Nocturnal Friends- A visiting photographer

A very long over due post…

This past summer I had the lovely honor of having a very talented wildlife photographer join me in the field to photograph bats and other creatures he came across. Michael Durham made his bed in the corner of our living room floor crammed between the couch and the wall attempting to sleep through the daily morning commotion of Porter Cove for the better half of the month. One of my techs named the dead end road we lived on, Porter Cove, as Mr. “Pappy” Porter seemed to own most of the land in Unicoi- his extensive family were scattered throughout the trailers sprinkled within the cove. Michael slept in his living room nest or in the forest with us in an extra tent. That summer we all slept on either air mattresses or sleeping pads on the floor in the house or on the forest floor. He battled the constant thunderstorms right there with us and with all of his fancy, expensive and non-waterproof gear.

Almost as soon as he arrived into town, we were out in the field, actually I think we left just 4 hours after he arrived to Unicoi, TN. It was the hottest and most humid night of the year and I also had to tell him that he’d be driving his rental car on a road that had begun to wash away down the side of the mountain. As long as it’s not raining…too much…we should be ok.

Every night we could go out, Michael went with us. We would set up our nets to catch the bats and other equipment to record bat calls, while Michael set up his extensive high speed camera equipment inside a family-sized tent on the edge of a dirt road, often surrounded by stinging nettles and poison ivy. Each bat we’d catch, we’d record the basics and if s/he was a species of interest, Michael would let an individual bat fly in the tent, catching their precise movements as they swooped around- their mouths open as they sent out calls too high for us to hear, the sounds bouncing back to their ears as they dodge every obstacle in their way. I’m not going to even attempt to go into his set-up because I would only fail to explain the details, but these details and his passion for wildlife photography are the main ingredients to the photos that allow us to witness the beauty of these nocturnal creatures that all too often escapes us.

Bats often only conjure up images of fear, or are rarely thought about. But I want to share some of Michael’s photos from my field season with all of you. Within those few short moments he spent with each bat, he captured what most people never have the opportunity to see up close. Maybe you are reading this because you already love bats, or you are curious, or perhaps you are an excellent friend and enjoy reading what I write. And maybe it’s something else all together. Either way, his photos offer a glimpse into the life of bats and their nocturnal friends- including wildlife photographers and biologists alike.

Male northern long-eared myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) photographed in the Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee. (digital composite)

Male northern long-eared myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) photographed in the Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee. (digital composite)

Visit his site,
photo captions taken from Michael Durham’s photo descriptions. Thanks!!


The Nature Zine, Issue 2


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!


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

Make Your Own Vegan Granola

I finally started making my own granola and now I’m really wondering what took me so long.  In my mind I imagined it being fairly time consuming and complicated, but that was just me being lazy.  Honestly, after realizing that my advisor makes her own granola regularly and she’s one of the busiest people I know- I truly realized that I was just being lazy (thanks Joy!).  The typical ‘why make my own when I can just buy a box of it or get it in the bulk section?’  My obsession with eating cereal and granola used to take up  a large portion of my food budget, but by making my own I have decreased my spending and actually enjoy the homemade version a million times more.  I’m on a extra tight student budget now (not that my budget was much before) so this has really helped out.

Reasons for making your own granola:

  • Save $$$
  • Reduce waste (think of all the packaging- plastic!)
  • Reduce energy use
  • Less time spent reading ingredient lists
  • Make it specific to your taste / allergies
  • and lots more I don’t feel like typing


I’ve adapted this recipe from Robin Roberton’s 1000 Vegan Recipes – an excellent book that is worth adding to your collection.

Vegan Granola


  • 5 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats (not instant!)
  • 1 cup chopped or slivered raw almonds (or nuts of your choice)
  • 1/2 cup raw shelled sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons of molasses (depends on how much you like this stuff, start with 1T and go from there)
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground all spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom (optional, I just love this stuff)
  • Pinch of salt

Note:  mix and match ingredients – add your favorite nuts, seeds, grains, spices and dried fruit.  

Makes approximately 8 cups- I use a commercial sized baking sheet, but you may want to: cut this recipe in half the first time making it or use two baking sheets.

