February 10, 2013: Irishmen Adventuring Across Asia, Gruesome Cache of Skulls, and More

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

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Episode: 1306 – Air Date: February 10, 2013


Archaeologists look at skull fragments at a shrine near Mexico City, Mexico. (Photograph by Christopher T. Morehart)

For most people, visiting Istanbul, Kathmandu, and Shanghai in the same trip would be the trip of a lifetime. But when the three cities are connected by legs of biking, running, and riding down a river, the trip becomes an epic adventure. David Burns and Maghnus Collins tell Boyd about the difficulties of the first two legs of their adventure, which include biking 2,000 miles through India in the pre-monsoon heat that peaked at well over 100°F, as well as running 25 marathons in 27 days across the Tibetan plateau. Listen here.

David Burns and Maghnus Collins return to finish their story. In this segment, they tell about rafting down the Yangtze River, where they encountered a world of troubles. Maghnus’ inflatable raft tipped during a set of choppy water, and before he could reach shore and right his boat it took off downriver. The pair chased the runaway boat for three days, covering 60 miles, but they ultimately gave up. The completion of their expedition seemed to be in danger, with Maghnus’ tent, boat, and passport missing. In part two of their interview, they reflect on the darkest days of the expedition. Listen here.

The terms “urban” and “forest” may appear to be oxymorons; however Scott Steen assures Boyd that they’re not. This week, American Forests named their “Ten Best Urban Forests” in the United States. Some very dense urban areas with famous parks were on the list, like New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as some other cities not well known for wooded areas, like Austin, Texas and Denver, Colorado. Listen here.

Avid skiers pay hundreds of dollars to vacation at the most exclusive resorts. But National Geographic explorer Nick Chambers got to ski some of the world’s most remote back-country for science. He paired his love of skiing with his desire to document the pristine wilderness known to local native tribes as The Sacred Headwaters. Ultimately, he had to hike 65 miles and live out of a snow cave for 12 days in order to ride the mountains in this stretch of North America’s untouched wilderness. Listen here.

David Braun, editor of National Geographic Daily News, explains that short winters in places that usually have longer, colder winters could wreak havoc on the plants and flowers in those regions. David says that plants get “confused,” and may stop blooming when warmer weather comes to wake them from their dormancy. Listen here.


Scientists who study predators have to stomach some pretty gruesome scenes, but they also get to see some amazing things that most people don’t have access to. Greg Marshall, founder of National Geographic’s Crittercam, doesn’t just see this stuff from afar–he has a front row seat. He recently returned from a trip to Antarctica’s Livingston Island, where he attached Crittercams to leopard seals. The seals weigh 1,000 pounds and apparently have quite the appetite. Greg tells Boyd that his team is learning some intimate details of the leopard seals’ feeding habits. Listen here.

Tokyo isn’t all there is to Japan. In fact, travel writer Ramsey Zarifeh encourages people who visit the country to quickly visit Tokyo and then use the country’s very prompt rail system to get far away from the metropolis. He tells Boyd about the country’s mountains, hot springs, and one troublesome geyser that almost caused an international incident between Britain and Japan by dousing a civil servant’s dog. Listen here.

Christopher Morehart was an anthropologist studying ancient agriculture in Mexico when what started as a simple dig suddenly became much more complicated. He and his team noticed an area of dirt that appeared to have been disturbed. When they investigated further, they uncovered several human skulls that had been separated from their bodies before they decomposed. Listen here.

Moammar Gadhafi dominated Libya for 42 years before a 2011 revolution forced him from office, resulting in his death. Libyans, for the first time in nearly half a century, now have to confront divisive topics like how best to govern themselves. Self-government can be contentious enough, says Robert Draper author of “New Old Libya,” in the February, 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine, but when many different groups are grappling for their places in a power vacuum, life can become very difficult. Listen here.

In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd says he can relate to David Burns’ and Maghnus Collins’ difficulties, because on a long distance desert race of his own, he too began to pee blood. Luckily(?) his daughter was on hand to capture his doctor-supervised recovery on video. Listen here.


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Meet the Author
Justin O'Neill produces the weekly radio program National Geographic Weekend with host Boyd Matson. Check it out on on SiriusXM satellite radio (XM channel 133 Sundays at noon), subscribe to the iTunes podcast, or stream it directly to your smartphone with Stitcher Radio.