hiking the cumberland river trail

That particular weekend in January we were hoping to go camping, which took some serious commitment for me because I don’t love the cold. But, I believe in seizing the day, and this was the weekend available. Then it got all rainy and muddy on Thursday and Friday. Muddy and cold and a chance of rain. We decided sleeping indoors was a wise move. Someday maybe I will fall in love with cold weather camping. Maybe you will be the one to make that possible. For now, this is this the story of that weekend.


Camping nixed, the goal was to find a place to be outside. Breathing in nature is good for my soul, and even if I was not camping, there was to be an adventure. We flipped through a book I highly recommend called 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Nashville. There are different editions of this book for different cities, and I think they are brilliant. I am writing this particular trip up here because it is a place I wish I had known about when I was living in Nashville. We went to the Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail near Ashland City and did about an eight mile walk on an old railroad path that was paved over. It was flat and easy walk, but the sky was blue, it was warmer than anticipated, and it was a new area. The trail continues for another segment just as long (though I am not sure if it is all paved). For much of the walk we felt like we had it to ourselves. It would be perfect for a bike ride, a hike, taking a stroller, just something different that is close and easy and not muddy when it rains like crazy. Besides, if you do the first part of the trail, there is this random bike welded on top of a pole. Random and odd and made us smile that day.




I often find that adventures end well with a hunt for a local diner or restaurant. It is now becoming a tradition – sometimes something grand is found, sometimes greasy locations where it is rather clear I am not a local. This time we found a Vuocolo’s Italian Pizzeria, a restaurant in what looks like a house. Inside it feels like a house and there are really only two tables. Would it be good? We had our questions, but that is part of the adventure, part of the game. It was outstanding. The owner will happily divide the pizza in half or quarters so that you can each get what you want. I think it was the best pizza in the Nashville region. Why don’t you take a trip up there this spring or summer? Go for a long walk and get some pizza, then let me know what you think. 




a flower to start the week

These flowers just seemed a beautiful photo to start off this week. I grew up around frangipani trees in Fiji where they were used to make wonderfully fragrant leis. In the evening their fragrance is the strongest – inviting you out to enjoy a perfect island sunset. But, since I have not been back to Fiji for more years than I care to mention, this picture was taken at the Tennessee Aquarium in the butterfly exhibit earlier this year. If you live in the area (Chattanooga, TN), you should carve out some time to visit the aquarium – it makes for a wonderful day when the islands are far away.

mosquitos in the bush

Last weekend I was sitting around a table talking with friends. The sunset had been nearly picture perfect, the night air was crisp without being cold, our hands were holding gin & tonics, and we had eaten a fabulous home-made meal packed full of fresh veggies. I was in Rwanda at a table of international friends.

Two of these friends began talking about what it would be like to return home to England where a glimpse of sun brings rejoicing and grey sky is the norm. Well, not exactly what I would be returning too. No, the place I was headed was slightly different. With the violent change of seasons, storms pop up that bring trees down on houses. It is hot and humid all summer long – two showers-a-day kind of weather. The mosquitos leave welts (though not disease). Going on hikes means that you must check your body for ticks (which can carry disease). Woods and rivers have snakes, and I regularly kill spiders in my house (in a city). I once killed a small cockroach on my table at a (nice) restaurant. I promise – all of these things are true.

As I created this list, I could not help but laugh because people sometimes express worry about me traveling to the African bush. But here I sit in my Nashville home with welts caused by mosquito bites that are driving me mad with the itching. All because I ate dinner in my yard two nights ago – surrounded by citronella candles and wearing mosquito repellent.


the beginning of camping season

Just before heading to Nairobi, I celebrated the beginning of the camping season. Memorial Day weekend started with a wedding in Memphis, and was followed by a drive through Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama so that I could add a few more states to those I have visited. I am slowly racking them up. Someday I hope to visit, or at least set my feet in all 50 states.

We had planned to camp in the William B Bankead National Forest in Alabama for two nights. We were assured by the rangers that they never run out of camping sites – and there were three possible campgrounds in close proximity. Besides, we knew that it is legal to camp anywhere in a National Forest. We thought we were prepared.

