Eating at the Master’s Table

Visiting with my mother is an all-food-all-the-time experience.

Anna Betnaza is the original tree-hugging, crunchy-granola foodie. At her house we can eat from morning-to-night without fear of gaining a pound.

Eating at the Master's Table

Taking a break from working on her second heathful eating book, Anna’s Remedies. She has always been on top of technological as well as health advances. She started her first book, Eat Anna’s Way, on a manual typewriter, moving up to a word processor. In 1998, she received a MacGyver hand-down, her first computer, a MAC Classic. Since then she has upgraded twice.

My mother has been ahead of her time since the minute she was born in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Poland. She arrived in Canada, at the age of three, on October 29, 1929, the day the stock market crashed. She was raised on a homestead in Northern Alberta.

She left home at 18 becoming a Licensed Nursing Aide, in the late 40s that was one step away from Registered Nurse. A career woman, she invested her money, when only rich old guys knew about making money with money. “I would have been a millionaire if I didn’t get married,” she told me this week.

Married at 30, she raised four children and used her investments to leverage the family into home ownership. My dad’s contribution to the beginning of the relationship, a hi-fi and a bunch of opera records. He was lucky to find her and lucky that she kept him around until he died.

My mother believes in the power of healthful eating. The book Sugar Blues by William Dufty, first published in 1975, sits on the mantle like an honoured household bible.

She grew suspicious of the medical establishment while working in the hospital and at the same time an elderly neighbour began introducing her to the powers of natural food.  In the 60s she was sending me off to school with her signature sandwich. A large round rye crisp, snapped in half, sort of, over her knee, smeared with farm fresh butter, honey and unsalted sunflower seeds, wrapped in wax paper and secured with a rubber band and packed in a very large brown Safeway grocery bag. I was horrified. The sandwich of the day was roast beef, iceberg lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, French’s mustard, salt and pepper on Wonder Bread.

She  became a Master Herbalist in 1984 and in 1992 she published her first book, Eat Anna’s Way, chronicling her food philosophy that we are what we eat. A philosophy and a practice that I have tested and retested and continually find a winner, five years into a lifestyle where we spend most of our time sitting on our butts behind a steering wheel.

Popular recipes today, such as no-dairy-ice-cream made with frozen bananas and fruit and a handful of unsalted sunflower seeds for crunchy texture, whirled together in a food processor, were in my mother’s book more than 20 years ago.

She’s working on her sequel Anna’s Remedies where she’s explaining each of the body’s systems and how food can affect and protect them.

This is the first time our loads have taken us past her front door. She lives between the Monashee and the Selkirk Mountains in southern British Columbia. It’s not easy to get here. The roads are narrow, perched precariously on the edge of a mountain with deep lakes waiting below for any misjudgements. The main highway into her town has a 10 percent grade.

Eating at the Master's Table

Mom and her guard dog Elle on the family sleeping sofa. Eat. Sleep. That’s the routine around here.

We arrived just in time. Her garden is spitting out the last of its yearly bounty. Sweet and crunchy cucumbers, juicy scarlet tomatoes, warm by the sun. Baseball bat-sized zucchini that she slices into one-and-a-half inch steaks and brushes with olive oil and sprinkles a custom-made mixture of sea salt and dulse or sea lettuce and bakes until warmed through but still requiring a knife to cut. Meaty and delicious.

She’s been preparing and storing in her freezer our “old country” favorites waiting for MacGyver and me, mostly MacGyver, I think, because he fixes things. The number one treat is perohy, which is the Ukrainian word for the Polish perogies, and pronounced per-oh-hey, filled with farmer’s pot cheese, never potato and cheddar. She makes the dough with whole grain spelt flour, which gives the dumpling a texture and a little chew and tops it with sour cream. There’s also cabbage rolls and sauerkraut and her new version of beet pickles. She roasts the beets and tosses them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Eating at the Master's Table

Through the mountains to Mom’s house. We delivered our last load in Red Deer, Alberta and drove through Banff and Lake Louise, by the road to the Columbia Icefields, through Kicking Horse Pass to Revelstoke. We took Black Beauty on the British Columbia Inland Ferry system from Shelter Bay to Galena Bay, under a full moon, and into the Kootenay Region.

