Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pork Chops and Quinoa

This meal only takes about 30 minutes to prepare and is healthy and homey in hot or cold weather.

Thin wafer boneless pork chops
Cajun Seasoning from Penszey's Spices
Near East Quinoa-1 box
Fresh green beans--or canned veggie of choice

The meat will only take a few minutes on high temp to cook, so you want to have everything ready before you begin cooking.

Sprinkle Cajun seasoning on both sides of each wafer; set aside
Remove seasoning packet from box of Quinoa-measure out amount of water according to package instructions; set aside
Snap beans (or open canned veggies)
Set electric skillet temp to 375

Lay wafers in skillet - cook thoroughly but not so long they dry out
Turn and cook on other side. Remove chops from skillet-set aside.
Place green beans in skillet in meat juices and saute briefly. Remove and set aside.
Add water and seasoning packet to skillet and place lid on-bring water to a boil.
Add quinoa. replace lid. Set temp to 325 and cook for recommended time on quinoa box.
During last 2-3 minutes of cooking time, add green beans and pork back into the skillet to warm.

I serve this meal in a bowl, as it makes for easier eating in a moving truck.

When I prep a meal, I lay a handtowel out on the bed as my "counter". This makes for easy cleanup also. The electric skillet stays set up in one cubby of the truck with the controls facing out and the plug hanging down for easy access. I also keep a towel over the surface of the cubby for easy cleanup as well-the cubby's typically have carpeting over the surfaces. My spices are kept on the side of the microwave and refrigerator. They are stored in magnetic spice containers-available at Walmart or some larger grocery stores. I keep garlic cloves, Himalayan salt, chili powder and Cajun seasoning all the time; other spices I rotate according to what our menu will be for the week.

Crock Pot Salsa Roast

beef (or pork) roast-any cut you prefer
1 jar of salsa

This recipe, if you can call it that, is BAR NONE the most wonderful meal for hungry, busy people. Just put the roast in the crock pot, dump in the full jar of salsa and turn to crock pot on high for the first two hours then low for another 5-7 hours, depending on how big your roast was and how much time till dinner. 15 minutes before you are ready to eat, put the rice in the rice cooker. Serve the meat and sauce over a bed of hot rice. I have also served this over egg noodles, which works just as good, but we prefer rice. This also works with venison, if you're into that sort of thing.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Thornton Quarry

On our way through Chicago, we drive over the land bridge that spans the Thornton Quarry. These pictures were taken from a moving truck, so they're not that detailed or clear, but you get the idea.

Wikipedia -- abbreviated excerpt:

Thornton Quarry is one of the largest aggregate quarries in the world, located in Thornton, Illinois just south of Chicago. Work at the quarry began in 1924 by Colonel Hodgkins, and since 1938 has been operated by the Material Service Corporation. The quarry is 1.5 miles long, 0.5 miles wide, and 400 feet deep. Gallagher Asphalt Corporation has been operating on the grounds of the quarry since 1928. A dryland dike carries Interstate 80/Interstate 294/Tri-State Tollway over the quarry.
As part of the Chicago Deep Tunnel project, both Thornton Quarry and McCook Quarry will serve as reservoirs to reduce the backflow of stormwater and sewage from Chicago area rivers into Lake Michigan.

The quarry contains Silurian reefs which formed when the Michigan Basin was covered in sea water more than 400 million years ago.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Steer tire blowout

I was waiting for Zy to tell his story about the blowout, but he's mute. So all you get is the story from my perspective, which we all know, pales in comparison.

