First Week on the Road

Laredo, Texas

We dropped our second load in hell. Blast furnace heat in Laredo, Texas.

Our first load came Wednesday afternoon. The Qualcomm, the satellite messaging service connecting us to dispatch, beeped just as we finished stuffing all the things we thought we absolutely had to have into the tractor, including a memory foam topper for the bunk, the computers, the GPS, the Sirius Satellite radio, a crowbar, a three-pound sledge hammer and a Canadian-made Koolatron Cooler, which was recommended by other Schneider Drivers.

I thought I would die when I heard the beep. Everyone says you’ll remember your first load. I don’t. I remember that I didn’t get a wink of sleep sliding from one end of the bunk to the other as Greg dragged 40,000 pounds plus of scrap paper up and down the mountains in West Virginia.

My enduring memory of our first load is that I got stopped for a DOT Inspection in Kentucky. A freaking DOT inspection – which strikes fear in the heart of drivers because you can drive away with hundreds of dollars of fines.

“This is our second day out, my first day driving with my license,” I told the inspector, a 50s guy with a kind face, me smiling weakly.

I knew I had all my paperwork in order because I made two instructors look at the permit book before we left – a little newbie paranoia and Canadian thoroughness.
In this supposedly deregulated industry, we have a two-inch thick Permit Book, which includes the truck registration and proof of paying fuel taxes and the authority to pass through states carrying hazardous materials or alcohol.

They also inspect the driver’s log book to make sure there is no violation of the  70-hours per week working rule or the 11-hour per day driving rule. No fears there, it’s my first day behind the wheel.

Mr. DOT looked at my license. “You’re 50,” he said, looking genuinely impressed.
“You’re not from around here are you?”

I told him I live in New York, but I’m originally from Canada. He said he always wanted to go to Canada.

He then inspected the tractor and trailer, the brakes, the lights, the airlines.

We got a no violations report. The first day out with the training engineer we had a DOT inspection and now this. Greg says my CB handle should be Miss DOT!

The following day Greg got stopped by a state trooper in Texas on our second load. I had finally fallen asleep. He said he couldn’t believe a cop was behind him flashing lights. The State Trooper told him he was doing 69 mph.

The truck won’t go faster than 61, it’s governed, Greg told him.

Note: Schneider just reduced the speed for solo drivers from 63 to 60 mph to save fuel. Team trucks are governed at 65, we’ll need to get into a shop to get them to push up our speed – but we’re not in a hurry!

The trooper looked at his license. “How long you been drivin’?”

“Two days,” said Greg.

“If you had said, two years, I’d have given you a ticket,” the trooper said, handing Greg a warning. “You have to move over when there’s a stopped emergency vehicle on the road. OK.”

Our first load, delivered to Kimberly Clarke in Owensboro, Kentucky was 435 paid miles. Through the mountains of West Virginia via Charleston. These are itty bitty mountains by British Columbia standards, in fact, we wouldn’t even call them mountains, but when you’re laying in the back of a sleeper berth sliding up and down the full length it feels like BIG mountains.

Greg did most of the driving the first two days, just how it worked out. Once we dropped load #1, we pulled an empty trailer 120 miles to Clarskville, Tennessee to hook the load bound for Laredo, Texas.

I was so fried yesterday that we stopped at the Pilot truck stop in Stanton, Tennessee on I-40, me a bundle of heaving tears, for a shower and a nap.

I can tell that we’re going to like this, but I’m a wreck.

Today I drove 416 miles, which is the minimum mileage we each should be doing. Schneider wants to see teams traveling at least 500 miles a day each and 550 is better. We are being paid a premium to drive, an extra 5 cents a mile over a solo driver.

We are starting in the 775-mile a day band, we have a couple of weeks to get used to sleeping on the road and move up to 425 miles a day.

Today I left Dallas, Texas at 0630, not a lot of sleep last night, stopped about three hours later at a rest stop and crawled into the sleeper for an hour nap curled up around Greg.

Ate some granola and yogurt and departed at 1030 and arriving at the Schneider Operating Center 1630.

If we get another load tonight Greg is driving. I drove through Austin and San Antonio, Texas that was a bit scary. Traffic everywhere, not that heavy but still a lot of traffic to me, not knowing where I’m going, watching the signs, listening to the GPS. The GPS is great, but it’s for cars and often it tries to send you around situations onto routes where trucks cannot go. I keep remembering my friend Peggy’s words about learning. She says that after a while you don’t remember what it was like not to know how to do it.

I left Dallas in the dark, out onto Interstate 35, which was under construction.

What a thrill ride, drive a 7-story building down a narrow lane with two-and-a-half-foot high concrete barriers on your right side. My necked ached before the sun came up.

I’ve hit a couple of little curbs, one getting into the Laredo drop lot and some place else. It reminded me I have to know where those back tires are at all times. I also am committed to staying on the big roads for some time to come. Greg already likes the back roads, he drove about 40 miles from the Clarksville pickup to I-40, at night, on state routes, think country roads, narrow, no shoulder.

I haven’t had to back up yet, which is bad news, I need more practice. I don’t want to be bribing every yard jockey with $5 or $10 to park my trailer. Although it would be tax deductible.

We’ve already seen a spectacular sunset over Pennsylvania and beautiful golden, Tuscan light over the cornfields in Kentucky and the misty blue mountains in West Virginia.

I’m fading, need to get the laundry out. We’re available!

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