Sunday, November 20, 2011

Anticipating Thanksgiving

We are home early this weekend for our reset. We got home last night around 8:30 after eating dinner with Willow's youngest son. We even got a chance to catch a movie, The Help, in Asheville. We both enjoyed the film. It was nice not to get home in the middle of the night and it certainly made getting ourselves ready for the upcoming week not feel like such a onerous task.

Last week we got the opportunity to visit with my side of the family near Walton, KY, a town just south of Cincinnati, OH. My parents, sister, and niece were up visiting my Aunt and Uncle and both of my cousins and their husbands had come up that Saturday.  We made it in around noon, parked the truck at a local truck stop, took showers and called them to pick us up. We had good home cooked food at my Aunt and Uncles house. It was a nice visit, though just a few hours; and was the first time in over 30 years that all of us were together. This was first time ever to meet my cousin's husbands and for them to meet Amy.  Hopefully we can make time to visit them again for a bit longer next time.


This week will be a nice short one, we should bring in our last load Wednesday night and have off the rest of the week for Thanksgiving. We are both looking forward to it and hoping that Amy's family can come down and join us.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Raspberry filled Krispy Kreme doughnuts this AM!!  Life is way good!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Indiana road

This far north, the angle of the light at high noon mimics that of an early summer morning further south.  Hawks hunt above the corn fields which lie in various stages of harvest.   Come evening, the combines criss cross row after row, driven by men who work two jobs to keep farming alive.  The ever present adult bookstore billboard screams testimony to their loneliness punctuated by the next billboard advertising political views on abortion.  And then one that claims in huge bold letters simply that "HELL IS REAL".

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Coupling/Uncoupling

checking the registration
sliding the fifth wheel under the trailer



raising landing gear

connecting service and emergency brake air lines


red is trailer brake; yellow is tractor brake
air operated fifth wheel release and fifth wheel slide

Home Time II

Took some time this week to focus on some problem areas in the truck for us and try to come up with some solutions. 

With colder weather coming we needed practical accessible storage for bulkier clothing and wet coats.  I bought wire snap together storage bins and created a "dresser" on the top bunk for Zygote's clothes.  The bins are cloth.  The whole thing is completely collapsable, therefore portable if we were to need to get our things out, rather than having cumbersome plastic drawer sets that don't collapse or fit well into cars, should the need arise.  He did have his clothes in a giant ziplock tote, which worked great for keeping everything together.  They even have handles on the sides that you can run a bungee cord through to secure the bag of clothing to the top bunk.  But since the bags have no structure to them, it tended to blob all over the top bunk and take up way more space than necessary.  Since the refrigerator is also on the top bunk, at times we found ourselves battling blobbing clothes to get to the fridge.  This new arrangement shifts the clothes storage UP into the unused space above the bunk instead of all over the whole top bunk.  Plus, we still have the ziplock tote folded up under the bed if we were to need to use it to move everything.  He has two bungee cords attached to the top of the closet that he loops his coats into so they hang between the closet and the bunk.

 

My clothes had been in plastic drawers-we had a set of 5 in the closet.  I changed the closet, did away with the plastic drawers.  I put the shelf that comes with the freightliner back into the closet, and hung most of my clothes on the bar. A shoe organizer hung on the bar holds rolled up sweaters.  In the bottom is another cloth drawer that holds smaller clothing items.  A locking suction cup hook on the side of the refrigerator keeps my coat handy.

There is a nice soft rug across the top bunk now instead of just bare plywood where we'd taken the mattress out.  With the freed up space on the top bunk, we have  "counter space".  On the top of a plastic bin I fastened a cutting board with bungee cords.  The bin holds some cooking appliances and food items and the top of the bin is our prep counter, should it be needed.  On the fridge is a magnetic spice rack.

And last but far from least, across the back of the bunk wall are two organizers that hang from the vent holes.  They have clear vinyl pockets for storing small and medium sized items.  Zy's collection of gadgetry is now safely tucked into pockets as opposed to the tangle of cords in a box that it used to be.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Home Time

We've had an awesome week at home.  I bought two bushels of apples locally and spent some time canning applesauce, pie filling, and baked apples, and made a pie.  I raked the yard and mowed and cleaned up the last of my summer garden.  Several varieties of lettuce had reseeded itself, so I transplanted those plants to a bed on the far edge of the old garden plot.  I left the rest of the garden to return to lawn for now.  At this time, I don't anticipate having a garden next year.  

