Frozen Desert

Frozen Desert

The contents of my pack lay scattered across the sidewalk. There’s a slit of sun cutting across the path and I’ve strategically placed myself onto this thin slice of warmth. I’m shifting items around into various piles, taking moments to enjoy feeling the sun creeping into the sky, slowly warming the frigid air around me. A park service truck pulls up behind Sanchez’s Sprinter, a man steps out, eyeing us, and he doesn’t seem to be pleased that we’ve decided to take over the entrance to the seasonally closed visitors’ center. He approaches us, and his look of discontent does not fade until after he gestures for a handshake, placing cookies into Sanchez’s palm while saying, “Merry Christmas.” It is indeed Xmas morning, and I’m starting off the day with the best gift- my recent tradition of camping and hiking on a day that I would otherwise dread.

Besides the cookies, the ranger also leaves us with a local map, safety tips, confidence that the Sprinter can handle the gravel road to the trailhead and his personal approval of our decision to hike and camp in the Needles region of the Canyonlands National Park in the winter. We flip through the charts for backcountry permit reservations, the boxes are all empty for the weeks shown; we mark off December 25 and 26. Soon after, we are on the trail- it’s a short climb in the beginning, the snow is packed down on the rocks forming a nice slick surface in all the wrong places. Moments later we are hiking across a large flat rock surface that must bathe in the sun for hours each day because the snow is absent and we’re throwing our packs down and peeling off our layers. After a couple of miles, we arrive to our campsite region and scout out a sunny spot with the least amount of snow, only to realize the next day that the sun wouldn’t hit this spot until the late morning.

canyonlands

Camp is set and we hike a few miles to Druid Arch and back. The path mostly follows the frozen creek and Sanchez finds joy in breaking the ice that has formed between the rocks. He searches to find a large patch that will have the perfect shatter as he jumps onto it, the sound of the crash echoing into the quietness around us. We become aware that we are close to Druid Arch when the trail starts to quickly gain in elevation. I over analyze each icy step as I make my way up the pile of boulders that tower in front of me. We are in the shadows, but gazing upward I can see sunlight at the top. Upon reaching this cast of light, I am also struck with the intensity of the arch. The sun is beginning to set and I’m placed between the arch and its shadow that is transcending upon the rock wall behind me.

Druid Arch Trail

shadow

Druid Arch

We return to our tent in the dark, the cold is quickly filling the night air around us as if the sun had never existed. I immediately add my layers back on before my body begins to feel the cold. Some tea and soup keep me warm for a bit longer, but then all I can think about is burrowing into my sleeping bag. My feet are already freezing by this point, and I realize there is no hope for them – forever doomed with my poor circulation. But let’s pretend that I slept great and I was warm all through the night. Nevermind that it was in the single digits, what mattered was that I was surrounded by the vastness of the Canyonlands and I would climb out of the tent the next morning to find a patch of sun to warm me once again.

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The Nature Zine, Issue 2

Completed!

I can’t believe it’s been a year since the first issue of The Nature Zine. Now I have a whole new collection for you to enjoy!

NatureZineIssue2

Issue 2 is packed full of intense stories, thoughts, poems, art, photos and an ‘interview’ from multiple contributors. I’m thrilled to share with you this next run of submissions- they are all quite inspiring. People share their fears, passion, and thoughts on exploring, connecting with and studying nature. The beautiful ruffed grouse on the cover was painted by Jay Dowd, owner and tattoo artist at Consolidated Tattoo Parlor and Barber Shop in Flint, Michigan. Jay and I have gone on a LOTS of outdoor adventures together and he spends any moment that he can out in the wilderness, so of course it was a pleasure to include his painting. I really enjoy receiving submissions from all over the states (and Canada!), so please keep them coming.

My friend Matt and I collaborated on a piece together for issue 2- never too late- as we had once discussed writing of our 6 month adventure (much of which has been described here, but we now we were able to reflect on our journey and share new aspects of it all). We essentially interview ourselves- as in we came up with a few questions and then separately wrote our responses. We waited to share them until we both completed our pieces. I then meshed them together, leaving them as they were- not letting our answers influence one another.

If you are interested in a copy, I’ll send you one for free, trade or a $1-$3 donation.  Donations just help to cover the cost of copies and shipping. Plus allow me to keep up with this very enjoyable project. I’m on a student budget so anything helps. Just use the the paypal button below or email me for other options, batsnbikes [at] gmail [dot] com

Donate for a copy of The Nature Zine

Much thanks to everyone who has contributed to this project! I’m keeping Issue One in print as well, so let me know if you are interested. Both a creative outlet and a way to share our thoughts on connecting with nature, The Nature Zine will continue on with more issues.  If you are interested in contributing, please send your stories, thoughts, and art to me or contact me for more information:  batsnbikes [at] gmail [dot] com

p.s. wondering what a zine is? This should help.

