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News

Feb 13, 2017

From Hot to Cold: An Actif Epica First

Gaurav Madan is preparing to run the Actif Epica 2017—130km of self-supported running in the freezing Canadian prairies of Manitoba.

WRITTEN BY

Supriya Vohra

A tall order for someone raised in the warm tropics of India.

“I’m chasing a lifelong dream,” says Gaurav Madan, when asked what made him apply for the Actif Epica. “I never imagined I would land up in Canada one day. And suddenly I could see a pathway to live my dream. Not when I’m 50 or 60, but in the fairly near future, almost now.”

Born and brought up in the landlocked, subtropical, semi-arid climate of New Delhi, India, Gaurav was deeply inspired by a BBC documentary on ‘Iditarod – The Last Great Race’ as a child. “A dog sled race of mushers in dead of winter in Alaska! I knew I lived in Delhi and there will never be any snow, and that I could never be a musher, but right then, as a 12-year-old, I knew I really wanted to walk that epic trail.”

The 28-year-old became serious about running in 2006, when he completed his first half marathon in Delhi. Since then, he has participated in a number of city marathons, and has done trail running in the Himalaya. He practices minimalist running and runs barefoot wherever he can. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Atmospheric Sciences in Montreal, Canada and has finished the Beast of Burden, a 100 miles winter ultramarathon in Buffalo, New York while there.

He is now busy preparing for the Actif Epica, a 130km self-supported race in unforgiving winter conditions of the Canadian prairies. The 25 hour race, on February 18th, will follow the legendary Crow Wing Trail (Trans Canadian Trail) with temperatures dipping below -35C with winds strong as 50kmph every year. The trail is not marked, and the runner is responsible for navigation is cold blizzards using cue sheets and compass or GPS.

Chasing a lifelong dream, Gaurav, according to the race’s previous records, will be the first Indian to attempt this run.

In an email to The Outdoor Journal, Gaurav gave a detailed response about his training regime and preparation for managing on race day.

On Training for the Actif Epica

“I’ve been running consistently ever since I landed in Montreal. Air is much cleaner here than in Delhi, so that helps. And there are so many trails within an hour’s drive to train on. I run mostly on the hills in the heart of the city, in middle of the cold night—when every one else sleeps. Schedules are tough, I spend 10am to 8pm in my research lab and run after dinner. I run 3-4 days a week. Weekday runs are short and last for 10-20km. Sunday runs are longer, and vary between 30-50km that may sometimes begin at night. For two days, I work on strengthening and stretching. I do not sleep on Saturday nights as part of training. Monday is an off day. I do a lot of barefoot running whenever possible. It’s been cold the past four months and this is my first winter, so the focus has been to adjust to new conditions and find the right combination of layers I’ll wear and pace at which I run (so that I do not sweat too much). In cold races, sweat may kill you. Running on snow and ice is really tough, you are at a consistent risk of falling, pulling a muscle, twisting an ankle or damaging your hip or back. So, I’m learning slowly, experimenting a lot on different surfaces to prepare myself for Actif Epica—as I’ll face everything on the route. During the race, we’ll run on beaten gravel roads, snow covered trails, frozen lakes, knee deep powdered snow, ice covered highway roads and packed snow. The challenge is immense and you have to get over each hurdle to reach the finish line under 25 hours.”

Image © Kevin B Desaulniers
Image © Kevin B Desaulniers

On Managing the Race Day

“The race is critical in terms of its requirements and there is mandatory gear that a runner must carry to be allowed to start, including a spare windproof jacket for survival, windproof pants, headlamps, a pair of flashing lights for front and back (so no snowmobile runs over you), 2L insulated hydration pack, reflective taping in front and back so you are visible, a whistle, a magnetic compass and GPS (that must work in -30C conditions). You have to be very watchful of how you save your water from freezing in such low temperatures—it takes barely 10 minutes for everything to freeze. To meet that, I will be wearing my hydration pack under my jacket to keep it warm by body heat. A runner must start the race with at least 6000 calories and finish with 2000 calories still in your bag. I am still figuring out what to carry, as you must meet the amount of calories in minimum possible weight. Fruits, chocolates, all freeze in these conditions. So, I might carry some dry fruits, nuts, energy bars (and keep them in inner pockets), gels, salt tablets, and grated coconut with crushed waffers. You are allowed to purchase food on the route, but there are not many options as trail runs through open fields in prairies. The race is completely unsupported, so racers are responsible for food, water, navigation, etc. No external support of any kind is allowed. There are five checkpoints, where racers must report with respective cut-offs, where you may refill your water and eat something out from your bag.
I’m planning to stick around with fellow runners (we are just five on foot) for as long as possible, so we keep up the pace and navigate as a team. We will have cue sheets provided by organizers for directions to follow. If winds are strong on race day, there will be complete whiteout and navigation will be a huge challenge. My navigation skills learned in Himalayas will be tested now, and I believe I should be able to crack it. I am studying the route map deeply, but reality is going to be much different than what it looks like on a map.”

The Actif Epica is also a qualifying race for Iditarod Trail Invitational, the world’s longest and toughest winter ultramarathon. Read more about the Actif Epica here.

Click here to donate to Gaurav’s campaign.

Feature Image © Kevin B Desaulniers

 

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Environment

May 14, 2019

Bringing Kiwi Back to Wellington

As New Zealand announces a new plan to reverse the decline of the iconic kiwi bird, Wellingtonians are already lining up to save their emblematic bird.

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WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

This article was made available to The Outdoor Journal via a press release by Tourism New Zealand.