Zygote cooked while we were home.  He made the most amazing lamb meat loaf ever invented.  I thought it was really good the night he made it but the next day, when I had been working in the yard all day, I ended up eating 4 helpings of it and finished it off completly.  I have requested that he repeat this miracle loaf often.

Making our own food in the truck has changed truck living for me 180 degrees.  I was not doing well subsisting on frozen meals heated in the microwave after 5 months.  Since I made the decision to switch, we've not had one single frozen meal.  My first wildly successful recipe is adapted from two recipes, one in the 2010 Employee cookbook and one in the LaLeche League cookbook I have used for 21 years.

Sweet and Sour Bubble and Squeak

one small head of organic cabbage (small enough to fit in the crock pot)
diced turnips or parsnips (some walmarts or groceries sell these already diced for those of you in a semi)
al fresco brand chicken sausage   (www.alfrescoallnatural.com) or any other sausage links you like
organic vegetable broth (these now come in one cup single serve containers perfect for the truck kitchen)

4 tablespoons vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons of sugar
salt to taste

Cut up the cabbage.  Put the sausage in the bottom of the crock pot, then the turnips, then the cabbage.  Pour the vinegar, oil, sugar and salt in a small container and shake.  Pour over the cabbage.  Add veggie broth. Cook on low heat for 8 hours.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

BPM

Our truck is now due for it's periodic maintenance.  We decided to have this done while we are home this week so that we are not taking time out of our mileage weeks to sit and wait at the shop.  I slept until 11am and by noon we were on the road again, on our day off.   I followed Zygote in my car and we drove to Lexington, NC.  On the way there, I was suddenly craving seafood.  Once we'd dropped off the truck, we stopped and ate at the local seafood restaurant before heading home.  By the time we got back, the day was gone, our first day off, gone...just like that.

We'll have to go back for the truck probably Thursday or Friday.

Monday, October 24, 2011

We had two runs to Arkansas, one via Memphis where we picked up an empty trailer and then went to Mountain Home.  The extra miles and a 4 hour delay fiddling with an overweight trailer put us home late even after starting the week off early. 



We learned a few things while dealing with the overweight trailer.  The scales were at the shipper.  From the initial numbers we saw that balancing the weight properly on the axles was going to be a challenge.  We totalled close to 80,000.  In retrospect,  I think if we are that close we will move the fifth wheel first to put as much weight on the drive axle as we can and balance the remaining weight afterwards.  Looking for ways to save having to get on the scale 6 times to get it right.  So after fooling around with it for an hour and a half and concluding that it could not be done, we took the trailer back to the dock.  The trailer itself was a heavy one, lined with a wooden floor instead of the half aluminum one of most of our company's trailers.  We figured the extra weight of the trailer was contributing to the problem and asked to have the freight moved to an aluminum floor trailer.  They moved the freight, but moved it to another trailer that also had an all wooden floor, so we saved nothing and ended up back at the scales playing the same game.  But this time we put as much as we could forward by setting the fifth wheel all the way back; we were able then to get the remaining weight to balance and leave us with just a bit of room for the weight of fueling.  I left with the idea that we'd burn off much of the fuel weight anyway long before we arrived at the next fuel stop. 



By this time, it was late into the night and Zygote was asleep finally.  Bless his soul, he had stayed up out of sheer excitement over the new route and the new shipper location and then to help me with the scales, and then to talk to the shipper about moving the freight, but finally he just couldn't do anymore.  He went to bed while I waited up for them to move the freight.  Once loaded, I took the truck back to the scales and he got up briefly to move the fifth wheel with me and the tandems one last time.  Then, it was just me and the other semis on the back roads of the Ozarks in the dark.  Since our other route is so familiar, this was kind of new for me again, like when we were doing OTR.  Zygote had left me with some road numbers to use to get around a bridge that had a weight limit that we exceeded.  I managed to find the right roads in the dark with the help of the GPS and relatively no feelings of panic.  It was a strange feeling driving up and down the hills and around the curves of the mountains on a two lane so late at night with no other cars on the roads.  Very different from driving on the interstates.  The few trucks that did come up behind me passed as soon as there was a straightaway.  I was too heavy to go any faster. Zygote only slept for 5 hours and then popped up ready to drive at our fuel stop in Nashville.



