SpaceX delays launch of mysterious X-37B space plane for US military

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle sits on the runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base on December 3, 2010, during post-landing operations.

An X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle sits on the runway during post-landing operations at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, California, on December 3, 2010.Michael Stonecypher/U.S. Air Force

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SpaceX has postponed the next launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket until at least Tuesday evening, delaying the latest mission of a mysterious space plane that remains one of the US military’s most fascinating projects as the country races to journey deeper into the cosmos.

The secretive X-37B robotic spacecraft was set to take off aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket at 8:14 p.m. ET from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday. But the company said Monday evening that it was pushing back the launch “due to a ground side issue” — indicating a problem with the rocket’s launchpad or fueling systems, according to a social media post from SpaceX.

The company said it is now working toward lifting off at the next available launch opportunity, which is Tuesday at 8:14 pm ET.

Resembling a miniature NASA space shuttle with the windows blacked out, the reusable X-37B space plane is set to begin its seventh experimental mission.

Many of the X-37B’s mysterious tasks have been classified, but the US Space Force did provide a few details about the goals for this uncrewed mission.

What X-37B is doing

The space plane makes it possible for the United States to carry out experiments to better understand how to improve ongoing and upcoming space operations and push the boundaries of what’s possible, according to a statement by Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, chief of space operations for the US Space Force.

iss068e017257 (Oct. 14, 2022) --- NASA astronaut and Expedition 68 Flight Engineer Frank Rubio checks tomato plants growing inside the International Space Station for the XROOTS space botany study. The tomatoes were grown without soil using hydroponic and aeroponic nourishing techniques to demonstrate space agricultural methods to sustain crews on long term space flights farther away from Earth where resupply missions become impossible. Credit: Koichi Wakata/Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Tomato lost in space by history-making astronaut has been found

Among the research on board will be a NASA experiment that aims to find ways to sustain astronauts on future deep-space missions. Called Seeds-2, it will “expose plant seeds to the harsh radiation environment of long-duration spaceflight” and build on previous research carried out on X-37B missions.

The experiments also “include operating the reusable spaceplane in new orbital regimes, experimenting with future space domain awareness technologies, and investigating the radiation effects on materials provided by NASA,” according to the US Space Force.

Orbital regimes are areas of space where different celestial bodies have the biggest gravitational influence. If Earth’s gravity is dominant, for example, it’s called the “geocentric regime.” And our entire solar system is part of the “solar regime,” where the sun is the biggest gravitational source, the US Space Force “Spacepower” publication explains.

By “new orbital regimes,” the military likely is referring to the fact that the X-37B can be placed much deeper into space than previous missions — perhaps even to the “cislunar regime,” which is defined as the gravitational system that includes Earth and the moon.

A powerful ride

People watch as SpaceX's next-generation Starship spacecraft atop its powerful Super Heavy rocket lifts off from the company's Boca Chica launchpad on an uncrewed test flight, as seen from South Padre Island, near Brownsville, Texas, U.S. November 18, 2023. REUTERS/Go Nakamura     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

SpaceX’s explosive test flight achieved key milestones. But there is still a long way to go

The launch will mark the first time that the space plane has hitched a ride on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy, which was briefly the most powerful operational rocket in the world after its debut in 2018.

The rocket looks like three of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets strapped together, with the two boosters on each side providing additional thrust and power.

Previously, the X-37B has launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle and the Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance, a Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture.

The Falcon Heavy produces more thrust than both of those rockets combined.

Space technology innovations

It’s not clear how long the spacecraft will spend orbiting Earth for this stint, though historically each X-37B flight has been increasingly longer than the last.

The last trip to orbit for the autonomous X-37B concluded in November 2022, after the spacecraft logged nearly 909 days in space. During that sixth mission, as previously reported by CNN, the space plane carried experimental technology designed by the US Navy to convert solar energy and transmit it back to the ground, according to the military.

This panchromatic view of galaxy cluster MACS0416 was created by combining infrared observations from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope with visible-light data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. To make the image, in general the shortest wavelengths of light were color-coded blue, the longest wavelengths red, and intermediate wavelengths green. The resulting wavelength coverage, from 0.4 to 5 microns, reveals a vivid landscape of galaxies that could be described as one of the most colorful views of the universe ever created.

Cosmic ‘Christmas tree’ dazzles in new image captured by Hubble and Webb

In August 2020, the X-37B won the prestigious Robert J. Collier Trophy, which honors aerospace achievements, besting the Hubble Space Telescope. (The James Webb Space Telescope won the prize most recently.)

“Sophisticated and uncrewed, the X-37B advances reusable spaceplane technologies and operates experiments in space that are returned for further examination on earth,” said Barbara Barrett, secretary of the US Air Force in a statement at the time.

The X-37B has already spent more than 3,700 days in space on prior uncrewed missions.

Florida GOP chair defies DeSantis, won’t step down as new details of sexual assault allegation emerge

Florida Party of Florida Chairman Christian Ziegler addresses attendees at the Republican Party of Florida Freedom Summit, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Christian Ziegler (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP/FILECNN — 

The head of Florida’s Republican Party indicated Saturday he will not step down while facing an investigation into sexual assault, rejecting calls by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to give up his role as the party’s top operative.

In a letter to the state GOP, chairman Christian Ziegler did not address the allegation – which continued to send shockwaves through the state on Saturday as troubling new details about the investigation emerged – but suggested a conspiracy was afoot to leak details from the Sarasota Police Department probe.

“We have a country to save and I am not going to let false allegations of a crime put that mission on the bench as I wait for this process to wrap up,” he wrote.

According to a search warrant affidavit, which CNN obtained from the Florida Center for Government Accountability, Ziegler and his wife Bridget planned a three-way sexual encounter with the alleged victim on the day of the alleged assault on October 2, and “when the victim learned that Bridget could not make it, she changed her mind and canceled with Christian.”

Surveillance video showed Ziegler arriving at the alleged victim’s residence on the day of the alleged assault, the affidavit says. The alleged victim told investigators she “opened her apartment door to walk her dog and Christian was standing outside in the hallway.” The alleged victim said Christian entered the apartment and raped her on a bar stool, according to the affidavit.

“The victim advised Christian did not wear a condom,” the affidavit said. The alleged victim said she told Christian “she was not in a place to consent” because “she had been drinking tequila all day.”

The alleged victim later called her sister and told her she had been raped, the affidavit states, noting that police interviewed the alleged victim’s sister and confirmed the details of the phone call.

Police then interviewed Bridget Ziegler, according to the affidavit. She told detectives she knew the alleged victim through her husband and confirmed having a sexual encounter with the alleged victim and her husband “over a year ago and that it only happened one time.”

