders drawn up by greedy European leaders at the Conference of Berlin over 100 years ago." Stretching out border posts does seem to break the seal on the national unit. The resultant gap may not be of much legal import, but for travelers on the ground it creates a sense of openness and possibility.

Yet while travelers may relish this expansiveness, the consequences for those who have to live and work in such places can be less positive, such as heightened insecurity and a sense of abandonment. This is one of the reasons why African states have been trying to close the gap in such anomalous spaces. The African Development Fund, which supports economic infrastructure projects across the continent, has made "establishing juxtaposed checkpoints at the borders" of its member states a priority, including at the Guinea–Senegal border.

What most concerns the fund’s members is the impact that these distant border posts have on the flow of trade. Along the Guinea–Senegal route there are nightmare tales of vehicles being sent back and forth by officials who keep asking for new documentation or demanding new bribes. In-between land can easily turn into a place of bureaucratic limbo where both travelers and locals are uniquely vulnerable to tiresome and corrupt officialdom. Patches of ground "between" nations are places that can be thought of as free, but they are also places where we are reminded why people willingly give up freedoms for the order and security of being behind a border. 

Excerpt from Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies. Copyright © 2014 by Alastair Bonnett. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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"I'm Not a Summit-or-Death Guy"

For many alpine climbers, expeditions are synonymous with suffering. You hang out in your tent for days, waiting out bad weather, hump heavy loads, and endure whipping winds, frostbite, and frigid temperatures. But for climber Mike Libecki, 41, who's put up first ascents from Greenland to Afghanistan, the harder the slog, the more joy it brings. "Without the mystery, there's no adventure," says Libecki, who when he's not scaling remote rock faces, he is a hands-on single father to his 11-year-old daughter, Lilliana. In November, the father-daughter team will head out on Lilliana's first expedition: a two-week skiing and SUPing adventure to Antarctica.

I caught up with Libecki by phone from his house near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, in Utah, to find out how he does it all—soccer coach, professional explorer, soloist, single parent, DIY backyard farmer. Appropriately, the conversation began with a muffled ruckus in the background and Mike apologizing, "Hold on one second. I have 11 animals here, pigs and chickens and dogs and cats. My parrot is battling off a couple of magpies." On that note....

OUTSIDE: How do you juggle it all?
LIBECKI: It's all a choice. I really believe that the time is now. Dream big, climb those mountains. I want to look back on my deathbed and know I went for it. I want my daughter to grow up with animals. I want to keep it enthusiastic always. There's not much down time around here.

But practically speaking, is it difficult to manage your home life and being gone on expedition?
I have a support crew that takes care of my animals when I travel. I've done over 50 expeditions now. Depending on the opportunities, I'm gone 4-5 months a year. I don't have family money. I work hard for what I get to do. What I do is what I love and what I love is what I do. I'm a single dad. When I'm not traveling, I'm a dedicated father. I work from home. I coached her competition soccer team for five years. My daughter's mom and I are really good friends. When I'm gone, she's with her mom and family. Her mother is the pillar of how I can do this stuff. Without her I'd be nothing.

How do you justify the risks of expedition climbing?
There are inherent risks with anything. I look at expeditions and climbing and goals as a big mathematical equation. You make sure all constants are there, focus on the variables and the things you can't control, and everything is going to be fine. What I do is 100 percent safe. If I thought I was going to die, I wouldn't go. Half my trips are solo. I'm such an optimist. I'm not a summit-or-death guy. I've backed off a lot of summits when it's gotten too dangerous. Fear is my friend. It keeps me aware and focused on what I need to do.

But you've had some near misses?
I've had quite a few close calls with rock fall, one in Afghanistan. I was underneath this big flake, the size of a garage door, as soon as I got away from it, not 15 minutes later, it fell. It cut two of my ropes in two places. That was a big moment. I was in tears. It was flashing through my eyes—what if I didn't come home? Yet I had tested the flake with my techniques, and nothing happened. I survived it. 