On our second trip to Mountain Home, Zygote drove on the way out.  He stopped at the same truck stop we had visited the first day, Mr T's on the border of Missouri and Arkansas, for lunch.  This "truck stop" is actually a liquor store that has a diner in the back, sodas, candy, a fuel island and of course a full selection of liquor.  I was tired and grouchy and not much happy about the food; Zygote was completely satisfied with his 1/2 pound burger and fries.  He bought himself a souvenier hat and bought me a paisley wallet-purse to cheer me up. 



We arrived home at 2am. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

The drive to Arkansas took us through parts of Tennessee I'd never seen. We stopped for breakfast in Jackson, but foiund that the Hardee's there had already switched over to lunch.Over the news of Quaddafi's death we talked routes and trailer drama with another US Xpress driver.  Then, we headed north of Jackson on 412 through field after field of snowy cotton. 

This farming community has a more laid back appeal compared to the corn fields of Indiana, but I can't quite put my finger on exactly why.  The fields are much smaller and seem to belong to individual owners with houses dotting the landscape.  Tractors and combines sit in the harvested fields as if serving as a documentary tableau of the season's work.  Some fields are in full open pod and others are bare, stalks yet to be plowed under, shreds of cotton that the machines missed scattered in the dirt. Huge block bales shrink-wrapped in brightly-colored plastic tarps sit awaiting transport to the finishing plant.  The poetry of labor hums softly.  This highway is devoid of the giant cloverleaf exchanges that boast every manner of truck stop and fast food joint.  The road just stretches on through the fields and rolling hills, a silent testimony to this farming community's link to the rest of the country.



Further north, kudzu-draped forest lines the highway and the hilltops present stunted vistas of the surrounding farmlands.  In the distance the iron bridge over the Mississippi River towers over the trees and the bottomlands open up before us.  We passed 3 horse trailers, horses and their human families on their way to greener pastures.  All the horses had teir long-lashed eyes framed in small windows, calmly awaiting transport to end.  A hawk soared overhead, mice along the honeysuckle-bound row ends.  Tufts of cotton line both sides of the highway, blown from the giant bales as they barrel along on flatbeds.

A green beetle crosses the truck stop dirt parking lot.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Destination

I passed three wrecks today in the rain. One was a vehicle that had been towing a boat but was no longer towing said boat.  The boat was upside down on top of another car and lawn chairs were strewn about the interstate.  One was a car in the woods by the interstate facing the opposite direction from which it came.  And one was a single car that just ran smack into the guard wires along the left side of the road...hmmmm....texting and driving??? 
Rain all the way back home from Chicago.  Heavy, heavy rain last night  -coming down in buckets. 

This morning we stopped at the Hinsdale Oasis on the Toll 294 in Chicago and had coffee with a friend of ours from home that just recently moved to Chicago. 

Our third load for this week is going to Mountain Home, Arkansas.  It is a load that is late already.  Our FM sent it to us this afternoon.   Zygote has been like a little boy; he is so excited to be doing something different.  He would not even sleep today, but instead kept popping his head out of the curtains every time I stopped.  I told him he was like a small child that a mother puts down for a nap and the child will not stay in the room and go to sleep but keeps coming out to see what he might be missing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Truck Wash

I was super excited about this experience for some strange reason, maybe because our truck was very very filthy.  These are paid for by our company. We can be authorized for one every 6 weeks.  You just pull into the bay, preferably through the one NOT marked EXIT, and the nice bored men wash your truck for you.  Go at night so you don't have to wait in line. We were in and out in only half an hour and that included them washing the oil off engine.  Zygote has these messy spells and even the engine can fall victim to his powers.














Voila!!!