On November 2, detectives interviewed Ziegler with his attorney present, the affidavit states. Ziegler admitted to having sex with the alleged victim, but said the sex was consensual and that he recorded the encounter. “Christian said he initially deleted the video, but since the allegation, he uploaded the video to his Google Drive which we have not been able to locate upon a digital extraction.”

During the investigation, police said Ziegler tried to contact the alleged victim via Instagram. The alleged victim then began communicating with Ziegler with the help of detectives, according to the affidavit. In one alleged exchange on October 27, the alleged victim wrote: “I’m not okay with what happened the other day between us”.

“Oh. That’s not good. You are my friend. Known ya for like twenty years now. Lol,” Ziegler replied.

“Yeah I know but that was not cool and you didn’t bring her [Bridget] and then did that to me,” the alleged victim responded.

“She was in. Then couldn’t because no response. She said in next time,” Ziegler replied.

Several phone calls between the alleged victim and Ziegler were audio recorded, according to the affidavit. In one call, the alleged victim allegedly told Ziegler “he sexually assault her” and Ziegler replied, “Those are big words, please don’t, no I didn’t. You invited me in, that’s it. I did not at all, and I never want you to feel that way.”

CNN has made multiple attempts to contact the Zieglers. In a statement Friday, Christian Ziegler’s attorney Derek Byrd said: “We are confident that once the police investigation is concluded that no charges will be filed and Mr. Ziegler will be completely exonerated.”

“Unfortunately, public figures are often accused of acts that they did not commit whether it be for political purposes or financial gain. I would caution anyone to rush to judgment until the investigation is concluded,” Byrd said.

The allegations have not only raised questions about Christian Ziegler’s capacity to lead the party into the 2024 election season but have drawn acute criticism because of the role the Zieglers have played in helping to execute a crackdown on LGBTQ materials in Florida schools under DeSantis.

Bridget Ziegler, 41, a thrice-elected Sarasota County school board member, co-founded Moms for Liberty, a conservative parents’ rights organization that has led the efforts in Florida and beyond to remove books from classrooms they deem inappropriate for kids. She has also served as a close ally of DeSantis in his crackdown on removing sexual orientation and gender identity from schools. She helped author the Parents Bill of Rights in Florida, a law DeSantis signed in 2021 in response to concerns from conservative parents that schools were withholding information about children expressing a change in sexual orientation and gender identity.

This year, DeSantis named Bridget Ziegler to the board that now oversees the Walt Disney Company’s special taxing district in Central Florida amid his clash with the entertainment giant over a state law that restricted how sexual orientation and gender identity could be taught in the classroom.

Christian Ziegler, 40, has also fiercely defended DeSantis’ agenda against national backlash from LGTBQ groups. In an interview with the Washington Examiner, he said Democrats who opposed DeSantis were “perverted” and encouraged them to leave the state.

In his letter to the state GOP, Ziegler suggested that the information made public about the investigation was intentionally leaked because he and his wife are “such loud political voices.” He said the complaint and investigation should have remained confidential until the conclusion of the investigation, and that he could not publicly share his side of the story at this point in the process.

The letter came a day after DeSantis said Ziegler should step down as party chairman, telling reporters “I don’t see how we can continue with that investigation ongoing, given the gravity of those situations.”

“I think he should step aside,” DeSantis said. “I think he should tend to that.”

“I’ve known him. I’ve known Bridget. They’ve been friends, but the mission is more important,” he added.

Ziegler, though, outlined a timeline to remain in power. He told the party that his “role in the investigation is complete” and he anticipated a conclusion to the probe.

“When we reach that point, I will have a lot more to share about the facts, how this transpired, the motive and who was behind it,” he said.

Sen. Murphy open to placing conditions on aid to Israel, calls civilian death toll in Gaza ‘unacceptable’

Sen. Chris Murphy on "State of the Union" on November 26, 2023.

Sen. Chris Murphy on “State of the Union” on November 26, 2023.CNNCNN — 

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy on Sunday said he was open to placing conditions on any aid to Israel, with the aim of reducing civilian casualties in Gaza.

The Connecticut Democrat, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” that as lawmakers return to the Capitol Monday with the elusive goal of passing aid to Israel and Ukraine, they will discuss how to structure aid to Israel so it is used in line with human rights laws. His comments, on the third day of the truce between Israel and Hamas, come as other lawmakers — on both sides of the aisle — either didn’t rule out the idea of conditions on aid or underscored concern about minimizing civilian Palestinian casualties.  

“We regularly condition our aid to allies based upon compliance with US law and international law. And, so, I think it’s very consistent with the ways in which we have dispensed aid, especially during wartime, to allies, for us to talk about making sure that the aid we give Ukraine or the aid we give Israel is used in accordance with human rights laws,” Murphy said. “And that’ll be a conversation we will all be engaged in when we get back to Washington on Monday.”

Murphy has previously called on Israel to try to further reduce civilian casualties and to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza, where more than 14,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry there, in the wake of Hamas’ brutal cross-border assault on Israel on October 7.

“I do believe that the level of civilian harm inside Gaza has been unacceptable and is unsustainable,” he said. “I think there’s both a moral cost to this many civilians, innocent civilians, children often, losing their life, but I think there’s (also) a strategic cost. Ultimately, Hamas will get stronger, not weaker, in the long run if all of this civilian death allows them to recruit more effectively and ably inside Gaza.”

But Murphy also said that Israel has a “moral obligation” to continue fighting Hamas following the temporary four-day truce between Hamas and Israel, which is now in its third day.

“Hopefully, Hamas will accept the conditions that have been laid down that will allow for more hostages to be released. But if they don’t, ultimately Hamas is going to be defeated,” added Murphy. “That’s in Israel’s interest, but it’s also in the interest of the United States. We do not want terrorist organizations believing they can get away with the kind of murder that Hamas did on October 7.”

The Biden administration has pleaded with lawmakers to come together to pass aid for Ukraine and Israel, but disputes over supporting Ukraine — and now over immigration policy — have marred the talks.

Some progressives have proposed adding strict restrictions on aid, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, who released an extensive list of proposed demands for the Israeli government to receive US aid, including “an end to the indiscriminate bombing,” a “right of displaced Gazans to return to their homes,” “a freeze on settlement expansion” in the West Bank and no long-term occupation of Gaza by Israeli forces, as well as a commitment to engage in peace talks “for a two-state solution in the wake of the war.”

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet indicated to CBS in an interview Sunday that he is open to supporting conditions on aid to Israel. “I haven’t so far, but I think that’s a debate we’re going to have in the coming days,” the Colorado senator, who services on the Intelligence Committee, said on “Face the Nation.”

House Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican, told NBC Sunday that while he wouldn’t propose placing conditions on aid to Israel aimed at lessening civilian casualties in Gaza, it is already the policy of the US and Israel.

