Akela.World, Travelling Photographers | Adventure-gram

This awesome Austrian family are doing things differently

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All photos by Akela.World

“I think everybody dreams of making a world trip, or something like this,” says Leander Nardin, his face slightly pixelated on my phone screen as he dials in from Eastern Siberia. Lots of people dream of making a world trip, sure. But not everyone finds themselves driving a converted 1977 Mercedes truck halfway across the world.

Yet this is exactly what Austrian photographer Leander, his girlfriend Maria and their six-year-old son Lennox have been doing for that past year and a bit. “I think it started five years ago,” says Leander, explaining the genesis of this crazy journey. “We went to Thailand when Lennox was one year old. We just went with backpacks for a few weeks but you know when you’re traveling with children, you have lots of stuff. It was way too exhausting and complicated.”

“He was just laughing, he said: ‘No mechanic is coming into the desert.’”

“Our dream destination was always New Zealand,” he explains, but after the Thailand experience they realised that it would be difficult enough as a couple, let alone with a young kid. “Flights only and the campervan for two or three months in New Zealand is about 10 or 15 thousand euros.

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Maria, Lennox, Leander and Akela.

“So I came up with the idea to buy a small bus and drive all the way down to New Zealand. Maria was like ‘man that’s a crazy idea, it’s bullshit’. But somehow it worked out.” So far this ‘bullshit’ idea has taken them almost 40,000km, and through some of the most incredible landscapes on earth. “My favourite has definitely been Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia,” says Maria. “Kyrgyzstan felt a little bit like home, like Austria – all the beautiful lakes and mountains”.

Follow the family on Instagram and you can see instantly why they have no regrets about their decision to pack up and go. Leander is a talented snapper, whose photos include portraits of interesting locals (“the eagle hunters in Kyrgyzstan were people I always wanted to shoot”, he says), and incredible landscapes. In fact, he says, “the only thing I regret is that we travelled through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan way too fast.”

Certainly on the surface, their life looks pretty perfect. Leander’s shots include plenty of Lennox, who’s an almost unbelievably photogenic kid with a cheeky smile and a mop of blonde hair. As we speak, he occasionally chips in in impressively fluent English.

There are also a lot of photos of what they refer to as “the fourth member of our family,” the truck itself. “The truck is named Akela because he’s our leading wolf,” explains Maria. Like the leader of the pack from the Jungle Book, “he protects us when it’s hot outside, when it’s raining, when it’s cold outside”.

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Tajikistan, home to the highest peaks in former-Soviet Central Asia.

However, Akela is not always the infallible guiding force the guys might have hoped for. “When he doesn’t work,” says Maria, “it’s pretty shitty.” But this is the great thing about Leander, Maria and the Akela.World Instagram account and blog they run, and what makes them really worth following.

They don’t try to project the always-perfect #VanLife cliché, they’re more real than that. Neither of them are about to pretend that life on the road doesn’t come with problems, and their account is full of pictures of the truck breaking down at inopportune moments. “Engine overheated with outside temperatures of -10 degree Celsius!! Really?? In the middle of nowhere in Siberia – on a Sunday!” reads one post.

Leander tells another story of a breakdown in rural Iran, “300 kilometres from the last big city. There are not many people on this road so we just waited and stopped a truck driver. Truck drivers actually know about other trucks. But my Farsi is pretty shitty so it was quite difficult. We figured out it’s a big problem, and he couldn’t help us. I asked him if he could call a mechanic. He was just laughing, he said: ‘No mechanic is coming into the desert.’”

As well as the truck the couple also worry about Lennox’s wellbeing. He’s homeschooled, and life on the road has been great for his English, which far outstrips the level you’d expect from a regular 6-year-old Austrian kid. But at the same time, Maria says, “meeting other children on the road is not the same like having friends at home. It’s only for a very short time and language is always a problem.

“He’s missing all his friends. We are two adults so we can speak on the same level, but Lennox is alone, and he misses his friends.”

But for all that life on the road can be tough, overall the experience has been a massively positive one according to Leander. “It’s more intense, for sure,” he says when I ask if it’s brought them closer together. “But more so in positive than in negative ways I think.”

Leander and Lennox take a spin on the motorbike.

Even back in Austria, the family was adventurous. And having brought a motorbike, snowboards, and even Leander’s wingsuit with them, they get out into the mountains at every available opportunity. But for every shot they post of skiing in Japan, or hiking up hills in Mongolia, there’s something self-deprecating to bring things their Instagram account back to earth.

“Let’s start with a kistchy sunset at one of Borneo’s beautiful beaches,” reads one post – which sums up exactly why we love Akela.World and why you should follow them. In an environment characterised by ‘hashtag influencers’ on ‘hashtag adventures’, these guys are the real deal.

They’re going all the places we wish we could get to, and taking better photos than we ever could. But they’re not taking any of it – or themselves – too seriously.