In three days, three of us, and my mother’s largely a vegetarian, except for occasional fish and chips at the local food truck and nibbles of meat when we’re around, have consumed — because it always seems to be both a sprint and a marathon — ten large cabbage rolls, each!, two containers of perohy requiring a 750 gram (two pint) container of sour cream, a three-pound Saltspring Island lamb roast, three eight-inch long buffalo sausages, one dozen organic, free-run eggs, two loaves of spelt bread, four peaches, eight large cucumbers, ten tomatoes, two zucchinis measuring a foot long and three inches in diameter, two pounds of homemade, fermented-in-salt sauerkraut, one pound of garlic sausage and three large homemade apple-cinnamon pies, all created without sugar, one with raisins and each slice with a large dollop of unsweetened, freshly whipped cream, 950ml (four cups).

My mother is not the classic cook, following a recipe, worrying about presentation. In fact, she never called us to dinner, a habit MacGyver is still getting used to. She feeds people good food. It’s our job to turn up at the right time and eat it.

She is all about the ingredients. If the ingredients are good, meaning fresh and unprocessed, they don’t need much preparation. She makes wicked soups and chowders and salads.

Sashaying around in her size 4-6 designer jeans, her diet is largely brown rice, bean-based stews, steamed vegetables, salad greens and fruits. Up to the end of July she spent $930 on food this year. We’ve spent about $8,500. And we always say that we eat better in the truck because we’re eating Anna’s Way.

The Salad Tells The Story

Laredo, Texas

Middle-class food is better in Canada than the US. I see it in the salad.

I was reminded of this when, waiting to get loaded in Langley last week, we dashed to a British Columbia, middle-class, chain restaurant, White Spot, which is 85-years-old this year. White Spot, which also has locations in Hong Kong, is one of my must stops when in Metro Vancouver along with Dim Sum and sushi.

The Salad Tells The Story

The White Spot Signature salad is a mix of a half dozen different salad greens, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds and cranberries. The multi-grain hamburger bun is no extra charge and delicious.

I have lived in the US for more than 10 years and I’ve eaten in every one of the Lower 48 states, giving Urban Spoon a workout trying fast food, mall chains, neighborhood favorites, farm-to-table foodie restaurants and occasionally ones labeled $$$$.

While Iceberg lettuce is still served and eaten in Canada, the middle-class restaurant food readily accessible to Canadians — even those away from major centers in places such as Hay River, Northwest Territories where we had a great dinner salad at The Back Eddy — offers better, more nutritious salads.

This month there’s a burger and pie special. The Legendary burger with Triple O sauce, and I added lettuce and tomato and a multigrain bun, the Spot’s signature salad and Blueberry pie is $12.99 per person plus tax and tip.

White Spot offers a delicious, soft, slightly chewy multi-grain hamburger bun for its burgers at no extra charge. The signature salad is a medley of loose leaf greens sprinkled with sunflower seeds, sliced almonds and dried cranberries and dressed with a light vinaigrette, each lettuce leaf had texture and bite. The Cesaer has big chunks of deep green, sun-soaked Romaine leaves and fresh grated parmesan.

In the US, particularly beyond what I call the Lettuce Line, which is about 100 miles out from the two coasts, middle class chains, including the TA truck stop buffet, rely on pale, cardboard-like, rust-stained Iceberg lettuce and call it salad. It takes 10 cups of Iceberg lettuce to get the same nutrients in a 1/2 cup of loose leaf lettuce, lettuces where the leaves grow open to the sun. Half of all Americans, we’ve read, have never eaten another lettuce other than Iceberg. This summer I’ve been stuffing MacGyver’s sandwiches with red leaf lettuce on special for as low as $1.29. Good lettuce is succulent and moist and virtually eliminates the need for mayonnaise or Miracle Whip or other sandwich dressings.

The Salad Tells The Story

This Blueberry tart is worth a long drive. Each berry holds its fresh-off-the-vine personality.

The White Spot’s season’s treat is blueberry pie. Unlike a typical blueberry pie which is a mass of processed purple goo with a few blueberries thrown in, the berries in this tart are tossed in an ethereal, barely sweet glaze. Each berry retains its individual shape in the pastry cup, revealing both its sweet and tart side with each bite. It’s worth breaking the no-sugar ban.

No, not the cheapest meal. The cheapest, chain meal we regularly eat, every couple of months, is Denny’s pot roast which we find, conveniently, at the Flying J truck stops. It’s $8.99 before tax and tip, not including a salad or dessert. It’s okay. A generous serving. The meat is tender and the gravy is not too salty. But it does not come with the heaping portion of bright orange carrots and seagreen celery that’s advertised rather it usually has about three carrot nuggets and one piece of nickel-sized celery. Talking with the manager at the Houston, Texas Flying J on I-45, we wanted to know why there weren’t more vegetables, like the photos show.

“Everybody asks that,” she said.

Memo to Denny’s brass. Do something about that.