I awoke to the sound of the airhorn being blown for a full 3 seconds and the brakes rocking the cab. I could hear Zy "conversing" (we'll say) with a blankety blank "four wheeler". This goes on for longer than usual, but I roll over and go back to sleep-nothing to see here, folks, move along. For those of you that don't sleep in a moving cab, your perception of time is warped by the fading in and out of sleep; you can think you were not asleep but then be two states away somehow when you get up. So, after a short falling back asleep, I awake again to the tires on the rumble strip and air brakes being pulled. I hear the door open and close. Brief interlude of precious silence, I have my ear plugs in this whole time, mind you. Door opens and closes again. We don't move. The truck rocks as 18-wheelers with no way to move over a lane pass within feet of us. I take out the ear plugs. "you ok?" "We have a steer tire that's about to blow; it's bulged out on the sidewall." Great, this is the second breakdown for us this week for tire issues, but thank goodness he's pulled over and the tire didn't blow with him driving at 65mph down the highway. "How did you know about it to get pulled over in time?" "Four-wheeler flagged me down."

Turns out, the guy that Zygote blew the horn at had seen that our driver's side steer tire had developed this giant hematoma (for lack of a better word) and he was frantically trying to get us to pull over. Unfortunately, his plan of action involved veering into the lane in front of our truck-which was moving at 64mph, turning on his flashers and SLOWING DOWN!!! So, of course, the radar on the front of our truck picked him up immediately and slammed on the brakes which scared Zygote to death so he blew the horn and renamed the man several times over. I guess then, the man continued to motion, beep and point to the tire, trying to get Zygote to pull over. We were in Chicago, on the Tri-State toll road during morning traffic. Zygote imagined the man was having some sort of road rage fit and dared not pull over. The good samaritan never knew how much we appreciated his concern and his warning, or how much he scared Zygote; his exit came up and he left the tollway.

Then, Zygote pulled over to examine the truck and found the tire. About 7 minutes or so after we stopped, the hematoma exploded with a very loud bang. We were so very lucky we were stopped when it blew. Very lucky. A huge thank you to the anonymous, slightly misguided, good samaritan.

I put my earplugs in and went back to sleep.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


What feeds us? What keeps us going, getting up in the morning(or the afternoon for us nightshifters), why do we do what we do and for what rewards? Diesel tends to thicken during the colder temperatures, much akin to our own tendency to hibernate in winter or gravitate toward warm places where our blood flows more freely. To combat the gelling of diesel fuel in the tanks, we add an anti-gelling agent; what do we do for ourselves to to keep the warmth in our hearts during the cold winter months? February could be only 25 days long and it would be too long for me. Valentine's Day seems strategically placed for a warming of the heart during winter, but not everyone has a special someone with whom to share this modern day consumer-driven chocoholic debacle. What we do all have is connection; we are all a part of this great web of humanity.

The trucking industry is an intriguing and intricate display of this web of trade goods woven across this country, around the globe. The company we drive for has over 8000 trucks on the highways, just one of hundreds of trucking companies. There are sections of road outside of Chicago where even in the darkest hours of the night there are 12-15 trucks per mile. The industry is vast and the efforts of thousands of individuals go into getting each and every product to the consumer. A product is manufactured; at times we get stuck trying to get into the shipper during shift change; there are hundreds of people that work at this plant making products. When I check in to pick up the load, there are women in the office that handle the paperwork, documenting all the goods that have been created, packaged, palleted and loaded. At the distribution center in Waukegan, I pull up to the gate and dial a number on the phone. On the other end of the line, a security officer answers and takes my company and truck information then opens the gate. Inside, I hand the bills of lading to a dock coordinator, who signs for the delivery and tells me what dock to back into. After I've delivered the load, obviously there are many other people who handle and/or deal with this product in many untold ways before it ever reaches it's end consumption. It's really kind of unbelievable when you really think about it. It can't possibly be sustainable, this crazy post-industrial, resource-gobbling monster we've created, but that's neither here nor there, I suppose. It is what it is, and for right now it's how this world operates.

Being an active part of this great machine, if you will, is one of the aspects of this job that holds my imagination. I no longer am the woman in the office handling the paperwork and maybe getting 15 minutes outside on a break each day. I work at a command console with a great picture window before me, a window on the world as it flows by (Star Trek, anyone?) I see the Great Smoky mountains every day of the week; I cross the Pigeon, the Kentucky, the RockCastle, the Ohio, the Wabash the Kankakee and the Tippecanoe Rivers eight times a week. I cross entire mountain ranges, plains and woodlands, a journey that took our pioneers months to make, and I do it every day and am paid for it. I haul massive quantities of goods across six state lines, connecting communities that otherwise would have no contact. These diesel horses never rest, borrowing time from deep in the earth's layers where it was buried a millenia before, running on composted dinosaurs.