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A shot from the Siberian leg of the journey.

Follow Akela.World on Instagram here, check out their Akela.World blog here and their profile on Stocksy here.

To read the rest of Mpora’s Remote Issue head here

To read the rest of the Adventure-gram series go here

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The post Akela.World, Travelling Photographers | Adventure-gram appeared first on Mpora.

Editor’s Letter | The Remote Issue

This month’s issue is all about getting out there

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Reading some adventure stories, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the aim of the game is to get to the remotest location possible – as far away from other people as you can. For the most part however, that’s not been my experience.

Although there is undoubtedly something powerful about being ‘out there’ by yourself (just ask Sarah Outen, featured in this month’s Big Interview) all of my most enjoyable adventures have been ones that I’ve shared. I don’t just mean by posting pictures of it and waiting for your friends to hit the heart button either. Sorry Zuckerberg, that’s just not the same.

“It’s always the people who make the story worth telling.”

Of course, you don’t want every man and his dog along for the ride. No-one likes big crowds of tourists (there’s a reason James Renhard’s story this month is about leaving Las Vegas). But even surfers, those most secretive of creatures, would have to admit that taking a select crew of the right people can make a remote location infinitely more enjoyable.

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Franck Buisson, guardian of the remote refuge we stayed in in France last spring – and maker of particularly strong moonshine. Photo: Tristan

It’s an effect I experienced first hand this time last year, when I headed off to explore the quiet slopes of the Maurienne Valley, one of the few remaining places in France where you can enjoy powder without having to queue at the crack of dawn.

The lack of crowds made the riding great, but it was the people I was with that made the trip truly memorable (despite the lobotomising effects of the local genepi).

The same is true in even more remote places. This month issue tells the story of two Englishmen (or are they mad dogs?) who spent weeks living in the Amazon Rainforest’s “Intangible Zone” – the secluded area set aside for communities who chose to minimise their contact with the outside world.

It was a gruelling experience at times – Benjamin Sadd describes “weeks of runny poo and a multitude of biting insects and giant spiders” – but both the story he wrote and the film they made about it are hilarious, chiefly because they’re so obviously entertained by each other’s company.

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It takes two to tango. Canoeing in the Amazon’s “Intangible Zone” wouldn’t have been the same alone. Photo: Benjamin Sadd

Of course this issue isn’t just about going to wild places. There’s contributing editor Sam Haddad’s incredible (if slightly disturbing) investigation of the subculture of biohacking, which involves people implanting remote sensors or microchips under their skin, adding sixth and even seventh senses to the range of human experience.

There’s also Stuart Kenny’s fascinating piece about one ski resort’s battle to remain independent, and ensure that they’re not overwhelmed by too many tourists.

But what struck me about the majority of this month’s stories was that even if you’re travelling to the world’s remotest places, and travelling alone (like this month’s featured photographer Joshua Cunningham) it’s always the people who make the story worth telling.

On to pastures new. Hiking in Swedish Lapland last summer - read the full story in this month's issue.

On to pastures new. Hiking in Swedish Lapland last summer – read the full story in this month’s issue.

This is, I’m sorry to say, my last month at Mpora. And (if you’ll forgive me the horrible cliché) it’s the people that I’ll miss more than anything.

It’s been my absolute pleasure to share adventures, and stories of adventure, with some incredible folk over the past four years – my brilliant colleagues (who I have no doubt, will do an excellent job of taking over the helm), our amazing contributors, and of course all of you lot reading this.

All that’s left to say is thank you to you for reading, for getting involved, for contributing, for sending us your photos, videos, stories and comments; for liking, for sharing; for occasionally insulting, and always inspiring me. It’s been a trip.

Keep enjoying the adventure.
– Tristan, Editor-in-Chief

Read more of this month’s Remote Issue here. 

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The Fjällräven Classic | Conquering the King’s Trail in Sweden

The post Editor’s Letter | The Remote Issue appeared first on Mpora.

The Fjällräven Classic | Conquering the King’s Trail in Sweden

A multi-day hike through the wilderness of Northern Sweden sounded exciting on paper. But we weren’t prepared for just how exciting things would get…

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It’s only day three of our week-long trek, but as we struggle to pitch our tent behind the shelter of a boulder it’s obvious our best-laid plans have already gone out the window – or at least the mesh flap which passes for one. With the winds gusting at over 40 knots (a force nine gale in layman’s terms) we’re lucky the whole thing hasn’t blown away.

The following morning, a grim-faced volunteer at the next checkpoint tells us: “It’s been bad. I’ve just been looking at some statistics. We had 60 tents pitched near here last night and maybe 11 or 12 collapsed.”

“The Classic was dreamt up by Åke Nordin as a way to celebrate the Scandinavian concept of friluftsliv.”