  1. Preheat oven to 325F.
  2. Evenly spread the oats, chopped almonds and sunflower seeds on the baking sheet.  You don’t need to add oil or anything like that.
  3. Bake for 10 minutes.
  4. While it’s baking, prep your other ingredients:  In a medium sized bowl, combine the raisins, coconut, cinnamon, allspice, salt and any other spices/ ingredients of your choice.
  5. In a glass measuring cup, measure out the maple syrup and add the molasses to this cup as well.
  6. Remove the other items from the oven and reduce temperature to 300F.
  7. Add all dry ingredients to the pan, mix them up.
  8. Drizzle the syrup and molasses onto the dry ingredients, stir together until everything seems decently coated.
  9. Return to oven and bake for 15 minutes (or until crisp).  Don’t burn it!
  10. Remove from oven.  It may seem sticky but as it cools it will become more crispy and less sticky.  Using a spatula, stir the granola- this will prevent it from sticking to the pan as it cools. Then let cool completely – half hour or so.
  11. Transfer to an air-tight container and it’s delicious and good to eat for weeks.
  12. Enjoy with your favorite vegan yogurt, nut milk or on its own as a snack.

Perfect to take camping or to enjoy on long hikes!

granola close up




SMW Fall Century Ride

You know you have awesome friends when they come all the way from Detroit, MI to Tellico Plains, TN so they can camp and ride 100 miles with you.  Well half of us completed the 100 miles – Liz and Jason blasted through those hills like they didn’t even exist, completing the Fall Century.  Matt and I turned our century ride into a metric century (62 miles) but we did this on the 100 mile route, getting scooped up by the Vulture.  Before I got to the end of this, I should have started at the beginning.

We camped just up the road from the house I’m staying at in the Cherokee National Forest.  The night before the ride we made this huge dinner- vegan of course!  I really miss being around other vegans and making food with people who enjoy devouring vegan deliciousness.  We had a super high carb dinner consisting of pasta with a sauce I call my Mountain Mac ‘n’ Chz (lots of nutritional yeast, etc).  The pasta also had broccoli in it, and we dumped in some sweet potatoes for extra carbs.  We also made a side of sauteed onions and tempeh covered in barbecue sauce.  We ate our dinner by the glow of our headlamps and then strapped the bikes to the cars for the next morning.

At 5:30am the next morning we all crawled out of our tents into the cold, damp and dark morning. Peanut butter and jellies were made while water boiled for the oatmeal. As prepared as we felt, we ended up arriving in Loudon for the start of the century ride just moments before it was to begin.  Bikes needed to be adjusted after being taken off of the racks, we had to check in and scurry around getting other things together for the ride. We took off almost an hour late! Yikes!

Matt, Me, and Jason

During this ride I realized that I ride really slow, but I felt ok to great most of the way, minus my morning of congestion.  My plan was to ride slow and steady to complete the full 100.  We only passed a couple of people to the first rest area.  Around the half way point I was feeling better than I have ever felt after riding 50 miles.   I was making sure to eat and drink a good amount and I think this helped a great deal.  Matt rode strong for the first half, almost always ahead of me, but the rolling hills weren’t enjoyable after 50 miles.  We decided to end together at 62 miles.  I wanted this to be an experience for both of us, I had been telling Matt how much harder it has been for me to ride down here versus riding in Detroit.  We also needed to gauge about how many miles we could accomplish together in one day.

The weather was perfect though and we couldn’t have asked for it to be better.  Upper 70s to lower 80s, hardly any wind and no rain.  The morning was cold and foggy but didn’t last long.  Dave and the rest of SMW did a superb job organizing the event and even made sure to have vegan food for us.  There were plenty of snacks at the rest areas and the routes were well marked.  I highly suggest riding this century!

I felt comfortable as well and wasn’t even sore the next day.  I’m sure Matt and I will be riding multiple century rides soon enough!

After the ride we went into Maryville for some vegan pizza and cupcakes at The Tomato Head. Tired and worn down we crawled into our tents that evening with a sense of accomplishment.

Matt, Liz and Jason headed back to Detroit the next afternoon leaving me to realize how much I truly value our friendships and having a social life.  I love the forest and riding my bike but they are amplified when I have friends here to share the experience with.

Good Zone

Leaving the wilderness and venturing into town.  Every time I think about going into town, I hear lines from Wet, Hot American Summer. If you’ve seen the film, I’m sure immediately the scene pops into your head where they all jump in the back of the truck, head into town- steal purses from old ladies, do lots of drugs and party hard only to arrive back to the campsite an hour later.  I laugh to myself often, thinking of this scene.

Ok, so me going into town isn’t quite like that. As close as I get is punching into the air with excitement and going to the library.