In the stinging cold of Waukegan, under the orange glow of the street lamps I catch snowflakes on my tongue. Warm and dry in the cab during a deluge of rain in Kentucky, our breath fogs up the glass. Feeble sunshine breaks through the clouds in Tennessee; steam rises from the rest area asphalt against the backdrop of Mt Cammerer. And tonight, tonight I am in my hot tub under low clouds, a soft drizzle patters, this February night warm in North Carolina while it snows in Kentucky. Indeed...this great and intricate, beautiful web that we live.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Super Singles

Some trailers have a single tire on the rear axle -two on each side-instead of four tires on each side. These larger tires are called super singles. We've liked the trailers that have these. They seem to run smoother and we've never had a super single with a problem.

Each tire has an air line to keep their air pressure inflated directly from the compressor on the truck. Yesterday, I learned that on some of these trailers-the newer series-that there is a white light on the driver's side trailer headboard, visible in the mirrors when driving, that comes on each time the air pressure engages to fill the tires, a handy thing to know.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Waiting on my (Repair)Man

First off I want to apologize for having neglected posting for so long. It was never my intention for Willow to handle the blog on her own. But for the last few months that has been the way it has turned out.  It is hard to post with the truck rolling, typing is definitely not fun. Still, I should be able to crank out a few per month and I will try to update more often.

Like Willow wrote, coming back home Saturday was interesting, in that white knuckle, I think we may die kind of way. Well  maybe I am being a bit over dramatic.  On I 40 for the last 7 miles of Tennessee and first 20 of North Carolina you travel through the Pigeon River Gorge in the Great Smokey Mountains, just outside the border of the national park.  While the grades here are not particularly steep, the curves are sharp and numerous. With the addition of frequent rock slides ( one in 2010 closed I 40 in the gorge for 6 months and a week ago a 1500 ton boulder blocked west bound traffic for a week) this section of I -40 can be pretty dangerous.  Additionally when storm systems move in from the west, the steep slopes of the mountains intensify any precipitation as the moisture is forced out of the rising air. When the weather comes out of the north west ( Called Northwest Flow) the last remnants of moisture from the Great Lakes hundreds of miles away is wrung out.  This can cause snow to be falling along the NC/ TN border fairly intensely while it is barely flurrying or not snowing in nearby areas. 

That is what happened Saturday, the snow was still relatively light but came down quickly and roads were not pre-treated. With the typical steady traffic coming through the gorge, once things begin to back up it becomes hard to get snow plows and salt trucks out on the road.  We began to hit heavier snow a few miles before North Carolina. Past the 2nd mile marker the roads were white and icy, traffic slowed and cars and light trucks began the "Lets get past all these slow truckers dance".  Of course Truckers slow down for a reason as a few 4 wheelers soon found , careening into the retaining walls and off the side of the road. Luckily no one took a plunge off one of the 100 foot plus cliffs into the river.  Then traffic came to a total standstill.  There was a disabled big truck partly blocking the right lane, and 4-wheelers rushed to fill up the left lane and then refused to let anyone in.  Eventually I and a couple other trucks got into the left lane and blocked it, allowing trucks cars and even snow plows in the right line to get around the obstruction. Even slight slopes on icy roads are hard to negotiate for big trucks and lighter loaded trucks can have a very hard time getting an maintaining traction. We saw and number of spins and skids, but thankfully no truck wreaks.  I could feel us briefly loose full traction a couple of times, and eased off the gas to regain it.  Being heavily loaded we "stick" to the road easier but it takes  much longer to stop, and once something bad begins to happen it  is much harder to recover from it.  I was super nervous, this being really the first time dealing with icy roads in such a critical situation, but managed to get through it.