Pond Mountain Wilderness

We try to control our surroundings everyday.  We hide in rooms where we control the temperature.  We attempt to control the sounds around us by drowning them out with headphones or closing our windows.  We turn dials in our vehicles to create sounds we want to hear and to cool or warm ourselves.  We turn on lights when the sun fades.  The door to our house latches shut, an attempt to keep out what we don’t want in our homes.

We shut out the natural world everyday, and yet we constantly try to manipulate it.  Our actions and daily routines have impacted our climate, but we cannot control the weather.  Everyday that I work outside I am reminded of this- and I respect this constant awareness.  Sure, I’ll admit that this summer has been full of frustrations as it has stormed and rained almost every single day.  We take the risk of setting everything up to catch bats for the night, only to have a storm rush in ruining our chances at a full night of bat surveys.  Rain is only a reminder that I’m not working in a controlled environment-  I am exposed to the rain, wind, humidity, heat, cold, insects…. I have no control, nor do I want to control the wilderness.

—–

We could see lightning off in the distance, perhaps too close, but we heard no thunder.  We keep the nets open, stretched out across the old gravel road, between two metal poles- 20 feet tall.  The lighting becomes brighter, more frequent and the rain is quick to follow.  We close up for the night, but by the time our gear is packed my clothes are soaked, plastered to my body, and my hair is heavy with rain.

We’re out at Dennis Cove, near the pond and the Appalachian Trail crosses our site.  My crew departs for home, but Kyle and I make our way through the field and into the tent.  The rain continues for hours, and when it finally lets up I catch the sounds of bullfrogs and spring peepers scattered through the moments that I awake through the night.

I’d hardly had time to even think about where we could hike the next day- my first true day off since the field season began.  I browsed over a map in a region I knew we’d have to work- immediately attracted to the Pond Mountain Wilderness.  The trail climbs up a ridge and we can walk to the trail head from my work site plus it deposits us back into civilization at Watauga Lake- a jump into the lake after our hike.  A quick internet search, revealed little information about Pond Mountain Trail- most of what I found of the Pond Mountain Wilderness was in regards to the portion of the AT that cuts at an angle across the western portion.  I wanted to avoid the clutter of people, a wilderness trail is always more intriguing.  All I knew was that it was 4.5 miles long and runs along the ridge top, seems easy enough.  I only took a quick glance at the topographic map.  Hey, why not add on a bit more- just a quick, easy hike before starting the Pond Mountain Trail.  Laurel Fork Trail (39) next to Dennis Cove Campground would lead us south, where we would connect with FS-50F to head back North.  It would end where FS-50 crosses, and on the opposite side is where Pond Mountain Trail (40) begins.

Nine creek crossings followed by a 2.2 mile hike up a winding gravel forest service road was my definition of a “quick, easy hike.”  Well, it was actually easy but the whole taking our boots and socks off to cross 9 portions of the creek within a couple of miles- surveying each crossing for the least sketchy area to cross- made things not so quick.  The rain left the creek high, hiding any rocks that may have once been available for scurrying across with our boots on.  Other crossings found the creek to be up to my thighs.  With each crossing, we became more careless.  Looking at the topo maps now, it’s so clear to see that the trail crosses the creek many times- perhaps when it’s not a summer full of rain, a shoeless entry may not be required.

Trail 39 and 50F meet up near an open field- we filter water and what we had hoped to be our final creek session knowing that finding a water source on the ridge would be unlikely.  As we reach FS road 50F, the clouds begin to darken but only a small amount of rain finds its way down to us.  We pass the only two people we see on the trails, as they casually stroll through our last creek crossing with their fancy boot gaiters.  The next couple of miles were drowned out by the sound of gravel crunching under our boots with each step, our pace steady as we followed the road that would take us up along Rough Ridge and to Pond Mountain Trail.

We reach an open gate, 50F ends at FS-50, I point directly across the road, “That’s our trail.”  Kyle is doubtful as he looks across the gravel into the forest, no evidence of a trail to be found.  We look again at the map, Pond Mountain Trail should be directly in front of us.  It’s a wilderness trail, so I’m not really surprised that as we look ahead we see only vegetation- we hike in.  Maybe I saw a faint blue blaze, but soon enough we come across a post confirming that we are on the right path.  Suddenly it’s quite obvious, as we are on an old timber road, faded into a two track- the clearest portion of the trail.  It’s, of course, in the easiest portion of the trail that I trip over a downed tree sending myself flying through the air and slamming into the damp but still hard ground.  The fall is only a reminder that we skipped lunch, my head feels light but I’m laughing at my fall. Handfuls of almonds, pecans and some dried fruit allow me to regain my energy.