None of this, it’s fair to say, fits with the picture I’d painted to my long-suffering girlfriend Simona when I’d persuaded her to come on the walk with me a month or so before. “Hiking, camping and cooking in the open air. It’ll be fun,” I’d said. “Plus loads of people do it every year, how hard can it be?”

Started in 2005, the Fjällräven Classic is a multi-day trek along a stretch of the trail known as the Kungsleden (or “King’s Trail”) in Northern Sweden. It was dreamt up by the brand’s founder Åke Nordin as a way to celebrate not only the company itself, but also the peculiarly Scandinavian conception of adventure it embodies, known as friluftsliv.

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Twisted fire starters. Wild camping and lighting your own fire is expected in northern Sweden.

Literally this translates as “free air life” but (as you might expect from the people who invented flatpack furniture and the Tetra Pak) there are multiple layers of meaning folded into this neat little word. It’s not just a description of an activity, it’s also tied to a set of beliefs – the idea getting outside is good for you, that access is a fundamental right, and that the outdoors is for everyone, not just the hardcore.

Given the everyman ideals he’s espousing, Nordin’s idea of a fun hike looks quite daunting, at least on paper. The route stretches for 110 kilometres, beginning where the tarmac road ends at Nikkaluokta and winding through broad glacial valleys and past Sweden’s highest peaks. The finish line, which we’re told will take around a week to reach, is in the small frontier town of Abisko, nearly 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.

However, I wasn’t lying to Simona when I told her that lots of people complete the trek every year. From its humble beginnings when just 152 took part, the event has grown exponentially. In 2016 more than 2,000 people finished the Classic, and as we line up at the start, it’s obvious that our fellow trekkers have come from far and wide. We see Canadians, Germans, Koreans, Japanese, many of them obviously fans of of Fjällräven, who’ve dressed head-to-toe in the company’s kit for the occasion.

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Simona, wearing the blues, not feeling them.

“There are actually people from 38 nations at the Classic this year, and only one quarter are Swedish,” says Anna-Luisa Stadelman, one of the startline volunteers, who admits to being something of a Fjällräven fangirl herself. “It’s my seventh year here,” she explains. “I’m German originally but I studied in Sweden in 2002 and first came on the Classic in 2008.”

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Toytown. On certain sections of the route, like the Alesjaure Lake here, boats ferry people and goods between huts and the few tiny settlements.

As we set off, it’s easy to see what keeps people like Anna-Luisa keep coming back to the Classic year after year. Everything is as well-organised as you’d expect a mass-participation event to be. Maps, camping gas and free freeze-dried food are handed out to participants, and there are busses to take us to the start line. When we start walking the group quickly strings out, so it never feels crowded however, and by the time we stop to pitch our tent on the first evening, we’re completely alone.

When you’re this far north of the Arctic Circle in August it only gets dark for a couple of hours each day, and even then the light never fully leaves the sky. This means the sunsets are long, drawn out and spectacular. We cook our dinner in front of an incredible display as the sun goes slowly down over the snow-capped peaks ahead of us, painting the sky orange, red and purple as it sinks.

The following morning is equally idyllic. We’re in no rush, and wander down to the shore of a nearby lake to wash before hitting the trail. The water is bright turquoise, the result of glacier run-off further upstream, and icy cold. Simona, who’s Italian, thinks I’m mental for wanting to swim in it, but the sun’s shining and I warm up quickly once I’m out.

The hiking remains relatively easy until we reach the first checkpoint the picturesque fjällstation, or hill station, beneath Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest mountain. Fjallraven Classic rules forbid us from staying in the pretty wooden huts (you have to camp from start to finish for the challenge to count). But thankfully they don’t stop us from eating in the restaurant.

Named Elsa’s kök (Elsa’s kitchen) after the legendary hostess who managed the hill station from the 1930s to the 1960s, it’s impressively gourmet given the remote location, serving modern Swedish food to guests seated at long, communal tables.

Our fellow diners are a mixed bunch – day trippers who’ve flown in on one of the distinctive red helicopters that resupply the Kungsleden’s network of huts, hikers who’ve been up the mountain (a hike that’s apparently the equivalent of going up Ben Nevis) and the properly hardcore.

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Still as a millpond. Fresh water is everywhere on the Kungsleden, and you never go long without finding a drinkable source.

One side two wealthy 40-something women from Boston tell us how they come hiking in a different destination every year, travelling from hut to hut while someone else transports their bags. On the other side there’s a young Belgian couple who have already been on the trail for fifteen days. They obviously take this sort of thing very seriously. “We bought a kiln this year so we can make our own dehydrated food,” they tell us.

If the hiking thus far has shown us what attracted the Americans here, then the next few days will give us a taste of the more serious side of northern Sweden – the reason people like our Belgian friends consider the Kungsleden a challenge worthy of their attention.

“As we’re cooking breakfast, we look up to see a herd of wild reindeer trotting across the hillside opposite.”

