TSince today is the first day of a brand new year, it’s the perfect day to post a list of firsts that are now stored in my mental filing cabinet. It’s impossible to transition from a home-owning 9-to-5 person (a traditional life) to a retired home-on-wheels person (a full-time RV life) without experiencing a lot of firsts.

Firsts have created an indelible memory. Bad. Good. Silly. Or dramatic. Memories stick with us because they are just that, memorable. Here are a couple my firsts with a little of everything. Bad. Good. Silly. And dramatic (though nothing compared to blowing a tire on Day 2 of the trip down the Alaska Highway, which is the topic of next week’s post). Memories all.

First Adventure, Stop #1

Before my first night in the trailer, I was staying at a Motel 6 (great resource because they allow pets) about an hour from the Oliver factory. Because of the drama on my original delivery date, I ended up driving back to the motel to stay an additional night. The next day, I repeated the drive back to Oliver.

This meant four trips between Pulanski and Hohenwald, Tennessee. The short one-hour drive has three different routes, each taking a similar amount of time. My salesperson at Oliver recommended one specifically because of how beautiful it is. It did not disappoint.

On the drive, I drove past a historic site that looked interesting so I decided to return to explore the area during my stay in Tennessee.

The scenic drive, it turned out, was a small section of the 444 mile Natchez Trace Parkway (watch the 5-minute video on the website to get a overview of its uniqueness and its beauty). The Parkway runs through three states (Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee) and 10,000 years of history. It is a designated bike route. I was told biking on the Parkway is a very popular activity in the warmer months. I saw only a single bicyclist in late October.

Getting on the Trace (as it is often called) was super simple for me. Literally, I crossed the highway from my campground.

One of many openings where the phosphate was found in the layers of the limestone.

Only on the road for a few miles, I saw a sign for a pullout and pulled over. It was a trail to an old phosphorus mine. The mineral, formed from shellfish deposited 400 million years ago, is found in the layers of limestone. About 1880, humans discovered its value as a fertilizer and started mining it.

The five minute trail extended further but there was a sign saying not to go further. The trail, it turned out, was an abandoned railroad bed where a Dinkey line ran. A Dinkey line was, basically, a short railroad line believed to have gotten its name from the fact that small locomotives were called Dinkeys.

The placard said over 1,000 miles of Dinkey lines have been abandoned throughout Tennessee. I didn’t see any actual rails but it was still kind of neat knowing I was walking where men used to run pushcarts filled with the blue phosphate ore over the rails.

First Adventure, Stop #2

Six more miles up the road is the Meriwether Lewis Historical Site. Nervousness kicks in whenever I do something for the first time. This isn’t new to the RV life. It was true for writers’ conferences, new cities, new activities, etc.

I discovered something that helps, at least for a new place. Rather than going directly to the parking area, if I drive around to get a sense of the place, to see what others are doing, to see if dogs are around, to get an idea of where I should head first, I feel more grounded and less intimidated by all the newness and by the unknown.

As such, I drove past the parking area, drove through the campground where I saw many signs pointing to hiking trails, then drove the circular road around the memorial. Finally I drove to the visitor’s center. Since the dog wouldn’t be allowed inside, I decided to stop before I returned to the parking lot.

The side view of the cabin that serves as the Visitor’s Center and Exhibit.

The two room cabin is not the original but a replica typical of the period when Meriwether Lewis overnighted in 1809 at a place called Grinder’s Stand, an inn run by the Grinder family.

One room serves as an exhibit with historical information about Meriwether Lewis. What impressed me most was how much bigger his life was than simply his 28-month exploration with William Clark looking for a commercial water route to the Pacific Ocean. He was, for example, the personal secretary of President Thomas Jefferson and, later, the Governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory.

So why is the site historical? After Mrs. Grinder gave Lewis dinner, he retreated to his room. Hours later, shots rang out. Meriwether Lewis shot himself in the head and in the gut. He bled out and died just after sunrise on October 11, 1809, at the age of 35.

The broke column monument to Meriwether Lewis, erected 1848.

They buried him nearby and in 1848 a monument was erected over the grave site. The design is a broken column meant to represent a life cut short. Conspiracy theories are not new to our modern era. At the time the monument was erected in 1848, there was speculation that Lewis was murdered. Those rumors persist to this day.

The other room of the cabin provides information brochures, has a guest book and is staff by a National Park Service ranger. I picked up a few brochures and asked about the hiking trails I’d seen on the drive. I was looking for one or two miles without much incline and decline. My dog just can’t do long hard hikes like she used to. He advised staying on the Old Trace trail, a section of the original trail. I bid him goodbye, drove back to the main parking lot.

