Friday, May 27, 2011

Driving Team

On our way to Texas, driving team status rather than super solo.  The difference is that under super solo, I would put in my 11 hours of driving and then my trainer would put in another 3 hours of driving  to total 14 hours of "on duty" for each of us.  Under team status, I drive my 11 and then sleep while he drives his 11 and  then we change out again.  This enables us to get farther faster.  We left MD at 5am today.  I drove to Tennessee, where we stopped and ate at the Davy Crockett Diner.  Now I am in the bunk while he drives his shift.

This morning he submitted the request to have me routed to Tunnel Hill, GA for my upgrade on June 1st.  There was a possibility of me upgrading in Irving, TX but when I discussed that with my training coordinator, she felt that it would be better to route me closer to home since that is where Zy is waiting and where our truck will be issued from.  Maybe I will get a truck for my birthday!!!

Mostly today I wanted to share this awesome photo that I took in Detroit.  This is one of the few remaining old MacDonald's signs.  The restaurant building itself had been replaced and didn't have the arches coming from the roof the way the old ones used to but they had kept the old sign.  This is how I remember MacDonalds from my childhood!!! Inside they had drawings of the old building with the arches coming from the roof.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Finished Training and Back home

Well I tested for my upgrade to full driver status on Monday in Illinois near Chicago. I passed all the tests. Because Willow and I will run as a team, and she is not upgraded yet,  they did want to issue a team truck until we were both done. After discussing it with Willow I asked that they let me wait for her rather than run solo.

On Tuesday they agreed and sent me back by bus to north western Georgia at the terminal where my personal vehicle was parked. I drove home yesterday after an 18 hour bus ride.  I will be posting more details of my training adventures sometime this week, for right now I just wanted to give everyone a quick update.

Willow is in western Maryland headed for a big run to Texas, by the time she is done with that she should have all the hours she needs. The company  should route her and her trainer to a terminal to upgrade, and then get us back together so we can get a truck. We should know more early next week.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Out of Ohio and Pennsylvania finally

Zygote has been spotted in Chicago, lounging on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Word has it that he is holed up in a luxury hotel at the company terminal in Markum, swimming in the pool and soaking in the hot tub.  His itenerary lists him as scheduled for upgrade testing on tomorrow.  Once his upgrade tests are behind him, he will be issued our company truck!!!! 

I am now at 104 hours...46 more to go before I can join him.  It just so happens that I am being routed right thru Asheville tomorrow on a run to take vacuum cleaners from Tennessee to South Carolina.   I have arranged to meet with my son for lunch at the Asiana on Smoky Park Hwy if anyone wants to join us!!!!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Zygote's vacation & my 86 hours

Yay!!!  Zygote is finished with his training hours!!!!  He is holed up in a motel in Lincoln, MO for 3 days waiting for his trainer to complete some much needed home time.  Then they will head out again, hopefully to route the Zy back to GA for his upgrade testing.  Once he passes his tests, he will be assigned our truck.  Guess I wont get a vote on the truck we get since I'm not done yet.  Boo.  At least I've had a chance to make peace with a 10 speed.  Yesterday found Zygote at a lake kicking back near his motel.  His trainer's wife fed him pork tenderloin for dinner.  Today he is watching movies all day in the rain.  Much better than driving through it.

I am at 86 hours.  Only 64 more to go.  I feel confident that if I reached 86 hours within the first two weeks of training that within the next 8-10 days I will be able to finish up the last 64.  I am now past my first 75 marker, so that means we can go into super-solo mode.  That is where I do not have to do all of the driving myself and my trainer can actually drive too.  Under super-solo we will get longer runs and the miles will add up quicker.  Longer runs translates into less time sitting at shipper's docks and more miles under the wheels.  Just better for everyone all the way around.
Today finds me stuck at the Flying J in Carlisle, PA though on a 34 hour reset that snuck up on us both.  We were really hitting stride with good runs and lots of drive time and then we ran out of hours on our 70 hour clock.  So now we sit for 34, shower, eat lots of food, sleep, etc - the bad part is that we will be available again at 20:00 tomorrow, setting us up for more insane night shifts.  

