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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon


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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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Boulder

Sep 17, 2018

“Frack”-tured Community: Colorado Plans to Alter the Future of Natural Gas Drilling

The grassroots initiative, which Boulder voters will see on the ballot come November, would mandate a state-wide, half-mile “buffer zone” of fracking wells from occupied buildings.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

Hydraulic fracturing, known colloquially as “fracking”, has been controversial since it became the widespread method of shale gas production over the past decade. The technique involves pumping millions of gallons of highly-pressurized water and chemicals into deep shale formations to proliferate cracks and free gas for extraction. On Colorado’s crowded Front Range, where land is a premium, active wells operate within arm’s reach of houses, schools, and other occupied structures.

Fracking proponents say that the practice has drastically increased U.S. natural gas production, lowered energy prices, and reduced carbon dioxide emissions via displacing coal burning in electricity generation. Opponents of fracking cite many potential health and environmental hazards of the practice including methane leakage, groundwater contamination, radioactive wastewater, and well fires.

significantly more likely to have a low birth-weight baby

According to Colorado Rising, a grassroots non-profit committed to exposing fracking’s health and safety concerns, fracking’s toll on public health outweighs the economic benefits. Research from the Colorado Public School of Health indicates that proximity to fracking operations poses serious risks to health and safety. Among these risks include exposure to cancer-causing toxins such as benzene and air pollutants. An analyses of public health research at the University of Chicago examined correlation between prenatal health and proximity to fracking wells and found that mothers living within a half-mile radius of active wells were significantly more likely to have a low birth-weight baby than mothers who lived farther away. This half-mile radius, incidentally, is the amount of buffer the ballot proposition would require.

The research is preliminary, however, as it cannot definitively prove point-source contamination. To date, no double-blind studies have ever linked fracking directly to low birth weights. But according to spokesperson Anne Lee Foster of Colorado Rising, “Weld County is the most fracked county (host to over 23,000 wells) and has twice the still-born rate of other Colorado counties”. She claims the spike in still-borns occurred in 2009, after a 2008 influx in natural gas drilling. But the list of environmental hazards does not end with carcinogens. The Colorado Rising report also condemns fracking’s environmental toll. Their briefing states that because of methane leakage, “…fracking, transporting and burning natural gas for electricity is likely as bad as or worse for climate change than coal or oil”. The jury is still out on this claim. Granted, fracking is energy-intensive and petrochemical-dependent, but burning natural gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as burning oil or gasoline. Methane leakage in drilling and pipeline transportation is minor, though Colorado Gas & Oil industry officials and public health activists like Colorado Rising disagree on the amount and impact of leakage.

Despite its controversy, there are approximately 50,000 active oil and gas wells in Colorado, many of them concentrated in Boulder and Weld Counties. Under current legislature, fracking operations can take place 500 feet from an occupied home and 1,000 feet from a school building.

do Colorado residents share Foster’s precautionary mindset, or are the economic gains too good to forgo?

Public demand for an expanded mandatory buffer zone from occupied buildings compounded after a 2017 incident in which an open gas line from an operating well leaked into a Firestone home, causing an explosion that killed two. Colorado Rising wrangled over 172,000 signatures for their “Safer Setbacks from Fracking” initiative, which was subsequently approved for November’s ballot. The regulation would underscore the burgeoning research on detrimental public health and environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing—research that Colorado’s oil and gas industry might call inchoate and inconclusive. It would increase the mandatory buffer zone between oil and gas wells and occupied buildings to 2,500 feet—a move that the Colorado Petroleum Council has deemed “job-killing” and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association has said risks “more than $1 billion in taxes for schools, parks, and libraries, and our nation’s energy security”. And Weld County, situated on potent shale, has benefited from the incursion of jobs and money brought by the industry’s presence in the area.

The future of Colorado’s oil and gas sector is up in the air, and the proposed initiative would significantly reduce the amount of viable drilling land in populated regions of the state. As Anne Lee Foster summarizes, “the general consensus is that negative health impacts are possible, and it’s best to err on the side of caution”. November’s vote will tap into the metaphorical shale deposits of public sentiment towards fracking; do Colorado residents share Foster’s precautionary mindset, or are the economic gains too good to forgo?

Special thanks to Anne Lee Foster, who was interviewed for this piece. The Colorado Oil and Gas Board did not respond to request for commentary.

Cover photo courtesy of Brett Rindt.

Resources and Further Reading: A Denver Post report on fire and gas explosions, political commentary by Colorado Politics, a public health report by Colorado Rising, The Colorado Rising website, A Popular Mechanics article on 10 Most Controversial Claims About Natural Gas Drilling, A New York Times article,

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