White Spot, which has a full menu, is excellent value.

Steeling Himself for Another Eleven

Port St. Lucie, Florida

Martha says Eleven is steel, but I think it’s silk.

What’s more thrilling, when one is living, joined at the elbow, literally not figuratively, with one’s husband, than celebrating an eleventh wedding anniversary?

Steeling Himself for Another Eleven

In lieu of any festivities, which typically cost money, I marked my 11th wedding anniversary by trying on my wedding dress.

Fitting into your wedding dress!

It is especially thrilling because it is the same dress I was wearing when MacGyver asked me for our first date 22-years ago.

For me nothing tastes as good as fitting into that dress. So I continue to avoid obvious and added sugar and take 30 minute sort-of-brisk walks, do stretches and a yoga plank pose.

“Eleven? Really?,” said MacGyver.

Isn’t he sweet.

The War of The Roads: Act Three, Tick Tock

Port St. Lucie, Florida

These days, when I slip Black Beauty into drive, I hear my 86-year-old mother.

“It’s simple, but it’s not easy,” she often says.

The War of The Roads- Act Three, Tick Tock

Yeah, I know some people think a dog can do this job. But it would have to be a dog with really good math skills.

The War of The Roads- Act Three, Tick Tock

Another driver, killing time, waiting out his 30 minute “rest” break.

The new Hours of Service rules appear simple, but in the first month, they have not been easy, particularly the 30 minute break. The changes cannot be about safety because my stress level has spiked.

This rule has been described as a 30 minute break after eight hours of On Duty time. To me that means working time, both Driving and what is called On Duty Not Driving. I expected when I went off duty, the eight-hour clock stopped, since I am no longer driving or working. But it does not. It is a countdown clock.

The 30-minute break must come within eight hours of the driver first signing on duty for the day after a ten-hour mandatory rest break. This is a huge penalty for me. I take several short, 10 to 20 minute stops during the day depending on the available parking.

Since we pull a platform trailer we are required to stop every 150 miles or three hours whichever comes first to do a cargo securement check. I do the cargo check and I take a short break. Now I am losing considerable driving time because as we know, when the wheels ain’t turnin’, I ain’t earnin’.

In less than one month under the new regulatory regime, this job — and to quote our driver friend Gary, a job that I love even though it’s not all unicorns and rainbows — has become a giant headache.

Last week we came very close to losing a lot of money, $6,000 to the truck.

Since July 1, I have spent three, 30 minute breaks, in the middle of the night, at fuel islands because there was no parking. Or because I didn’t know the parking situation ahead and the fuel island seemed the best solution.

I visited the restroom, filled my coffee thermos, looked my frequent fueler points on the kiosk, checked my email, all the while keeping an eye out to move the truck if the fuel island became backed up. It didn’t. Each time, I am sure there was at least one other truck hovering around the fuel island.

Last week we took a load from Indiana to Southern California, even though it can be difficult to get freight out of the Los Angeles area. Last March, we were stuck for 10 days, looking for freight before deadheading out. But the rate was good, and we couldn’t pass it up. Two days out from California, a $6,000 team load popped up for the day after our delivery. We grabbed it. Then the regulatory number crunching began.

To do the team load, we had to, absolutely had to, deliver our Indiana steel coil before 3:00PM, because we absolutely had to load at 8:00 the next morning.

If we didn’t deliver the coil by three o’clock, the next opportunity was six o’clock the next morning, but with rush hour traffic we would not make the eight o’clock pick up.

We started planning the execution almost 1,000 miles out in New Mexico, starting with where we would and where we could switch drivers?

We had a second issue in addition to the 30 minute break. We were running on what drivers call the Recap. The rules say we can work 70 hours in seven days. Before July 1, we could take a Restart, 34-hours without working, at any time, and regain a full 70 working hours. After July 1, the Restart is limited to one per week and it must include two consecutive overnight periods between 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM. We are trying to work eight and nine hours each day to extend the consecutive days we can work until we are in a good location to take the Restart.

With the Recap, we do a mathematical calculation that tells us how many working hours are available the following days and when we will run out of enough hours to actually make money. For example, if there’s less than 11 hours available in the 70-hour week, it’s crazy to take a load because a-day-in-the-life-of-a-trucker is too unpredictable, loading and unloading, traffic and more.

I needed a plan for when and where to take my 30 minute break and I needed to drive almost my entire 11 hours to give MacGyver more hours to work the following day so that we could complete the team run. And I was driving in the middle of the night when truck stops are full. I don’t know about Federal regulator Anne Ferro, but I like access to a toilet and a sink during my working hours, and particularly during a break, so a dirt lot in the middle of nowhere is unacceptable for me. To complicate it, Landstar says we cannot park on a ramp, a shoulder or even be legally parked on a public road, I must park at least 15 feet off a public road.