The trail narrows as it climbs the ridge.  We hike through rhododendron tunnels along the sloping slides, the path is relatively clear, the blue blazes are solid and bright but as we ascend both the blaze and the path begins to fade.  The steepness of the trail is suddenly a slap in the face as we bear right with a clear view of what lies ahead.  There are no switchbacks.  We climb the steep grade, our steps slipping on the forest floor full of decaying leaves that have absorbed weeks worth of rain.

Kyle pauses above me, periodically to wait for me to catch up to his pace.  We continuously check to make sure we are still on some sort of trail but all of a sudden we are on these large bolders, covered with lichen and surrounded by brambles with a few trees that have managed to squeeze life between rock.

The blazes are gone, there is no path.

Continue reading

Call for Submissions- Issue #2

issue2submit

Issue One of The Nature Zine is still going strong and I’m looking to put issue 2 together by September.  Please send me your stories, poems, hiking tips, backpackinging food recipes, thoughts on exploring the outdoors, your photos, your illustrations, trail reviews, escaping the city….. I could go on-  you get it.

Much thanks to my rad friends for their previous contributions, touring with my zines, adding them to their distro and spreading the word.  If you are in Chicago or NYC you can also pick up the Nature Zine at Quimby’s and Blue Stockings –  much thanks to them as well for keeping The Nature Zine in stock.

Looking forward to adding your stories and art to the next issue!  Please share widely.

Braddock, I’ll miss you

I’ve spent my entire life saying good-bye to towns and cities and the friends that I’ve made living within them.  However, without moving from place to place I would have never had the opportunity to meet some of the most amazing people nor would I have been able to develop the friendships that have grown in both my presence and absence.  I continue to look forward, but I do so with the strength I have gained from those that I have met along the way.  Those that have filled my homes with laughter and the smell of vegan meals.  Those that have helped me question my actions, allowed me to appreciate often forgotten aspects of life, and those that have been there for me during the difficult times but also there to create new, happy memories.

My last year in Pennsylvania, a little over a third of my time spent living in Braddock or visiting prior to my move, was filled with all of the above moments and more.  During my last week in Detroit in 2012 I was lucky enough to make connections that would lead to my introduction of rad people in Braddock, Pittsburgh, and other nearby cities- opening the doors to punk/hardcore/vegan/straight edge/etc life in the region.  I can’t help but value those connections as they often lead to fantastic and like-minded people.  I want to thank you all for making me feel so welcome, for letting me sleep on your couches, inviting me to shows, trips out of town, vegan potlucks, coffee shop and beach hangs, yoga classes and everything else.  And to be able to live with two rad friends (and their cats and rats) for the winter, being only a few minutes walk away from other friends, felt like some a privilege.

My last weekend in Braddock consisted of epic hangs and meals together, and of course, a long awaited camping trip with a few friends from Braddock/PGH.  Again, I have to say that Raccoon Creek State Park is a great escape from the city for hiking a camping.  It’s decent for a fragmented piece of land so close to a major city.  Camping on 4/20 with sober and vegan friends assures for the best camping snacks and conversations.  Our attempt at pancakes cooked on the fire was perfect for breakfast following a night of pizza hobo/mountain pies, s’mores and junk food (and fruit).  The fire kept us warm on our 30 degree night, no rain to chill us, only frost on the surface as we awoke at sunrise.

x420x Camping Trip

x420x Camping Trip

Vegan pancakes and sausage

 

I look forward to future visits, much love to you all!  Now I must venture on to new areas…

Nerd Adventures

As I wonder if each snow fall will be the last of the season, my need to return back into the field grows.  I have spent the winter knowing that my job will continue onto the next season, all the while I have been patiently waiting on news for a possible new adventure.  Perhaps the grandest of them all…. thus far.  And finally my future adventures have been confirmed.

I have fed my cravings for nature with random hikes in nearby state parks.  Some to Raccoon Creek State Park to trudge through inches of snow on the trails and admire the layered icicles of the frozen mineral springs.  Another trip on that off day where the snow melted as the temperature rose to a warm 60 degrees in the midst of winter.  None of this has been quite enough to battle the 40+ hours a week of working in front of the computer.  Even now I feel guilty as I type this, as it only means that I am yet again, in front of my computer.  But then I cough uncontrollably for a moment, a reminder of the fatigue this bronchitis has caused- cough attacks are constant, and increasing as I breath in the cold air- making hiking next to impossible. But the cough will fade and hopefully it will be replaced with an increase of energy and ambition.

