Punching Out a Life on the Road

Van Horn, Texas

Sitting in the tractor, surfing the Internet last Thanksgiving, the sun slowly rising over the Travel America (TA) truck stop in Ontario, California, I felt a tinge of guilt that I was not outside, walking in the crisp air.

I heard a soft thumping. Pow. Pow. Pow-pow. Pow-pow.

Punching Out a Life on the Road

Fifty-years-old and a truck driver, Darryl can do 100 pushups. He rigged a punching bag that hangs from his trailer for his workouts.

Peering through our window shades I saw Darryl, a compact 50-year-old driver from Wisconsin, wailing on a punching bag, hanging from the side of his step deck trailer.

When most Americans were waking — contemplating a day of turkey, yummy, with a side of family, sometimes a little tart — drivers here were waiting the day out. But Darryl had begun his one hour, cardio exercise routine, including 100 pushups.

Former US Army, Darryl, single with no kids, marks 30 years behind the wheel of a big truck this year. He has three goals: retire fit, retire to Florida where he hopes to buy a fishing boat and take tourists on charters, retire after fighting one last fight. This one in the Ultimate Fighting Championship circuit, the UFC. A kick boxer in his army days, his dream is to have Randy Couture in his corner for that UFC fight. He plans to be ready within two years.

“You need to stay active after 40,” he told me, taking a break from his morning routine. “The pounds just come and it gets harder to get them off.”

I told him non-drivers are envious of his conditioning. “I’m not in top form,” he said. “Not for a fight.”

Darryl drew a small crowd with his set up. Two 60-something drivers wandered over. Patting their paunches they told me they are trying to get more exercise by walking around the truck stop.

More drivers are exercising. If they aren’t yet, they are talking about it, and that’s the usually the first step to a lifestyle change. I used the gym at the TA in Nashville,Tennessee in March and a driver, as tall as he was wide, came in and rode the stationary bike for 15 minutes.

I’ve seen drivers in the morning walking circuits around the Flying J in New Caney, Texas outside of Houston. Twice I’ve seen drivers with a unicycle, once at the Flying J in Winchester, Virginia. Maybe it was the same driver twice. We see more tractors with bicycles tied to the back. Our friends at The Daily Rant recently purchased bicycles. The four of us went for a ride around Rouses Point, New York before our trip to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix.

But exercise isn’t the only ingredient in good health says our friend Gary, 48. An entrepreneur — his decade-old business went under in the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 and he turned to team truck driving while he decides on his next chapter — and a fine amateur photographer, a music lover and a coffee aficionado. He recently celebrated renewed good health by walking across the George Washington Bridge from New York to New Jersey.

He was diagnosed several years ago as a pre-diabetic. But he says he was fooling himself into thinking that he was eating well and exercising. He has a bicycle in the truck.

“I would pull the bike out and go for a ride every chance I had,” he said. “But then I rode somewhere and ate a hamburger or worse.”

In January, he got a small infection in the back of his neck, he kept thinking it was a pimple and would go away but it didn’t. Finally, feeling terrible, he realized he had a huge problem and went to a hospital.

Punching Out a Life on the Road

Our Thanksgiving Big Plate o’ Brown, unfortunately a good example of what’s readily available that passes for food. The turkey was real and the only edible thing on the plate. I couldn’t really make anything else out, but I am assured it was mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes and a green bean casserole. They had run out of cranberry sauce. There were raw vegetables, broccoli and cucumbers, at the salad bar and included. The pie was too sweet.

The diagnosis? He was low on white blood cells to fight infection. The bill? $40,000 including a week in the hospital and several days of $700-a-day antibiotic cocktails. He has no medical insurance. To make matters worse, the wheels weren’t turning, so he had no income.

“You can tell my story,” he said. “If just one person reads it and realizes that looking after your health is cheaper than any cost of being healthy, such as eating well, I am happy to share.”

If you’re wondering about my no-sugar diet, I had a relapse in Montreal, eating four of the new iconic Canadian cookies, President’s Choice Decadent Chocolate Chip and two chocolate croissants. It doesn’t sound like much, but I thought I’d just have one and I didn’t.

I am holding my new weight, down 15 pounds, since I quit sugar last June. Food that is a little sweet, like milk in my coffee, now tastes sweeter. Really sweet foods like dried plums, my favorite D’Noir from Sunsweet, are too sweet to eat more than one or two.

My best read so far this year is Fat Chance by Dr. Robert Lustig. In easy-to-digest language, he explains the science of eating, the messages that food sends to our brain and how they have been balled up by our overdose of sugar in processed food. There’s more at work than gluttony and sloth, he says, when we get fat. The American industrial diet, exported globally, which he calls Big Sugar, is the new scourge replacing Big Tobacco.

And since thin is not necessarily fit or healthy, I am still working on the exercise portion of my lifestyle.

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