Normally I soak in the internet for awhile.  Last week I explored Maryville, TN on my bike and realized how different it is to ride in a town with hills. I also realized it had been awhile that I had to deal with intersections and bicycling. I rode to this rad bike shop/outdoor store.  Mark and I drove to town together and then went on our own bike rides, with plans to meet at the bike shop.  I hung out there for 3 hours in deep conversations about bikes- styles, accessories, mechanics, everything. The place has a comfortable atmosphere and the staff is beyond helpful.  I was even pointed in the direction of a co-op here in Knoxville.

& this is where I spent a couple of hours inside and outside of today.  I met up with a lady from Michigan, living in Knoxville as a high school Spanish teacher.  She’s very into social justice issues and we connected through the USSF/AMC board.  We chatted for a long time about living down here, mental illness awareness issues, and bike stuff while sitting on the curb snacking.  I filled my basket with bulk foods and produce. Their prices are totally reasonable and their selection satisfies my needs. PLUS you can bring in your own containers to fill up with bulk goods. Perfect! I know where I’ll be getting my groceries.  It’s just over an hour drive away but if I can spend my day here and support something rad, I’m ok with that.

From the co-op I was pointed in the direction of an independent cafe, a couple of minutes away, Old City Java.  The chain of connections I have made that have led me to rad places has been awesome.  It feels good to meet like minded people and find places I am comfortable being in. It’s something that means a great deal to me and makes me really enjoy my day.

In other news I need to get to putting Fender Bender things together for the events at USSF and also work on fine-tuning my presentation for my thesis defense. This is going to be a busy end half of the month but I’m really excited and inspired by the events coming up. Check out the FBD blog for what we have going on during the social forum.

I’ll be back in Michigan June 19 for a few days & I hope to see some of you then.  Bike rides aplenty!

Adventures to Tennessee

It took the whole morning for Matt and I to leave Detroit. I sewed a bike hat for him while he mapped out our route which involved a visit to the Supreme Master. We switched files on our computers so I could have a portable one (THANK YOU!) We stopped to have my 3rd flat tire of the week fixed, loaded up the car, and went to the Eastern Market with Andrea and Curtis.  That was the ultimate way to spend my last hour in Detroit.

After hours of driving, we arrived at our first destination, Bee Rock in Daniel Boone National Forest. We arrived at night, in the pouring rain, a sad attempt at putting up the tent left us running back to the car, wet and tired.  We did manage to put it up a couple of hours later. We awoke to a splendid view, moved to a site closer to the river and went for a hike, finding 7 red-spotted newts in their juvenile eft stage.  SEVEN! Just stumbling about on the path.

Eventually we decided to leave and head into town to get some supplies, almost to the road and then, oh, hey there is a huge white oak tree in our path. Awesome.  With a hatchet and help from the only other person on the campsite, an old dude with not only a mustache, but a truck as well.  The truck proved helpful in moving branches, the mustache proved helpful in reinforcing the idea that this guy was awesome.

We arrive back to the campground just in time for more a quick walk and more rain. Looks like dinner and reading in the car, it’s storming and not letting up.  We eventually make it into our wet tent, slept terribly and wake up to the river sounding fast and nearby…and unzipping the rainfly that didn’t do such a great job, we find the river about 10 feet closer to us than it was, putting it about 10-15 feet away from our tent. Yikes! Where’d that HUGE rock go that jutted out about 12 feet from the river when we first arrived, oh, there it is, sticking a foot out from under the river. We hear trees falling into the river, we see parts of trees rushing down the river. Our minds are blown, we walk out to the bridge that we took pictures at the day before, I take more pictures, but none of them do it justice.

Our campsite, after all of the rain.

We decide to pack up and leave, it’s 7:30am and I play Cash’s Five feet and Rising:

How high’s the water, mama?
Five feet high and risin’
How high’s the water, papa?
Five feet high and risin’

Well, the rails are washed out north of town
We gotta head for higher ground
We can’t come back till the water comes down,
Five feet high and risin’

Well, it’s five feet high and risin’

As the song gets close to ending Matt swears and then I see it, another huge white oak tree across our path- our exit out. Too huge to move and cut a part with a hatchet. Well 5 hours later, and a few helpful people later, we finally find ourselves and the trusty volvo on the otherside of the tree much thanks to a stay at home dad who was concerned with us being trapped in there and the volunteer fire fighters in the area- oh and their chainsaws.

It’s time for me to head back to the forest though. I’ve been out in town for too long and I have an hour drive back to where I am staying in the Cherokee National Forest. More updates about that whenever I can head to town and find internet again.

also, you can find an update on Fender Bender as well.