Despite my criticism of the "civilian" driving populace in general. I want to say while there are many  drivers (civilian and commercial drivers alike) out there who will not give anyone an inch, those that do are appreciated by true professional truckers out there. My thanks go out to you.

We left early Monday morning to pick up the load from the previous week that Amy mentioned. I think our breakdown luck is running low, because when I backed under the loaded trailer and got out to raise the landing gear (extendable legs that the trailer rests on when not hooked to a truck), I saw to my dismay that only one of the two legs was actually rising, After checking to make sure there was not an easy fix I could do on my own, I called our night fleet manager to advise him and then called breakdown.  Being Monday morning no one can get out here until after 6 am. We picked up at 2 am.  This load will be late.

So now I sit listing to the Velvet Underground on my Walkman while Amy sleeps. Lou reed sings " I ... am waiting on my man." and in a way, so I am I.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Early Start

We made it home fine on Saturday.

Zygote had a harrowing time driving in the snow through the Smokies.  There was one wreck that happened in front of us but we did not see it happen because of the curves in the road.  An SUV spun out of control and hit the concrete divider wall and bounced back across to the far right side of the road.  Everyone appeared to be alright; their airbags had deployed. 

The load that we were originally scheduled to take on Friday, we were unable to take because by the time we arrived home on Saturday, we were at our limit of hours for the week almost.  Not enough left to be able to get up and back in time for the following week's loads.

No one was able to grab that load at all, it turns out, between Friday and Sunday, so that load is still waiting to go up.  Zygote offered to take that load first, leaving the usual Monday load for the Fleet Manager to find a driver for instead.  This old load is due in Chicago by 5pm Monday.  We'll be leaving from home earlier than usual to try to get it there on time-probably around 1am.  At 10pm tonight, I'm still doing laundry.  I just finished loading food in the truck around 9pm.  Zygote's been in bed for awhile.  He went to town today and bought us a new refrigerator.  The electrical issue in our truck fried our fridge.

The new fridge is deeper and holds more; still has a freezer, but the freezer space is smaller.  There are places on the inside of the door for condiments, and the bottom shelf on the inside of the door will hold large bottles.  It was interesting getting it into the top bunk, but Zy did it.  I'm going to finish up laundry, load the rest of my things and sleep in the truck tonight, since we are leaving earlier than I would even usually be finishing my shift.

Markum yard

Friday, February 10, 2012

Electric Snow Storm

Four days into this week, and our newly serviced truck starts having electrical issues. I was driving when the inverter began its screaming noise that indicates an overload. Of course, there was nothing I could do about it, being tethered to the driver's seat. To my knowledge, nothing was plugged in except for the refrigerator and Zy's CPAP machine. He was in the back, sleeping. Not anymore!!! He called out from the back, "got it!!" and then he popped out and asked if anything unusual had been happening. The only thing I had noticed was a fluctuation on the dashboard voltmeter from its usual 14.3 to 14.8.

We kept going while he tried various things to solve the problem, to no avail. With him unable to sleep without the CPAP machine, we basically have to have access to power. Now he was up, and we were close to our drop point north of Chicago. He rigged his CPAP to pull off of DC power instead of AC and tried to get a little more sleep. We both knew it would take a trip to the shop to solve the issue, but neither of us wanted to talk about it.

I finished the drop, drove to the next pickup, swept out the trailer, dropped it and picked up the load. Zy had gotten only a bit more sleep; he got up to help with the tandems, as he usually does. We weighed and decided to fuel and check out a new inverter to see if it was isolated to the inverter itself before taking it to the shop. Gary Pilot was packed, as usual. Usually, having to wait for a pump is a problem. This time, our wait time gave us just enough time to try out a new inverter and eliminate that as the issue. It was not the inverter-same issue. Now there was no way around the dreaded trip into the shop.

