Forest Ecosystems Daily: Saving Our Ashes


Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) killed this white ash tree in Cades Cove. The invasive and exotic beetle has spread rapidly since it was first detected in Michigan in 2002.

Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) killed this white ash tree in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The invasive and exotic beetle from southeastern Asia has spread rapidly, eliminating ash from Eastern forests since it was first detected in Michigan in 2002. Park boundaries cannot prevent the spread of invasive insects and diseases that harm our forests. You can help by using locally-sourced firewood. More information:

Forest Ecosystems Daily: Adventures in heath balds


Today's adventure took us off-trail in search of a secret heath bald. Determined bushwacking, which involved some crawling, took us up and into the

Today’s adventure took us off-trail in search of a secret heath bald. Determined bushwacking, crawling through Rhododendron woven together with sawbriar, we made our way upslope as the canopy around us shrunk and the trees disappeared. We emerged into the open sunlight surrounded by the many evergreen shrubs that form a heath bald. We recorded 3 Rhododendrons, 2 Kalmias, and 1 highbush blueberry, which we sampled, before making our way back down, feeling the accomplishment of ecological explorers.

Forest Ecosystems Daily: Turk’s Cap Lily, Whiteside Mountain


Opportunity. Our first hike took us to Whiteside Mountain to see different plant communities on this ancient granite pluton.  We stopped at dripping cliff face, one that will freeze over in great ice sheets in winter. These ice sheets

Plants are opportunists. Most of Whiteside Mountain is covered with secondary forest that grew up after logging in the mid-1900s. However, some of the steeper rock faces have openings where ice accumulates, then collapses under its own weight, taking soil and vegetation with it. The openings channel water and create sunny habitat for the spectacular Turk’s cap lily (Lilium superbum).

Forest Ecosystems Daily: Satulah Sunrise


sunrise over Satulah Mountain

Dawn breaks this morning on the summit of Satulah Mountain. From my journal: “Booked up to the summit of Satulah in the light of dawn to witness the coming day and the start of my 5th Forest Ecosystems class. Ancient, lichen-crusted granite beneath me…ruby-throated hummingbirds whirling above, airing petty grievances and territory disputes with furious vocalizations…watching clouds blow across the front of Whiteside Mountain. The small moments are so often the ones most treasured.”

Greetings from Highlands, NC

I’m at the Highlands Biological Station (4118 ft) in Highlands, NC for the next two weeks, teaching my field course, Forest Ecosystems of the Southern Appalachians with my two co-instructors, Julie Tuttle and Alan Weakley. This is easily one of the best things I do for what I call work.

I was a student in this course in 1999, when it was taught by Tom Wentworth, Dan Pittillo, and Peter White. I have been teaching the class, first with Tom, since 2005, and this will be my fifth time teaching. In 2013, Tom retired from teaching the course and I invited Julie and Alan to teach it with me, and I’m thrilled that they are back for another adventure.

Why is this the best teaching I do? Field station summer courses immerse students in the natural environment; our classroom includes some of the most wondrous sites in the southern Appalachian mountains. Classes are small and a tight-knit community develops; 14 people who think of nothing else but the topic at hand for two weeks. I learn at least as much as I share, and finish the course exhausted to the bone but rejuvenated in mind and spirit.

Internet service is spotty in the mountains, but I hope once again to post a daily-ish photo of our adventures in Forest Ecosystems. My goals are as follows: 1) Highlight the incredible biodiversity of the southern Appalachians, 2) Give a window into the workings of an intensive field course, 3) Champion the unique experience that a field station environment offers.

2013 Forest Ecosystems. There's nothing like 14 inches of rain in 2 weeks for bonding.

2013 Forest Ecosystems, Hooper Bald on the Cherohala Skyway. There’s nothing like 14 inches of rain in 2 weeks to build team rapport and create lasting bonds!