“I think the White House has been clear, and I think US policy has been clear, of lessening the Palestinian casualties that are not Hamas,” Turner said on “Meet the Press,” adding that Israel has issued warnings to civilians about which areas will be targeted. “I wouldn’t propose it, but I think it does accurately reflect US policy.”

Murphy on Sunday also criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous policies toward Palestinians, saying, “Benjamin Netanyahu believed that you could ignore the Palestinians, that you could try to squash their desires for a state and, ultimately, that would bring peace to the region into Israel. That’s just not the case.”

He continued, “Ultimately, the next government is going to have to put us back on a path to have a Palestinian state. That’s not easy, but it is the only way forward for Israel, is the only way forward for long-term peace.”

CNN’s Lauren Fox and Manu Raju contributed to this report.

Biden administration announces new financial strike force to curb deadly fentanyl trade

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 03: U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen delivers opening remarks at a meeting with leaders during the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity Leaders' Summit at the Treasury Department on November 03, 2023 in Washington, DC. The summit brings together leaders of western hemisphere nations for meetings with administration officials to strengthen economic partnerships and trade. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen delivers remarks during the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity Leaders’ Summit on November 3, 2023, in Washington, DC.Kevin Dietsch/Getty ImagesWashingtonCNN — 

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday announced a new Counter-Fentanyl Strike Force to crack down on the illicit financial networks supporting the cartels and drug traffickers that help funnel the drug into the United States.

The new strike force, part of the department’s efforts to tackle the deadly fentanyl trade, will streamline personnel and resources across the agency to better leverage its expertise in countering the financial crimes that back the networks supporting the fentanyl trade, according to the Treasury Department.

“The Treasury Department’s Counter-Fentanyl Strike Force will allow us to bring the Department’s unrivaled expertise in fighting financial crime to bear against this deadly epidemic. Treasury will use every tool at its disposal to disrupt the ability of drug traffickers to peddle this poison in our country,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement Monday.

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The strike force will be led by the department’s top sanctions official, Brian Nelson, and the chief of the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigations unit, James Lee. It will “redouble Treasury’s existing work streams, including using financial intelligence to understand risks and map transnational criminal organization (TCO) financial networks,” according to a news release.

Several key units within the Treasury Department that specialize in financial crimes, sanctions, and tracking terrorist and illicit financing will be part of the new strike force. These include: the IRS criminal investigation unit, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, and the Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes.

The new strike force’s key goals include combining analytic expertise across the Treasury Department to help identify opportunities to go after money laundering and fentanyl trafficking networks; strengthening coordination on investigating sanctions violations; and creating closer coordination when working with foreign partners on identifying international money laundering networks.

The new initiative comes after the US and China recently reached a deal on curbing fentanyl production, and as the US Treasury Department has taken an increasingly active role in addressing the threat posed by fentanyl.

“The Strike Force will act quickly and decisively with the top specialists from across the Department to nimbly respond to the newest threats,” Nelson, who has traveled to the US southern border at least twice this year, said in a statement.

Investigators from the Treasury Department can access and share powerful financial data with enforcement bodies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of Homeland Security as they work to track and disrupt the fentanyl trade and drug suppliers. The new strike force will also help streamline the Treasury Department’s efforts to coordinate with local and federal law enforcement bodies on potential financial leads.

As part of his talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, President Joe Biden said that China agreed to go after the companies that produce the precursor chemicals to fentanyl.

And earlier this year, the Biden administration announced a broad effort to target the production and distribution of fentanyl, which included criminal charges from the Department of Justice and a host of new Treasury sanctions. The announcement built off an executive order signed in 2021 that expanded the Treasury Department’s authorities to target the distribution chains of fentanyl and other narcotics.

There has been a governmentwide push to curb synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which are the main driver of overdose deaths in the US. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a more than sevenfold increase in deaths from 2015 to 2021, and despite a recent slowing, overdose deaths still hover near record levels and remain the third-leading cause of death in adolescents ages 19 and younger.

The new strike force will not undermine the Treasury Department’s other sanctions regimes, including targeting Russia’s war machine amid its invasion of Ukraine, but rather will ensure the department is “most efficiently” deploying its “limited” resources, a senior Treasury official told CNN.

Yellen and Nelson will travel to Mexico this week for a series of meetings with their Mexican counterparts and private financial institutions to further discuss how the two countries can better target the illicit financial networks fueling the flow of synthetic opioids into the United States and deepen the bilateral economic relationship as the US looks to “friend-shore” supply chains, according to senior Treasury officials.

“Friend-shoring” is a Biden administration goal to strengthen US economic resilience by diversifying US supply chains with friendly countries.

Christie ramps up Haley criticism as he rejects calls to exit GOP primary

Former New Jersey Governor and 2024 presidential hopeful Chris Christie speaks during the New Hampshire Republican's First in the Nation Leadership Summit in Nashua, New Hampshire, on October 13, 2023. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at an event in Nashua, New Hampshire, on October 13, 2023.Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty ImagesDurham, New HampshireCNN — 

Chris Christie has a message for those calling for him to exit the Republican presidential primary to help consolidate the field against front-runner Donald Trump: “I’m not going anywhere.”

“If they were up here in New Hampshire and saw the crowds we were getting, the reaction we were getting, they wouldn’t honestly be able to say any of that,” the former New Jersey governor told CNN in an interview Friday.

Christie, who is counting on a strong performance in the first-in-the-nation primary on January 23 to buoy his campaign, has positioned himself as a “truth teller” in the race, drawing a contrast with Trump and often criticizing his onetime ally’s conduct.

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But he has struggled to register in the national polls and, a little over a month before voting begins in the GOP primary, several top party financiers looking to boost a Trump alternative are throwing their support behind former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Still, Christie remains undaunted.

“I haven’t had one donor, not one of my significant donors or any donor at all, call me and say that we should get out of this race. I haven’t had one supporter call me and tell me to get out of this race,” he said.

Though Christie defended Haley against onstage jabs by rival Vivek Ramaswamy at the fourth GOP primary debate Wednesday, he insisted the moment was purely personal, telling CNN, “I’ve been friends with her for 13 years, and Vivek basically compared her intellect to his 3-year-old son. It pissed me off, and I reacted to it.”

“You’re gonna see over the next seven weeks here, there’s no alliance between me and Nikki Haley,” he said.

From left, Republican presidential candidates Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy participate in the fourth primary debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on December 6, 2023.

Takeaways from the fourth Republican presidential debate

That ongoing competition is already apparent. The day after the debate, Christie criticized Haley in Henniker, New Hampshire, for saying at an evangelical forum in Iowa last month that she would sign a six-week abortion ban in South Carolina if she were still governor.