How do you stay connected to home when you're on expedition?
It is hard to leave. There's not a trip where the plane takes off over the ocean and I'm not tearing up and missing my daughter. I wondered how it would be after she was born, how it would affect with expedition life. It hasn't changed. The only change is that now I take the satellite phone. I can Skype from almost anywhere in the world. Every single week I've ever traveled, I've sent her flowers. When she was really young, I had stand-up cut-out photos of me made. Life is moving, we do what we do. She inspires me to go after what I love because I want her to do the same, to pursue what she really loves. Yet on the flip side, there are going to be compromises and sacrifices, moments of sadness and emotion. Anything great in life has sacrifices. 

When did you first start taking Lilliana on trips and into the backcountry?
Her first trip out of the country was to Thailand when she was eight months old. She's traveled around the world with me: Russian, Poland, France. She's grown up outdoors, appreciating nature. She started skiing when she was two. It seems pretty normal to us and to most people we know. Traveling the world is the best education you can get. As a parent, that's what I want to teach my daughter.

And this trip in November will be her first expedition?
Yeah, but we're not taking a small sailboat to depths of insanity. We're going on a big boat to ski and paddle board, and to scientific stations to see the penguins. We trained last winter, practicing backcountry skills and skinning up. It's a stepping stone to who knows what she's going to do in the future. It's a safe, controlled 'expedition vacation.'

That sounds like something you feel you need to stress.
The last time I was in Antarctica it was minus 40 with 80 mph winds. Some of the media I've done....well, you're going to get some haters. But it hasn't been about taking my daughter. It's more 'How can you go on your suicidal trips, and risk leaving your daughter fatherless?' This is joy and life is here to live.

How do you stay motivated during the long, tough expeditions?
I just love it. I don't call it an 'expedition.' I call it an expe-addiction. You can't do these things if you don't love them. Without challenges it just wouldn't be worth it. There are two ways of living, in life and on expeditions: pre-joy or joy. Every single moment of your live you have joy. It could be pre-joy: 100 mph winds, rock fall that scares the crap out of you. It's still joy. Some people get annoyed with how optimistic I am. The only thing that really matters are if friends or family are sick, or if someone is hurt. That's when life gets really ultimate. Aside from that, it's pre-joy or joy.

Do you have tips for parents who want to pursue the adventure life?
There's really no excuse for things you want to do and love to do. If you really love it and want it, the only things stopping you are excuses. How bad do you want it? If you really want it, don't drive a car with payments. Sell it and spend money on travel. Why ration passion? I just want [my daughter] to learn from me that you can really do anything you want if you really focus. It'll be mostly joy and a little bit of pre joy. And the pre-joy is so wonderful because you know it's going to end. On an expedition, you're freezing and suffering, and in that moment I just smile and embrace it because it's going to be over soon. It's just immaculate mayhem.

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The 4 Most Influential Fitness Trends

Every year, data and news service Thomson Reuters compiles an index of the “World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds.” Scientists earn a place atop the list by publishing several articles that rank among the top one percent most cited by fellow researchers.

“Citations offer a direct testament to work that scientists themselves judge to be the most important to ongoing research,” said Gordon Macomber, managing director of Thomson Reuters Scientific and Scholarly Research, in a press release.

With that in mind, we combed through the most influential sports science journals to find their top-cited articles over the past five years. Presenting what all that research has to say about our health:

We’re Obsessed With Shortcuts

The Source: Journal of Applied Physiology

We want to go fast. But we don't want to do the hard work. Nitrate and protein supplement research dominates the literature. Nitrates, found in beetroot juice, were found to make exercise more efficient and help endurance athletes go stronger longer—if they drank 17 ounces of the stuff every day for at least three days before go-time.

And in muscle-building news, the journal’s top-cited study concluded that whey hydrolysate beats out soy protein and casein for post-workout muscle recovery. Athletes who downed a drink with 10 grams of whey hydrosylate after performing resistance exercise had a 93 percent greater muscle protein synthesis response than they did after consuming a drink that contained the same amount of casein.