Tuesday, October 11, 2011

This morning got off to a slow start.  We did not call the shipper before we left the house, and when we arrived in Marion, they were rude, as usual, and told Zy that it would be at least 4-5 hours.  We headed off to the Waffle House to self-medicate.  Afterwards, I went to sleep and left him dealing with our shipper.  He was told to take a different trailer, one they knew was over weight.  He picked up that trailer, took it to the scalehouse, confirmed it was over weight and there was nothing that could be done to correct the issue because the tandems were already as far forward as they could go.  He then returned that trailer, put it in a dock for them to change the load, and by then the original trailer was ready.  So he hooked to the original trailer, weighed and left.  All in all we ended up being 4 hours late getting out. 

At the next shipper, they did not have a loaded trailer for us either.  We had to wait there for a live load.  Luckily, they were anticipating us and it did not take but about a half an hour to get loaded.  Headed back to NC now. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Home

We were released from the shop a little before midnight last night after arriving there at 6am that morning.  The issue that caused the driver tech and the side camera to go out was that our electrical current had not been grounded all this time.  This also contributed to the faults that we kept getting on the check engine light.  Now that our current is grounded correctly, we have driver tech, side camera and we are not getting the random check engine light flashing either. 

Our mechanic was Justin at the Markum shop.  The foreman said Justin was one of his best.  We'll have to ask for him next time; he listened and didn't blow off the information that we gave him and just assume that since the driver tech was out that it must be a problem with the driver tech itself.  We left Markum around midnight.  Even the guard was super friendly.  All in all it was an ok day, considering. 

We are home now, after splitting the drive home into one 6 hour shift each. We missed out on our 4th load for the week so we'll be short some pay for the experience.

Friday, October 7, 2011

In the shop

Waiting for our truck to be worked on in the shop at the Markum terminal.

Into the night

Wednesday nights are my shift; we arrive in at Black Mountain usually sometime before midnight and park the truck.  We are able to squeeze in a trip to the house because our next load is never ready that early.  It's technically not ready for us until 7am on Thursday.  I park, leave Zygote sleeping, and run the one mile to the house; it feels so good to get out and run.  Lately, the evening temps have been perfect for running/walking; this half hour is one of those times during my work week where I marvel at the fact that I get paid to just be out in the world doing cool things instead of sitting at a computer all day.  The stars are bright and the night sky clear; the half moon glows.  Once home, I usually cook myself some spaghetti, my favorite fast food.  I drive my car back to the truck, get Zygote and bring him to the house too so he can take a shower, then I  shower and go outside to soak in the hot tub under the stars.  Eventually, he walks back to the truck, and I sleep in my bed at the house until he calls to let me know the load is ready.  Then he drives the truck up the road, I walk out to meet him, and we are back on our way.

This week, we called to find out when the load would be ready and we got the same woman we always get; she is very rude and short and always hangs up the phone without saying goodbye, sometimes when we are in mid-sentence.  She did not tell us how far behind they were running, just that the load was not ready yet.  We left at 5am to go get it.  It was not ready.  By 7am when it was due to be ready, it still was not loaded.  I went to sleep in the back.  Zy sat and waited.  It was 10am before they had the load ready for us.  This put us very late for the day's driving.

We had planned to stop in Corbin, KY today and get the truck washed at the Blue Beacon but now our extra time was gone.  We stopped at the Pilot there in Corbin anyway, to trade out drivers.  Zy's logs were up on the driver tech screen while the truck was off.  I sat in the driver's seat and turned my key in the ignition.  The truck started up just fine.  I looked over at the driver tech and it was gone, poof, just like that, out like a light, up in smoke, down the drain.  I mashed buttons but it was dead.  Zygote came back to the truck and I had to tell him the news.  He was very very unhappy.  He discerned that the sideview camera was also out and checked the connections and the fuses but couldn't find anything that we could fix.

I spent the next half hour tearing the truck apart looking for our paper log books.  I could not find them, so I converted two half used log books into clean new ones by pulling out the used pages.  When you are using computerized logs, you don't have to record your times/mileage on paper.  When you change over to paper logs, you must have the last 7 days worth of times recorded, so you will have them available if you are stopped by DOT.  So now we had to call our Safety Dept to get our last 7 days of logs faxed to us.  $30 later, we had our logs at $2 a page.  Needless to say, this was an expense that we turned in on our paperwork for reimbursement.