“Chris Sununu taught me this a long time ago about New Hampshire,” he said, referring to the state’s popular Republican governor. “You can’t say one thing in Iowa and another thing in New Hampshire and expect that they’re not going to notice. All right, so I’m very clear about this, and Nikki has not been.”

(Sununu, for his part, is yet to endorse a candidate in the Republican primary but has made clear his choice is between Christie, Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.)

At a town hall Friday in Hooksett, New Hampshire, Christie faulted Haley for not being more vocal against the former president, saying his rival “doesn’t want any of the people who are supporting Trump right now to be angry with her.”

“I’m the only person trying to beat Trump. All the rest of them are trying for something else. I’m not running for first loser. And DeSantis and Haley are running for first loser,” he said.

An appeal to independents

In the final weeks before New Hampshire’s primary, Christie is looking to win over independent voters and those who haven’t participated in the Republican primary before, including college students.

“You could be a big factor in determining who wins this primary,” he told students Thursday at New England College in Henniker, his third school stop on a two-day college tour focused on registering young people to vote in New Hampshire.

His rivals, he said, “think they have a chance to get your vote. They probably don’t, given the way they talk, but I know that I do.”

Trump, however, remains a dominant front-runner in New Hampshire. A CNN/University of New Hampshire poll last month showed Christie in third place, with 14% among likely Republican primary voters in the Granite State, behind Trump at 42% and Haley at 20%.

Presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks during a town hall at Vittoria Lodge on Friday, November 17, 2023 in Ankeny.

New Hampshire voters take note as Haley rises in the polls

UNH pollster Andrew Smith said there was still time for candidates to gain traction among New Hampshire voters who are just tuning into the race and have not made up their minds.

“What we’ve seen historically in the New Hampshire primary is that upwards of 25% to a third make up their mind on Election Day and upwards of 50% are still undecided the last weekend of the election, so a lot can happen,” he said. “After New Year’s is when you’re going to see things really heat up, and voters start to pay attention.”

Dawn Lavallee, a New Hampshire voter who usually votes in the Democratic primary, told CNN she’s looking to vote for a Republican candidate who she thinks is best poised to beat Trump.

Though she likes Christie’s “honesty,” she is also considering Haley. “If I had to vote right now, probably Nikki Haley. Just because I think she has a better chance of doing better against [Trump] in the state,” she said.

Christie brushed off concerns that he and Haley are competing for some of the same voters, telling CNN, “If Nikki were to get out of this race tomorrow and tell all her voters to endorse me, do you think that they would actually all come and vote for me? Of course not.”

“Nikki Haley and I will coexist in this race as long as we can,” he said.

Looking beyond New Hampshire

As Christie looks ahead to January, he often points back, drawing parallels to John McCain’s first-place finish in the 2008 New Hampshire Republican primary after going all-in on the Granite State.

“This was the place that was gonna anoint President Mitt Romney in 2008 or President Rudy Giuliani,” he said. “John McCain was broke, driving around the state with two staffers and a Suburban, and he was at the bottom of the polls. And he won. So I’ll take my chances.”

SCREENGRAB chris christie sotu 11 26 2023

Christie says he plans to stay in GOP race through convention

Christie stands by his vow to stay in the race until the Republican National Convention next summer, and a recent campaign memo to donors laid out a potential plan to do so, relying on winning over independent voters and maintaining a low campaign cash burn rate.

After New Hampshire, Christie said his next target will be Michigan, which also has an open primary where independent voters can cast their ballots in the GOP contest.

He said he’s not giving up on South Carolina, where he made a second campaign trip in late October. But he acknowledged that Haley might have a home-field advantage in the state Trump won twice by double digits.

“For goodness sake, Gov. Haley was a two-term governor there. She should win that state,” he said.

‘Laws need to change’: Stella McCartney calls for new tariffs on leather and polluting materials

Fashion designer Stella McCartney attended the UN COP28 climate conference at Expo City in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. More than 70,000 politicians, diplomats, campaigners, financiers and business leaders are in Dubai to talk about how to halt the world's slide towards environmental catastrophe.

Fashion designer Stella McCartney pictured at the UN COP28 climate conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.Annie Sakkab/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Watch the video below to see highlights from Becky Anderson’s interview with Stella McCartney, which aired on “Connect the World with Becky Anderson” on Thursday.CNN — 

Stella McCartney has called on world leaders to introduce new tariffs on leather goods, as well as fashion items made from polluting or environmentally unsustainable materials.

Speaking to CNN’s Becky Anderson at the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP28) in the United Arab Emirates this week, the fashion designer said she can be taxed at a rate that’s “up to 30% more” for non-leather bags or shoes entering the US market.

“If I put a sliver of animal leather onto that same product, the tax disappears. That is a law that needs to swap,” said McCartney, calling current tariff structures “crazy.”

“You need to be penalized if you’re cutting down the rainforests and using cancerous toxins to tan leather and human welfare is at risk.”

King Charles III (left) speaks with, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Stella McCartney and US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry (right), during a reception at Buckingham Palace ahead of last year's UN climate change summit.

Stella McCartney in conversation with (from left to right) King Charles III, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry during a reception at Buckingham Palace ahead of last year’s UN climate change summit.Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/AP

A longstanding advocate of sustainable and vegan fashion, McCartney said she felt alone in her drive to develop new alternative materials. “The reality is I’m still the only one working this way,” she said.

The designer also used COP28 to announce a new collaboration with Mango Materials, a company using waste methane gas to feed bacteria that produce a biopolymer for use in items like sunglasses frames.

“These bad ugly businesses are getting the tax breaks; they’re getting the incentives,” McCartney said, addressing Mango Materials CEO Molly Morse — who appeared alongside her during the CNN interview — after the civil engineer said her startup would consider using excess methane from oil and gas companies to produce its biomaterial.

Your business should be getting paid all of that benefit to be making them clean,” McCartney continued.

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Watch: Stella McCartney in conversation with CNN’s Becky Anderson at COP28.

04:52 – Source: CNN

In a wide-ranging interview, the designer called on COP28 delegates to “stop ignoring that the fashion industry is one of the most harmful industries to the world.”

The fashion industry’s environmental impact is difficult to quantify, but the United Nations Environment Program said fast fashion contributes “around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production.” Animal rights group PETA, which is now targeting the wool, leather and down trades, meanwhile claims that more than 1.4 billion animals, including cows, sheep and goats, are killed each year for leather.

“We need policy change. We need laws to be looked at. We need limitations, then we can all work together as an industry,” said McCartney.

A groundbreaking new Ralph Lauren collection celebrates Indigenous design

Faux leather faux pas

While some animal rights advocates push for leather substitutes, many come with their own environmental costs.