The last night shift I did started at 22:30.  I had gotten no more than 4 hours of sleep in the past 24 hours because of trying to shift over from day shift to nights.  We drove two hours to pick up at the Honeywell plant in Richmond, VA.  We arrived and upon check-in were sat down in front of a 15 minute corporate-speak safety video that we had to sign off on.  We were then issued hard hats, safety goggles, and given a card that is valid for one year to allow us inside.  The woman at the guard shack was round and short.  She kept marveling at me driving the truck.  She marveled when we checked in and then she continued to exclaim after I parked the truck where she indicated.  She showed us her car and confessed that she could barely drive that, and would never dream of driving a semi.  At 1am her incessant sing-song soliloquy added to the incredibly macabre atmosphere of the giant plant that loomed all around us complete with belching stacks, non-descript storage warehouses and "erector-set" steel scaffolding all interconnected by railroad tracks and dark, narrow alleyways. We followed instructions and waited inside while specially designed forklift trucks with arms lifted giant rolls of paper onto our trailer.  Simultaneously, another one loaded even larger rolls onto railroad cars that were parked inside the huge warehouse.  Two hours ticked by between waiting for our fleet manager to send the pick up number we needed to waiting for the loading.  Back on the road with a long drive ahead of us at 02:30.  I made it through Washington DC and Baltimore in the wee hours of the morning before the heavy rush hour traffic began, going on Red Bull and chocolate chip cookies. By the time I had several hours of Pennsylvania mountain driving behind me at 0830 I was missing gears and coming apart.  My trainer took over and got us the rest of the way.  Even though the night driving will be my thing once Zygote and I are together, starting at 2230 at night is not the way for me.  I'm sure I have lots to learn about how to manage all of this once we are a team.

Yesterday found me driving through my first hail storm on the border of WV and PA.  Hail the size of marbles mixed in with buckets of rain came down; thunder and lightning all around.  Motorists were pulled off on the sides of the roads in between construction barrels that lined the right side of the shoulder.  Concrete dividers on the left.  The trucks all kept moving.  Construction all the way for hundreds of miles.  Somehow I was calm, as if the power of the storm served to humble us to the level we actually are as humans; ain't nuthin' but a thang.  I guess it's a good thing I was calm considering. LOL.

Once at the shipper's empty lot, we had time for me to practice backing up to the dock doors over and over again.  Two off set backs, one 90 degree and one 45 degree.  My trainer worked with me on how to fine tune with minor adjustments such as moving the trailer over by only 2-3 inches if necessary. crazy stuff.

Cold cereal for dinner since we have no microwave.  Giant Denny's breakfast this morning to make up for it!!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Family and friends

Our routing took us directly to the town where Zygote's family lives.  I was able to spend a day visiting with them in Chesapeake,  Virginia after dropping a load of toilet paper and diapers at Sam's Club. We had a wonderful breakfast at Waffle House then later in the day, while my trainer and I waited out the rest of our 10 hour reset, I went to their house and rested and visited.  My niece helped her grandfather cook hamburgers and hotdogs over the grill for dinner. It was a perfect day.
Late that night, around 1030pm, we left again, on a night  run back up north.  It was a long hard drive, on little to no sleep, thru the Pennsylvania mountains pulling 42 thousand pounds of paper.  At the shipper, I watched as trucks with arms on either side of their fronts lifted giant rolls onto railroad cars and onto our trailer in the dead of night.  The woman at the guard shack thought it was just the bomb that I backed our truck into the parking space there at the plant in Richmond.
My trainer has given me the go ahead on floating the gears instead of having to use the clutch to shift them every time.  This has taken a huge physical strain off the task of driving for me, and since I have no problem floating them (shifting w/out clutching) I am now doing much better with my driving.  I still use the clutch to shift on hills with a heavy load and when I miss the gears on accident.