These were the lessons we learned:

  • Some National Forest campgrounds have gates before the campgrounds.
  • The rangers are not always accurate – as people are staying closer to home, the campgrounds are filling up more than is historically normal.
  • William B Bankhead National Forest is not a national forest where it is comfortable to pull off the road and camp anywhere. It felt like we were driving through small town after small town and the side roads seemed to be private driveways as much as national land.

And so we drove through the night with just a truck stop nap. Arriving home at 6 am, we napped, regrouped, and worked to redeem our camping trip. That is when a friend of a friend blessed us. Don owns a beautiful piece of land that is 1/2 x 1/2 mile with a creek running straight through the property. He has a beautiful understanding of his land: he is a protector and shares his land openly. We were so blessed and it makes me think about how I might care for and share land should I ever own some.

We set our tents up by the stream, our hammocks over it, and our beer and watermelon in it to cool down. We hiked up the stream, damned it to create a pool to float in, and some of us (not me) caught and released water snakes and turtles. We read, played card games, and ate great camping food. It could not have been a more perfect first camping trip for the season. Looking forward to many more – with revised and improved background research for future camping sites!


we went treasure hunting

We went treasure hunting and found a cave. In a state with 8,000 registered caves, it should not seem such a great feat to find cave, but this was THE cave that we were looking for, and a lot of hunting was done to find it. It took a team of four people, much internet searching, topographic maps, regional maps, two Saturdays, cold feet, much hiking, and a lot of hoping to find this cave.

Yes, it is a registered cave, but it was found less than two decades ago, requires some skills to enter, is not yet fully explored, and people keep a tight lip on its location. But, it is also the second largest cave in the United States. Did you read that? The second largest cave in the United States. That plus the 200 foot rappel to enter the large room kind of peaked our interest. And thus the hunt began.

Last Saturday we hunted and left exhausted (see photo for proof). This Saturday we hunted for just over two hours before the cave was found by one triumphant team member (much rejoicing by all followed). Elated, we headed to the cave with our pack. One team member down for this part of the day (family duty called), we entered and saw, for the first time, the first part of our treasure.

Just after entering the cave there is an 85 foot rappel down to a little creek. Then you follow the creek through a tunnel / canyon that was about 30 feet tall and just the right width for us to fit through. The beautiful sound of water traveled with us the whole time as we braced ourselves against the canyon walls. Then we returned to ascend the rope those (seemingly much longer) 85 feet up and out. It was a first run and there is so much more to explore but we found our treasure. Not treasure that you can put in your pocket and show off to the world, but it is perfect treasure.

If things go well, we will do another test run in a month or so, and then take a larger team down to the large room (200 foot rappel) in March. So, you will be hearing more about this adventure as it continues to develop. And, who knows? Maybe we will find gold treasure deep down inside as well.

The top flashlight is the top of the rappel, the second is Joel descending.

Burton pulling Joel over after the descent so that he does not land in the little creek.

The canyon above the creek. Happy times.

A lot more exhausting to go up a rope.

cave camping

Last weekend I spent 21 hours underground because I thought it would be a great adventure and three friends agreed. We loaded our packs, drove out to the cow pasture that is a hill, walked to the top of a hill and then descended into the cave. As soon as we entered the cave, time stood still. Shadows did not grow longer, the night darker, or the morning brighter. It was always fully dark save the light we created.

Above ground there were still melting icicles, but underneath it remained a balmy 50 degrees – warm when moving and cold when sitting on stone surrounded by damp air. We sweated as we climbed over and under fallen rocks (once the cave ceilings), explored tunnels, and wiggled (or rolled) through narrow passage ways. Then we added layers of clothes as we ate good food, drank happy drinks, played card and dice games, and pondered life into a (perfect) small fire. The morning (though not the light) brought the same in reverse – food and then spelunking. All of it filled with the smiles and laughter of shared adventure.