It’s cold when we wake up, and drizzling slightly. Even through the trees that surround our tent, we can feel the wind is beginning to get up and as we set off and walk out above the treeline, both the rain and the wind get worse. Extra layers are put on, hoods are put up and rain covers are stretched over our backpacks.

We lean forward onto our poles, drop our shoulders and power on. But it’s exposed up here, and the storm seems to make the packs on our backs feel heavier. Suddenly carrying the extra camera gear, which has made my pack a hefty 25kg and taken Simona’s up to 19kg, doesn’t feel like such a good idea.

At one point we pass two fellow Classic participants, a Russian mother and daughter team from St. Petersburg, huddled behind a rock, sheltering against the wind.

They look like they’re struggling, and we’re glad when we see them make it to checkpoint two later that evening.

They’re far from the worst off though. A look at the route map on Fjällräven’s website shows images of happy hikers splashing around in a stream at the next checkpoint, Sälka. Yet it was here that the storm hit hardest, flattening all of those tents. “Some people carried on,” says Marie Olsson, the volunteer who’s been helping people pick up the pieces. “But because they’re staying in the huts it won’t count as completing the Classic.”

One couple have decided to call it a day altogether – as we’re eating our lunch one of the resupply helicopters lands next to us and they climb in, looking very grateful for the rescue. “Their tent was one of the ones that was destroyed,” says Marie sadly. “But also their boots were not good, their backpacks were too thin.” We thank our lucky stars that we’re kitted out in the right gear.

Certainly if the next few days teach us anything, it’s that neither the Kungsleden as a trail, nor the Classic as an event, should be underestimated. The terrain is never particularly steep, but the pathway is often strewn with rocks and can be tricky underfoot. For long sections the trail is just planks over boggy marshland and when the winds aren’t high enough to be an issue, the mosquitoes definitely are.

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Down from on high. The highest point on the Classic route is only 1,140 metres but this far north snow isn’t infrequent even in August.

At the Tjäktja checkpoint we find three volunteers, Mathias, Tomas and Frederick, bundled up in multiple jackets and sheltering inside the check-in tent against the weather. “You wouldn’t believe it,” says Frederick, “but sometimes it’s so hot at this time of year people are walking the Classic with no shirts on. You have to jump in the streams to cool down.”

“Hmmm,” says Simona, as we warm our hands around the cups of tea they’ve kindly poured us. Then we head back out into the rain.

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Somewhere over the rainbow. Stunning moments more than made up for the sometimes inclement weather.

But if there are moments where the Fjällräven Classic doesn’t feel like a summer holiday, they’re few and far between. More often, we find ourselves revelling in the sense of space, blown away by Lapland’s bleak beauty.

As we’re cooking breakfast one morning, with not another soul for miles around, we look up to see a herd of wild reindeer trotting across the hillside opposite. They stop just long enough for me to grab my camera and fire off a few frames, before they disappear over the next ridge.

On our penultimate day we find ourselves heading northwards across a wide open plateau, the sun dipping slowly behind the tents of a traditional Sami settlement to our left. Off to the right, we can see the tongues of two massive glaciers, reminders of the ice age that shaped and sculpted this ancient-looking landscape. “I feel like we might see a dinosaur here,” says Simona. If we did it certainly wouldn’t look out of place.

In the end, we don’t come across any sauropods. But we do come away with an appreciation of why this part of Sweden has attracted generations of outdoor enthusiasts. The Svenska Turistföreningen (the Swedish Tourist Association, or STF), has been managing and promoting this wilderness since it was first formed in 1885.

At strategic points along the trail, they’ve created what they call meditationsplats (meditation spaces) marked by stones carved with quotations by Däg Hammarskjöld, the Swedish diplomat and author.

As the second Secretary General of the United Nations, Hammarskjöld was a man who gave his life to the cause of peace (quite literally – he was killed on the job in 1961). And when he wasn’t working this part of the world, where he had a house, was where he came in search of it.

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A sun-soaked section of trail near one of the meditationsplats.

Taken from his book Markings, the quotes are carved here in Swedish and Sami. Neither are languages that I speak. Nor am I normally given to meditation. But standing next to the stones and looking out at the rugged landscape which surrounds them, I start to understand why it was that Hammarskjöld thought this place was so special.

It’s the same reason Åke Nordin was so keen on enabling other people to explore it. Friluftsliv might be a tricky concept to define in English, but spend a few days hiking here, in Fjällräven’s home country, and it’s instantly obvious what the whole thing is about.

Do It Yourself:

Getting there:

Norwegian Airlines (norwegian.com) and SAS (flysas.com) both fly from London to Kiruna via Stockholm, from £305 return.

Accommodation:

Contestants on the Classic must stay in the tent that they carry with them. However, you can stay in the STF huts along the Kungsleden if you’re not part of the event. Visit swedishtouristassociation.com for the English language version of their website.