Stopped in St Louis MO last night and visited with some friends of mine that I've worked with and known for years but never met in person.  We all went out to dinner, then, then took us by Walmart so we could restock our food in the truck.  It was a great visit!!!  We 're hauling Campbell's chicken soup now, and waiting to be unloaded this morning.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

34 hour Reset

We are at a Flying J truckstop north of Scranton, PA.  It's not a very great place to be essentially stuck for two days so I struck out in a random direction to find its beauty.  In the cool of the evening I walked out a dirt country road that winds among farms and mountains and began my run.  The interstate roared in the distance chisled from the side of a long low mountain shelf.  Here in the bottoms it was quiet as the twilight approached.  There were rock fences crumbling along the roadway from another time; a stream tumbled over rocks and around fallen trees.  I ran for what I guessed to be about a half mile, turned around and started the climb back up the hill.  A man was walking toward me down the road; as we passed he commented on me running up that hill.  The Kate Bush song played in the background in my head "Running up That Hill" and I felt mySelf Center somewhere in between my heavy breaths.

I am super sleepy, as I did not ever actually sleep last night but just "rested" instead.  The trucks are noisy at night, but we've lucked out and found some fairly quiet truck stops.  I have not been consistently able to stop the chatter in my head enough at night to settle down and actually sleep.  I'm learning the tricks that work for me one at a time, finding my way at my own stubbornly slow pace of trial and error.

Today was a glorious improvement over the day before.  Some things have fallen into place for me with the down-shifting.  I was driving through the mountains all day today, down-shifting on the upgrades and through alot of road construction and traffic.  We were still on interstates and main highways the whole way, so it was not inner city traffic or small towns.  Only a couple of towns with stop lights the whole way.  But even my upshifting took a major turn for the better today.  Thank goodness. Learning the feel of the transmission more and the differences between a 40K load and a 20K load and being empty, etc.  It's definitely fun going through all 10 gears once you can actually do it smoothly.  We dropped our trailer of cedar planters at Home Depot and picked up an empty there.  Now we wait for our next assignment.  Tomorrow is showers, breakfast at Denny's and laundry...maybe another run.

Karl is in Alabama.  Day before yesterday was his 34 hour restart; at the time he was in Savannah, GA.  During his time off, he rented a car, which the car rental folks drove out to meet him.  Then he went to the beach for the day.  I've not talked to him since then, so I don't have the juicy details to share but leave it to Karl to mastermind the Most Perfect Day Off in trucking history.  I miss him terribly.

Monday, May 9, 2011

There will be good days and bad days

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny  day in Indiana and Ohio.  That wind farm stretched for literally miles and miles.  Today we have picked up a wonderfully aromatic load of cedar planters to deliver to a Pennsylvania Home Depot warehouse.  The trailer is top heavy as we are loaded to the ceiling with pallets.  But this is a lighter load than my last two loads, and the difference on the transmission is causing my newly learned shifting skills to take a step back in time.  It's like learning to shift all over again today vs. how well I've been doing the last couple of days.  Today's route had us in and out of small towns, stopping and starting at traffic lights during rush hour, etc.  It was a rough day for both me and the truck...and needless to say, my trainer as well.

This evening we have stopped at a truck stop where a team that he is friends with have stopped for their 34 hour reset.  So we have been able to visit with them and have dinner in a restaurant, etc.  It's been a nice break from driving.  Tomorrow will be mountainous driving in West Virginia, so the shifting drama will continue.  Now that between all 4 of us we've diagnosed the difference in my shifting for today as being related to the load weight being less than my loads the last two days, I think I may actually have the magical piece of information that my overly analytical learning style needed to fix the problem.

