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June 20, 2013

Formerly Obese Man Will Cycle To The South Pole


Associated Press

Salt Lake City (AP) Until a few years ago, Daniel Burton was a programmer for Utah software maker Novell Inc. making upward of $500,000 a year with bonuses and stock options. It came at a cost: A largely sedentary life of 28 years left him overweight with blood pressure and a cholesterol levels that were off the charts.

Then he got laid off.

Now, Burton is planning to make a grueling 750-mile trip by mountain bicycle to the South Pole from the coast of Antarctica.

``Cycling saved my life,’’ said Burton, who poured his life savings into Epic Biking, a shop in Saratoga Springs that operates more as charity than business—he has yet to turn a profit and had to take out a home equity loan to pay for inventory. Yet Burton’s personal transformation set the stage for his biggest ambition: to pedal from the edge of the coldest, driest and windiest continent to the South Pole, where ``summer’’ temperatures rarely climb above minus-20 degrees. He’ll face stiff headwinds, a 9,000-foot climb and his greatest fear, hidden crevices. Failure is a ``definite’’ possibility, he says.

Burton, 50, plans to set off in late December, and he’ll only have until Jan. 28 to catch the last flight off Antarctica before winter conditions make flying impossible.

He has raised little of the money it will take to make the trip, but says interest seems to be picking up fast among donors and sponsors with recent profiles by Utah media outlets.

He’s confident some version of his adventure will be possible—either a full expedition with a biking partner, guide and cameraman, or a solo trip without any ground support. Colorado adventurer Eric Larsen tried to cycle to the South Pole in December 2012, but had to turn back when slow progress convinced him he couldn’t reach his food caches before starving. Burton must realize his dream this year or face competition from an Australian and a Spaniard, both of whom plan to set off in late 2014, he said.

``I’ll do it this year or lose the opportunity,’’ he said. ``It’s a narrow window of opportunity. Let it be an American first.’’

Biking to the South Pole isn’t has hard as it sounds—a bicycle can move as fast as a cross-country skier, he said. The snow on Antarctica is usually hardpacked or icy, making for quick travel on mostly smooth surfaces. With the exception of a steep climb from the coast, Burton said he’ll be climbing a barely discernible upward slope for 700 miles to the South Pole.

He’ll be riding on 5-inch-wide tires, twice the width of normal mountain bike tires, at low pressure to cushion the ride over icy ridges and float over windblown soft snow.

His biggest enemy will be cold temperatures and the relentless wind. But with help from a guide and cameraman driving separate snowmobiles, he can haul more gear and food and reduce the load on his bicycle. He’ll use solar cells to charge satellite phones that can transmit photographs and daily blog updates.

The former programmer who wrote a spell check application for Apple II desktops admits to being a ``terrible speller.’’ He loved the work, until a medical exam gave him a new perspective.

Doctors measured his blood pressure three times before acknowledging the same result, and it was bad for a man with a family history of heart disease who mostly sat at a desk.

``I panicked. I went into depression. It scared me,’’ Burton said. ``I started biking.’’

Now rail-thin with vital signs back to normal, Burton cycles for hours almost every day and is training for his biggest test of endurance. He’s funded the ambitions of four children. Now it’s his turn.If he can raise at least $150,000 —a bare-bones budget for such a journey by any measure—he’ll invite biking partner Todd Tueller and bring a guide and a cameraman driving separate snowmobiles, and produce a documentary possibly for a network series. He’ll try to cycle back to the coast from the South Pole—it’s mostly downhill.

If he falls short on money, he plans to make a solo one-way trip without ground support.

By Friday, he had raised nearly $10,000 in online donations from a pair of crowd-funding websites. A recent and modest $1,000 donation from EnergySolutions of Utah, a radioactive disposal company, is opening doors to other corporate sponsors after what Burton described as a frustrating start to fundraising.

