Researchers wield the collection trawl Photo: Stiv Wilson
Despite what you might have heard, there are no huge, visually striking debris fields of plastic shopping bags and PET bottles swirling around the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But if that's the good news, the bad news is much worse: there are in fact five different garbage patches, or gyres, formed by wind-driven ocean currents, and they are filled with photo-degraded plastic bits that are potentially far more dangerous to marine life and insidious than barges of plastic trash would be.
Oh, and every once in a while one will find huge gnarly balls of discarded fishing nets and bottles and buckets and toothbrushes bopping along the currents.
These were among the findings that Leslie Moyer and Carolynn Box, research aids with the 5 Gyres Project, shared with a packed house at Patagonia's North Point retail store in San Francisco on Wednesday. Five Gyres is a research initiative that has spent the past few years sailing into the world's subtropical gyres to collect water samples and measure the amount of plastic pollution within each.
With the profusion of marathon mountain bike events and the growing popularity of the expanding National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Race Series, I keep hearing talk that the days of 24-hour races are numbered. The argument goes like this: With bigger purses and less time commitment for training, marathons are skimming top-level racers and enthusiasts alike away from 24-hour events, where shrinking attendance means a downward spiral of higher registration fees, more reticent sponsors, and fewer races.
There's some truth to the argument. For example, the 17-year-old 24 Hours of Moab saw around 30 percent fewer teams in 2011 than in 2010, and there was talk that the event could be cancelled (though, happily, it looks like the show will go on). And at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo two weeks ago, I heard lots of racers talking about the NUE. "I'm doing the NUE series this year," Trek Bicycle Store racer Jonathan Davis told me between laps at Old Pueblo, where he decided to skip the solo category to save himself. (Instead, he raced duo with his 10-year-old son, Tanner.) "It's too hard to be competitive in NUE and also show up ready for longer races. Solo 24 takes a lot out of you." Then again, Davis added that he's definitely going to September's 24-hour Solo Worlds in Canmore, which looks to be attracting a deep and star-studded field.
I raced 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo for the fifth time this year and was struck by the huge crowds and big sponsor presence (headliner Kona Bikes turned out a number of teams for the launch of their King Kahuna Carbon 29er, including Solo Male winner Corey Wallace). Blessed by the warm-weather riding it delivers to racers so early in the season, this Tucson, Arizona, event is part bike race, part Burning Man-style festival, with some 3,500 people descending on a cholla-and-prickly-pear-spiked swathe of open desert. "For the last four years, the event has reached the 1,800 rider capacity earlier in pre-registration than the year prior," says Todd Sadow, President of Epic Rides, which organizes Old Pueblo. Judging by the turnout and the carnival atmosphere, it's safe to say that this race, at least, is as healthy as ever.
The experience got me thinking about the viability of 24-hour racing in general. Having just witnessed so many people out riding and enjoying themselves at a 24-hour event, I can't see these things going away any time soon. With that in mind, I give you ten reasons to sign up for a 24-hour race now:
Left: Horsetail Falls, 2011. Photo: Joe Azure Right: The Firefall. Photo: National Park Service
The window is closing on a yearly glimpse of a natural phenomena at Yosemite National Park, during which the angle of the sun and the flow of water off the park's Horsetail Falls commingle in such a way that the waterfall glows, as if aflame. On the ground, photographers come from all over the world to freeze the image on their cameras, as in the photo above, left.
But for nearly 100 years, from 1872 until 1968, a flow of actual fire descended off the the park's Glacier Point, a vista point some 3,000 feet above the valley floor, as in the photo above, right.
The Firefall, as it was called, was set each night during summer. Park officials would collect Red Fir tree bark and set a large bonfire at Glacier Point each day. At 9pm, park workers would take long-handled rakes and push the embers off the cliff, to create the illusion of a waterfall of fire. This was all done to the delight of park visitors, who would convene in Curry Village in the valley to view the spectacle.
A team of biologists and filmmakers is 32 days into a 100-day, 1000-mile trek, via kayak, bike and foot, from the southern tip of Florida up to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southern Georgia. And should you think that sounds like a bit of a pleasure cruise, check out this video:
The trip is an effort to explore, document, and ultimately protect the wildlife corridor that creates vital habitat for important species such as the Florida Panther—which is slowly rebounding after near extinction. Click here for a map of the current and proposed corridor.
Wildlife corridors are increasingly important area of focus for conservation efforts. Development and roadbuilding often squeeze and sometimes cut off natural migratory routes or habitat ranges. In Florida, this means that species often must traverse wide swaths of private land in order to do things such as seek a mate.
This spring, Andrew Badenoch plans to launch a 7,000-mile trip from Bellingham, Wash., up to the southern coast of the Arctic Ocean, before looping back. His locomotion will be a fatbike and a small packable raft. The former marketer, who ditched his corporate job to live aboard his sail boat and write, has never done an expedition like this before. But that hasn't stopped around 200 individuals—many of whom don't even know Badenoch—from raising nearly $10,000 $10,500 to support his mission, via Kickstarter.
Whether they're driven by a quest for fame, a search for answers, or a politcal (awareness-raising) objective, major expeditions attract attention and make for good headlines. Oftentimes, corporations sponsor trips, and/or the trips act a fundraising vehicles for nonprofit organisations. Not so for "Fatbikerafting the Arctic," Badenoch's Kickstarter campaign. His benefactors are people who just think his trip sounds interesting, and who want dibs on the things—from a documentary movie to an expedition training guide—that he plans to create once the trip is complete. And Badenoch, by his own admission, is just a guy who wants to prove a point.