60 Hikes Within 60 Miles

Appreciate your own back yard

There’s a wonderful book series called 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles. I bought one years ago for Nashville, and one when I moved to Denver.

60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Nashville is a fantastic guide to nearby trails in the middle Tennessee area. Written by Johnny Molloy, it includes a map of where the trails are in middle Tennessee, individual trail maps, mileage, conditions, level of traffic, directions to the trailhead, and more. I’ve used this guide book for years (I have the second edition; the most recent is the fourth edition), and I’ve decided to write reviews for all 60 trails within this book. I’ll also be doing a few trails from other editions.

Continue reading “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles”

Trail Review: Devils Backbone Loop (#32)

Stop and smell all the things

I’ll admit – I wasn’t impressed for the first few steps of this trail. It felt kind of vanilla – just another wooded trail in middle Tennessee. By the end, it was one of my absolute favorite trails in a while.

Continue reading “Trail Review: Devils Backbone Loop (#32)”

Trail Review: Frozen Head State Park

“The poor man’s Smokies”

“This is the poor man’s Smokies.” – Donner

Last month, Donner, ThrillBilly, a new friend named Steve, and I went on a quick overnighter at Frozen Head State Park. Even though it was pretty warm around mid-day (especially on that dang Spicewood Trail), the weather was almost perfect. It was a low-mileage trip; roughly 6.5 miles the first day and 5.5 the second day. Don’t let the short miles fool you – there were definitely some difficult routes and elevation gain.

[Click here to see the trail map.]

We started off from the Visitor Center – staffed by two very nice rangers – and walked the Old Mac Trail (rated: easy) a little less than half a mile. We then turned onto the Spicewood Trail (difficult). Hoo boy, it was a climb/scramble up 2.5 miles, with stops to catch our breaths and wipe the sweat from our eyes. I was told the trail is best hiked in the earlier spring, when all the flowers along the way are in bloom. It was still lovely, and a fun, technically challenging trek – as challenging as you can be outside the big mountains.


(Plants top to bottom: two pictures of ferns; spiderwort; autumn hawkbit; Indian pink. We also saw a lot of Jack-in-the-Pulpit.)

Met a new frenemy, Mr. Young Rattlesnake

From there, we headed north on the Chimney Top Trail (difficult) for a mile, then the Lookout Tower Trail (moderate) for about 2.5 miles to the Squire Knob campsite.

View from fire tower; a bit too hazy to see very far

It was fairly hot mid-day, but there was a PERFECT spring just a little before camp. Someone has built a little grotto for it, and it was clear and cool and so, so good.



The campsite was really nice – lots of places to setup tents, great trees for hammocking, tables (!), and an established fire pit with rock chairs. There was even a bear box, which I love because I am lazy.





We set out the next morning for about half a mile until we turned west on the Cumberland Trail (difficult) and hiked about 2.5 miles. We then turned on the Bird Mountain Trail (difficult) for another 2 miles and ended up at the big campground. One of the cool things about this campground is the gate at the end, also known as the starting point of the annual Barkley Marathons.

Barkley Marathons starting line

Even though this park isn’t as majestic as the Smokies or out West, and there aren’t any views, there was plenty of water, a nice breeze, relatively clear and well-blazed trails, and a good group of hikers to join on a walk in the woods.

(Me being my normal goofy self; Donner telling some story; L:R – Steve, Donner, ThrillBilly)



Trail Review: Bells Bend Loop (#17, 3rd ed.)

Favorite hike of the season!

This evening’s stroll along the trail that winds through the meadows of Bells Bend Park was exactly what I needed after a busy, stressful day in the office. This trail is the PERFECT easy trail to hike during a Tennessee spring. The scent of honeysuckle and clover permeated the air the entire time, and Moka and I had the trail all to ourselves. This hidden gem is my new favorite spot.

This trail is ideal if you like:

  • easy, meandering, level, grassy trails


  • close enough to Nashville to go after work, but far enough to feel a world away
  • SO MUCH HONEYSUCKLE and wildflowers


  • a great path for your favorite pupper
  • gorgeous views
  • wildlife (ducks and rabbits and songbirds, oh my!)
  • lots of parking in a clearly marked and tidy trail head


  • a beautiful drive to get there

Some challenges you may encounter:

  • It’s springtime in Tennessee, so check trail conditions. It hasn’t rained in a few days, so the trail was dry and lovely. If there’s been recent rain, some spots will be fairly muddy.
  • Mosquitoes and ticks. This is a mowed path through a huge meadow with a few copses. It’s tick Disneyland. I hiked the entire A.T. with no ticks. I picked more than 15 off of me this evening – including one on my face! And Moka got the full tick checking treatment when we got home – 20+ off of that pretty girl. In the future, I’ll be sure to wear bug spray and treat my shoes and gaiters with permethrin.
  • The trail may be confusing for some to follow. Signs are situated at junctions, but are faded and sometimes not very clear. Trails intersect each other frequently, so make sure you carry a picture of the PDF map the park provides.


The loop that Moka and I hiked was only 2.6 miles long, so we made a second, smaller loop to explore the middle of the meadow. The small trail was just as lovely, and may be a good option for folks starting their fitness journey who may not want to tackle the entire 2.6 mile loop.