Materials marketed as vegan leather are often made from two plastic polymers — polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU), or a combination of the latter and some kind of natural material. While synthetic leather is animal-free and has a lower environmental impact than animal leather, according to a study in the journal Nature Sustainability, its manufacture often uses hazardous chemicals and fossil fuels. And like most plastics, the materials can take centuries to break down.

There are new alternatives being produced, including biodegradable “leathers” made from fungi or bacterial cellulose from industrial fruit waste, but not all are widely available on the market.

A model walks the runway for Stella McCartney at Paris Fashion Week.

A model walks the runway for Stella McCartney at Paris Fashion Week.Peter White/Getty Images

As part of a move away from fossil fuel-based synthetics, McCartney’s label has used Mylo, a material made from mycelium (the root-like structures of mushrooms), to produce a line of handbags called The Frayme Mylo. Earlier this year, however, the firm behind Mylo, Bolt Threads, announced that it had ceased operations, telling Vogue Business that the company had been unable to sufficiently scale up production.

“I’ve been a fashion designer for my whole life, and I’m not as interested in what the next silhouette is, or what the next color is in 2024 and ‘25,” McCartney told CNN. “I’m like, ‘What’s the next material? What’s the next solution that we can give to the world to make it, a better planet?’”

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McCartney, whose label has committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, said she is focused on producing materials from widely available by-products that are not grown for the fashion industry.

At COP28, her delegation showcased more than 15 projects pioneering biomaterials and plant-based alternatives to plastic, leather, fur and traditional fibers. Among them was an alternative leather made from grapes, developed with Champagne brand Veuve Clicquot, and garments produced from a biologically recycled polyester that can be recycled again and again.

She also announced that she will be working with PETA to promote alternative materials for leather, furs and feathers.

Step inside Swarovski’s new glittering, candy-colored flagship

With its bold pops of color and sharp, cut crystal-inspired lines, the new Swarovski flagship is designed to feel like a giant jewelry box — and to inspire shoppers to add to their own.

With its bold pops of color and sharp, cut crystal-inspired lines, the new Swarovski flagship is designed to feel like a giant jewelry box — and to inspire shoppers to add to their own.SwarovskiNew York CityCNN — 

Swarovski has opened a new flagship store in New York, and its glitzy interiors will have visitors stepping into a world of candy-colored crystal.

The new Swarovski on Fifth is a two-floor, 14,400-square-foot retail space that celebrates the luxury brand’s storied history while offering its collections across jewelry, home decor and accessories. It features vibrant color-blocked areas in bright pink, yellow, green, with oversized gem-like octagons appearing all around both the façade and interior — including the shape of an opulent pink staircase that leads visitors through an installation of the history of the 128-year-old brand and its influence on both haute couture and Hollywood.

Given the season, the store currently features a large-scale Christmas tree, decorated in an ombré pattern with baubles whose color palette matches the space just so.

Given the season, the store currently features a large-scale Christmas tree, decorated in an ombré pattern with baubles and jewel-shaped gift boxes whose color palette matches the space just so.Swarovski

In addition to nurturing deep relationships with fashion houses including Chanel, Dior, Balenciaga and Viktor & Rolf over the decades, Swarovski has been behind many an iconic red carpet ensemble, from Rihanna’s ethereal “naked dress” at the 2014 CFDA awards, to Harry Styles’ harlequin jumpsuit at the Grammy Awards earlier this year. (And who can forget Doja Cat’s dramatic entrance to Schiaparelli’s Couture Spring-Summer 2023 show in Paris in January, where she arrived covered head-to-toe in red body paint and 30,000 Swarovski crystals?)

Most recently, Kim Kardashian partnered with the company on a new collection for her lingerie and shapewear brand Skims, featuring crystal-covered bodysuits, dresses and underwear. Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow, Billy Porter and Ashley Graham were among those fêting the launch as well as the flagship opening in November.

A Swarovski ‘temple’

While a number of new Swarovski flagships have recently opened or are in the works in Shanghai, Tokyo, Milan and Seoul, the Fifth Avenue location in New York is the brand’s grandest yet, meant to “ignite the imagination from the moment you step into the store,” according to a press statement by Swarovski creative director Giovanna Engelbert, who designed the space.

“From the grand staircase to the use of quilted velvet and silk throughout the store, all details are intended to provide customers the feeling of being inside a luxurious jewelry box,” she added. “My vision was to produce a modern, joyful, elevated, and futuristic design, which mirrors the light, energy and colors of New York.”

Fittingly, the flagship will also contain a trove of treasures, according to Swarovski, including the largest crystal chaton ever cut. On the second floor, an all-white boutique offers Swarovski Created Diamonds – its lab-grown diamond collection — as well as a lounge featuring its crystal-embellished porcelain tableware, a partnership with fine china brand Rosenthal.

One display space on the store's second floor features a wall of crystal swans, a nod to the animal in Swarovski's classic logo.

One display space on the store’s second floor features a wall of crystal swans, a nod to the animal in Swarovski’s classic logo.Swarovski

Octagonal display cases, in various sizes, feature throughout the store, showcasing the breadth of Swarovski's product lines.

Octagonal display cases, in various sizes, feature throughout the store, showcasing the breadth of Swarovski’s product lines.Alex Rees/CNN

"This unique store will make Manhattan shine brighter," Swarovski CEO Alexis Nasard said in a statement.

“This unique store will make Manhattan shine brighter,” Swarovski CEO Alexis Nasard said in a statement.Alex Rees/CNN

The new flagships are the company’s “brand temples,” explained Swarovski CEO Alexis Nasard in a video call with CNN. Nasard became the first person outside of the Swarovski family to helm the Austrian company when he took the role last year.

“We felt it was really important that we display the brand in a way that transcends commerciality — that people do not just come to the store to transact,” he said. “We want them to experience the whole values that the brand represents, in terms of its history, in terms of its brand equity, in terms of its collaboration, in terms of its collections, and most importantly, of its customer service.”

Most importantly, Nasard said, the new store exemplifies Swarovski’s own take on luxury.

“Swarovski luxury is not the traditional luxury, which is about snobbism and high prices, and taking ourselves seriously,” he said. “Our luxury is about offering consumers joy, self-expression, self-indulgence, and the ability to be beautiful on your own terms.”

‘Headquarters of the future’: Plans for Chinese tech firm Tencent’s vast new campus unveiled

Tencent's new headquarters, Tencent Helix, will accomodate over 23,000 of the tech firm's employees from 2028.

Tencent’s new headquarters, Tencent Helix, will accomodate over 23,000 of the tech firm’s employees from 2028.Buro-OSCNN — 

The architects behind Chinese tech giant Tencent’s vast new campus unveiled their plans for the site on Thursday, describing their helix-inspired centerpiece as the “headquarters of the future.”