Letting go of the handlebars: Tour de Cure 2015 with Team Cheetah

CONFESSION: I have a draft started around here somewhere that may never see the light of day. I started with a great story about my pink Huffy and just couldn’t seem to get from 1987 to 2015. Another post, another time.

Instead, I’ll share my story from my Tour de Cure page about my friend Diane, who inspired me (and possibly badgered me) to learn how to ride a road bike and join her and Team Cheetah for the two-day Tour de Cure.

For many years, I have been in awe of my friend and stellar athlete, Diane Huis. We trained for the NYC marathon together in 2010. She is a Type 1 diabetic and I remember asking her what symptoms to look for if her sugar was low. She laughed and said, “well, I may be a little belligerent…and in complete denial that anything is wrong.” “Ha! Is it too late to find another training partner?”

We had a great time training, though, and inevitably, every Friday morning on our long runs before work, we’d discuss our weekend plans. “What are you doing this weekend?” she’d ask. “Oh, nothing much. How about you?” “Well, I have this awesome 100 mile ride on Saturday…”

Diane is always like that, with boundless positive energy, and she downplays her disease–enough so that many of us forget that it’s a daily struggle. It really wasn’t until Diane did her first Ironman, though, that I truly appreciated how her daily life was affected as a Type 1 diabetic. While most IM athletes focus on how many miles to bike, run, and swim each week, she was 100% focused on her race-day nutrition–dialing it in, checking her sugar, making sure she had the right food at the right times, and adjusting when necessary. Reading her race report really made an impact on me.

For the first time in several years, I didn’t have a conflict on the weekend of the Tour. When Ann said she was going to sign up, I was all in. My friend Ken also planned to ride. I couldn’t wait. I just had to find a road bike and figure out how to ride it.

Andrew had a road bike he found on Craig’s list that was actually a women’s bike–he claimed he bought it for himself, but I think he secretly bought it for me. It’s a red and white one. It looks fast. The tires seemed soooo skinny, but it wasn’t that hard to get used to. The real challenge was learning to ride with clip pedals.


Andrew and I rode 1400+ miles through Europe on hybrid bikes with cages, but I knew I needed to learn clip pedals. I walked into the bike shop and asked for help. “What kind of cycling do you do?” “Oh, I’m not a cyclist at all. I’m a runner, but I signed up for my friend’s Tour de Cure team, so I need to learn how to ride this road bike.” “Ah, I see.” We found a pair of shoes that fit fairly easily. As he was ringing me up, I said, “So, can I return these for a refund if I fall?”

Because I knew I was going to fall. Everyone I talked to about clips said that I better be prepared to fall. I wasn’t really afraid of falling (other than possibly hurting something that would prevent me from running, of course, which is why I did not get clips until after my 50K); honestly, I just wanted to get it over with.

My first opportunity came right away, in my driveway. Andrew helped me line up, then pushed my left foot into the clip. “Now, unclip it and clip in on your own.” I snapped out easily enough, caught the toe part of the clip with my shoe, and stepped down. Nothing. I tried again. And again. Andrew stood there silently. We have been married nearly twenty years and to his credit, he kept his face straight; even grave. He carefully avoided eye contact. Five minutes later, he cleared his throat and said, “Keep trying—I’m going inside.” Ten more minutes of stepping down with no click. I had broken into a sweat and was now muttering ugly words aloud. Finally, after 15 minutes, I stepped down and heard the sweet click of success. My left foot was clipped in.

I pushed off and focused on clipping in my right foot. Lined up and pushed down. No click. Re-aligned, pushed down. No click. I was so intent on what I was doing that I failed to notice that my bike had stopped rolling forward. Too late, I realized that I was balanced and motionless on skinny, skinny tires. It was a long moment. Then I started leaning ever-so-slightly to the left. Ever the optimist, I flailed around, trying to get out from under my bike. In the end, that hurt me worse than just accepting my fate. At least there was no audience as I crashed onto the cement. And they say trail running is dangerous!