I drove to Markum, the closest terminal; we rationalized that by putting all our food in a cooler with ice and getting worked on asap, that we'd be able to save most of our food for the rest of the week from spoiling. No power, no fridge or freezer. I still had sausage and a buffalo steak that we had not eaten, plus leftover black-eyed peas with ham in them. The rest was veggies and dairy.

Markum checked us in but said it would not be until the next day that they would be able to get to us.It's now 2pm here (3pm our home time) and we're not in the shop yet. I just came from the desk and there are 3 more trucks ahead of us. No big deal, really, except we've already lost our last load for the week-less money- and now there is a lake effect snow storm heading straight for the Gary, IN to Remington, IN area-a section we must travel through in order to get out of here. We may be stuck here, waiting for snow plows before we can safely leave. It allj just depends on when we are released.

Snow has started to fall. Right now, it's pretty, large fluffy flakes floating around. Later, it probably will cease to have much charm.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Parameters II

After driving through the Smokies on last night's shift, I'm disappointed with the new engine brake settings. Basically, the delay of three seconds has rendered the engine brake useless for anything other than holding you back on an extended downhill. Before, it was useful in many different situations, as it would engage the moment that you touched the brake and anytime you removed your foot from the accelerator. Now, you must touch the brake for it to come on, there is the delay, and once you have touched the accelerator, it disengages and does not come on again if you remove your foot from the accelerator. The engine brake on/off button on the steering wheel now only functions to turn it off once engaged. Turning the button on, only makes the engine brake available if the brake is touched; it does not actually engage the engine brake.

While all of this is really not that big of a deal, it has a great effect on the way I drive. I used the engine brake quite often in the mountains, and now, I really see no advantage to it - unless, as mentioned already, you're on an extended downhill. The delay renders it useless for slowing you in curves and the fact that it does not engage when you remove your foot from the accelerator makes it more inaccessible.

The gearing down of the transmission speeds has changed the coasting speed of the truck, however, and it does not run away with you quite as easily. LOL, unless of course, you didn't press the brake a full 3 seconds before you needed the engine brake to engage.

We've stopped this morning to get our CB fixed. Mercifully, up until now, our CB has not worked for transmitting anything we say to anyone else. Now the world will be subjected to one more unsolicited opinion over the airwaves.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I-40 ended up reopening on this past Sunday. We never did have to deal with a detour.

Getting back into the truck has seemed like routine this time. Routine is something that I have always thrived on; it allows me to put more effort into other aspects of my life at the same time that I maintain what is necessary. I'm relieved to find that I'm finally settling into this trucking life after all this time. It's now been 9 months for us in the truck. Our one year wedding anniversary was this past week while we were off!! We had saved the top layer of our yummy lemon wedding cake in the freezer, so we thawed it out and had wedding cake all week. Between this truck and the other truck we had at first, we've now driven over 148,000 miles since June.

As I mentioned last time, our truck went into the shop for a periodic maintenance. One of the things that they did to it this time was to stop our ability to idle the truck for more than five minutes.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

HomeTime activities

This past week we have spent on hometime. We've not been home in over two months, since Christmas hometime was spent traveling to be with family. The first couple of days were spent with appointments, taxes and taking the truck in for it's periodic maintenance. We drove it home our last night out so that we could empty everything from it before taking it to the shop. The next morning, Sunday, Zygote drove the truck and I followed him in my car; we took the truck in to our company terminal in Lexington. By Wednesday it was completed; we spent another 5 hours that day going back to pick it up. I think next time we will try the shop in South Carolina, as the round trip may be slightly less time.

Tax preparation has been interesting. This is our first year itemizing for trucking. We did really well with all our receipts and expenses and our tax preparer seemed satisfied with all that we presented her. We are still waiting for one more 1099 before we can actually file them, but things are looking promising for a healthy refund. With this being the first year I've not claimed any dependents, our first year of trucking, and our first time filing married status I kind of expected to end up owing taxes, so I was particularly pleased with this news. I will say to all you trucking hopefuls out there that it pays to read and know the tax code. Don't count on your tax preparer to know the answer to every aspect of the tax code as it applies to your trucking.