Here is the thing about last  weekend: it was fully our adventure, our fun. The space was dark and the rocks cold. It could have been a frightful space, but instead was a joyous space. We carried crazy amounts of stuff for one night. But, in return, we ate hot meals, drank rum-spiked hot chocolate, had home-made apple pie, plenty of warmth, fire wood, candles, games, and toilet paper. We left nothing behind and brought out some trash left by others. It was awesome, but there is one thing I will do differently next time. Next time I will bring a table cloth.

I love Jack, my Subaru. He faithful carries adventure necessities.

The adventurers. Please note general cleanliness and pack size for one night.

Men making chairs.

Friends making dinner.

Making the perfect fire. No matches required.

Enjoying the perfect fire. Seemed like there should have been stars above. Instead there were rocks.

Triumphant and dirty.

It is an unwritten rule: backwoods adventures must end with a meal at a diner.

i flew (fell) through the sky

This past Saturday I celebrated Joel’s birthday by jumping/stepping/being pushed out of an airplane, free falling for nearly 10,000 feet, floating for 4,000 feet, and, finally, sliding to a stop (gracefully) on my backside. All while attached to a tall, handsome man who took care of the details (like making sure the parachute opened) so that I could enjoy every windblown moment without (generally) a care in the world.

I have been a SCUBA diver since I turned 12, and somehow this seemed like the other extreme. And I love birthdays. So,when Joel said, “I want to celebrate my 30th birthday by jumping out of a perfectly good plane,” of course I said, “Let’s go.” Only this time last November, when he actually turned 30, it was pretty darn cold. Both of us love warm/hot climates, and so the adventure was put off. October rolled around, we thought of the adventure again, and sighed up. The hour we were to leave for the airfield we got the call, “The plane has a maintenance problem.” Really? My travel schedule has been hard to work around these days, winter was coming, and I wanted to be a part of this adventure. But, it all worked out. On November 20, a perfect, 70 degree day with blue skies and scattered clouds,10 days shy of his 31st birthday, Joel and I jumped.

I thought the adrenaline would slow time down. Kind of like how time seems to stand still long enough to get out of the way of danger. Only it did not. The free fall was around 60 seconds, parachuting around 5 minutes. Really? I still do not believe it. I thought I would feel like I was dropping on a roller coaster or in an elevator. But no, at over 100 mph, the wind blowing against your body prevents that feeling? Really? Every part of it a fantastic new experience

The panoramic view was unbelievable. Land stretched as far as I could see. Small, light, fluffy clouds danced below, then around, then above me. A pair of eagles below me, then they soared with the wind to a place to which I could not return. It was kind of like a drift dive with a high current – the view was amazing, but once you passed a spot, there was no returning to it. The difference is that with this, the grandness of the land slowly eased away as the end, the landing, came into focus.

Laughter. Smiles. The glow of new adventure. Was it worth it? Definitely? Would I do it agin? Most assuredly, though I would hope for a new piece of land to see from on high. Is it my next hobby? Probably not; I like the ocean too much for that.

Here are a few quotes that Joel so graciously recorded from our adventure. Pictures taken by dear friend Elizabeth – another friend who loves adventure and celebration, and was willing to stay on land to document this grand occasion. (Joel is the orange parachute, I am the blue. First picture is of him, the second him landing, me flying in for the landing.)

“So you are going to channel your inner Peregrine?” -Elizabeth

Originally we’d paid for a 10k ft. tandem skydive.  “For $10 more we’ll take you to 14K and your 30 second free fall will be about a minute free fall.”Did she even have to ask?!

“As the plane began to climb and the two solo jumpers fell out at 4000k, I began to second guess the choice.  Not that there’s a significant impact difference from a fall from 4k or 14k.  But if FEELS higher.” -Joel

“The last time I was in a little plane like this, we buzzed the runway to clear the zebras off.” -Pam

“If I only had a nickel for every time I took off in a plane facing backwards…”  -Joel

“Put your hair in a bun.  Otherwise it’ll whip me in the face the whole way down.”-  Jump Guide to Pam

“Pam, maybe your jump guide will be hot”-  Elizabeth

“I’m going to my happy place”  “Centering my Chi”  “Confessing all sins” -joel

Door! “Scoot to the back of the plane.  Kneel at the door.  Grab your shoulder straps and don’t let go.  Tilt your head to the right so you don’t smack me in the face.  Arch your back and I’ll push us out.” -Jump Guide


Joel – thanks for choosing to celebrate your birthday in a grand way!

a perfect day in middle tennessee

As captured by my new i-phone 4:

Three friends, one canoe, a river, and a cooler filled with food and drink.