Next we had to let our FM know.  We made w/him that we would drop this load, pick up the next load, and then head to the terminal in Markum to try to get the issue fixed.  By this time, it was 5pm.  I usually start driving at 2pm on a normal day.  Driving was uneventful; I listened to a novel on the Kindle.  But once at the consignee things went slowly for us since we had no driver tech.  I was on the phone with the night FM giving information.  Zy was trying to  find a good empty trailer for us to use and having a hard time.

We made it to the second shipper finally and all went well there but again,  the phone giving info.  We tried to go to breakfast at one of the oases on the tollway since the Markum shop would not be open by the time we would get there but there was so much construction and detours that it took us turning around a couple of times to get to one.  Once there, it was full and there was no truck parking left.  a spent a frustrating  morning driving around Chicago.


Heading for Markum terminal now.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Foggy and Soggy

This week has been full of rain and fog from Chicago to North Carolina. Occasionally the sun would shine for brief moments. Finally on Saturday the rain cleared and cool dry weather set in.




Early one morning, as I drove up the steep incline right across  the border from Kentucky to Tennessee, I broke through the thick fog that had engulfed Interstate 75 for 100 miles. Just the peaks of the Cumberland mountains were peaking through the thick clouds.  I pulled over for lunch in the bright sunshine and snapped these photos with my Ipod.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Banana chili

Now that things are becoming more routine, I decided to try out some more interesting dinner preparations by using our crock pot to cook dinner.  We have the perfect setup for this since we are home once a week.  In theory, I can plan meals and take only what we need for cooking them with us each week.  I started off badly by taking only a quarter pound of cooked ground beef instead of at least a pound, which is what I would need.  So on Tuesday, we stopped at the grocery store in Marion and picked up the pound of ground beef.  This meant cooking it in the crockpot before beginning the chili preparations.  Since it was my shift to drive, I was not able to watch the meat cook and stir it, so I ended up with a large patty of ground beef in the bottom of the crock pot.  Zygote slept peacefully.

I pulled over at a rest stop, already thinking that this chili making business was taking up way too much time.  I chopped up the meat, mixed in the chili fixin's and water, put the lid on the crock pot and settled back in to drive.  I had thought about putting the crock pot on the floor up front with me but the extension cord was not long enough so I left it in the back with the sleeping Zygote.  I drove for 5 more hours.

When I stopped at a rest stop in KY, I was so hungry.  I pulled the curtain back; it was very dark in the back.  I felt around for the crock pot.  Bananas.  Chili. bananas.??

The whole bunch of bananas had jostled down from their perch on top of the coffee pot and fallen into the pot of chili.  They were cooking quite nicely and the lid to the chili sat half in the chili and half out.  No wonder the inside of the cab had fogged up so much!!!  Some chili had spilled out too.  There was chili all over the coffee maker, the cubby and the crock pot. The bananas were a mushy cooked mess! 

With relatively less paper towels than one would imagine I managed to clean up the chili and move the crock pot to the floor in the front.  cooking in truck 101.

The chili was quite yummy anyway.  the bananas were not.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Inside Story

what its like from the bunk
all the controls are on Zygote's side...go figure!!!  Zy's night stand/computer desk
Sleeping harness
Zygote's
Willow's
driver's console
stackable drawers maximize closet space
the closet
fridge and microwave are strapped to the top bunk
the pantry
the kitchen counter


our dry-erase board hangs above the passenger door for easy visibility to the driver when numbers are needed


Thursday, September 22, 2011

One for the Road

We really don't need the GPS anymore; we run the same route 4 times a week over and over again.  The feature on it that we use the most is the ETA estimate, as we've found that it is fairly accurate. We use the Rand McNally truck GPS.  It does help with alerts for upcoming construction, weigh stations, low bridges, etc.  We found that it was invaluable when we were OTR instead of dedicated and we relied on it more than we did the GPS that comes on our truck computer.  That GPS is not a "truck" GPS and will route you on roads that semi's cannot travel down if you are not watchful.