``Nobody wants to fund me unless they think it will succeed,’’ Burton said. ``But it won’t succeed if nobody funds it.’’

On the Net:

Site Of Native American Chiefs In Virginia Is Now Protected


Associated Press

Gloucester, VA (AP) A farm field overlooking the York River in Tidewater Virginia is believed to be where Pocahontas interceded with her powerful father Powhatan to rescue English Capt. John Smith from death.

That’s a fanciful footnote for many Virginia Indians, historians and archaeologists, who say the real story is that this land was the center of a complex, sprawling empire ruled by Powhatan long before the first permanent English settlement in American was founded in 1607. It was called Werowocomoco, which roughly translates to a ``place of chiefs.’’

``This is like our Washington,’’ said Kevin Brown, chief of the Pamunkey tribe. ``History didn’t begin in 1607 and there are a lot of people who overlook that.’’

On loan to archaeologists for more than a decade, these 57 privately owned acres (23 hectares) will be preserved forever under an agreement years in the making and to be officially announced last Friday.

The deal is important for Native Americans because they believe their story has been overshadowed for centuries by the narrative of Smith and his fellow Europeans. In a departure from past digs involving native sites, archaeologists sought the counsel of Indian leaders before and during the exploration, honoring their wishes that burial grounds not be disturbed and helping interpret what was discovered.

For Ashley Atkins, a College of William & Mary doctoral candidate who has worked at the site since 2005, ``recovering things out of the ground’’ was secondary to working with her fellow Pamunkey.

``Unfortunately, native people in the past have had no involvement at all in the way that their history has been investigated, uncovered and presented to the public,’’ said Atkins, who is 28. ``Most people would think, `They wouldn’t be involved in uncovering your own history?’ But the reality is that has not been the common practice.’’

John’s Smith’s Map features Powhatan

Jeff Brown, a Pamunkey and Kevin Brown’s brother, worked at the site for years. He recalled Indians visiting the sweeping expanse overlooking the York River and being overcome.

``It gets emotional,’’ he said. ``And when you’re digging you can really feel it.’’

Martin Gallivan, a William & Mary anthropologist, said the involvement of native people ``enhanced the project immensely.’’

Only a fraction of Werewocomoco has been explored, perhaps just 2 percent. After decades of research, archaeologists used the writings of Smith and others, ancient maps and detective work to conclude with near-certainty that this was Powhatan’s seat of power about 15 miles from Jamestown.

Powhatan’s chiefdom covered 30 political divisions and a population of 15,000 to 20,000 people while Jamestown settlers struggled to survive. Excavations have yielded the outline of the largest longhouse ever found in Virginia and a system of ditches that may have separated sacred and secular areas.

Randolph Turner, a retired state archaeologist whose hunt for Werewocomoco dates to the 1970s, said Powhatan’s empire was ``one of the most complex political entities in all of eastern North America.’’ The leader ``had the power of life and death’’ and expanded his empire through warfare or the threat of warfare.

``He’s one of the most interesting political and military figures that I’ve ever read about,’’ Turner said. ``And we’re just getting hints in the historical records of all he accomplished in his lifetime.’’

The discovery of Werewocomoco can be credited to a purebred dog belonging to the land’s owners, Lynn and Robert Ripley.

Lynn Ripley used to walk around their land with her Chesapeake Bay Retriever, an American Kennel Club competitor named Mobjack Rhett Master Hunter. She would remove debris that could cut her dog’s paws, and found arrowheads, spear tips, pipe stems and pottery shards.

``I just seemed to have an eye for it,’’ she said. ``That’s how it all began, so our dog wouldn’t cut his feet. It’s like we were meant to be there and I was meant to find these things.’’

The clincher was the discovery of copper, which was valued by the Indians as gold is today.

``I am absolutely convinced this is Werewocomoco,’’ Turner said. ``It makes no sense for it to be anywhere else.’’