Set to accomodate over 23,000 employees across nearly 500,000 square meters (5.38 million square feet), the campus will be almost twice the size of Apple’s California headquarters when it opens in five years’ time.

Digital renderings of the design, shared exclusively with CNN by architects Büro Ole Scheeren, show four towers spiraling out from an open central space dubbed the “Vortex Incubator.” The landmark structure will become the focal point of an ambitious — and largely car-free — “future city” being built by Tencent, owner of messaging services WeChat and QQ, in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

Speaking to CNN via video call, the architecture firm’s founder, Ole Scheeren, said his building’s “swirling vortex geometry” will create an “ecosystem where everything comes together, where work merges into a very collaborative interactive environment.”

A central area dubbed the "Vortex Incubator" will sit at the heart of the campus.

A central area dubbed the “Vortex Incubator” will sit at the heart of the campus.Buro-OS

The German architect’s vision was chosen by Tencent, China’s most valuable publicly traded company, following an international design competition.

The lower floors of the scheme, which is named Tencent Helix, connect the office towers via a large lobby and communal educational, recreational, sports and fitness facilities, including basketball, tennis and badminton courts. At ground level, restaurants and shops will erode the distinction between public and private space

This layout means that the building “doesn’t have a front and a back,” said Scheeren, who is known for co-designing Beijing’s famous CCTV Headquarters. He added that the structure’s appearance will vary depending on which angle it is viewed from: “It remains very recognizable, but it changes quite a lot in a subtle way.”

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City within in a city

First unveiled by Tencent in 2020, the wider neighborhood — previously known as “Net City” — is being built on a stretch of reclaimed land jutting out into the Pearl River estuary. It will connect to the rest of Shenzhen via ferries and the city’s subway system. (And although the district is “predominantly car free,” Scheeren said, employees will be able to access Tencent’s headquarters via road bridges linking to parking spaces and drop-off points.)

The technology firm’s headquarters will be one of dozens of structures, including schools and public amenities, on the site. While some of the buildings are already under construction, others have not yet had their designs unveiled.

An aerial view of the plan shows pedestrian pathways spiraling out into the surrounding neighborhood.

An aerial view of the plan shows pedestrian pathways spiraling out into the surrounding neighborhood.Buro-OS

To create a sense of cohesion between the new headquarters and its surroundings, Scheeren’s helix motif — which he said evoked galaxies and bands of cloud around the eye of a storm — will extend into a network of pedestrian pathways spiraling out from the centerpiece structure. The new master plan also includes an undulating path that Scheeren said may look “something like a High Line 2.0.”

“I found a way, without changing any of the existing buildings, to strategically engage them through a pedestrian network and landscaping — and, in a way, to use the public space as a means to tie the whole master plan together,” he added.

Reimagining ‘gimmicky’ corporate campuses

The German architect stressed that incorporating nature into his design would offer “connection to outdoor space … but at the same time remain a really functional workspace.”

The building will be orientated to benefit from natural ventilation, while a “sponge city” concept — whereby rain is absorbed or captured to protect against storm surges or for use in irrigation — will be employed to reduce water waste.

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Despite Tencent Helix’s huge floor area, its relatively compact shape sets it apart from many sprawling US tech campuses, which Scheeren described as being “suburban” in design. “I wanted to create something that is more urban,” he said.

The architect added that corporate campuses has become “gimmicky,” and that he favored offices that “recognize you as a serious worker and not somebody who’s just hanging around on a beanbag the entire day.”

“The office is no longer just a cubicle — but it’s also not a children’s playground,” he said, adding that “to create environments that implicitly tell you can never leave is also a highly problematic approach.”

Tencent Helix is expected to open in time for the technology firm’s 30th anniversary in 2028 and will replace the company’s main Shenzhen office as its global headquarters.

Chanel just took over this surprising English city for its latest show

Chanel's Metiers d"Art show focusses on the work of the house's artisans. In Manchester, they remixed a range of English references from ‘60s Mary-Jane pumps to newsboy hats in peach tweed.

Chanel’s Metiers d”Art show last night focussed on the work of the house’s artisans. In Manchester, they remixed a range of English references from ‘60s Mary-Jane pumps to newsboy hats in peach tweed.Suzanne Plunkett/ReutersManchesterCNN — 

“Happy Chanel day!” someone calls out across the dark car park of a Manchester city center hotel. It’s a rainy Thursday night in December, and to the surprise of both fashion insiders and members of the public, the French fashion house has descended on England’s third most populated city for its latest Métiers d’Art event — an annual catwalk dedicated to the brand’s community of artisans.

Nestled in the northwestern flank of the country, Manchester was once a textile titan of the UK — but the fashion parallels just about stop there.

More recently, the city is known for birthing the new romantic and Brit pop bands of the 1980s and ‘90s: The Smiths, New Order, Joy Division, Oasis and The Stone Roses. There’s a bustling literary scene, too. Punk poet John Cooper Clarke — whose song “Evidently Chickentown” closed Season 6, Episode 14 of “The Sopranos” — and UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy are both proud Manucians, as was Anthony Burgess, author of the subversive dystopian ‘60s novella “A Clockwork Orange.” Even Emmeline Pankhurst, who led the country’s suffragette movement in the early 20th century, was born here. In short: Manchester is known for its defiant spirit and counter-culture history. So how did it become the catwalk backdrop for one of most traditional names in luxury fashion?

The event took place on the cobbled streets of Manchester's Northern Quarter, under a gigantic temporary canopy built to protect guests from the inclement weather.

The event took place on the cobbled streets of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, under a gigantic temporary canopy to protect guests from the inclement weather.Joel Goodman/LNP/Shutterstock

“It’s ultimately thanks to Viriginie Viard that Chanel has taken this excursion to the north of England,” reads the letter by editors Charlotte Stockdate and Katie Lyall in the special edition of Chaos magazine, issued as part of Chanel’s show invite. “But this part of the world also has particular ties to Coco Chanel through the 2nd Duke of Westminster…and his family estate in Chesire.” In 1923, Chanel began a relationship with the Duke and stayed in the country seat 30 miles from Manchester. Though it’s uncertain whether she ever visited the city itself.

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If the link sounds tenuous, it was more than made up for by the collection’s playful observance of British heritage. The outdoor show was staged on the cobbled streets of the city’s Northern Quarter and remixed a range of English references from ‘60s Mary-Jane pumps — complete with bedazzled cross straps — to newsboy hats in peach tweed (yesterday announced as Pantone’s color of 2024), purple and chocolate brown. Houndstooth dress coats were cinched at the waist with gold Chanel chain belts and models were dripping in jewels: Stacked bracelets, oversized teardrop earrings and even a version of Princess Diana and Queen Camilla’s beloved three-strand pearl choker. The show also opened with a procession of vivid tweed skirt suits inspired by the late Queen Elizabeth II’s own colorful palette, with each coordinating set taking around 300 hours to make.

