Pain and pleasure are the two pillars of the over-the-road driving experience.
Our first, albeit mild taste of winter rocked the tractor cab as if the Incredible Hulk and his muscle buddies were having a tractor flipping contest. Strong winds literally threw us across Wyoming from Rawlins to Laramie.
The downside, it was scary, my shoulders were numb, gripping the steering wheel, as I pulled into Laramie, a mere 96 miles from Rawlins, but on this leg, a three hour trip. The upside, the fuel mileage was incredible with a 40 to 55 mile an hour tail wind. The fuel meter on the dash read 6.9 mph when I took over in Rock Springs and 8.8 when I arrived in Denver nine hours later.
The warning signs said: Strong Winds, Gusts 55+ MPH, No Light Trailers Advised, Blowing Snow, Icy Sections. Not the recipe for a fun drive.
A light trailer is a camping trailer, a horse trailer, an utility trailer, but a 16,000 pound dry van box like the ones we pull feels light in those winds. Driving a big truck is like riding a sailboat with no keel. All the weight is above my elbows. There is nothing on the underside of the trailer, save eight tires and they don’t weigh much. I have been hit by wind gusts so fierce, I was knocked into the lane beside me. Thank goodness no one was there. (Four wheeler driving tip, in bad weather, do not dillydally next to a big truck, things happen that the driver does not intend.)
A horse trailer jackknifed in the median, and on the westbound side, a bull puller flipped his trailer into the ditch.
Forty mph, I pressed on. You know the winds are more than strong when the FedEx Ground doubles, which usually zip along the Interstates at 65 mph, are crawling and stopping on the side of the road.
When Mother Nature scares the pants off you, she leaves a balm. That’s how I know she’s definitely a woman, she knows the terror can’t be avoided, it’s life, it happens, but she wants to leave us, well with hope, uplifted, when it’s over.
My balm, light. It started slowly, cracks breaking the black in the distance. The cloud cover was heavy, but as the light gradually enveloped the sky, I could see the clouds were layered, heavy, wispy, broken. The sunrise pushed its way through the barrier, I could tell in an instant this would be a sunrise like no other – and I’ve seen a few in my day plying the highways and byways of America.
The light, steel gray, steel blue, hard pink – a great birthday present for me would be the entire collection of paint chips from Home Depot, hole punched and put on a ring so I could see all the colors and pick the match – cold color, bright and harsh. Because of the cloud cover, the light bounced around the tractor, first to the south, then the north, I could see the bright pink reflecting in the clouds behind me, the Westcoast mirrors lit up with the pink light, soon the entire sky was a dozen shades of gray, blue and pink, 360 degrees of pink.
Our winter leg started in San Francisco on Monday, down I-5 to Los Angeles to pick up a load bound for Salt Lake City, treating us to a winter spectacular on America’s greatest drive.
North from Las Vegas on I-15 to the Virgin River Gorge in Arizona, into Utah past St. George and the Red Cliffs, north further into Salt Lake City. This road can be hell in winter, we’ve driven it, the snow packs the road quickly, creating icy ruts.
But not today, warm by winter standards in the high 20s, bright blue sunshine, a wispy cloud here and there and the contrast of brilliant white mountain caps and the bright red cliffs was breathtaking.
McGyver woke up in Parawan, Utah and decided he wanted to drive in the brilliant sunshine, a rare occurrence in the winter.
“Oh, it’s dark, it must be McGyver’s turn to drive,” he laments almost daily. I feel bad for him, because I can’t drive 10 hours every night, the three-to-six hours that I drive in the dark daily depending on time zone is plenty, I am coaxing the light over the horizon, pleading really, by the end of it, which is why we are actively pursuing a change to our over-the-road existence, more on that soon.
We followed the snow covered mountains into Salt Lake City, the brilliant sunshine setting behind us. It’s why we do this, it was amazing. A day that doesn’t come all that often even when you live in this part of the world – to be on the second story with the birds eye view – an honor.
We dropped, hooked and headed to Denver, Colorado. Here we sit for at least 34 hours.
We are pooped, me more than him. We drove 6,850 miles last week, a personal record, one which we will NEVER repeat. The check was fat, but the physical cost great. We just aren’t that dedicated. We’re not even a 5,000 mile a week team, how about 4,000 miles – keeping in mind that a busy solo driver likes 3,200 miles a week.
We were warned. We met Mel and Michelle at the Inland Kenworth dealership in Fontana, California, exhausted from our second load. Experienced, they’ve taken us under their wing.
“You do that air freight for a while,” said Mel. “Then you’ll know, it’s not about miles, it’s about the most money for the least amount of miles.”
It’s about the most money, the least miles AND the least expenses. We’re working on it.
This morning, McGyver’s birthday, I’m sitting in the TA, our Waldorf Astoria truck stop in Commerce City doing the laundry, fresh clothing is one treat for him. Watching the world walk by, on a bench across from two pay phones that promote 10 minutes for a Dollar.
We never do anything for McGyver’s birthday. He spends the year researching the latest gadgets and gizmos that he wants and then he buys them. My job, make sure the cash is there – Life With No Fixed Address cannot survive on debt. The BIG birthday treat, custom-made, soft, molded-plastic ear buds for the man who listens to 10-hours of podcasts, books, music and radio each night while drives.
My birthday, last week, proved to the best yet. We snagged a load to our favorite place, San Pedro, California.
Sitting in the tractor in the parking lot at the DoubleTree at Cabrillo Marina, McGyver booked the cheapest room $129. 34 including tax – Hilton Diamond VIP status upgraded us to a room with a marina view, an easy chair and ottoman positioned directly in front of the window. Morning tea and the sunrise.
Warm, sunny, we pulled the bicycles – another festering reason that we need to make a change, little time to ride our bikes and explore – out of the tractor and headed up the road to Rex’s Cafe at Pacific Avenue and 22nd Street. We’ve been looking at this restaurant for a year. Open for breakfast and lunch, the decor is anti-California, dark wood church pew benches and dark wood kitchen-style tables. It’s cozy and inviting and smells nice, a mixture of herbs and spices. We sat on the little balcony in the sunshine shirt sleeves in December, still a thrill for a girl from Canada.
I tucked into my Teriyaki shrimp stir fry on brown rice – al dente slightly charred carrots, cauliflower, broccoli and zucchini, moist shrimp and nutty brown rice, the sauce? not salty. McGyver had the Mexican omelette tops with sour cream and fresh avocado. “The best omelette I have ever eaten in a restaurant.”
We’ve been on the lucky guy express since we left New Orleans three nights before Christmas, a few roundtrips, Dallas to Sacramento, spiced up with an Atlanta and LA load avoiding all the bad weather.
The laundry is clean and folded. I’m back in the tractor, my favorite perch over the fuel island, the rising sun has revealed whiter than white snow capped Rocky Mountains in the distance.
A spectacular day, not painful at all this time.
Best wishes for a year filled with your version of more fun, more money, more great people, great places and great meals – and FEWER miles.
Happy New Year.