For the final trip of the week, I drove up and back on my shifts with the GPS turned off.  Until I began driving a truck, I had never used a GPS, and have been, as a rule, quite opposed to them.  In the truck, it's an important tool that I really would not want to be without.  That said, now that we are familiar with our route, I am free to go back to my original "sans satellite" existence.

I found that the very reasons that I had always opposed the use of a GPS have become the very same obsessions  that I have adopted over the past few months.  I've lived in a virtual world pictured on it's colorful screen that replaces the real world to a great degree.  Many of my points of reference exist on it's computer screen instead of in the actual passing of mountains, rivers, towns or intersections.  In turning off the screen and relying on my memory to spot the landmarks brought back the use of a part of my brain that I have missed...the interactive part of our mind that labels and categorizes information based on our surroundings.  I began to see things along the way that I had not actively noticed before and assign them to their proper location in the world based on WHERE I actually was on the planet and not on the computer screen.  It was as if my bubble were suddenly more irridescent.

Much of my driving is in the dark, so forcing myself to pay attention and recognize the "landmarks" in the dark from memory was interesting.  There were times when I suddenly recognized NOTHING and experienced moments of rabbit-hole panic...where the $#* am I?  Most of those moments happened around Indianapolis for some reason...it's a strange city to me that simply materializes out of nowhere in the middle of a bunch of GMO corn fields and then disappears again.  There are no other geographic features that really mark Indianapolis and it's not large enough to be the force to reckon with as is Chicago.

In honor of my "Be Here Now" experience, I leave you with two opposite extremes: rush hour on 294 toll road in Chicago from where I sit and an Indiana sunset.




***Reminder: Don't cut in front of trucks.  Leave at least 3-5 car lengths of room between yourself and the cab of the truck before you re-enter the lane when passing.  You are removing the trucker's stopping distance when you cut in too soon and it's YOU that will be crushed if the truck can't be stopped in time.  We typically weigh anywhere from 77,000 to 79,800 pounds on any given trip.***


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mudflap

 

First trip for the week is  complete.  We had dinner at Fatz in Marion again this week. We pull into the Walmart parking lot there and park behind the grocery store building where there is room to turn around.  It's right on our route on Hwy 70.

We are now on our way back to Marion from Chicago on our second trip for the week.  Zygote was driving; I was asleep.  He said that we lost one of our mudflaps on the road.  I guess it got caught up in the tire.  We've stopped at Pilot in Shelbyville, IN to replace it.  Here are pics.  He's so cute.







Friday, September 16, 2011

When things go right

We've had a good week so far.  In now, picking up our last load for the week. The trailer is an older one and has some quirks, one of which was stuck tandems.  Thanks to Zygote crawling around under the trailer in the dust with a can of WD40  and banging on them with the tire thumper we were able then to rock them loose.


This trailer also had no permit with it.  The permit box was completely missing from the side of the trailer.  I called our FM and he faxed it to us at the truck stop where we weigh out when we leave the shipper.  All is good.  Thank goodness for our awesome FM who actually is available whenever we need him.

Now we are on our way again.  We're stopping in Marion for lunch in a restaurant.  On schedule.   Cool nights.  Rain yesterday in KY.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Vacation

We are back on the road this week. Our engine light went away moments after Willow took over driving. I am thinking it was a Zygote is Driving warning, though it did not come back today when I drove.  Things seems to be getting easier for us; we got some needed rest on our week off, and we are settling in to the routine of our dedicated run.

We took vacations separately last week. I went to Reno, NV and when I was not playing poker I  visited Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. Here a few images from the trip.

View down Virginia Street in Reno

A great restaurant in downtown  Reno, Try the lamb burger

Sierra's from the Sands Hotel

High Sierras north of Yosemite

Tufta formations at Mono Lake, CA


Lake off of Tioga Road in Yosemite

Mountain off of Tioga Road in Yosemite


Bridalveil Falls in Yosemite

Yosemite Valley
Giant Sequoia in Mariposa Grove, Yosemite Np




Falls before East Entrance to Yosemite NP

The Hot Air Balloon Race in Reno on my last day