Rail trails and railroads, happenstance discovery

SCOTUS Decision May Slow Expansion of Trails

Today, we begin with news about a recent Supreme Court decision that may affect the population’s ability to run on abandoned “rail trails” – railroad tracks that became running trails. In the Supreme Court case Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al., v. United States, the Court held 8-1 that some government easements for railroad routes expired; of the government easements that expire, the land would revert to the original landowners. The lawsuit began with the man who owned the Medicine Bow Rail Trail, a backwoods rail trail in southern Wyoming. His lawsuit alleged that the land now belonged to him based on the extinguished easement.

Many are concerned about how this little-noted decision will impact the future of rail trails in America. Here’s an interesting historical point to bear in mind: any existing trails that are “railbanked” will remain unaffected by the Court’s decision. Railbanked trails must fit one of the following criteria in order to escape the force of the Court’s decision: it must be “set aside for possible return to rail use—are located in the original 13 colonies, were acquired from private landowners, or were granted by the federal government before 1875.” The article notes that the Court’s decision will affect the land west of the Mississippi, as “the Supreme Court ruled that federal railroad easements granted after 1875 didn’t necessarily come with long-term land rights.” The keyword here is “necessarily” – it’s possible that some federal railroad easements west of the Mississippi did come with long-term land rights – if that’s the case, then any land that comes with long-term land rights can shield itself from reversion, as the Court decision lacks application.

So, what trails are affected? The article states that approximately 80 trails may be affected by this Court decision, and that individuals already filed lawsuits to gain land rights near their property. Kevin Mills, senior vice president of policy and trail development for national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, described some of the perils of the court decision. He believes the decision is “disappointing,” and that the decision will lead ” to more cases where litigation is brought or feared, where it will be an additional hurdle and could slow down progress. It’s apt to have a chilling effect.” Trail running is growing in popularity – “nearly five million people trail-run regularly” – and the possible chilling effect created by the Court decision may decrease the interest in running trails because of the decrease in availability. Justice Sotomayor, the lone dissent in the decision, found that the Court’s analysis of the federal reversionary interest in property right “undermines the legality of thousands of miles of former rights of way that the public now enjoys as means of transportation and recreation.” She acknowledged that the large influx of lawsuits over the land conversions “may well cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Cold Therapy Better Than Steroids – And Legal

Two American biologists recently “stumbled” upon a potentially amazing discovery: a device that rapidly cools the body through the hands which greatly improves exercise recovery, is perhaps better than steroid use…and is legal. Stanford researchers Dennis Grahn and Craig Heller credited their accidental discovery to their goal of looking for “a model for studying heat dissipation.” The key sentence in the article (in terms of how this technology functions) is this: “by taking advantage of specialized heat-transfer veins in the palms of hands, they can rapidly cool athletes’ core temperatures – and dramatically improve exercise recovery and performance.

How did they stumble upon this discovery? They studied bears, but why? Bears are heavily insulated animals, which explain why they can sleep all winter and not freeze to death. But when spring comes, they still carry all that insulation and that heavy winter coat – what helps them adapt to the warmer temperatures? The scientists discovered that not just bears, but all mammals have “built-in radiators: hairless areas of the body that feature extensive networks of veins very close to the surface of the skin.” Mammals have these areas in different parts of their bodies: “rabbits have them in their ears, rats have them in their tails, dogs have them in their tongues.” On bears, these hairless patches are found on their noses and the pads on bears’ feet. These veins are called AVAs (arteriovenous anastomoses), and they’re well-known for their temperature management. They can cool down these areas quickly, which allow them to live in warmer temperatures. In humans, these AVAs are most notable in the palms of our hands – though, there are some AVAs in our face and feet.

Armed with that understanding, let’s turn to the invention itself. The device is a rigid plastic mitt with a cooler-like apparatus attached. The user puts it on, and the device “creates a slight vacuum,” tightening the already-tight glove. The tightness causes the AVAs in the palm to expand, which draws in more blood, and the water circulating through the gloves rapidly cools down the palm. The system is allegedly better than immersing one’s self in an ice bath, as it concentrates on the body’s “radiator.” If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, then you’re probably wondering why someone could simply put their hands in ice water and experience the same effect. The researchers answered that question: “Because blood flow to the AVAs can be nearly shut off in cold weather, making the hand too cold will have almost no effect on core temperature. Cooling…is therefore a delicate balance.” In essence, putting your hands in cold water will do what you think: you’ll just have cold hands. The scientists would use the gloves for surgery patients recovering from anesthesia.

The gloves’ effect on athletics was not apparent until Vinh Cao – gym rat and coauthor – came to the lab and tested out the device between sets of pull-ups. What the researchers found was astonishing: the use of the gloves effectively erased any muscle fatigue, and enabled Cao to do as many pullups as he was before. “Then in the next six weeks he went from doing 180 pull-ups total to over 620,” said Heller. “That was a rate of physical performance improvement that was just unprecedented.” The researchers tried the experiment with other exercises, and found similar results – astonishingly without any evidence of damaging or overworking the body. Their gloves are used by some Stanford collegiate athletic teams, its professional football teams and even the Manchester United football club.

So, why does cooling down the body work? You can check out the article for the scientific reasoning, but I will put it in layman’s terms. When you work out, your body increases in temperature. Our bodies are temperature sensitive, and there is an enzyme in our bodies responsible for not letting our bodies grow too hot while we exercise. Researchers believe that when the body hits about 104 degrees, the enzyme shuts down and refuses to work until it cools down. There are muscle cells that tell you to “stop” – that’s the body signaling to you that “I’m shutting down because if you keep working, you’ll overheat and die.” Think about a computer or a car overheating: if it runs too hot, you have to shut it down or it’ll stop working completely. The gloves, then, act as coolants to the enzyme, and it allows the body to resume functioning.

Looking at international news, Ugandan female runners stated that they were sexually abused by an unnamed national athletics coach during a month-long running camp in preparation for last week’s Africa Cross-Country Championships. Allegedly, the coach told his women runners that “to run well, they must have sex or give birth.” Ugandan women said that he approached the women at night and forced them into sexual relations. Failure to give in to his desires resulted in physical harm or him chasing them out of camp. The Ugandan women filed a complaint with the Ugandan Athletics Federation (UAF), but it seems that the police appear unsympathetic to their complaints (initially, the women had trouble talking to law enforcement because they didn’t believe the women) and the UAF has denied the allegations.

The UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) warned the government that cutting its budget would impair the UKAD’s ability to test its athletes for Rio 2016, Pistorius is forced to sell his house to pay his legal fees to support his ongoing trial, and 35 year-old Olympic distance runner Kara Goucher signed with Oiselle, a Seattle-based female-oriented brand which caters to empowering women in sports.

The Disciplinary Committee of the Athletics Federation absolved Spanish athlete and politician Marta Domínguez in ruling that there was no sufficient evidence within her alleged irregularities in her biological passport, and that a sanction was unnecessary. Her sole variation is likely due to the fact that she was pregnant at the time she was tested. Finally, the IOC invited Putin to lunch, but Putin has yet to respond…shocking, considering the circumstances (Ukraine, anyone?)


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