That conclusion is supported by the U.S. Park Service, William & Mary, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

Virginia Indians hope work at the site will continue to build on what is known about Powhatan and the centuries before him, dispelling myths about what the first European settlers found when they arrived.

``I want people to understand there was a real civilization, a complex cultural community that existed prior to European colonization,’’ Atkins said. ``Europeans didn’t bring civilization. They brought a lot of other things, some good, some bad.’’

Kathleen Kilpatrick, executive director of the state’s historic resources agency, said the site ``certainly tells an aspect of a story that often goes untold. In tangible ways, it is their Jamestown.’’

The preservation was commemorated Friday at a ceremony with Gov. Bob McDonnell and Indian leaders. An easement will ensure the site remains undeveloped and open to future exploration. It is part of more than 250 acres owned by the Ripleys, who have lived there for nearly 17 years.

When Kilpatrick approached them with the idea of preserving the site, ``We decided it really is the best thing,’’ Robert Ripley said.

``If we do nothing else for Virginia Indians, we’ve done the very best because we have preserved it for all time with an entity that has the power to enforce its easement: the state of Virginia,’’ he said.

Lynn Ripley said, ``It’s their heritage, their history. We felt a huge responsibility to protect it.’’ She hopes her collection of artifacts can be displayed someday in a museum on the site.

Centuries after Powhatan ruled, Lynn Ripley said, this place still resonates with what it once was.

``It’s definitely a sacred place,’’ she said. ``It’s serene, it’s spiritual, it’s beautiful. I feel very good about what we’ve done.’’

Infant Left In Phone Booth Grows Up & Seeks Birth Family


The Kansas City Star

Kansas City, KS (AP) Everyone calls him Bill Atkinson. Before that, he was Stephen Michael Doe. And before that, well, that’s the mystery.

He was found, abandoned, in a phone booth, less than a day old and covered in nothing but a blanket. The puzzle of his origins remains unsolved a generation later.

Now a 41-year-old husband and father of three, he’s hunting for the family he never knew—the woman he never got to call Mom, the man he never called Dad.

But where to start?

Short articles in The Star and The Kansas City Times offer only tenuous clues of that June 7, 1972, morning. He was discovered bawling by a woman at a 7-Eleven store at 4039 Metropolitan Ave. in Kansas City, Kan. Doctors figured he was just 12 hours old at the time. One story said he weighed 5 pounds 8 ounces, another had him at 6 and a half pounds.

He has no interest in replacing the only family he’s ever known, whom he loves as much as ever. But now that he’s started his own family, he wants answers that might give his children valuable information about medical histories, and his distinct personal history, The Kansas City Star reported Monday ( ).

``I want to know more,’’ Atkinson said, about ``people who look like me, who think like me and other family that are like me.’’

He and his wife, Angie—in fact, it’s largely her crusade—have been searching for nearly a decade.

Bill & Angie Atkinson

A youth bureau detective who arrived at the scene is dead. So is the doctor who cared for him in the hospital.

And the woman at Wyandotte County Social Services responsible for finding him an adoptive family offers no clues.

``It’s crazy that I can’t remember,’’ said retired social worker Linda Hobbs. ``My memory is usually a steel trap.’’

Every link in the chain that might have led to answering questions about his past has been broken.

The trail begins and ends with a phone booth that no longer exists.

Yet the search goes on.

``It would help him to have some understanding’’ his wife said. ``There’s a piece of him that needs to know. . For that reason, I will never stop.’’

Laura Long, a search specialist for Adoption Search Services, said most people searching for biological parents can use the court system to unearth their heritage.

In Missouri, adoptees can ask a court for identifying information if they have the birth parent’s consent or if the birth parent is deceased. That information would be the name of the birth parent, a birth date or anything else that would help adoptees identify their birth parent.

Sometimes a court will allow a third party to contact a birth parent to seek his or her consent.