The takeaway? Everyone's looking for a fitness shortcut. In reality, diet tweaks and supplements might help you eke out that final percent of performance gain. But for most athletes, sticking to the fundamentals will yield more immediate results.

We Want to Embrance Bionic Technology

The Source: The American Journal of Sports Medicine

Platelet-rich-plasma injections (aka PRP) were the hot topic in this journal. As the top-cited article explains, PRP injections are prepared from one’s own blood, and contain “growth factors and bioactive proteins that influence the healing of tendon, ligament, muscle, and bone.” More and more pro athletes are turning to both stem cell and PRP injections to try to avoid the uncertainty and down time associated with surgery.

Using one’s own blood as a body boost is nothing new. Tour de France cyclists have been extracting their own blood—sometimes centrifuging it down to just the red blood cells, then re-injecting it—for years. As Bike Pure explains, autologous blood transfusion “is not detectable and is perhaps not technically “doping”, but remains a banned technique affording a massive boost to an athlete over fatigued competition” by delivering extra oxygen to working muscles, and “increasing the capacity of the muscles to use oxygen by up to five percent.”

Unlike blood doping, PRP injections are not illegal. In 2011, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed PRP from its list of banned substances after noting a lack of evidence that the procedure enhances performance. PRP is for healing.

We're Terrified Of Concussions

The Source: British Journal of Sports Medicine

For athletes in contact sports like football, researchers are particularly concerned about concussions: their long-term effects, how to spot one, and how to decide when an athlete is ready to play again after suffering one.

Since top researchers released a popular consensus statement on concussion in sport in late 2008, research on the condition has exploded. We know now, for example, that men take more than twice as long as women to recover from a concussion. (An average of 66.9 days vs. 26.3 days for women, likely because the female hormone progesterone may play a protective role.) And that 10 to 20 minutes of low-intensity aerobic activity can alleviate symptoms and expedite recovery.

Helmet technology is getting smarter, too. In football, the new Riddell SpeedFlex helmet is “designed to disperse energy, reducing the risk of trauma,” SB Nation reports.  A built-in response system “is intended to alert coaches when a player suffers a significant hit to the head, or multiple hits that combine to pose a risk. And in the endurance sports world, Swedish company POC introduced helmets with MIPS, a technology designed to reduce oblique impact forces on the brain by allowing the helmet’s shell and liner to move separately.

We Think Sitting Is Killing Us

The Source: Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews

In perhaps one of the most talked-about studies from this journal, scientists linked time spent sitting to mortality and found that the longer people sit every day, the higher their mortality rate. The revelation brought on a wave of stand-up desk articles and an urge to at least get up every 15 minutes to take a lap around the office.

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Tapping Into the Next Super Fuel

Beets are so 2013. That’s right: maple syrup is the world’s newest super fuel, and it will soon be available in tear-top packets like the ones used by Honey Stinger and Gu.

A new company—called UnTapped and backed by pro racer Ted King—plans to package the maple syrup as an energy gel. Each packet, which contains only pure maple syrup from Vermont’s Slopeside Syrup—has 100 calories of natural energy. It’s available now for pre-order on Indiegogo.

Maple syrup has many of the minerals and electrolytes athletes need to perform at the top of their games. A tablespoon of pure maple syrup has two milligrams of sodium—critical to help maintain blood fluid levels during exercise. That same amount of syrup also has 42 milligrams of potassium to prevent muscle cramping. Manganese—a trace element linked to better bone health—occurs naturally in maple syrup, as does iron.

There’s more. According to a 2011 study from researchers at the University of Rhode Island, Canadian maple syrup has anti-inflammatory properties: one of the lead researchers went so far as to call it “a champion food” with many of the same healthy compounds found in berries, tea, red wine, and flax seed.

