The Eve of the Full Moon, the bright yellow ball, slid in and out from the behind clouds lighting up the landscape, then suddenly disappearing into an inky black. We crossed the back of Montana on Hallowe’en through wildlife country.
We were racing across the top of America from Columbus, Ohio to deliver our air freight to Seattle, Washington through Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minneapolis, North Dakota and Montana when the drive hit a snag in the curvy foot hills.
One slice by tractor trailer – as I rounded the corner, my rocket traveling a modest 52 mph – for the deer already trotting across my path. Oh no, I groaned to myself, squeezing the steering wheel tighter at the 3 o’clock-nine o’clock position – we are not supposed to swerve – I didn’t flinch. Instantly fearing for the damage to my baby, the tractor, already bidding adieu to the deer. Thud. We collided square in the front grill, the deer’s body folded, sucked under the front bumper, her head bent up facing her killer, her eyes wide and golden in the headlight beam, sliced away and tossed into the ditch.
Tears stung my eyes. Did I knock out the headlights, did I damage the front bumper, what was this going to cost me? My first deer strike – and we own the tractor!
There was not a soul on the road, I slowed down to 40 mph, there are no shoulders on this road, looking for a place to stop to inspect the damage. Three miles up I find a rest area, pulling in next to a WalMart tractor trailer. Under the street light, I pulled the brakes and climbed out. Greg snored from the sleeper berth. He knew nothing.
The grill dripped in blood, deer fur stuck in the corners, but amazingly no visible damage. A few pieces of the bottom plastic grill snapped, the metal 18 inch by 5 inch license plate holder was slightly concave, a screw missing from the right side and nothing else. The headlights were in tact, the lights worked, no damage to the casings. Whew! However, there was another small piece of damage I discovered a few miles later, the temperature sensor which tells us if the road is freezing, was knocked out. We were lucky.
This was the end of a wild week in the life of new air freight drivers. A wild weather week. It started when we left Albuquerque. We bobtailed, traveled tractor alone 464 miles from Albuquerque to Phoenix to the nearest load. We were on the far eastern edge, heading into the storm that would dump three feet of snow on Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, closing I-80 at Cheyenne, Wyoming and reach as far as Flagstaff, Arizona. Driving the bobtail is fun. There’s no trailer to worry about, you’re high above the traffic it’s easy to pull in and pull out of rest areas and truck stops and to pass vehicles. But it is top heavy, think Mae West, with a weak spine and not enough support. The bobtail bumps along when there is no wind, with a strong cross wind, it is dancing like a hooked tarpon on the Caribbean Sea. Holding the bobtail to the road was serious work, my little biceps were feeling the strain.
Greg picked up a short load in Phoenix and headed east to El Paso, Texas – the wind continued to dog our trail, but the crosswind slowly subsided into a tail wind when we switched drivers. The signs along I-10 warn of dust storms, warning drivers against stopping on the roadway in zero visibility. At the TA the wind whipped the dust, leaving grit in my teeth and a thick coat of brown on our shiny black tractor.
The truck was also acting up. We’d hit a bump in the road, the transmission slipped out of drive, the red service light came on and the gauges swept across the dash and dropped back. For an instant there was no power. We’d have to manually resume the cruise. When I woke up Greg was worried. Despite $335 spent in Fontana, California at Inland Kenworth the air dryer continued to purge air every two-to-five minutes.
We arrived in El Paso at 0630 Mountain time, a half hour before the terminal opened. There we sat for almost 24 hours. We bought coffee for the terminal manager and he let us hook our shore power through the warehouse doors. It was cold, colder than we expected for late October in El Paso. The storm, which was creating havoc in Colorado brought rain and cool temperatures to Texas.
We were put on a load to Dallas, good news, we’d be traveling south of the storm into warmer territory because the only heat in the tractor is tied to the engine running.
By 0200 our 633-mile Dallas load had evaporated and was replaced by 1694 miles to Columbus, Ohio. Great miles, but now we’ll be angling north into the bad weather. It had been raining, Greg said almost trying to snow in El Paso, while he was trip planning. The name of our game, is to drive as little as possible, cut the miles and drive efficiently to save fuel, keep more of the fuel surcharge in our pockets by spending less on fuel.
Greg scoured the map. Our adventure continues to show me why God made man and woman. I think God, She, had in mind what Greg believes, between the two of us, we make one really smart person. It was both of us, coming from our distinct points of view, different experiences, different interests, different strengths, and frankly different fears, but yet largely with the same goals that helped us find our way to trucking, to choosing our truck and to signing with our carrier. So far we think it has worked out pretty well.
Greg found a new route while I slept, across the Sierra Blancas around Roswell, New Mexico, onto I-40 at Amarillo, Texas through Oklahoma and Missouri, onto I-70 at St. Louis and straight into Columbus, Ohio. Given the information I had when I went to sleep, I would not have taken this route. The Sierra Blancas are high, the storm was reaching into Arizona and New Mexico. I would have taken the southern route across 1-10 and 20 to Dallas through Louisiana, Missippippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, finally into Ohio at Cincinnati and north to Columbus.
Greg saw 1,589 miles, a huge savings, money in our pocket. Usually, I am all about the money, as well, in fact, I would say that I have encouraged, maybe even taught my artist-husband to be more about the money. But I am also not as fearless as he is, where angels fear to tread, so do I.