Houndstooth coats were cinched at the waist with gold Chanel belts.

Houndstooth coats were cinched at the waist with gold Chanel belts.Ik Aldama/WWD/Getty Images

Vivid-colored tweed suits were also the order of the day.

Vivid-colored tweed suits were also the order of the day.Ik Aldama/WWD/Getty Images

A celebration of craft

Literally translating to “master of the arts,” the yearly Métiers d’Art show is a chance to shine a spotlight on the couture houses Chanel has supported and worked with since 1985. While the brand shies away from phrases such as “funding” and “sponsorship,” artisans insist Chanel was a lifeline for many specialist ateliers in Paris. “I began working in the fashion industry in 1990,” said Hubert Barrère, creative director of Maison Lesage — the house tasked with creating Chanel’s tweed and embroidery — after the show. “And (back then) I heard the same thing every time. ‘If Chanel didn’t exist, we’d be dead.’ Today, not so much. But for a long time that was the reality.”

Mary Jane pumps with embellished straps were another recurring look.

Viard paid homage to the city’s renowned musical legacy with this embellished vinyl bustier dress.Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Images

Chanel reiterated their allegiance to pearls in this collection.

The house also reiterated their allegiance to pearls in this collection.Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Images

The hours poured into making a Métiers d’Art collection comes close to the prestigious rigor of Haute Couture. Garments take anywhere from 50 to 500 hours for craftspeople to make, and they only have 10 days to do so. But while the design process is largely unchanged compared to scheduled runway seasons (Viard remains in control of the silhouette, color and inspiration) at Métiers d’Art the role of the artisans takes center stage in the brand’s storytelling. “Usually we are behind the scenes, in the shadow of the fashion (industry),” said Barrère. “This is a moment for people to discover exactly what we do. And for that reason, it’s a gift.”

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Not everyone was thrilled with the festivities, however. While famous faces such as Sofia Coppola, Kristen Stewart, Hugh Grant and Tilda Swinton piled in for the occasion, several rows of security meant the event remained private — forcing locals to stand on nearby pub benches to get a glimpse of the action.

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Earlier in the week, when the area was still open, excited Manucians filmed themselves on social media strutting down the soon-to-be catwalk. Residents of the flats overlooking the Northern Quarter gave the world a sneak peak of final dress rehearsals. “Chanel has come all the way to Manchester, yet locals aren’t allowed to watch,” read one comment. Hours before doors opened, one TikToker advertising his view offered to stream the event live on the app in exchange for 1000 more followers. The video was watched over 400,000 times.

Actor Kristen Stewart was one of the celebrities seen at Chanel's Manchester show.

Actor Kristen Stewart was one of the celebrities seen at Chanel’s Manchester show.Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

And if you were expecting Viard to interpret the rebellious Mancuian spirit literally with safety pins, tartan and studded leather, you might be disappointed, too.

But Chanel’s artisans did create anarchy in their own way. One standout moment was a knee-length black overcoat enveloped in raw-hemmed, deconstructed appliqué flowers in a flurry of red, white and black. “The collection was about tweed,” said Lemairé creative director Christelle Kocher backstage. “I wanted to bring the punk energy, the music, and what I see and feel about Manchester and the UK.” It took Kocher’s team — who create flowers and feathers for Chanel — 300 hours to make. “It’s all (made from) different tweed,” she said of the embellishments, which cover almost the entirety of the coat. “We made flowers, then cut them, split them apart and stuck them back together to create a very unique piece. It has a lot of spontaneity, but at the same time is incredibly technical.”

A model presents creations at the Chanel Metiers d'Art runway show, in Manchester, Britain December 7, 2023. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

Some pieces, such as this tweed overcoat complete with deconstructed appliqué flowers, took 300 hours to make. “It first creates an emotion,” said Kocher. “But then you look closer and understand the precision, the know-how, the technique, the determination to do something in a new way. That’s what I want to do.”Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

In the end, the salute to Manchester shouldn’t overshadow what is at its core a love letter to the artisans. “I think the show is very important today, especially because we’re in this new world, with new technology, and the dehumanization that can come with that,” Barrère said.

“We need to remember what is possible to create with our hands. For me, Métiers d’Art is not just embroidery or feathers, it’s a human touch.”



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Harvey Lewis set a backyard ultramarathon record by running 450 miles for four and a half days – while barely sleeping

Harvey Lewis ran 450 miles during Big's Backyard Ultra, the world championships of backyard ultra running held in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.

Harvey Lewis ran 450 miles during Big’s Backyard Ultra, the world championships of backyard ultra running held in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.Howie SternCNN — 

There came a moment, somewhere on a roadside in rural Tennessee, when Harvey Lewis felt like he could keep running forever.

At this point, he had already been on the move, practically non-stop, for about four days, looping around the same roads, trails, and tracks amongst an ever-shrinking group of runners.

He was battling through feverish sleep deprivation on leaden, depleted legs, and on the front of his sweat-stained vest he wore the splattered evidence of an earlier nosebleed.

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But looks can be deceiving, and deep in the corner of his stubborn mind, Lewis knew that he held the golden ticket to winning this backyard ultramarathon race: ensure that every other competitor quits before you.

As the race wore on, he began to feel unstoppable.

“It was like a frequency I found with my rhythm and my pace,” says Lewis, “where I could just maintain that for an incredible amount of time.

“There was some sort of place where my brain took over … and the body finally surrendered to my mind.”

US ultramarathon runner Courtney Dauwalter poses during her morning fitness run near Twin Lakes, Colorado, on May 16, 2023. Dauwalter sits at the apex of an elite group of ultra runners -- people who run 50, 100 or 200 miles (322 kilometers) in one go. Wearing over-sized shorts and a huge smile, she burst onto the scene around a decade ago, and was soon leaving competitors -- including men -- for dust, knocking hours off course records. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter breaks record of world’s oldest 100-mile race by almost 80 minutes

This was at Big’s Backyard Ultra in October, the world championships of backyard ultrarunning.

The discipline of ultrarunning is broadly defined as any distance beyond the 26.2 miles of a marathon, but a backyard ultra has no predetermined length. Runners complete a 4.167-mile loop on the hour, every hour until only one person is left standing. The other competitors are deemed not to have finished, either by dropping out or failing to complete a loop within the cut-off time.

Lewis, a high school teacher and seasoned distance runner from Cincinnati, entered uncharted territory as far as backyard ultras are concerned, completing a scarcely believable 108 loops – the equivalent of 450 miles – over four and a half days at Big’s.