I had an exploration plan.

Footsteps Through History

On the ground at the beginning of the Footsteps Through History Walk.

At the parking lot is the beginning of an interpretive trail called Footsteps Through History. My dog, Solstice, and I walked along the preserved section of the Old Trace trail. Each stop had a bench and information about people you would’ve met on the trail at different periods in history.

It was incredibly beautiful with the fall leaves crunching under our feet. Surrounded by tall trees, the photos are mostly in shadow even though it was a bright day.

We continued on the trail past the visitor’s center cabin, stepping off the trail to see the Lewis Monument up close. Weather has taken a toll on the inscription of the 1848 monument.

Almost 170 years in the natural elements has made the original monument inscription hard to read.

The trail continued on further past the Lewis Monument but we’d gone far enough. We returned the way we came.

All in all, it was a perfect first adventure.  Before venturing out, I looked up the site online and learned it was the site of Lewis’s death. I contemplated not going. My first adventure was a big deal. Wasn’t it a little morbid and sad going to a place that’s notable because of a suicide?

After some contemplation, I decided that while it may be the place Lewis chose to take his last breath, it is also a place that shares information about his life. And when I think of Lewis and Clark, I think of pair of American adventurers. And adventure, in part, is what this new life is about for me.

Through that  filter, it became a perfect first adventure. Plus, it was close by. Plus, I knew it would be beautiful.

I experienced but a blip of the Natchez Trace Parkway. Even so, I fell in love with it. I plan on returning to the area in the future. I want to drive from mile 1 to mile 444. Additionally the Natchez Trace 450 mile footpath is a National Scenic Trail. They developed five sections, totaling 60 miles, for hiking. I’d love to hike all 60 miles. In my mind it would make for a fantastic two or three or four month adventure.

First Hack

During my orientation at Oliver, multiple people warned me about the finger pinch from the hitch. It hurts. You squeeze the handle-thing, slide the tube-thing down so the handle is under the tube. The tube-thing can slide hard and fast. So it’s best to control it if you can.

The cold weather made me disinclined to take my security lock off the hitch to do a photo. All that metal gets my hands cold just thinking about it. But know this, I painted a white line under there.

After the explanation, I thought why not just hold the handle-thing further down than the tube-thing can go. But after trying it myself, I learned it’s a tough squeeze so you naturally want to move your hand to the place it is the easiest which is right in the pinch zone.

You have to balance staying out of the pinch zone while still getting enough leverage to get the handle closed in order to slide the tube-thing over it.

Then, a light bulb. Nail polish. So for $1.97 I did my first hack.

I painted a white line where the tube comes down to and it means my hand and fingers need to stay on the other side of the line.

And it should mean that I’ll never pinch my hand.

Kind of a small hack and, still, I’m kind of proud of myself. Bring on the next one.

Other Firsts

  • First nighttime parade: Macy’s Parade of Lights in downtown Walla Walla, WA).

    Hard cider purchase. First ever.

  • First taste of hard cider: Blue Mountain Cider Company (Milton-Freewater, OR). I had the impression that hard cider was made of apples and grain alcohol. In fact, hard cider more closely resembles beer. So not only did I have my first taste, I also learned something.
  • First self-guided walking tour: Historical Homes of Walla Walla, WA.
  • First visit to an aviary: Pioneer Park Aviary in Walla Walla, WA. Photos posted to social media.
  • First shower in Quill at RV Park. I’ve been showering in the RV Park’s bathroom so have only taken a couple of showers in the rig. Not as difficult as I was expecting. I was hooked up to water so I didn’t have to restrict my water usage. First Navy shower is still in my future. And for those who don’t know a Navy shower (also called a staggered shower) is when you turn the water off the water while lathering and shampooing. When you get good at it, as I understand, you can take a shower using only one gallon of water. It’s necessary for boondocking.

I look forward to years of firsts. Bad. Good. Silly. Dramatic. And everything in between.

I appreciate your comments. I’m especially interested to know if you like the historical information. I’ve been to several historical sites and places on the National Historical Registry. To me, they are interesting as well as informative. I’ve shared photos and a tad bit on social media but have been debating about whether or not to write my impressions and experiences on the blog. They would be similar to the First Adventure shared in today’s post. Would love some feedback on the matter.

An entry after my own heart. A RV decked out in lights for the Parade of Lights.