The first orange and brown and purple leaves of the season.

A historic bridge.

Hay bales that wanted some company. New place to do yoga?

I stepped into mud deeper than my legs. Thankful for a Elizabeth and a rescue paddle.

Smiles. Rescued from mud and ready for the journey to continue.

On our way home, we stumbled across Miller’s Grocery… people were waiting outside for a table and live music was filtering out the door. Our 20 minute wait rewarded us with fantastic Southern cooking, killer desserts, great atmosphere, and fun music. Check out their website and if you are nearby, make time to visit!

air condition or sweat

Air condition or sweat. With temperatures that have been maxing out in the high 90’s with plenty of humidity, the choice seems obvious: air condition. Yet as I find myself running from air conditioned space to air conditioned space, the joy of nature is lost and part of me cries inside. My body is enough adjusted to the warmth that I still find myself wrapped in a shawl about half of every work day, but not enough that I would dare think of sleeping without my AC on. And this weekend I caught myself with the American attitude of running from the weather to perfectly acclimatized spaces  – so I cried inside and headed outside.

Saturday was Rock Island State Park with three friends and one’s 6 year old daughter. We spent the day splashing in the water, jumping off (small) cliffs, laughing much, and getting slightly sun kissed. The sun was hot but the water was cool. Today I went to Radnor Lake for a hike in what happened to be close to the hottest part of the day (by chance that is when the hike fit in to my day). It was hot, but the shade of the trees relatively cool and it was good to be outside where the birds were singing, the crickets chirping and the deer munching on grass.

I am so thankful that I do not wake up covered in my own sweat when I am in my own bed, but I am trying to not fall into the trap of the AC. I almost failed, but I think I am back on track. Two of the next three weekends are filled with camping and then I am headed back to Africa, so I think I will make it. I hope you are not trapping yourself indoors but are enjoying all that nature has to offer in the middle of this hot summer.

a season of a camping

As I sit to write this, I feel rich because of the camping trips I have had this season. Not because they were to the most exotic places imaginable, but because they were trips made with friends and lasting memories were created. There were 2 trips in Tennessee, 1 in Kentucky, 1 in North Carolina, and 1 in Washington. On 2 of the trips people came from 4 different cities to join in on the fun. We hiked, told stories, played games, cooked food, had deep conversations, burned wood (and other things), and laughed much. Friends plus nature is so beautiful and good for the soul. Here are some of the people, some of the laughter, from those trips. (One trip has no photo documentation due to much rain… so here are pictures from four trips.)

TU friends

Four friends from college days reunited.

bethany & james

Marriage is good.

renee & kylie

So is falling in love.

the fence

“Come on Pam… I’ll help you make it over the barbed wire fence.” On this hike, I was the only person under 6 feet tall. And yes, with help, I did make it.


I told you there was laughter.

tara & araella

For mother and daughter, fantasy stories fill the hours.


“Aren’t you impressed with my packing?”

pam & josh

Getting ready to hike a beach on the Pacific Ocean to find a campsite.

beach camping

Down there is where we camped listening to the ocean through the night. Just like camping when I was a kid – except a lot colder.


That mustache is the source of endless conversations. That look… well… what is family for but to document such things?!


My beautiful mom.

course 1

This was course one of dinner that night. Yes, we are all diving into the pot with spoons so as to avoiding doing dishes as much as possible.


Just to demonstrate that I do in fact believe in eating well while camping.

matt & chris

The brothers use creative measures when no ladder is available.

chris & lauren

“L come over here and help out.” “What?” “You are so much lighter than M.” I love the expressions on their faces.

teeth brushing

No, he is not an invalid. Yes, there was laughter.