A couple of days ago, I was able to  help another driver get into his truck after he accidentally locked his keys inside.. He had left his window down just enough for me to be able to get my arm inside and unlock his door for him.  He stood on the running board, held out his hands, and I stepped onto them and he hoisted me up high enough to reach inside the truck window.   I was glad to help someone!!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On the road finally

I spent Tuesday morning hiking on the Pinhoti Trail where it goes through Dalton.  Got in about 2 miles of nice ridgeline hiking under cloudy skies and a slight breeze.  I saw tiger swallowtail butterflies all over the place and I ended up covered in about 12 bright yellow caterpillars by the time I got back to the truck.  I also saw a turkey scratching around in the leaves just below the ridgeline.  There were phlox blooming along the access road to the radio tower on Dug Mountain, and the heady scent of honeysuckle filled the air.  Not sure I've ever had the pleasure of honeysuckle this early in May before.  Definitely south of home now.

My training coordinator called me at noon and let me know that my trainer was on his way to pick me upI checked out of the motel, drove Karl's truck over to Walmart, picked up a frozen organic meal and some blueberries and headed over to the terminal to nuke my lunch. The moment that I got in the door of the terminal lugging my gear, the clouds opened up and the rain came down in buckets!!  Perfect timing. 

Met up with Greg around 2 something and we headed out in the pouring rain for Mc Calla, Alabama.  He drove because of the awful wind and rain.  

Last night I slept about 3 hours on the top bunk with a truck idling right next to us.  I awoke, I think, when he pulled out,  because suddenly there was silence and I woke up from a deep sleep to a very horny sparrow singing his heart out at the top of  his spring loins...ahem, I mean, lungs.  He sang for 2 more hours, which served to successfully tell my body that it was morning and I should be awake.  needless to say, 3 hours of sleep was all I got.  We had to deliver at 630am local time, 730 am by my body's clock.

Because of all the recent tornado damages here, there are lots of trucks here carrying FEMA supplies to the tornado victims.  There are no loads leaving.  We got a load because we are a training truck, but many of our company trucks are here waiting and will be for a day or so. But we do not leave until 430am, so we are spending the day waiting, like everyone else.  Maybe I'll be able to catch up on my sleep during the day today since there is not much else to do. It's going to be quite a warm day and the weather looks sunny and hot for here and all the way to our drop in Monroe, LA.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Back in Tunnel Hill

Zygote is on his way to Minnesota today.  I was on the phone with him late last night.  This is a man who usually is dead asleep by 930pm and he was laughing and talking non-stop at 1130pm.  They had a trying couple of days with trailer issues where defects in the trailers themselves prevented them from being able to be loaded once they arrived at the shipper.  The delays kept them from being able to finish the load they were on and move on to something else, so I think there was alot of tiresome waiting around.  It seemed however, that most of the issues had been straightened out and they were headed to Minnesota today to deliver their current load.  I see that he will be west of the storms and in some milder weather finally for him.  He said that he's been enjoying the cooler temps up north.  Last night was the first time we had gotten to talk in a couple of days.  Mostly we are texting back and forth when he has a break.

I am in a motel in Tunnel Hill, Georgia. I arrived yesterday; my oldest son drove me here.  Zygote's truck was here at the terminal, so I have it to use while I am here.  I took Joseph out to dinner at the Oakwood Cafe, the restaurant in downtown Dalton that Zygote and I ate at while we were here the first time.  On the way here, we drove through some very hard hit areas where the tornadoes had come through.  Entire trees lay twisted off at the trunk and buildings were lying flat on the ground.  There is a possibility of a trainer being available, but there are some paperwork logistics that have to take place before that assignment is for real. When I spoke with my training coordinator this morning, she stated that she has not been able to get in touch with him.  She also indicated that she would try to find someone else for me if she could not reach him.  Because I have already completed all my training modules on the computer, she said that there is no reason for me to go over to the terminal.  Depending on how long I am here, I may go over anyway.  There is a weight room and free laundry room there I can use.  I am supposed to call her back at 1130am today to find out if I will be staying here another night or if she has found a trainer for me to leave with today.