The shop washed our truck for us also. That was great, since we were covered in salt and grime from the snow and ice in Indiana and Illinois.

Once home with the truck, both of us were DONE talking, living, breathing trucking for a few days. Zygote did his thing, whatever it is he does all day, and I packed up my backpack and headed out into the woods. I managed to squeeze in a two day backpacking trip and put another 20 miles behind me on the Benton MacKaye Trail, a trail that I would like to finish at some point ...after a failed attempt at thru-hiking it in 2010. My hiking adventures are chronicled on Trail Journals. A link to that journal can be found above. Check it out if you are interested. There is even a video (no picture) sound recording of coyotes howling.

Zygote gets 500 bonus points for driving me to the trail and dropping me off, and then coming back for me the next day. I supposed he could have just left me out there. He gets another undetermined amount of points also because while I was goofing off in the woods, he lined the side of our driveway with rocks to help with the mud. The truck is wider than our drive and when we park it at home, the lawn on the sides of our driveway is slowly being destroyed. Points issued will be determined upon evaluation of the effectiveness of his handiwork. He also wrestled our new mattress into the truck, (100 points) which evidently would have been quite the spectacle to see; he said that it wasn't easy getting it in since it is not flexible and thin like the mattresses that are issued with the trucks. The thin mattress was killing both our backs; you can feel the springs smashing into your body, and when the truck goes over bumps you sort of bounce all over the place on the mattress! We bought a real twin mattress to put in, so we could save our backs. It was not as long as the mattress that is issued with the truck, however, so we do have about 4 less inches of mattress room than we had. The extra space we divide up, some on each side, and we each use that space at our heads for storage.

So, this week will be slightly different heading up to Chicago because there has been a rockslide on I-40 westbound, which is our route out of NC into TN. We'll have to detour around that on our trips up. On our trips back it should not be an issue, as I-40 eastbound has not been closed down.

Today we finally started preparing the truck to leave. Zygote is always the one motivated to get back on the road; he got out there and worked his magic checking tire pressure and oil, going over all our tools and 'extras', checking our pre-assignments for our trips. Eventually, I loaded clothes, cookware, food and bedding. Our cat, Pachinko, came in the truck and sat on the dash in the sunshine watching me make the bed. It seems like a long time ago that we used to drive a truck, LOL, after just one week off!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ice Road?

Last week brought bitter cold temperatures to Chicago and wind, snow and ice south from there to Cincinnati. It was really our first prolonged period of winter weather driving in the truck. We'd run into a bit of snow and wind here and there this winter but nothing that lasted very longer or very severe. Nevertheless, each time that we have hit weather, there are numerous tractor trailer wrecks all along our route. Abandoned trailers out in the middle of cornfields, jack-knifed semis folded against guard rails, trucks overturned in ditches, and truck/car wrecks. We are very lucky in that our loads are heavy-always over 42K, and that helps with our traction in the snow and ice. The disadvantage, of course, is that once a truck loaded that heavily starts out of control, there isn't much you could do to stop it.

I'm still figuring out my new ipad and how to get photos taken from my camera onto it. I took these icy photos with the ipad itself last Friday night at a truck stop where we stopped to trade drivers. I had been driving in heavy sleet at that point for at least 3 hours. We had to stop periodically and pull over to knock the ice off the windshield wipers as it would build up to the point where the wipers were completely useless. Many drivers were flying by us doing 55-60mph. We crept along at 40-45, keeping pace with a more conservative trucker crowd. Right at the southern edge of Indianapolis the rain/sleet turned to snow, illuminated eerily from above by the orange street lights. Driving in the snow pack was MUCH easier than driving in the sleet. Several inches of snow covered the beltway by this time and although you could not see the lane-lines on the road, it was so late at night that there was not enough traffic for that to matter at all. I would even say it was one of my easiest nights in Indy. That city seems to have traffic issues at all hours of the night, usually.

Today in Kentucky, the sun is shining. We are on our way north again, the first run of our last week before a week's vacation!!