Plus, it’s a simple, easily digestible sugar. Pure syrup has a low glycemic index, which keeps you from constantly feeling hungry, and maintains even blood sugar and insulin levels. Maple sugars burn slowly and are absorbed slowly for spike-free energy. I would know: I’ve tried the stuff myself.

I’ve had the enviable task of taste testing Slopeside Syrup’s signature sauce—Grade A Amber—for more than a year now, and have been purchasing Slopeside Syrup in bulk for use on, well, anything I can think of. The stuff is easy to stomach even on hot days and in the middle of epically long rides.

You won’t find any of that in Aunt Jemima. You also won’t find most of this natural goodness in any other sports gel. Then, of course, there’s the delicious taste.

$1.89/packet 

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The Radical New Guard of Fitness

Today's fitness disrupters are a bit of a mixed bag. There's an ex-marathon champion, a multisport workout-video king, and a Silicon Valley insider, to name a few. The common thread: They're all getting a lot of attention, and they all have their own clear vision for the new future of fitness. 

Steve Edwards

You probably know Edwards’s work. As the director of results for Beachbody, one of the largest fitness companies in the world, the 53-year-old runner, climber, and cyclist has helped develop the routines for dozens of workout videos, everything from P90X to Brazilian Butt Lift. Millions of DVDs featuring his workouts have been sold worldwide. He’s the unofficial company lab rat, and there are few fad diets or newfangled training regimens Edwards hasn’t tried. “I like messing with my body,” he says. “If you don’t test it yourself, you can’t really know.”

Edwards’s Advice

1. Jump rope. “If I could do only one exercise, this is it. It works your upper body, lower body, and core. The cardio benefits are legendary, too.”

2. Opt for beans and rice. “It’s like a poor man’s sports food. It’s mainly carbohydrates but also contains plenty of protein and vitamins and minerals.”

Matt Skenazy

Brent Ruby

Ruby, an exercise physiologist and director of the Montana Center for Work Physiology and Exercise Metabolism, once took a muscle biopsy of his own leg after a half Ironman, because he was curious about how much energy he’d expended. (The answer: about 4,500 calories.) Needless to say, this isn’t the way traditional research is done. But Ruby’s real-world tests have led to innovative discoveries, including one that found that rates of muscle recovery are as dependent on how often you eat during a race as what you eat afterward.

Last August, intrigued by altitude acclimatization, he took a mobile lab up Mount Evans in Colorado, site of the highest paved road in America (14,264 feet), and flew in 30 subjects. Without giving them time to acclimatize, he strapped them to a treadmill and had them swallow various supplements to see who performed best. (The study is ongoing). A longtime Ironman triathlete, Ruby often designs the outlines of his studies while in the field. “It’s about balancing the creative and analytical situations I find myself in,” he says. “I formulate questions I wouldn’t have otherwise if I hadn’t been out on a bike ride or a long run.”

Ruby’s Rules

1. Begin your recovery during the workout. While studying road cyclists, Ruby discovered that eating regularly during long bouts of exercise is often more important for muscle recovery than a protein-heavy recovery shake afterward. Opt for something simple—a granola bar, some pretzels—every 20 minutes or so.

2. Don’t overdo it with hydration. Studying firefighting crews, Ruby found that it’s not uncommon for hotshots, who work in extreme heat, to lose one to two liters of sweat per hour. Because it isn’t feasible to compensate for that loss in the field, Ruby advises letting thirst be your guide. Your body will regulate itself over time to match your water intake.

3. Keep it chill. In the first four hours after exercise, Ruby found that ambient and muscle temperature can influence recovery more than post-workout nutrition. The body needs to cool down, but that doesn’t mean you should have an ice bath. The simplest advice: don’t linger outside on a hot day.