He headed off. He said he was concerned about the road, because he selected a route that I would drive. We switched at a cute truck stop in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Five minutes, really, five minutes after we headed north, me behind the wheel, I said: “See the snow on the side of the road.”
No, says Greg, that’s heavy frost.
That’s NOT heavy frost. That is snow. Recent snow, like a couple of hours ago snow. We drove north and the snow crept closer to the roadway and finally onto the shoulder and then the edge of the driving lane. We saw flashing lights ahead. Snowplows. This was really, really recent snow. I passed the snowplow and Greg went to sleep. Leaving me alone with the weather.
The good news is that the entire road, except for maybe 20 miles around Roswell is four lane divided highway. I climbed the summit of the Sierra Blancas at 25 miles an hour, thankful for our new Michelin steer tires. It started to snow, but there was no traffic, I may have had four oncoming tractor trailers in that 30 miles. Enough snow had fallen that I could read none of the signs along the roadway, until I crested the summit and saw the bottom of an elevation sign – 7,591 feet. This was no foothill, this is the height of a baby Rocky. I start my decent remembering the Schneider joke: How many times can you come down a mountain slowly? As many times as you want. I passed the Inn of the Mountain Gods at 20 mph.
At the 6,000 foot level the snow gave way to mixed rain and snow and finally rain showers and then it stopped. Traffic was still very light, I traveled around Roswell and started the long ascent of another summit. A windy road, incredibly dark, no traffic and the snow started again. This time, it pounded. I had the
sensation of being sucked into a tunnel, blinded by the snow driving directly at me. I had to check the mirrors constantly to keep my perspective. The snow was sticking, again the answer is simple, drive slowly, two hours, daylight came. It’s easier when you can see. I crossed into Texas, the snow was still heavy and finally it too subsided.
The drive was uneventful until Greg drove into Missouri, the front half of the storm was moving east, meeting warmer temperatures, the snow was gone, but Greg called it tropical “firehose” rain. He saw cars in the ditch and a Roadway triple flopped on its side in the center median, going too fast, his brakes got wet, the Missouri hills are like waves, rolling, cresting and dropping. The driver probably hit his brakes too hard, the trailers skidded sideways and forced him into the ditch. We heard that behind us a FedEx truck hit the ditch and caught fire.
It was an ugly night, but we arrived in Columbus on time knowing we would leave with a load to Seattle. Most drivers want to stay away from the bad weather, which is a no-brainer. Being the newbies, trying to get on the good side of the dispatchers, and liking the Northwest, we are going to see more winter this year.
Heading west to Seattle the weather was great through Minnesota and North Dakota, which brought us a fabulous, painterly sunset. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. The setting sun reflected off a thick band of clouds, creating another worldly sunset, deep magenta against steel blue. In the giant skies of North Dakota it seemed to last for hours.
Greg stopped on Hallowe’en night in Glendive, Montana to fuel. Inside the truck stop he saw cowboys, chaps, big hats and he thought, oh yeah, it’s Hallowe’en. Then he thought – and maybe not. This is in Montana, there are cowboys here. He headed off again, there was no snow, the temperature hovered at 40 degrees, The Volvo has fantastic headlights. He decided to take the back road, US 200 West where I met my deer.
We’re in Portland “sittin’ and spendin'” as they say in the trucking world. $11,500 down by the time we get out of here tomorrow night, truck repairs and Auxillary Power Unit.
First stop, TEC Volvo in Portland for a transmission inspections. We decided that we have a loose electrical connection because the transmission shifts beautifully. On I-90 west of Spokane, Washington, the road descends steeply from exit 139 to a bridge across the Columbia River – an amazing sight, pale blue sky under bright sun, golden birch leaves on the banks of the river, a tropical blue, one of our favorite color combinations – from the bridge we climb about 10 miles up a six per cent winding grade. Think Formula One driving, Sebastian Vettel hunkered down in the cockpit, using his body and his core muscles to lean into each curve. The transmission shifted up and down flawlessly, 13 down to 12, up to 13, down to 12 and 11, up to 12, down to 11, up to 12 and then 13. The tacometer riding between 1,400 and 1,600, speeds up to 61 miles per hour. She is pulling like a dream, effortlessly. The transmission is good.
We also need the air system checked again, the governor and air dryer are still purging every two-to-five minutes and we need the front end checked for the deer strike and the temperature sensor replaced.
The transmission turned out to be corroded wires at the battery, fixed, the air dryer was also an electrical problem, the connection breaks so the governor thinks there’s no air and tries to fill the air cannisters again, temperature sensor repairs – $420.
Off to Best Buy to install a new stereo with plug ins to accommodate the Sirius Radio and the iPods and the computer so we can run sound through the stereo and watch movies on the computer – $449.
Today and tomorrow we’re having an Auxillary Power Unit installed to bring us heat, AC and power when the truck engine is not running. Plus we’re staying in a hotel for four nights, kaching, kaching, KaCHING.
Looking after the truck, reinforces to me that I could never do this alone. Greg has learned so much about trucks, he really is a brilliant guy. I am lucky.
Once we leave here we’ll keep the doors locked and wheels turning.