At the end of the Classic, we stayed in the Abisko Guesthouse (abiskoguesthouse.com)

Joining the Fjällräven Classic
You can sign up for the next Fjällräven Classic Sweden (or any of their global spin off events) at classic.fjallraven.com.

As a way for international visitors to explore this unique part of Sweden, it really is hard to beat. Fjällräven provide food and gas to participants, as well as organising a finishing party. Navigation is very straightforward but it’s worth remembering that while there are regular checkpoints, you’re on your own for the most part, so make sure you have everything on Fjällräven’s helpful packing list.

The Fjällräven Classic Sweden usually takes five to six days to complete, although you can definitely do it faster – the first pair across the finish line when we took part were trail runners who completed the whole thing non-stop in under 20 hours!

Tristan and Simona’s trip was hosted by Fjällräven. For more info visit fjällräven.co.uk

To read the rest of The Remote Issue, click here.

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Under My Skin | Meet The People Hacking Into Their Bodies To Change The Way They Feel

Liviu Babitz has a device built into his chest that vibrates whenever he faces north

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Pictured: Liviu Babitz’ North Sense implant.

“Each time you’re facing north, it gives a short vibration. So now I know north is the way my living room faces the garden, and the direction my boy goes into his school. Last week I gave a talk and standing on the stage I knew north was to my left. The whole connection between places in my brain happens in a different way now; it starts to embed into your memories…”

Liviu Babitz has been wearing the North Sense, a small silicone device, with tiny titanium bars embedded under his skin, since the start of 2017. It sits high in the centre of his chest and when he first showed it to me on Skype, I thought it looked like a robot bug from the future gorging on his flesh. Yet I’m fascinated by its premise and more generally the idea of humans adding an extra sense to a repertoire most of us have spent our whole lives imagining was fixed.

“The whole connection between places in my brain happens in a different way now; it starts to embed into your memories”

Sense hacking with a view to helping us experience the world anew is the central motivation of Cyborg Nest, a company founded by Babitz and his partner Scott Cohen. The North Sense was their first product, costing $425 each; it sold out at the end of last year. Babitz feels it’s such a part of him now that “thinking of not having the North Sense anymore is terrifying…like waking up in the morning and not seeing the colour green.”

He believes: “We’re standing on the edge of a really new era. There is so much around us that we cannot perceive with the senses we were born with. In the room where you are now there are endless colours, sounds and other stuff like the electromagnetic field of the planet, that we as humans are not equipped to sense.”

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Pictured: Liviu Babitz with the ‘North Sense’ implant built into his chest.

It’s hard to separate our own understanding of reality from what we see, smell, hear, feel and taste. But other species provide a useful insight into how differently we could experience life on this planet. Pit viper snakes can see in infrared, for example, while jumping spiders see four primary colours not three, elephants can pick up vibrations from other elephants 10 miles away and vampire bats can smell exactly where a vein is. And like Babitz with his North Sense, both honey bees and roundworms are attuned to the earth’s magnetic field.

“We miss 95 per cent of what’s happening around us,” says Professor Kevin Warwick, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Coventry University and Cybernetics expert. In 1998, he had a silicon chip transponder inserted into his forearm, which then allowed him to turn on lights and open doors in a synced-up office. He playfully dubbed himself the world’s first ‘cyborg’. Four years later, he used electrodes to connect his brain and nervous system to the internet so he could communicate with his wife, who was also hooked up to what he called ‘Braingate’, in an office on the other side of the Atlantic. When she closed her hand Warwick’s brain received a pulse.

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Screenshot: Ghost In The Shell (2017), starring Scarlett Johansson.

Warwick believes tweaking or augmenting our senses fundamentally addresses what it means to be human: “When you look at western philosophy going back to Descartes and Kant they were looking at mind/body duality: ‘I think therefore I am’. And this research is very much stirring all that up: ‘What is I? When you have a bit of tech in your nervous system or brain even: ‘What does it mean to be I?’”

Despite Warwick’s pioneering research, which was significant enough to be discussed at the White House as part of a council on BioEthics, a lot of the forward momentum in cybernetic implants and sensory hacking hasn’t been driven by the scientific community, the medical profession or even big corporations. The real advances instead have come from DIY cyberpunk self-experimenters who very much exist on the fringes of science and even society.

“What does it mean to be I?”

Often known as grinders, they’re driven by curiosity and in some cases aesthetics, to test hardware implants on their own bodies having researched and connected with similarly-minded people online in forums such as biohack.me. They include Neil Harbisson, who was born with a rare type of colour-blindness that meant he could only see in grey. Since 2004, he’s had an antenna implanted into his skull enabling him to ‘hear’ in colour. Along with the colours we can see, Harbisson can also see infrared and ultraviolets, and he defines himself as a ‘cyborg artist’. His friend and fellow artist Moon Ribas implanted a seismic sensor so she could feel earthquake vibrations. Others modify their hearing so they can hear sounds from computers or wifi, including Frank Swain who made the Phantom Terrains tool to help people map London according to wi-fi noise, while others use AI to enhance their eyesight.