Lacking proof of death or consent from the birth parent, only nonidentifying information is available. That leaves age, occupation, whether the parent had siblings—only information that would not give away the identity of the birth parent. But record-keeping can sometimes be spotty.

Long, a Kansas City native, was also adopted. Almost 15 years ago, she reunited with her birth family and she’s devoted her career to helping others do the same.

``These are people meeting for the first time, so it’s like anyone meeting for the first time,’’ Long said. ``They might never see each other again, they might exchange Christmas cards once a year and they might even become best friends, you just never know.’’

Long’s business works with courts to help people find their birth parents.

``You’d be amazed how many years it takes and how much money people will spend looking on their own,’’ Long said.
She told a story of a woman who searched for 14 years, refusing to involve authorities because friends urged her not to use the court system.

``She eventually gave in, went to the courts and within two weeks we had the birth mother contacted,’’ Long said.

The courts are a key to opening records. But for Atkinson, there are no revealing records to unlock.

He has a birth certificate, but the only name on it is Stephen Michael Doe—the name given to him when he was found.

As a child, his adoptive father wanted him to succeed at sports, even hiring a swimming coach to get him ready for the Junior Olympics. But his dad died when Atkinson was 12, and that dream faded away even as he swam competitively and played soccer at a Catholic grade school in Blue Springs.

Atkinson was raised by parents who made clear he was ``the greatest thing that ever happened’’ to them.

``They brought me up as good, if not better,’’ he said, ``than anyone else could.’’

Atkinson’s father was a salesman who traveled frequently. That left Atkinson and his stay-at-home mother, Patricia, on their own. He remembers being spoiled, buried in presents at Christmas whether his father was home or away.

After his father died, Atkinson’s mother told him he was adopted.

``I didn’t believe her at first,’’ he said, ``so she had to show me the KC Star article.’’

Now, as an adult, he works in information technology. He’s raising his family in suburban St. Louis.

Naturally, he still loves his mother and talks to her regularly.

The need for answers about his biological mother came only when Bill and Angie Atkinson had their first child together—Noah, who is now 9. He knew how much his mother must have loved him, even if she could not raise him.

The Atkinsons’ search has led them to many dead ends. But last year, they thought they had a break.

Angie Atkinson found a family through an adoption website. She made contact with a woman who was potentially Bill Atkinson’s niece. That woman was looking for a boy born about the same time as Bill.

It was the wrong family. The baby they were looking for was born in 1970, not 1972.

``They looked so similar and I thought, `Oh, my God, there’s no way,’’’ Angie Atkinson said. ``I really thought that might be his family, and I’m still not sure it’s not, but apparently it doesn’t matter.’’

She concedes some wishful thinking. Because the years don’t match, it certainly can’t be the same boy. But the family sent them pictures and the resemblance was uncanny. Atkinson has blond hair and blue eyes and stands 5 feet 10 inches tall.

``I did get a little bit nervous, but also excited,’’ Atkinson said at the thought of possibly meeting his birth family. ``Angie had asked me, `Are you willing to drive out there and meet them if this is it?’ . At that point, I definitely was.’’

Yet, there’s a fear of what they might find. His biological family might not want to be found. They might not want to know him. They might be dead.

``It would be tough not to get an answer. It would be tougher if they were dead,’’ he said. ``They wouldn’t have a chance to tell me . maybe they wanted to find me. Maybe they’re ashamed of what they did.’’

Still, he wants to unravel the mystery of his beginning and his abandonment, to be able to ask somebody where he came from.

``I feel,’’ he said, ``like I deserve an answer.’’

Information from: The Kansas City Star,

Yummy Hobby! Mushrooms In A Grow-Your-Own Kit


Associated Press

Berkeley, CA (AP) College students Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora were just a few months short of careers in corporate banking when they learned in a class lecture that it was possible to grow gourmet mushrooms on leftover coffee grounds.

Velez was so struck by the idea that he stayed after class to see if he could learn more. Well, no, said the professor, he didn’t have any extra information. But he could connect Velez with the one other student who’d asked about the concept, Arora.