Meaghen Brown

Alberto Salazar

Salazar will always be known for his three New York City Marathon titles in the 1980s—and the fact that he wrecked his body through vicious training sessions to achieve them. But he’s now making an even bigger name for himself as the head coach at Nike’s pro running program, the Oregon Project. And his masochist past has fueled his unconventional belief in prescribing brutal workouts for his runners, including having them run after all-out races. Why? Salazar, 55, believes that the adrenaline of racing primes the body to work harder than everyday conditions permit and that his runners get a double stimulus from a race followed by a workout. Beating the best in the world, Salazar says, means you’ve got to experiment, and over the years he’s been the first to tinker with innovative training tools like oxygen tents, which mimic high altitude. Since 2007, five Oregon Project runners have won ten world championships or Olympic medals, more than any other distance group in the country. Writes Salazar in his 2013 autobiography, 14 Minutes: “We are just scratching the surface of empirically training the human body.”

Salazar’s High-Tech Tools

1. Cryosaunas. Refrigerator-size cylinders are pumped full of supercooled liquid nitrogen, to chill runners’ skin and promote recovery.

2. Underwater treadmills. Low-gravity running lets athletes reap the benefits of extra mileage without the wear and tear.

3. Altitude houses. Oxygen-depleted homes simulate sleeping at elevation, which boosts aerobic efficiency.

Peter Vigneron

Raj Kapoor

“For most people, the gym is broken,” says Kapoor, 43. “Globally, it’s a $75 billion business, and more than 60 percent of people don’t go, even though they’re paying.” That’s why Kapoor, one of Silicon Valley’s most well-known investors (he cofounded the photo app Snapfish), turned his attention to the fitness world. He quickly realized that the problem was not time or money but motivation, or lack thereof. His big idea? Spark people’s enthusiasm with two incentives: community and cash. In January, he launched Fitmob, a website that lets you connect with personal trainers, who are vetted by the company, and join group workouts in studios, gyms, and even nightclubs. The more training sessions you attend each week, the lower the price, from $15 for your first session to $5 for your third and fourth. Group workouts organized by social media, especially in public parks, is one of the hottest trends in fitness. But most of these classes are free. Can Kapoor convince people to pay for them? His sell is that Fitmob’s experienced certified trainers are worth the expense. Launched in January, it now offers more than 50 classes per week, everything from yoga and pilates to CrossFit. And 80 percent of mobbers have invited friends to join. “Fitness is not about fancy equipment or expensive real estate,” says Kapoor. “It’s about people helping people. We’re reinventing the gym for the digital age.”

Fitmob’s Most Popular Classes

1. Rise and Grind. Circuit training and high-intensity interval sessions.

2. Battle of the Bands. Strength and conditioning with exercise bands.

3. Weapons of Ass Reduction. Female-focused class with squats, lunges, and other toning exercises.

4. Mission Impossible. Running drills, mobility exercises, and core exercises in a circuit.

Ryan Krogh

Steven LeBoeuf

LeBoeuf, founder of Valencell, a tech supplier to consumer fitness companies, says most wearable devices­—Fitbit, Nike+ FuelBand—aren’t providing meaningful data. “They don’t measure the things we need to know about,” he says. For a device to be useful to the average consumer, it can’t just track your heart rate. It needs to compare your heart rate with your activity history to calculate training adaptations. Most important, the device has to fit seamlessly into your daily routines. To help transform wearable devices from gimmicks into essential gear, LeBoeuf and Valencell developed PerformTek, an earbud technology that tracks everything from oxygen levels to core temperature to, in the future, whether you’ve got a heart problem. LeBoeuf’s ultimate goal is a day when tracking allows consumers to personally take charge of their health and fitness. “When this gets really good,” he says, “people will be astonished by what they learn about themselves.”

LeBoeuf’s Rules

1. Track yourself. Even if the data being captured isn’t rich, LeBoeuf says, a monitoring device may inspire you to be more active.

2. Trust the tech. Last December, LeBoeuf injured his groin while pushing for a running PR—this despite Valencell’s tracking app beeping at him to slow down. The program recognized that he was going too hard even when he didn’t.

Michael Frank

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