As New Zealand announces a new plan to reverse the decline of the iconic Kiwi bird, Wellingtonians are already lining up to save their emblematic bird. Wellingtonians are known for their love of flat whites and their passion for the arts. But there’s a new pastime that’s rapidly growing in New Zealand’s capital and all around the country.

Assembling and setting traps for rats, stoats and other predators in their own backyards. It’s a somewhat unlikely hobby, but in Wellington alone, there are now more than 70 community groups involved in pest management.  They’re all aiming at making their home town the first predator-free capital city in the world and a paradise for native birds such as the tīeke (Saddleback), hihi (stitchbird), kākā, kākāriki and toutouwai (North Island robin). 

In Wellington alone there are now more than 70 community groups involved in pest management all aiming at making their home town the first predator-free capital city in the world. Photo by: Capital Kiwi

Ever since conservation project Zealandia created a fully fenced 225-hectare ecosanctuary within the city limits in 1999, native birdlife has returned to many suburbs and Wellingtonians have embraced their avian friends. The groups are part of a groundswell of community conservation initiatives sweeping New Zealand and delivering fantastic results.

“Where once it would have been a remarkable sight to see a single kākā (a boisterous native parrot) in the wilderness of our mountain ranges, we now have literally hundreds of them across Wellington city, screeching across city skies,” says self-confessed “bird nerd” Paul Ward. Buoyed by the birdsong orchestra he thought, “Why stop there? Let’s bring back New Zealand’s most iconic bird, the Kiwi.” “The only time I’d seen a Kiwi growing up was in a zoo, and that’s not right for our national taonga (treasure),” he insists. 

The flightless birds with hair-like feathers and the chopstick bill have been absent from Wellington for over a century due to the loss of their habitat and the spread of predators. Ward’s ambitious project Capital Kiwi hopes to lure Kiwi back to the Wellington region within the next decade. Approximately 4,400 traps will be set on 23,000 hectares of public and private land stretching from the outskirts of town to the coast.

“Kiwi may disappear from the mainland in our lifetime”

As long as stoats, ferrets and weasels are around, Kiwi chicks have hardly any chance of surviving their first year.  An average of 27 Kiwis are killed by predators each day according to charity ‘Kiwis for Kiwi’ which supports community-led initiatives around the country. They warn that at this rate “Kiwi may disappear from the mainland in our lifetime.” 

But projects in Rakiura / Stewart Island in the south of New Zealand, Whangarei Heads in the north and Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty have shown that with the involvement of the community as kaitiaki (guardians) it is possible to grow a wild Kiwi population. 

The project Capital Kiwi hopes to bring New Zealand’s iconic birds back to Wellington by setting more than 4,000 traps in the hills on the outskirts of the city. Photo by: Capital Kiwi.

Michelle Impey, from Kiwis for Kiwi explains that one of the challenges of Kiwi conservation is “getting people to understand and care about something they can’t see and don’t experience.”

Kiwis are nocturnal, and with only a few exceptions live far removed from cities, towns and villages. “Bringing Kiwi closer to where Kiwis live makes them top of mind, completely relevant, and creates a sense of ownership with those who are privileged enough to have them living on or near their land,” Impey adds. She hopes that the new project will create “a city of Kiwi conservationists” who feel a personal attachment to their national bird. 

In August 2018 the government’s Predator Free 2050 initiative, which aims to rid New Zealand of the most damaging introduced predators that threaten the nation’s natural wildlife by 2050, announced their support for Capital Kiwi, committing more than NZ$3.2 million over the next five years.  It may sound like a lot of money, but the other way of looking at this is “What is the cost if we don’t?” Ward ponders.

“Can we, as a nation of Kiwis, afford to let our national icon die and become extinct? What would that say about us as guardians of the taonga (treasure) that makes our country so special and unique?”

https://www.outdoorjournal.com/featured/environment/reaction-european-single-use-plastic-ban/

Ninety-year-old Ted Smith, who lives in the small seaside settlement of Makara just over the hills from Wellington, helped to kick off the project with the setting of the first trap in November. He and his local community started trapping in their backyards a decade ago which resulted in a remarkable increase in birdlife – tūī, kākā, kererū, pūkeko, kingfishers, quails and others. “If we allow Kiwi to die out then we deserve to be called idiots,” he says. Wellingtonians love the vision of having Kiwi rummaging through their gardens and Ward says he’s been overwhelmed with the offers of help and support from the community.  

“We want to see Kiwi come back into Wellington”

Capital Kiwi has received hundreds of emails from people keen to help. Schoolchildren are now monitoring tracking tunnels, mountain bikers and trail runners check reserve trap lines on lunchtime rides and families come together to build traps. If the eradication proves successful after three years, the Department of Conservation will look at translocating Kiwi to the hillsides. The hope is that in less than a decade, tourists will be able to post their Kiwi encounters on the outskirts of Wellington on social media, and locals will beam with pride at hearing the shrill call of the country’s iconic birds in their backyards. 

“I would love to be woken up by the sound of the Kiwi. We want to see Kiwi come back into Wellington,” the capital’s Major Justin Lester says. 

The Department of Conservation is backing Capital Kiwi too. “Getting Kiwi back into the hills of Wellington where people can hear them call is a great way to demonstrate what New Zealand could look like if we get rid of the stoats and ferrets,” DOC’s Jack Mace says. 

“It would certainly add another feather to Wellington’s cap as one of the best places to see New Zealand’s unique wildlife.”

Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

Whilst you’re here, given you believe in our mission, we would love to introduce you to The Outdoor Voyage – our booking platform and online marketplace which only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

Cover Photo: New Zealand’s little spotted Kiwi at Zealandia Eco-sanctuary in Wellington. Photo by: Zealandia Eco-sanctuary

 

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