The North Sense is attached to the body through a barbell-design; it’s deliberately made that way so it can be easily fitted by a body-piercer. Doctors are reluctant to fit this kind of cybernetic tech, so tattooists and body-piercers have filled the gap, albeit without anaesthetics, when it comes to helping people out with DIY body modification. It’s convenient as there’s a big overlap between people with tattoos and piercings wanting sensory implants. Or perhaps the fact tattoo artists and piercers can fit the tech is the reason for the overlap. Most likely it’s both.

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Pictured: Professor Kevin Warwick, Cybernetics expert.

I ask Professor Warwick why sensory enhancement hasn’t been embraced by the scientific community? “The academic world is very conservative. I’ve got a number of research students that have investigated implanting magnets in their fingers, to try and extend the sensory range but trying to get a paper published… it just doesn’t fit anywhere in the journals. It is like a subculture in the way it’s turned out, it’s certainly not academic mainstream.”

The cynic in me asks if that’s because there is no funding from big pharmaceutical companies? “That’s not cynical at all, that is an aspect of it…I’ve ended up being this strange addition to the subculture. The movers and the shakers seem happy to take me on board, I’m an ok guy and I have my role to play but I’m a little bit different when I see the guys and what they’re implanting I think: ‘What they hell are you doing there!?’”

“The North Sense could be great for explorers

Later that day, I’m reminded of Warwick’s words when I come across firefly tattoos on biohack.me. They sit under the skin glowing from decaying tritium gas. But Warwick is broadly supportive of the DIY ethos of it all. “Good for them,” he says. “We learn a lot from them and the materials they use and when it goes wrong, what they did wrong, things like that. There’s a mutual respect.” It’s worth noting many see Warwick as the godfather of the movement.

What can go wrong? “Sometimes the body can reject the implant, if you’ve not sterilised it enough, and that is difficult to do. But there are a lot of materials the body doesn’t mind, silicone is one, depending on the size, also iridium, platinum, and gold, the body accepts those materials.”

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Screenshot: Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.

Dr Ian Harrison is one of Professor Warwick’s former students; he still has two magnets implanted in his fingers, “my left middle finger and pointer”. For his undergraduate degree he’d wanted to link his brain up to a computer like Professor Warwick but they couldn’t get it past the ethics committee so he settled on the magnets instead.

Why magnets? “For ‘magnetic vision’. I didn’t coin the term it was on the internet, but I went for it for that reason. And for my thesis [which was published in 2015] I asked people why they got their magnets and the top answer (60 per cent of respondents) was ‘magnetic vision’, second was ‘interest and fun’, then ‘transhumanism’. I thought it was really cool that people were wanting these implants so they could feel these magnetic fields.”

“Implanting magnets in the skin started off in the 90s, it was an art form, a magic show”

Harrison’s magnets were fitted in 2009, though he had one replaced in 2011. He says: “Implanting magnets in the skin started off in the 90s, it was an art form, a magic show, taken up by the bio-hacking community. When I did my research it was new to academia but not the world.”

I ask if they still work now? “The older one is weaker in comparison to the other, as over time the magnetic field does drop off, but I can still use them for what I was doing before.”

Which is? “As sensory extensions. The touch sense, as we know it is a contact sense you have to be in contact with the object in order to perceive it. But if you embed magnets under the skin you can then use magnetic induction and have the magnets move with the exterior magnetic fields so you no longer have to be in contact with the object.”

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Pictured: Kevin Warwick, part man part sci-fi character.

“If I’m in a kitchen and a microwave is on I can hear it and see it but I can also feel it, like a vibration. Same with laptops…it’s become part of my life, my day to day. I was at a bar one night and I felt something, so I ran my finger along the bar and realised I could feel where the motor of the bar pump was. I once did some work near some power lines and I could damn well feel them! The current going through a power line induces a magnetic field around it, that was quite interesting.” Many electricians have magnetic implants for that reason.

I ask if he’d be allowed an MRI scan? “I’d be allowed to have an MRI but I wouldn’t want to, the pain would be quite intense, because of the presence of such a strong magnetic field.”

I ask Harrison how he feels about the DIY self-experimentation side of things: “I’m very much thrilled and very much scared. It’s really cool that people are pushing the boundaries of science and perception by going ahead and doing these things themselves, but if it goes wrong then the perception of the science could be completely shot. I’m not trying to put people off but just do your homework, do a bit of research, and make sure what you’re doing is safe.”

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Pictured: Liviu Babitz has been wearing his implant since the beginning of 2017.