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Next weekend I will return to the forest, as our searches for bat and bird carcasses will soon begin.  My return will also mark 1 year in Pennsylvania.  My time in Pennsylvania has been balanced with 2/3 of my time in the forest and a 1/3 of my time in Braddock.  Through the winter in Braddock, friendships have grown.  We’ve shared vegan meals, some large potlucks and many last minute dinners and lunches in one house or the next.  Laughter over cartoons while eating cookies, candy and breakfast anytime of the day.  Hikes through the forest and around the city.  Long talks with cats in our laps.  Bowls of popcorn and mugs of tea.  Punk shows in the city and in the warehouse with the sounds of skateboards between sets.  Lifting weights and holding planks.  Friendships that will last even though I have to add this place to the long list of places I have once lived.

Ready for a new chapter in my life.  One that I have dreamed of reaching since a very young age and now I have the opportunity.  The opportunity to earn a PhD in biology.  My field research begins in May.  Summer adventures (research!) in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee in search of Indiana bats and then to Terre Haute, Indiana in August to study at Indiana State University under the advisement of Dr. Joy O’Keefe.  I have really missed academia since graduating with my master’s in 2010 and am looking forward to the challenges ahead.  More details soon, but this next month is going to be a busy one with moving around and training the new PA wind energy crew before I depart.  I am quite excited about all of this!

Keeping With New Tradition

The smell of adventure still lingers, as I let down my hair I catch the fragrance of a campfire- the smell of smoke tangled in my curls.  The smell is faint, as I returned to Braddock this afternoon and stood under the hot shower rinsing away the scents of my last 24 hours, the humidity and smell of smoke mixing together, filling the room.

Two years ago, I found myself at Caddo Lake State Park in Texas with Matt.  My knee destroyed, we spent 3 nights there, overlapping xmas and realizing how wonderful it is to avoid the mass consumerism of the holidays, the stress of families, the guilt of not doing (“buying”) enough-  all of that is forgotten when you are camping and on a bike tour.  It didn’t matter that the temperature ranged from 20-40F and that it sleeted on us- we had a camp fire, delicious hot dinners and nature surrounding us.  I promised myself that I would spend every xmas after this one camping.

Last year I failed to camp, and I felt disappointed in myself.  This year was different.  I needed to camp.  I needed to hike in the forest.  I needed to breath in the crisp cold air and eat a hot meal perched next to a fire.  Most people tell you that it’s too cold or that you are crazy but Alex was thrilled on the idea of winter camping with me, as was I that she would join me on this adventure.

Arriving in Raccoon Creek State Park, sleet steadily falling, we expressed excitement that a thin layer of snow blanketed the area- a coat of white with bits of greens and browns bursting through.  We caught glimpses of icicles hanging over the edges of moss covered rocks and as the pavement turned to gravel we noted that we were the only ones camping in the park.  We wouldn’t see anyone else until the next morning, driving out of the park.

Armed with waterproof jackets and layers of warmth, we assembled the tent as quickly as possible to keep the rain out.  Before the sun set we were able to go on a quick hike and assemble our fortress against the rain that would allow us to keep dry on the picnic table and enjoy dinner and conversation next to the fire during the rain/sleet/snow.  With my hatchet we chopped apart a small downed tree- tying the parts to the picnic table after scraping off the snow we draped a tarp over the logs to create our shelter.  We felt accomplished and satisfied with our work, minus the few times when the wind would shift blowing the smoke directly into our little fortress.

It took more time that I had hoped it would, but soon enough we had a fire to keep us warm (in the 30F night) and it would also provide us with our dinner for the evening:  hobo pie pizzas (pizza sauce, daiya “cheese”, onions, garlic and fresh basil) followed by vegan s’mores.  A few steps away from the fire and within seconds you’d realize just how cold your surroundings were, so we spent the evening hovered around the fire snacking and enjoying being away from the city.  Around 10pm the rain had given up, leaving behind a fog covered forest- the moon was shrouded in this fog but its light illuminated, reflecting off the moisture, creating light in the evening that made us question if we had just stayed up all night until it was 6am.  We checked our watches doubting the time of day, I stood up away from the fire, mesmerized that I could see everything around me without my headlamp when earlier I had to use my light to reach for something a few feet away- the outlines of trees, the tent, even the trail head off in the distance was visible.  It was beautiful and gave me a sudden burst of energy-  I wanted to go for a hike, yet the chance of more rain and the comfort of the fire brought me back to a mode of relaxation.

In the tent and burrowed into our sleeping bags, we could see our breath, hear a barred owl calling,  and struggled to find ways to keep our feet warm.  Tying our jackets around the foot of the sleeping bags offered a bit of a shield but with my poor circulation, it’s never enough.  We awoke around 3am to our bladders screaming at us to brave the cold, dashing outside kept us awake for another hour or so before we drifted into our second sleep.  Waking up in a tent, bundled against the cold on any morning brings a smile to my face.  We had tea, oatmeal and a hike to look forward to before departing the forest.  Opening the rain fly of my tent and entering the forest is better than any present that I could open under an xmas tree.