I also discovered that the current conventional wisdom, that if a driver intends to drive the entire eleven hours, the driver must avoid a break before the clock has counted down three hours, or the driver will need another 30 minute break. It isnn’t as simple as it seems.

I went on duty at 03:46, I departed at 03:56 and I stopped at the Petro in Kingman, Arizona at 7:00, having worked for three hours and 14 minutes, expecting to find no place to park, but knowing that it has a large fuel island area. I deemed it better than my other options, the TA at exit 48 on I-40 or the Pilot and Love’s at exit 9. Once there, if there is no place to park, I am left with my choice of dirt lots. And it is wasted earning time to gunkhole each truck stop looking for 75 feet to park the truck.

I took a second short break at 9:41, after driving two hours and three minutes, and again at 12:04 in Barstow, California to fuel and make my last stop before delivery near Long Beach. There is only one real stop after Barstow, at the Pilot in Hesperia, California, past that the driver is committed until delivery and subject to the vagary of the road. Whatever will be will be.

Barstow is where I got my shock. My plan wasn’t working. My eight hour countdown clock said I had only three hours and eight minutes left before my NEXT 30-minute break. But my 11-hour driving clock said I had three hours and 56 minutes to drive in my day. And my 14-hour working clock said I had 5:47 available to work before my DOT day ended.

The War of The Roads- Act Three, Tick Tock

Another driver, killing time, waiting out his 30 minute “rest” break.

Yes, it was telling me that if I didn’t make it to delivery in three hours and eight minutes I had to stop for yet another 30 minute break in a place where there is nowhere to stop.

The trip, at 55 miles an hour, the California big truck speed limit, with no traffic delays is two hours and 18 minutes according to my GPS, leaving me 41 minutes of leeway.

I was not giving up $6,000 and possibly sentencing myself to another week sitting in California looking for freight so I set out.

Typically, once past Hesperia, I drive at 52 to 54 miles per hour. The traffic is heavy, the four wheelers weave in and out, there are two long climbs and one steep downgrade with a 45 mph speed limit. My strategy is to cruise through a little below the speed limit, allowing cars and trucks to quickly move ahead of me. It gives me more reaction time and stopping distance. This time, I kept the pressure on the hammer pedal, cruising at 55 whenever traffic allowed.

My route was I-15 to I-10 to I-605 to I-105 to I-710 to I-405. Amazingly there was no real bottleneck anywhere, not even the interchange from I-10 West to I-605 South, which is a mass of cons
truction and poor signage, or I-105 to I-710 South, which is typically clogged with big truck traffic to and from the port. I made the trip in two hours and 20 minutes.

But any driver knows it could have gone very differently. Northbound on I-605 a four wheeler lost control and slammed into the yellow protection barrels at an exit.Traffic was backed up at least three miles.
Anytime, anywhere, any day, trip planning can go out the window. And does.

Rules made in the vacuum of a regulator’s head, a desk jockey, with no real world experience, will create unintended consequences.

Drivers are being forced to play Beat the Clock because they need the prize at the end, the money. So what will they do? The first reaction is to drive faster or to drive when they should take a break, but the clock tells them it’s not time.

The question drivers are asking everyday is: how do I protect my hours to drive so I can pay my bills?

Marking Canada Day In The Great Light North

Hay River, Northwest Territories

The days are long and the trees are short in the Northwest Territories.

A barren, harsh land, it’s the home of Ice Pilots and Ice Truckers. A place where the trout served for dinner is so fresh it squeaks and squiggles on the plate. And the swarming black flies, the size of peanut shells, are both horrifying and mesmerizing.

Marking Canada Day In The Great Light North

One of Yellowknife-based Buffalo Air’s vintage DC-3 aircraft on the tarmac at the Hay River, Northwest Territories Airport.

In the past ten days, we have driven the frontier of both the United States and Canada delivering mining equipment from El Paso, Texas to Vancouver, Canada, and a building to house a hockey rink from Spokane, Washington to the Hay River Dene Reserve, the only First Nations reserve in the territory.

Marking Canada Day In The Great Light North

Our route, cross-continent, south to north, Texas to the Northwest Territories.

The great drive, 2,200 miles, featured fabulous food, art, culture and stunning vistas of raw land.