There are also some pretty gruesome pictures online of infections caused by implants and Harrison tells me some horror stories including a person who decided to wrap their magnet in a mouldable glue which was “definitely not designed to be put in the human body”, and another person who had to get their magnet removed as it got slammed in a door. Another friend broke the coating of his magnet and exposed his body to neodymium, which could be harmful to the liver, if it reached it. “If you puncture your skin or accidentally cut yourself are you going to damage the electronics and then expose things? There are a number of questions you need to walk through in your own head before you do it.”

Harrison tells me he’ll probably get the older magnet taken out soon as it’s not really serving a purpose and “it’s been in there for eight years so I just want to make sure it’s fine”.

Devices under your skin may feel more a part of you, but at least you can upgrade tech worn outside of your body easily, so you won’t risk having a hand or body full of out-dated hardware or “abandonware” as Harrison puts it.

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A vision of our high-tech future? Photo via Franck Veschi.

His academic work no longer involves sense hacking research. He says: “I had to come out of this area because it was very much on the fringe of science. Whether it was even considered science or not was a debate. I did consider it science as we were doing research that added to the knowledge base and was repeatable in multiple locations so I consider it science. But it was very much on the edge and there’s no funding in it.”

The lack of funding may be due to perceived risk but then the medical world implants many devices safely into the body, from pacemakers to artificial hips. It could also be connected to how useful these gadgets are perceived to be.

“I have some experience with psychedelic drugs and it’s a very different place”

The North Sense could be great for explorers, like an inbuilt compass, I suggest to Babitz, but he replies: “It’s important to understand the difference between a tool and a sense. A tool is something you take out of your pocket when you need it, then when you’re done you put it back in your pocket or wherever it came from and you don’t use it until the next time. A sense is something that is already part of you. You don’t leave your ears off when you’ve finished listening to music. We deliberately made a decision not to be a company that comes to solve a problem that someone has.”

I ask what kind of people their customers are? “We can’t find any thread between the people who bought the North Sense. One day it’s a lawyer, then someone who works in a shop, then someone from the tech industry, then someone from the body modification industry. It’s been very eclectic but the bigger picture is at the end of the day everybody will be interested in having those things.”

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Pictured: Professor Kevin Warwick, playing with his gadgets.

Does Babitz see a parallel between expanding our senses through tech and altering our senses through drugs?

“It’s not the first time I’ve heard the comparison…I have some experience with psychedelic drugs and it’s a very different place…the only place where you can compare it is maybe the connection to something you haven’t been connected to before. And the curiosity maybe.”

Given how he was using an implant to open doors in 1998 is Warwick surprised we don’t all get into our houses via implants? “Yes I’m surprised it isn’t used more widely and I can’t see why it hasn’t been done for say passports as it’s not fakeable.”

“You don’t leave your ears off when you’ve finished listening to music”

Though he also thinks it’s amazing how many people have implants now “well into the thousands”. And though magnets are still popular, there is a big growth in more practical less sensory-based implants. Ryan Chandler has four rfid implants, which have a range of uses from unlocking his office door to starting his motorbike, all were implanted by the same woman who did his six piercings. Where as Patrick Kramer, the CEO of bio-hacking supply site Digiwell has no tattoos or piercings but he and his wife both open their doors with rfid implants. “We have two little kids, we’re very normal people.”

Kramer believes practical, safe implants will see the biggest growth in the future. To which Babitz would say: “It changes maybe your wallet or your bag but it doesn’t change your sense of north. Having a new sense has a direct impact on you as a person.”

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Pictured: Rachael, an artificially created replicant, in the sci-fi classic Blade Runner (1982).

But beyond satiating the curiosity of the individual with the implants why does that actually matter? “Everything we have ever created we created because we had senses,” says Babitz.

Harrison agrees: “Newton perceived the falling of an apple and postulated gravity. What could happen if we had an extra sense, how much further could we push?”

But he thinks the real leaps forward will come from vision though not magnets. “Everyone likes the visual sense and being able to put a contact lens, without invasive surgery, and perceive infrared and UV. I can’t see us being too far away from that. And if UV and infrared were being perceived across the globe that could spark interest in other senses and sensory enhancement of them and who knows what will happen then?” It will certainly be exciting to see, albeit in a spectrum we can’t begin to conceive right now.

Read more of this month’s Remote Issue here. 

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The post Under My Skin | Meet The People Hacking Into Their Bodies To Change The Way They Feel appeared first on Mpora.

My Life In Pictures | Adventure Photographer Josh Cunningham’s Favourite Shots

In 2015, writer and photographer Josh spent 11 months cycling 22,000km across 26 countries

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Photography by Josh Cunningham

If you’re browsing the internet one day and you stumble across an epic shot of someone riding their bicycle across big landscapes underneath big skies, check the credit as there’s a chance it will have been taken by one Joshua Cunningham. Formerly a full-time editorial member of Cyclist Magazine and Bikes Etc, in 2015 Josh spent 11 months cycling 22,000km across 26 countries; starting in London and ending up in Hong Kong. His massive, stuff dreams are made of, adventure is documented in his book ‘Escape By Bike’.