That was back in 2009, and since then the two have become friends and business partners in their company, Back to the Roots. Their Grow-Your-Own Mushroom Garden allows anyone to grow mushrooms off recycled waste. The company has grown to more than 30 employees and received an Empact100 award from the White House last fall, recognizing it as one of the top 100 entrepreneurial companies in the United States.

Their idea is to tap into the resurging interest in good food and in knowing where that food comes from, helping even city dwellers get in touch with their inner farmer.

``Everyone wants to connect with their food,’’ says Arora.

The pair started small, experimenting in Velez’s fraternity kitchen. At that point, Velez had signed an offer to work in investment banking, but, Arora says, they thought, ``what the heck, let’s give this thing a shot,’’ and started 10 test buckets of mushrooms right before spring break.

When they returned, they found that nine of the buckets were washouts. But one was so gorgeous they took it to Chez Panisse, the famous Berkeley restaurant founded by Alice Waters, a pioneer in the eat fresh, eat local movement, as well as to the local Whole Foods Market. Spurred by the interest that initial crop generated, as well as a $5,000 grant for social innovation from the University of California Berkeley, they came to a decision: Banking could wait.

The first challenge was figuring out how to grow the mushrooms. They spent about eight months ``just knee-deep in coffee grounds,’’ says Arora.

Their first sale was 3.14 pounds to Whole Foods. Soon, they were growing 500 pounds a week. That’s when they launched the grow-your-own kits.

``We realized that our real passion was around creating this experience,’’ says Arora. ``We had all these people asking if they can do it at home.’’

The kit comes as a box that can be set on a window sill, and just needs to be opened and misted twice a day (the mister is included). Available at Home Depot, Whole Foods and other stores, as well as online, the kits cost $19.95 and grows up to 1.5 pounds of pearl oyster mushrooms on soil that is 100 percent recycled-plant waste. The company has switched from coffee waste to corn husks, wheat bran and sawdust as the growing medium, and has partnered with Gourmet Mushrooms in Sebastopol to produce the kits. The mushrooms take about 10 days to grow; two crops are guaranteed and three are not unusual.

Back to the Roots is one of several grow-your-own kits on the market, which has seen rising interest in fresh mushrooms, according to the San Jose-based Mushroom Council.

Kathleen Preis, the council’s marketing coordinator, cites several factors including research, much of it sponsored by the·council, on mushrooms’ nutritive benefits (they’re high in Vitamin D and potassium, for instance). Meanwhile, more varieties have become readily available.

``Consumers are seeing mushrooms on the shelves. They’re seeing them in TV shows. They’re seeing these growing kits. There are more recipes for them. We’ve definitely noticed shipments have gone up, consumption has gone up,’’ says Preis.

The Council reported in October that retail sales of mushrooms in the summer of 2012 was just over 3 percent greater than summer 2011. The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistic Service, which reports annually on domestic mushroom production, reported in August 2012 that the value of domestic mushroom production topped $1 billion in 2012 for the second year in a row. The 900-million-pound crop from 2011-2012 exceeded the previous crop year’s volume by 4 percent and value by 8 percent.

A new way of using mushrooms is adding them, finely chopped, to meat as a way to add nutrients and reduce calories without shrinking portion sizes. Meanwhile, consumers are branching out a little. Although the familiar, white button mushrooms are still No. 1, shipments of specialty mushrooms, i.e. cremini, portabella, are also rising.

Back to the Roots, now based in Oakland, will introduce a shiitake grow-your-own kit later this year. They’re launching a new product this summer, AquaFarm, a 3-gallon, self-cleaning fish tank that grows food on top of the tank. You feed the fish and the fish fertilize the plants. A possible combination is betta fish with basil or wheat grass growing on the tank.

``It’s like an ecosystem right there on your kitchen counter,’’ says Arora.

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