Two weeks ago we were in Marfa, Texas, latitude 30 degrees, hair-dryer-on-high heat blasting our faces as we set off on the VESPA to visit the dusty art haven bumped up against Mexico.

Marking Canada Day In The Great Light North

I first saw Prada Marfa five years ago, June 2008, driving for Schneider National enroute to Laredo, Texas. I couldn’t believe my eyes. MacGyver thought I’d flipped out when I told them there was a Prada store, fully stocked in the Texas desert. “It must be an art thing,” I told him. Little did we know, it was art all day, all the time in that piece of Texas.

Marking Canada Day In The Great Light North

The Elmgreen and Dragset installation was born in 2005. A perfect, Manhattan-sized, Madison Avenue store.

 

Marking Canada Day In The Great Light North

Marking Canada Day In The Great Light North

The merchandise is dated 2005 but classic. What’s the message?

Founded in 1881 as a water stop for the trains, Marfa has been famous many times. In 1956, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean filmed the movie Giant. In 2006, There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men was filmed there. In between, New York City sculptor Donald Judd put the little town with a population of less than 2,000 on the international art map. More artists and entrepreneurs arrived, including artists Elmgreen and Dragset who installed Prada Marfa 37 miles west on US 90 in 2005. A new installation, Prada Playboy was unveiled a few days after our visit.

Marking Canada Day In The Great Light North

Moi with our New Yorker turned Marfa writer friend, Hope, at the Food Shark, only one piece of a Marfan food empire. Truly, the combo Falafel plate is delicious.

It is the only town of its size to have a whole page of restaurant reviews in the New York Times. Our first stop was the Food Shark, a food truck off the main street. Last April 60 Minutes visited to explore the coexistence of the Old Marfans, ranchers and immigrants from Mexico, and the New Marfans, which must seem at times like Martians to the locals.

One new location Marfa Contemporary is serving pizza and portraits, featuring Bryan Adams photographs, (A Canadiana, eh!) in the restored service station.

Marking Canada Day In The Great Light North

New Marfans specialize in rehabing old structures, particularly gas stations. The week we visited Marfa Contemporary was pizza and portraits by Canadian rocker-photographer Bryan Adams.

Back in El Paso, mercifully, we loaded over night in the dark in a balmy 85 degrees rather than a debilitating 100+ and headed to Vancouver, Canada, where we learned of a rare load to the Northwest Territories out of Spokane.

We’ve had a list of must-see locations in North America since we began trucking. We checked off St. John’s, Newfoundland last October. Still on the list, Alaska, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Labrador.

While there are regular loads to Alaska, which travel through the Yukon, loads to the other two Canadian territories and Labrador are rarities. Most of the freight to these locations seems to travel within Canada. As a US registered truck, we can’t take a load from a Canadian location to another Canadian location, that is cabotage and it is illegal. We can load in and out of Canada and go state-to-state in the US.

The territories are a mystery destination. There are 34.8 million people in Canada, one-tenth the population of the US (a little country in a giant space) and 112,00 in all three territories. That’s half the population of Amarillo, Texas.

Canada has 3.8 million square miles, the territories make up 2 million square miles and 39% of the country’s entire land mass. That’s a whole lot of empty space. It is mostly winter and mostly dark.
It is the tundra, where the trees never grow bigger than a pecker pole. Wilderness. Where wood bison, moose and mountain goats roam under the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights.

We’ve devoted considerable time in the last few years to watching Ice Pilots about aviation pioneer Joe McBryan and Buffalo Air, the Yellowknife-based airline, which carries cargo and people on vintage aircraft throughout the Canadian north.

Marking Canada Day In The Great Light North

Buffalo Air founder, a crusty, grizzled Joe McBryan “takes the sked” the flight from Hay River where he lives to Yellowknife the base of his operations and back every day. Alas we didn’t see Joe. This photo was taken late in the day, almost 10PM local time.

But, let’s face it, I’m not hardy enough for a winter trek, so it’s the summer mystery I wanted to solve. What’s it like when there’s no dark?

From Valleyview, Alberta north to Peace River, High Level and into the territory, it is a two lane highway with narrow shoulders with some pullouts big enough to park a 75 foot vehicle. Highway 2 in the Northwest Territories is windy, built on muskeg, a swampy, boggy mixture of water and dead vegetation, completely overrun by beaver houses. We quickly lost count. The roads are narrow. My brother-in-law warned us, if it’s dirt and it’s wet don’t stop on it, you will sink! “Stay on the pavement,” he said.

We arrived in Hay River, on the south side of Great Slave Lake, about 500 kilometers south of Yellowknife, seven days after the summer Solstice. Officially, the sun set at 11:30 PM and rose the following morning at 4:00 AM. But for three days we saw no night.