I’ll let the pictures in this post speak for themselves, but I really encourage you to take a nice, quiet walk through this lovely pastoral acreage. It’s the perfect ending to a busy day.

A small covered lookout on the west side of the trail, overlooking the meadow



Fear Of Missing Adventures

(FOMA?) Also, why I fear I’m a fraud.

Hello, my name is Firestarter, and I have fears. I fear I am a fraud, and I fear I am missing out on adventures because of my life choices.

We’ve all heard of FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out. The quickening of the pulse when you accidentally leave your cell phone on the charger at home and only realize it when you get to the gym. The little sinking feeling in your stomach when you cruise Instagram on Saturday morning to see all the fun you missed on Friday night when you were too tired from work to go to that party. The twinge of guilt when you know you should be going to sleep but need to scan Facebook/Instagram/CNN headlines in case something insane happened in the 17 minutes since you last checked.

Lately I’ve found myself dealing with a different kind of FOMO. The typical things – forgetting my cell phone, spending a night at home verses a “fun” night out, etc. – don’t rattle me, but I’m also the kind of person who saves up money to get away periodically from cell phone reception. The fear I’ve been battling with this winter is much larger to me: the Fear Of Missing Adventures.

This winter has been very hard for me. We lost our dog Margo to cancer in November, adopted our dog Moka in December, lost our dog Sage to kidney failure in January, and adopted our dog Minnie in February. Throw a couple of temporary foster dogs in the mix, and life was hectic and distracting. I grieved my dogs’ deaths very deeply. There were the holidays – a crazy time for almost everyone. I had a family member suffer an unexpected major health issue. I received an unexpected (and undesired… long story) promotion at work at the beginning of the year, with more work, more stress, more business travel, and no additional pay. Wedding planning kicked into full swing, which can be fun but also stressful when you have to figure out how you are going to pay for it all. We have taken on side jobs (some manual labor for me, extra work shifts for him) to keep from using credit cards. We budget and account for every penny. While I love backpacking in the winter, I didn’t want to travel away from home while Sage was so ill because I didn’t want to risk not being there when she died, and travel is an additional expense that just isn’t in the budget right now.

Put this on top of existing mental illness and Seasonal Affective Disorder, and you’ve got a recipe for a good deal of depression. In addition to medicine and therapy, I normally keep it at bay by getting outside, but in the cold rainy winter, that can be hard to do. With depression, sometimes you just don’t want to go outside, even if you WANT to want to go outside. So, what did I do?

I stayed glued to social media. I have a lot of dear friends that live for the outdoors, whose feeds are full of breathtaking scenery and fun adventure pics. Some were big epic trips, some were fun mid-week mini-adventures. Some were just part of their awesome day job (ski patrol). As I saw all these incredible pictures of healthy active beautiful friends living their best lives, I fell further into depression. Not only was I missing out on outdoor backpacking trips (sick dog, saving money) or fun trail runs (exhausted from my stressful day job when everyone else goes running on Monday nights), I was constantly comparing myself to what I saw. I was constantly comparing myself to the person I think I am supposed to be.

Welcome, Imposter Syndrome.

I felt – and still feel, honestly – like a fraud sometimes. I’m Firestarter. I’m the bad@$$ trailblazer, the solo hiker, the challenger of bears and snakes, the eater of food that I accidentally dropped in the mud but, damnit, I carried those calories in and I’m eating them. I solo backpack, I rock climb, I mountain bike/ski/snow shoe/trail run/hike/kayak. I have gaiters with flames on them and an entire GEAR ROOM.

And, from mid-November 2018 to this very day, I have been on ONE hike. And it was only about 2 miles with my dog Moka at Percy Warner. I haven’t backpacked, or climbed, or been on a bike, or even strolled along a greenway.

It’s easy to get lost in the deluge of internal messages, the ones we tell ourselves about how we aren’t “authentic,” or “living our best life.” About how we are a fraud. How on earth can I claim to love the outdoors if I haven’t pulled myself out of the house in three months? What right do I have to write a blog that provides trail reviews and talks about gear? In what world am I qualified to teach another Backpacking Basics course for Nashville this year?

It’s easy to start that self-doubting spiral. I do love the outdoors. I can write anything on my blog I want. And I can teach a course. But that doesn’t stop the fraudulent feeling, especially when battling depression and anxiety. It’s easy to forget that decisions you make (to get married, to start a family, to strengthen a financial future by working a desk job you may not like very much) aren’t sacrifices. They are choices. No, I won’t be thru-hiking the Te Araroa in October 2019 like I planned. No, I won’t be able to Triple Crown before 40. But those are my choices. I choose other things right now. That’s not an excuse, though, for stopping adventures. Sure, it puts a bit of a hold on long adventures, but I can still take weekend backpacking trips, still hike, still do all the things I love. (Yes, even when I have kids.)

This post isn’t a gear review, or trail review, or full of fun trick and tips. I’m not sure what this qualifies as.

I lead a women’s meetup group in the Nashville area (You Are a Badass Lady!), and one of the key things we do at every meetup is say our fear(s) aloud. Naming and verbalizing fear tends to take away some of its power; for me, at least. So this post is my fear-naming.

Hello, my name is Firestarter, and I have fears. I fear I am a fraud, and I fear I am missing out on adventures because of my life choices.

This is a good place to start.