Prior to starting his career in media, where he’s worked as a writer, a photographer, and a marketing consultant, Josh lived in Belgium as a full-time athlete. Originally hailing from the seaside town of Eastbourne, he now resides in that big old smog known as London.

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Pictured: Josh Cunningham, taking a break from riding his bike.

I studied A-Level photography, but after college I barely picked up a camera for five years. Working as a writer, and as such spending a lot of time working alongside photographers, it was then that I my rediscovered my appreciation of it. When I decided to ride to Hong Kong, it felt like the perfect opportunity to start shooting again, and so I bought an entry level setup just a week before leaving; a Canon 550d with 17-85mm and 50mm lenses.

I shoot where my interests take me. The outdoors, people on bikes, landscapes, and general travel stuff. Living in a major city like London, I’m always looking for special moments that appear amid the chaos  and so always have a little Sony RX100 ii at the ready. Generally speaking, I love looking for contrasts – be it in context, scale, light, texture, colour, emotion – and you see contrasts everywhere, regardless of the subject matter.

“Being somewhere new forces you to look at your surroundings in a different, more observant way”

When I was at school, a friend and I did a month-long cycle tour through Europe during our summer holidays. The trip shed a light upon the richness of experience that bike travel offers. Life then ran its course for a bit, but I always knew I would one day embark on a long-haul cycling adventure, and Eurasia – with the variety of human and physical geography within it – was the perfect location.

Being somewhere new forces you to look at your surroundings in a different, more observant way. This is obviously really beneficial as a photographer. I feel like this ‘enlightenment’ can follow you back home sometimes too, and can help refresh the way you look at your own street, workplace, commute, or whatever. I take a lot of inspiration from travelling.

My heroes’ work leaves me wondering “How on earth did they see that?” I look looking at the work of people like Harry Gruyaert, the painter Edward Hopper, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Steve McCurry, William Egglestone and Martin Parr.

There’s a collection of images shot by the explorer Wilfred Thesiger from his time in the Hindu Kush, documenting the mountains and its people during the mid 20th century, that I wish I’d taken. They provide a portal into a part of the world that is very much off-limit these days, but which has such history and natural beauty. I’d have loved to have been a member of those exploring parties – and shot some of the photos.

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Shot on the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan.

Location: Pamir Highway, Tajikistan. The approaching storm and desolate nature of the landscape are quite intimidating, but the light is incredible, and both the cyclist in the road and fence to the right – the Chinese border – provide a real sense of scale. I had dreamed of visiting the Pamirs for years, and scenes like this made the wait worthwhile.

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Shot on a 1,000km long stretch of road in southern China, a journey that had it all; from the urban chaos of megacities to the rain forested mountains of Yunnan with rural scenes like this one scattered in between.

I followed this road through southern China for over 1,000km; a journey that took me from the rain forested slopes of the mountainous Yunnan province, towards the sky scrapers and urban chaos of China’s megacities. I like the way this image merges both rural and urban elements, as it is indicative of the spectrum of experience that this portion of the journey offered.

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Young monks play on the steps of a monastery in Kaza, India.

Young monks playing on the steps of a monastery in Kaza, India. I just love the playfulness and dynamism of the children’s body shapes, contrasted against the sharp lines and maturity of the monastery. Both are equally colourful though, which is an apt description of this culturally Tibetan valley in the far reaches of Himachal Pradesh.

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A young boy comes over to investigate during a puncture repair stop in the Wakhan valley of Tajikistan.

A young boy offering to help with puncture repairs in the Wakhan valley, Tajikistan. The contact with local people that bike travel offers is without doubt one of its biggest draws; not a day goes by without some sort of interaction, and most days contain many. The way he’s crouched between us inquisitively, as we fix our bikes, epitomises the intimacy of such interactions.

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Beautifully coloured skies over the Kyzylkum desert in Uzbekistan.

Riding through the steppes and deserts of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was an incredible experience. The unchanging, infinitely flat landscape actually made for quite an introspective journey, but I like this image because looking at it just makes me wish I was there, about to set up my sent underneath that incredible sky, with nobody around for miles.

You can follow Josh on Instagram @coshjunningham, and learn more about him on his website joshuacunningham.info. His book, ‘Escape by Bike: Adventure Cycling, Bikepacking, and Touring Off-Road’, is available at Waterstones, WHSmiths, Stanfords, various independents, and Amazon.

Check out the rest of the My Life In Pictures series here. 

You can read the rest of this month’s Remote issue here.

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The post My Life In Pictures | Adventure Photographer Josh Cunningham’s Favourite Shots appeared first on Mpora.