Marking Canada Day In The Great Light North

MacGyver loves me. He stepped out of the tractor into the buggy dusk, at midnight local time, to take this photo for my blog. He said he was instantly covered in a slick layer of mosquitoes.

MacGyver crossed the 60th Parallel, the border with Alberta, at midnight. It was early dusk. He drove another hour, it was still early dusk. He stopped in Enterprise and there was still enough light to read by. I poked my head out at 2:30 AM and it was already getting lighter.

The sun did go below the horizon, but it never came close to getting dark. It was enormously discombobulating. So much so, that it turned my clock around.

We already have the complication that we live our lives in Eastern Time as required by Department of Transport rules for our daily log. Hay River is Mountain Time. I found that I didn’t feel like sleeping until about 1:30 in the morning ET, which is about an hour before I wake up when we are handling a team run.

We delivered the hockey rink — Chief Roy Fabian greeted our truck — launched the Vespa and headed into Hay River. First stop, the Don Stewart Recreation Center, the pool, where we had a shower. There is no truck stop in Hay River, so we improvised. I got the 55+ discount of $2 admission.

Marking Canada Day In The Great Light North

Bellina, our little beauty gets around, last week 30 degrees in Marfa, Texas, this week 60 degrees in Hay River, Northwest Territories. Atlantis Eatery served us amazing whitefish. The only fresher piece of fish would be one we caught ourselves. The batter in the fish and chips was a thin, crunchy layer, not thick and gooey. The fries, they were fresh sliced, not frozen.

The staff recommended an itinerary. Next stop, the Atlantis Eatery, a food truck on the main road. We ordered two, two-piece fish and chips, $35. The whitefish was about 12 hours out of the lake.

Now it was time to see the sights. We headed towards the airport to see the Buffalo Air planes, two were on the tarmac. We rode the Vespa past the Coast Guard base, along the West Channel of the Hay River to Great Slave Lake.

It was time to eat again, this time at Back Eddy, which was recommended by the Canadian Border Services Officer in Kingsgate, BC, when we crossed into Canada, a former Coast Guard employee in Hay River.

We ate local, a filet of trout, the size of a sockeye salmon filet and birch syrup. And it was only 9:00 PM local time and nowhere near dark so we headed back to the truck to watch another episode of Ice Pilots.

Pulling out of Hay River, after spending about $150 on souvenir Northwest Territory license plates shaped like a polar bear, Buffalo Air ballcaps, stickers and postcards, like we’d never be back, MacGyver surprised me.

“I could go to Yellowknife now,” he said. “Especially since the brige is open.”

In the winter? I don’t think so.

Until the bridge opened recently, freight and people relied on the ferry to cross the lake. When the water froze, trucks waited and crucial freight was flown by Buffalo Air, out of Hay River to Yellowknife in their Grand Dame their Lockheed L-188 Electra, which carries 30,000 pounds payload. Our payload is 42,000 pounds.

Maybe next year.

And we did pick up another rock chip, between High Prairie, Alberta and Sucker Creek.

Turning MacGyver’s Nights Into Days

Spokane, Washington

“Look!” MacGyver announced enthusiastically as he climbed into the driver seat in El Paso, Texas. “We have another chip in the windshield. You know what that means.”

Yes, I do.

Turning MacGyver's Nights Into Days

This was our view near Jasper, Alberta in late April. It’s on the way to a land with (almost) a midnight sun. We’ll be just up (down?) the road from the Arctic Circle, Latitude 60 Degrees. Vancouver, Canada is on the 49th parallel.

It’s time to find a load north, way far north, because we will have to replace the windshield before our next Landstar Department of Transport (DOT) inspection due at the end of July. The roads in the Lower 48 states are so dilapidated there is so much flying bits of rock and debris that a windshield seems to last less than two years. And shocks? They should be good for 100,000 miles, especially when we drive 58 mph, but we replaced the last ones at 87,000 miles.

Sunrise near the Arctic Circle, where we’re heading, is at 0400 local time and sunset is at 2300, which means MacGyver’s night drives will be day drives. The mystery we want to solve is, will it get completely dark, or is summer northern dark, southern dusk?

I’ve put on a double supply of Huggies baby wipes because once we pass Fort MacMurrary, Alberta there will be no truck stops for showers.

I will try to post a report and photos on Facebook from our delivery location across the Boreal Forest into the northern tundra of Canada. Alas no Northern Lights, not because they’re not out there, but because the sky needs to be fairly dark to see them. We’re expecting almost no dark.