His gargantuan feat of endurance and resilience eventually came to an end when his final competitor, Ihor Verys, failed to complete his 108th loop, becoming what’s known in backyard ultrarunning as “the assist.”

Several weeks later, Lewis is still trying to get his head around his world record – six laps, or 25 miles, more than Australian Phil Gore’s managed at a backyard ultra earlier this year.

“I managed to pull off stretching it to four and a half days,” Lewis tells CNN Sport. “That’s really kind of riveting to me. It sparks my imagination.”

In total, Lewis covered the equivalent of the entire length of Florida, or about the distance from his hometown Cincinnati to Atlanta, stopping only for a few minutes between each loop.

He was midway through his final loop when it suddenly dawned on him that Verys had finally succumbed to the race’s gauntlet of pain, handing Lewis the victory as long as he could haul himself to the cut-off one last time.

Lewis (left), Canada's Ihor Verys (center), and Poland's Bartosz Fudali were the last three runners standing at Big's Backyard Ultra.

Lewis (left), Canada’s Ihor Verys (center), and Poland’s Bartosz Fudali were the last three runners standing at Big’s Backyard Ultra.Howie Stern

“Finishing the final person, you’re on cloud nine,” the 47-year-old Lewis says. “It’s like one of the biggest highs of my life. I couldn’t describe it, especially when it’s such a rigorous, challenging goal.”

There are hundreds of backyard ultras staged around the world each year, but Big’s is the discipline’s original and most famous event.

The concept was devised by Gary Cantrell, the gatekeeper of some of the world’s most punishing foot races, including the fabled Barkley Marathons. Better known as Lazarus Lake, or simply “Laz” to those in the ultrarunning community, Cantrell first staged Big’s around his farm in Bell Buckle in 2011.

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The race consists of two different loops: one on trails during the day and another on roads during the night. The start and end of each loop is marked by an overhead structure which reads “there is no finish,” the first three words written by hand and pinned to the banner in crude fashion.

It is there that runners must congregate at the top of the hour, every hour in order to stay in the race.

“It’s a tribute to a human’s ability to just continually push that boundary of what’s possible further and further out,” Cantrell says in a video promoting the event.

Lewis, now a two-time winner and three-time assist, is a dedicated disciple of Big’s. He credits success in this year’s race to a combination of careful preparation, his previous experience on the course and at many other ultramarathons, and sheer force of will in the closing stages.

“I always believed that I was going to still be the final person, and I never lost the vision of that,” says Lewis.

His training for this year’s race was at times peculiar, especially when it came to managing sleep deprivation. During his lunchtime breaks at school, Lewis would roll out a yoga mat in a storage closet and try to fall asleep for three to five minutes as quickly as possible, simulating the short breaks he would get between loops at Big’s.

Other times, he says that he would run to the park and lie down on the grass for several minutes.

Lewis sets off for another lap at Big's Backyard Ultra in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.

Lewis sets off for another lap at Big’s Backyard Ultra in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.Howie Stern

Come the race itself, Lewis’ sleep strategy hardly went to plan. Unable to quiet his mind the night before, he only slept for three hours and then didn’t sleep at all for the first three days of the race. After that, he was able to switch off for one or two minutes between loops.

Thankfully, he wasn’t derailed by the same “incredibly intense hallucinations” that plagued him during a backyard ultra in Australia earlier in the year.

“I actually saw these grass people and the trees came alive,” Lewis recalls. “I would fall asleep for just a second, my sense of sound was super accented. It was like that show ‘Stranger Things.’

His strategy if he gets similar hallucinations in another race? “I feel like I would be able to, like, just run through that,” Lewis adds. “It would maybe make it very interesting.”

That’s not to say that his sanity remained entirely intact at Big’s: on the fourth day, he started to talk gibberish to the other competitors.

“I was semi-conscious, semi-dreaming, and I would just start to say random things,” says Lewis. “I had to censor myself and not just say whatever I was thinking in my dreamlike running state.”

USA's Courtney Dauwalter reacts after winning the 170 km Mount Blanc Ultra Trail (UTMB) race around the Mont-Blanc crossing France, Italy and Swiss, on August 31, 2019 at the end of the race near Chamonix. (Photo by JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT/AFP via Getty Images)

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He estimates that he consumed more than 40,000 calories during the race, all of which was plant-based – something Lewis says helped to settle his stomach when eating on the move.

His race diet was varied and plentiful: avocado and hummus wraps, lentil soup, peanut noodles, vegan mac and cheese, vegan yoghurt, cupcakes, and different fruits – blueberries, mangoes, watermelon – were all on the menu.

He also never drank water on the course, instead opting for fluids with calories like coconut water, Coke, or electrolyte drinks.

“I was always grazing on foods,” says Lewis, “enjoying my appetite and enjoying the smorgasbord.”

An upset stomach is one of myriad challenges a runner might face at Big’s. Another is the risk of a fall – particularly on the roots, rocks, and foliage found on the day-time loop around Cantrell’s farm – while rattlesnakes and copperheads can also make for alarming bystanders on the trails.

Lewis fell just once, evidenced by the reddish marks that appeared on the side of his head towards the end of the race. “I’m pretty good at falling,” he explains. “I’ve fallen a lot in my lifetime.”

How a runner responds to adversity can be crucial at determining how long they survive at Big’s. Lewis figures that the effort required in the race is about 70% mental and 30% physical, and he has developed unique ways of hardening his mind during backyard ultras.

“I have spirit animals that I like to embody in the race,” says Lewis. “With Big’s, I was saying that my spirit animal was the honey badger. The honey badger can be knocked down, beaten, bitten, cut – everything happening to it and the honey badger just keeps on going.”

The honey badger analogy can also be extended to Lewis’ ultrarunning career as a whole, his progress in the sport gutsy and gradual. He says that he achieved the qualification time for the Boston Marathon after 17 years of trying and won an ultramarathon 13 years after competing in his first.

He describes himself as a “chubby” kid growing up – quite the contrast to the man who these days runs to and from work, adding extra distance as he builds up to a race.

“It was an ultra to get to where I am today,” says Lewis.

He was running Big’s to raise money for the Brighton Center, an organization in Northern Kentucky which helps individuals and families to achieve financial stability and independence, and also wants to inspire people to invest more in their personal health – even if that means getting outdoors for 20 or 30 minutes each day.

And in terms of his personal goals, Lewis has started to reflect on what it might be possible to achieve in the backyard ultra format.

“If the opportunity comes again: how will I be able to go through that fifth night?” he muses. “How will I come out on that sixth day, and then will we get back to another night?”

Four and a half days and 450 miles might just be the start for Harvey Lewis. This is, after all, a race with no finish line.