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Dispatches : Adventure Lab

Expedition Watch: Jez Bragg Runs Across New Zealand

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 2.33.30 PMMan's best friend. Photo: JezBragg.Blogspot.com

In addition to the 50 sunsets and sunrises that ultrarunner Jez Bragg plans to take in while trying to run 2,000 miles across New Zealand's newest cross-country trail in the fastest time ever, there are less dramatic sites that require more of his attention. For example, there are seven sheep for every person in New Zealand, which means a lot of herding dogs. On day 18, at 3:30 p.m., Bragg was in the middle of a long run when he ran into a cowboy with five such dogs. The chance meeting led him to refocus his attention on the trail beneath him. "Five dogs means high statistical probability of dog poo," read a post on his blog, written from the perspective of his shoes, which had already trudged over more than 600 miles of terrain. "I am running almost 100km today, having my back pressed into dog poo would be the last straw."

Here's a bit more on Bragg's 50-day planned journey, in case you'd like to follow along.

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How Do Wrinkled Toes and Fingers Help You During Water Sports?

Shutterstock_77773525-1Hold on to that paddle. Photo: Shutterstock

Scientists previously thought that the smooth, hairless surfaces of fingers and toes wrinkled up like raisins after they got wet because water passed into the outermost layer of skin, causing it to swell. But recent studies have shown that the wrinkling is not a result of osmosis, but rather an autonomic nervous system reaction: placing hands or feet in water causes a constriction in blood vessels which reduces the pulp in digits. The loss of internal pressure causes ridges and valleys to form on glabrous skin. The question, of course, is why?

A new study published by three scientists in the journal Biology Letters suggests the physical change may have developed as a way to improve grip on wet objects. In other words, prune-like fingers and toes that form during long surfing and kayaking sessions may actually help you hold on to your board or paddle.

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Skiing Competitively a Year After Paralysis

On December 22, 2011, 16-year-old Jake Hickman crashed while participating at a United States freestyle ski team selection competition in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The reigning J2 junior national champion caught the edge of his ski in the snow before a jump and the accident resulted in a spiral compression fracture of his T8 vertebrae with an incomplete paralysis of his spinal cord. Doctors were unsure whether he would ever walk again.

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The Hottest Year on Record, by the Numbers

201201-201212January through December 2012. Photo: NOAA

Last year was the hottest year on record for the contiguous United States since record-keeping began in 1895, according to a Tuesday announcement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Here's a breakdown of the 2012 measurements, by the numbers.

55.3: Average temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit, for 2012. The record is 3.2 degrees higher than the 20th-century average and a full degree higher than the previous record, which was set in 1998. NOAA

26.57: Annual precipitation, in inches, for 2012. The number is 2.57 below the average, making 2012 the 15th driest year on record. NOAA

11: Number of disasters that reached the $1 billion threshold in losses. The events are believed to have caused 349 deaths. The U.S. Climate Extremes Index indicated that 2012 was the second most extreme year on record for the nation. NOAA

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Diving Underwater in a Wheelchair

In 2010, visual artist Sue Austin received a grant from Arts Council England’s Impact Fund that allowed her to transform her wheelchair into a propelled, finned, scuba-tank-outfitted craft suited for underwater exploration. She designed it so that she could move the foot pedals to control the fins and change directions. She unveiled a series of photos and videos showing off the creation leading up to the 2012 Paralympics. Though Austin's original motivation was artistic, outfitters have expressed interest in using the device for adventure-seeking clients. "We've had PADI [Professional Association of Diving Instructors] course directors and very experienced divers saying they would pay to hire it," she told Digital Spy.

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