 

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.

The War of The Roads: Act Two

Augusta, Georgia

Truckers limited to banking hours.

It sounds like the punch line of a bad joke. But the eight-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week world is coming to trucking July 1. And it’s another nail in the coffin for America’s really small businesses.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration boss Anne Ferro is ushering in new Hours of Service rules that she says will “level the playing field” in trucking. If leveling the playing field means wiping out Owner Operators and small fleet owners by the staggering cost of complicated, and often nonsensical regulations that only the giant carriers can afford, she’s right.

The War of The Roads- Act Two

This cut sawed through the Rocky Mountains on Alberta’s Trans Canada Highway, just east of Kicking Horse Pass, is my metaphor for the world of small business. The goal, the road, the solution, it all seems simple, it’s just not easy.

Today, even big trucking — many large carriers augment company iron with Owner Operators — is acknowledging the economic genocide perpetrated on small trucking.

The avalanche of regulations in the past four years is “forcing the industry to consolidate,” says Mike Card, chairman of the American Trucking Association (ATA). Soon, he says, only the big fleets will be able to survive the high cost of regulation.

Despite months of thinking about what the changes will do to our business, I can make no projections. I fear the dramatic changes to the driving hours for commercial truck drivers that ignore the experience and reality of trucking today will eliminate the flexibility that helps us make safe decisions while we earn a living.

Motor carriers with large team operations are warning the stock markets and shareholders to expect financial repercussions from these changes. Has two-day delivery ended? Will they need twice as many drivers working for half the pay?

At the very least, the new daily and weekly schedule, added to the stringent rules introduced in 2010 for equipment, which I support because it makes carriers somewhat accountable, will increase stress and encourage unsafe driving habits.

Trip planning will be a feat.

Small business survives by using its flexibility to find niches that are difficult for big business to occupy. We are a Hazardous Material – tanker – doubles/triples endorsed team with the supposedly high-security Transportation Workers Identification Card, TWIC, (a government tax grab, via another big business, perpetrated on the working class and small business, but that is another post). We are Transportation Safety Administration, TSA, approved to pick up and deliver at airports. We handle high-value, high-risk loads. To bring all this together, we purchased a 51-foot drop-deck trailer in March.

We’ve done everything we can to specialize so we can remain profitable. But we don’t control the real service that we sell, our available hours to operate. And we only control a portion of our costs, such as fuel, but not the other big cost, government taxation.

Trucking is a 24/7/365 industry where drivers are meat on a conveyor belt, subject to the whim of convenience of motor carriers, shippers and consumers. But the new rules sound like the bureaucratic nine-to-five, living-in-the-suburbs world.

The new driving rules compress our work day and work week and will hit night and team drivers the hardest. We must, before the eighth hour of our 11-hour driving day, take a 30-minute break. The rule says that if we stop by the eighth consecutive hour of driving and take a half hour break we can drive another three keeping the total daily driving hours at 11, I think. Because there’s also a sub-rule that affects the master 14-hour clock that rules us each day.

It all sounds simple, but it’s not easy. We are already having difficulty accommodating this rule in our trial runs on the heavily populated east and west coasts. Every day, every run is a juggling act, miles against the clock. There’s the delivery and pickup time, the traffic, the weather and the big one, the availability of parking. Some of these are set in stone and others are maddeningly flexible, like how long a shipper can keep you at the dock, typically for free.

Anyone who has seen a truck stop at night knows it is difficult to find a place to park between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. More than 85 per cent of drivers are solar powered. They want to drive days and sleep nights. Last week on I-81 in Virginia, MacGyver drove almost two hours before finding parking. When this happened on I-5 a few weeks ago, we had to switch drivers. There was no place to park for a half hour and meet Landstar’s requirement of safe, off-the-road parking.

We already see trucks in heavily populated areas parked at fuel islands with the curtains drawn, the universal sign for “I’m asleep.” Searching for parking is already stressful. Soon, it will be more stressful.

Our big concern is the so-called 34-hour restart. It’s this one that comes up when teams talk. I am waiting to see if Schneider National has any guidance for their teams on how to plan their driving and working time.

Currently, a driver can get a full 70 hours to work in seven days after a 34-hour break from driving. The new 34-hour restart requires each driver spend two consecutive nights, between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., shut down. A weekend, sort of, except for the long-haul drivers who are on the road for three, four and five weeks at a time, there’s no buddy to have a beer with and no kids to take to soccer. Depending when you stop, the restart could last more than 48 hours.