Ann and Ken and I started riding once during the week and then again on the weekends. We recruited others to join us–for some reason, posting “Ride Bikes” on our Peeps workout calendar amused people—don’t you remember calling your buddies when you were a kid and saying, “Hey! Want to ride bikes?” That’s how I ride bikes. Andrew and I found a great route that was just short of 40 miles, riding from Beaufort out to Harker’s Island and back. Unfortunately I didn’t get in any rides longer than 40 miles before the Tour. Riding bikes takes longer than running to get a good workout, and you can’t ride in the dark.


Ann and I were both nervous, but we had a wonderful time and completed all 160 miles over two days. The weather was beautiful and the course to Pinehurst was on back roads, transitioning from the Piedmont to the Sandhills through farmland and then horse farms. I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

Team Cheetah at the start on Day 1.

Team Cheetah at the start on Day 1. This team raised over $60K for the American Diabetes Association. Thanks to those who donated to my page; over $300 raised.

Me, Ken and Ann are ready to hit the road for Pinehurst!

Me, Ken and Ann are ready to hit the road for Pinehurst!

We had to stop so Ann could take a picture of a VW bug we saw on the way. Still feeling good and over halfway there.

We had to stop so Ann could take a picture of a VW bug we saw on the way for Andrew. Still feeling good and more than halfway there.

We found some of our Peep friends who were doing the 100 mi ride at the last rest area.

We found some of our Peep friends who were doing the 100 mi ride at the last rest stop. Go Peeps!

The Cheetahs in Pinehurst! We made it 80 miles and felt good!

The Cheetahs in Pinehurst! We made it!

We had a great time in Pinehurst. My only goal was to get there feeling good enough to ride back the next day. Our bikes were whisked away to be stored safely, we showered and changed clothes, had some food and drinks, and even took a little nap before heading out for some dancing and hanging out with our friends.

Ken had another commitment for Sunday, so Ann and I headed out on Day 2 by ourselves. I had assumed that most people would ride both days, so I was a little flummoxed when so few people started with us. We were definitely near the back of the 80 mile ride back to Pinehurst, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Off to start Day 2 of the Tour de Cure!

Off to start Day 2! Cary or bust!

Lunchtime and some shade. Sunday warmed up quite a bit.

Lunchtime and some shade. Sunday was pretty hot.

Some of the 100 mile Cheetahs caught us at lunchtime, and rode with our friend Phillip for a few miles.

Some of the 100 mile Cheetahs who started early caught us at lunchtime, and we rode with our friend Phillip for a few miles.

This was right after the lunch rest area; I realized my helmet wasn't clipped and fixed it right away!

This was right after the lunch rest area; I realized my helmet wasn’t clipped and fixed it right away, really! [Rookie mistake!]

Last rest stop for the day (I posted,

Last rest stop for the day (as I posted: “it’s getting hot in heah.”). Thrilled that we accomplished this challenge together.

As we neared the later rest stops, we could hear the volunteers radioing HQ to ask how many people were behind us. We rode into Cary and it was hot and the traffic was a little nerve-wracking. Just as we pulled into the parking lot to finish our ride, we heard an announcement that Kona Ice was staying for just five more minutes. That was all we needed to hear. We flung our bikes in the truck and hobble-sprinted across the parking lot to get the last two ices. It’s good to know that our running background was good for something!

Thanks to Diane for the inspiration and also for being a big part of planning what is a big, well-run, exciting and inspiring event. Many friends donated to my page for our team, totaling more than three hundred dollars, while Team Cheetah raised more than $60K. As I figured out how to ride a road bike and started building my miles, my friend Ken offered lots of great tips and encouragement along the way. Finally, thanks to Ann for getting me to sign up–an ideal girls’ weekend in my book (forget the spa). It was such a treat to spend time together, focused on nothing more but the task at hand, one which was a new challenge for us both. I hope that next year we’ll encourage more of our friends to sign up for Team Cheetah, even if they’re not really cyclists. We had a great time along the way!

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