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March 22, 2015: Understanding Wild Fires, Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in Winter and More

HOUR 1 – Hitch hiking is an art that once flourished in the United States and many other places around the world, but because of perceived dangers, it has become discouraged. But Jamie Maslin doesn’t see it that way. He hitched over 800 rides in cars and yachts to travel from Tasmania to London, and he...

As people move closer to nature, wildfires increasingly threaten homes and property. (photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic)


– Hitch hiking is an art that once flourished in the United States and many other places around the world, but because of perceived dangers, it has become discouraged. But Jamie Maslin doesn’t see it that way. He hitched over 800 rides in cars and yachts to travel from Tasmania to London, and he said that generally speaking, people are trustworthy. “You really get to see a country thtrough the eyes of a local,” Maslin explains. But he does have a trick: “I ask where they’re going first,” so you have the opportunity to turn down a sketchy ride offer. Maslin’s new book The Long Hitch Home is out now.

– Brains, like other muscles and biological processes, create waste when they work all day. And sleep is the key to cleaning up that waste. Neuroscientist Jeffrey Iliff explains that brains are almost as active at night as they are in the day, but they’re doing different things. Iliff explains how during sleep our brains clean out the waste plaque that can prevent it from running smoothly and could potentially contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. 

– India is home to 70 percent of the world’s tiger population. At 2,226 the country’s tiger population is 30 percent larger than recent estimates thought. Tiger conservationist Belinda Wright says that the increase in tigers doesn’t necessarily represent an actual numbers increase, it’s simply the result of a more accurate census. India’s tigers compete for space with the country’s 1.25 billion people, but Wright says that the cat’s future will only be secured when China’s demand for tiger parts ends.
– Last week, the British government announced their intention to establish the world’s largest marine reserve around the Pitcairn Island’s pristine seas. National Geographic Explorer in Residence Enric Sala‘s Pristine Seas team helped the UK’s decision makers understand just how perfect the ocean life around the islands are. And now, Sala and his team have turned their focus to colder waters off Greenland’s coast to establish an environmental baseline for what will be the last region in which the water will remain frozen throughout the year.

– National Geographic Library Manager of Research Maggie Turqman returns with some timely milestones plucked from history. This weekend, New Orleans, which has been no stranger to disaster throughout its existence, had 80% of its buildings burn down on March 21, 1788; post-presidential Thedore Roosevelt left for an expedition to British East Africa to “collect,” (hunt) big game animals in 1909; and Roger Bannister, the first sub-4 minute mile runner, was born on this weekend in 1929. 


– Hiking the length of the 2,663 mile Pacific Crest Trail in summer is challenging. But Shawn Forry estimated that he and partner Justin Lichter had a 17% chance of success before they began their attempt to hike the train this winter. Despite California’s droughts, they spent much of the hike through Oregon and Washington soaked and battling high wind, but they report they had good weather through the High Sierras, which was the key to their 132 day journey. Lichter says that they were never lost, but they did get “temporarily misplaced” on a few occasions.

Sasha Martin‘s best childhood memories of her family revolved around food. To help her find her place in the world, Martin took up the endeavor of cooking a meal every week that comes from a different country until she had “cooked the world”. The result is her memoir, Life From Scratch that variously describes her poor childhood with her mother’s creative abilities to manifest cultural meals from around the world, to being taken in by a family that enabled her to attend school in Europe, to wanting to share her love of cooking with her own daughter. Martin said that in choosing meals, bigger countries were hard because there is a lot of diversity in cuisine from countries like the United States. To represent her upbringing she chose barbecue ribs and apple pie as her American meal.
– Climate change is to blame for many destructive natural phenomena. But Mark Finney, a research forester with the US Forest Service, says that climate change isn’t the cause for a seeming increase of fires around the western United States. Finney says that weather, even a dry week or two, can set the stage for a fire. And while controlled burns, or “prescribed fires,” are the most effective treatment against wildfires, Finney suggests that people leave them to professionals, even around their yards.
This Is What You Just Put In Your Mouth? The challenge from Patrick Di Justo‘s book title was birthed in the author’s fascination in finding what actually are the ingredients that are listed on the labels of processed foods. His research was never intended to gross out readers, but to explain the aisles of the grocery store with their mysterious packaged offerings. For example, Di Justo reveals that ham, bacon and spam all originate in pig, but they differ in the types of processes that happen afterwards. He explain that coffee includes a cockroach pheromone, and vodka is essentially ethanol mixed with water.

 – It snowed in Washington D.C. on the first day of spring. Boyd has had it with cold weather and so, in this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, he’s breaking up with winter.

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Meet the Author

Justin O'Neill
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.