What Ms. Ferro expects night drivers to do in that time is a mystery to me. It won’t be sleeping because her strategy puts night team drivers off their schedule. Solo drivers will know to the last possible minute when they can shut down to keep the 34-hour restart to 34 hours, which likely means driving faster to avoid earning less money.

As a team, we try to keep our available hours high so that we can always be available for a cross-country team load, which is our moneymaker. Often, after 50 hours spent on our 70-hour clock, we shut down for a restart. In addition to the two consecutive nights shut down, we can only use one restart every 168 hours or seven days. It means, under the new rules we are being penalized for taking more rest.

Solo drivers are adopting the eight-and-nine-hour system trying to keep hours available to drive for the entire seven days. We may have to use the eight working hours one day, nine hours the next. On this schedule, drivers can continue indefinitely without a restart. This also encourages drivers to short logged working time, to keep driving hours available. The strategy depends on parking several hours each night when everyone needs or wants to park, which we already know is a problem.

The restart rule targets company-employed teams, typically two men, supporting two families, who put in 6,000 to 7,000 miles a week and do a rolling restart. Both drivers are stopped for 24 hours and each driver is in the sleeper for 10 hours before or after the 24 hours to meet the requirement of 34 hours not driving.

If a shipper wants a true team run that requires each driver to use 10-to-11 working hours each day for a three-day run, we could find our available hours burned up quickly, requiring us to sit even longer to get our restart and fresh hours. The money we make in that run will now need to pay for the entire week.

This may make driver detention at the shipper or receiver, finally, the huge issue that it should be. Under these new rules, when I start my clock for the day, I have a plan to maximize DRIVE time. If I am detained and waiting without pay, the hours are lost for the week. I can’t get back that working time with a restart.

Since these regulations fail to take into account that trucking is a business and a job, and the bills will keep coming, I expect to see greater stress translating into more drivers driving faster to make more miles. Driving too fast and following too close is a well documented cause of crashes.

There is a segment of Owner Operators that expects the Hours of Service changes will force rates up and will allow, maybe even, force drivers to stop absorbing work for free. I hope they do and that the regulatory changes weed out the less well-run Owner Operators the way they tell us happens in a healthy capitalist economy. But I am not optimistic.

Not only will the rates need to rise for Owner Operators to pay for the increased regulations and stay in business, company drivers, who are paid only by the mile, will also need a raise.

If the company team is not from one household, they will need enough money or miles to support two families. Otherwise, why bother with a life on the road? Owner operators with their own rigs can use efficiencies to increase net income by reducing fuel consumption, for example. Or, we can charge fees for our time and service and equipment, as well as raising rates.

Like Mr. Card says, the politicians have abdicated their responsibility to this industry, handing it over to bureaucrats. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is not a friend of trucking, and definitely not a friend of drivers, Owner Operators or small fleets.

Their plan seems to be to exterminate the small business trucker in favor of the large carrier because they believe a small playing field is easier to regulate.

As maddening as this attitude is, it has become the norm in the American economy. Everything is tilted to the big guys. The manufacturing class is gone, the clerical class is gone — both industries gutted of the middle-class jobs that paid for all of our lifestyle’s — the airline industry has consolidated to a handful of carriers, leaving employees working until they are 100 because their wages and pensions have been steadily eroded for almost 20 years. Small trucking is next on the chopping block.

In the next post, Act Three of The Ware of the Roads, I will talk about the decisions that we have made, including buying trailer, to remain in the game and profitable.

Gentlemen Start Your Engines

Montreal, Quebec

Two weeks now, I’ve been fretting over the second act of The War of the Roads. MacGyver says, “the only people who care are truckers.” I know. “And it makes you sound a little crazy,” he adds. I know.

On July 1, we will undergo major changes to our working day and working week. The regulators are turning truck drivers into bankers. And least in terms of working hours. Despite my number crunching, I cannot project how the changes will affect the considerable financial investment we have in this industry, and I don’t like that. But trip planning will be a feat.

Gentlemen Start Your Engines

Reliving the Ferrari World dream in Montreal. Amazing co-incidence, one of the stylists at the salon I visited today cut Michael Schumacher’s hair. Must tell MacGyver.

In order to move on, enjoy the summer and roll with the punches, I have to get it off my chest. So I am working on Act Two while we are in Montreal for MacGyver’s Extravagant Festival, the Formula One race.

In the meantime, check out my Facebook page for Extravagant Festival updates and visit The Daily Rant. I had a brilliant idea for 2013, since I view Formula One from the vantage point of an F1 Widow. We have Salena and Eddie with us. While the boys are doing all things F1, we are playing Ladies Who Lunch.