Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Winter is here and stuck in Califonria

Hello everyone!  I'm writing this from the cafeteria/driver's lounge at Schneider's Fontana, California OC (Fontana is near San Bernardino, about 40 miles east of LA, where I-10 and I-15 intersect).  We are currently on day 3 of being stuck in LA -- more on that later.  

Too hard and too fast for me.  The last time I wrote, I mentioned that Terry and I had been asked to run a dedicated route for a week.  All I can say about that week is that the tight schedules on those runs just about exhausted me; we had to run at top speed non-stop the whole week.  And, the last load, we just didn't have enough hours to run legally (it would have put us well over our 70 hours in 8 days limit), so we just made our last run from Wisconsin to Carthage, Missouri (just east of Joplin), and then decided to get a hotel and tell Schneider we'd be available to run the next day (a Saturday).

I normally sleep about 5 or 6 hours a day, and in the truck while it's moving, it's hardly ever that long at one time; I typically just take little naps when I'm in the truck and we're rolling.  Some days I sleep better than others.  But by the time we shut down that Friday morning in Joplin, I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.  Maybe 20 years ago I could have run like we had that week without lingering ill effects, but it ain't 20 years ago and I'm feeling every minute of my 42 years when we stopped.  

I lay down at 3:00 pm Friday and didn't stir, roll over, wake up until the next morning at 5:30.  I got up then just long enough for a visit to the reading room (but no reading this time) and then went right back to sleep until I finally got up about 8:30.  That's about 17 1/2 hours of sleep.  And I needed it.  I felt great when I woke up the next morning.

Some truck drivers like to run hard and fast, at full-tilt capacity, all the time.  They like to drive as fast and far as they can.  

I'm not like that.   I like to pace myself.  One reason is that I love to drive, but I hate to rush.  And I have to ask the question:  "Why?  What's the advantage?"  All of us have the limitations imposed upon us that we can only drive so many hours in a specific amount of time (8 days in this case).  If a driver uses up his hours in 6 days, he's sitting for two days anyway.  There is no advantage; he's not running (in theory, all else being equal) any more miles or making any more money than I am as a slower driver.  

My ideal pace (this is what I did most of the time as a solo driver) is to start early in the morning, run about 500 miles and then shut down in the middle of the afternoon.  That's what works best with my natural body rhythms and inclinations.  Of course, there are times when you can't run like that; a truck driver's schedule is dictated by the pick-up and delivery schedule of the load he's under at that moment; some loads are tighter than others.  Sometimes you just have to rush; there's no remedy for it.  I don't mind that occasional sprint.  But if I had to do it all the time, I would quickly lose my love for driving a truck, and I'd go be a greeter at Wal-mart or something else that I'd like to do.  

I'm too old to do something I don't like to do, and I am very fortunate to have experience and skills so that I've always been able to choose jobs that I've liked very well.  

Seeing family.  For the first time since we started driving in March, a couple of weeks ago, I scheduled some time to see my family in Georgia.  I enjoyed it tremendously, but, as always, there was not enough time to see everyone I really wanted to see.  

I got to enjoy some great time with my Mama (we took a day to go to a place in Tennesee called The Lost Sea that we'd been to when I was 5 or 6 years old and that was very enjoyable for both of us, I think), my sister and her family, and some cousins.   I got to see my grandmother (Nanny) also.

Winter at last.  This past week, we experienced our first dose of real winter driving in Colorado and Utah.  We were on a series of loads for Fed-ex that took us from LA up to the Chicago area, and then from Chicago over to Salt Lake City, Utah.

To get to Chicago, they routed us (for some reason) up I-15 to I-70, and that took us east through Utah and Colorado.  As we started heading up into the mountains that night (Terry's shift), we encountered quite a bit of snow.  I slept through the whole thing in Utah, but then we changed shifts and I got my turn.

There is one area (beginning near the Vail pass on I-70 -- you've heard of Vail as a ski mecca before) where trucks are required to have tire chains.  I've had training in using those things, but have never had to use them before, so it was a new experience for both of us.

About daylight, we were in a place where we had to put them on:  it was about 21 degrees, snowing, and the roads were pretty messy; not icy yet, but just covered in snow in places.  The wind wasn't really bad or we just wouldn't have been able to (safely) cross the pass and make it down to Denver.

I was a little anxious about driving for the first time in that much snow on the mountains, especially coming down; coming down, you have the load behind you pushing you down, making you pick up speed very quickly, but you are limited in your options for slowing down.  So, I just started out slow at the top and kept it that way as best I could.  Since we didn't fall off the mountain or crash, I guess I did alright.

When we got to Denver, I was able to meet my Daddy at a local truck stop (he's working in Denver for several months) for about a half hour.  We had a very nice visit.

After we got through Denver, all the way across the rest of Colorado and Nebraska, there were very high winds (but no snow or rain) that made driving hard in some places.  

On our way back from Chicago to Salt Lake City, we ran into more high winds and winter weather going across Wyoming and Utah.  From Salt Lake City, they had us take an empty trailer over 600 miles down to LA.  We left Salt Lake last Saturday night.

As we came out of the mountains, by the time we got to Las Vegas (one of the most beautiful sites I've ever seen is coming out of the high desert from northern Nevada and seeing miles and miles of lights from Las Vegas suddenly sprawling across the desert horizon.  One moment it's totally dark out there, and then you come over this rise, and it's there.   Just breathtaking every time I see it.) it was in the 50's and we were driving in dry weather.

Then we got to California.  It was early Sunday morning.  I saw these signs "High winds ahead.  High profile vehicles not recommended."   After 20 miles, when there weren't any winds, I stopped looking for them.

Then, almost out of the mountains north of San Bernardino on I-15, close to the Sierra Avenue exit, the first gusts hit.

I thought the truck was going to turn over; remember, we've got an empty trailer, so it didn't take much wind to shake it around.  These gusts were (we found out later) up to 80 or 85 miles per hour.  

It scared me much worse than driving in the snow over the Vail pass last week.  I yelled at Terry to wake up:  "Wake up Terry!  The truck's going to turn over!  Wake up!"

I slowed the truck down, tried to keep it in the road, and pulled over under an overpass, which provided some shelter from the winds, if not very much.  The truck shook like we were in a hurricane or tornado.

We were the only truck pulled over for a while, except for a couple of trucks and an RV stopped on the northbound side.  But, several hours later, when we were still stuck there -- only 12 miles from the Schneider OC in Fontana, where I am writing this entry -- we were in a crowd of trucks, RV's, cars and motorcycles that had stopped.  

I took some video with my phone.  The quality is not great, but if I decide it's worth posting on Youtube, I'll update the entry with links.  

Just when I was starting to think about maybe trying to leave where we were after several hours (Terry had been able to go back to sleep after my imitation of Chicken Little was over), I was watching the traffic, and suddenly, this truck on the northbound side which had been stopped on the side of the road for over an hour started to move again.  After only about 100 yards, the wind caught it and flipped it on its side like it was a little toy.

It was scary to watch.  The driver was able to get out and wasn't hurt.  But it made me realize that I had made the right decision to stay put.  

After about 12 hours, the winds started to die down a little bit (they are worst at night and early morning), we did make it the rest of the way to the OC, but we have been stuck here ever since.  We have been assigned 3 loads, but have been unable to even make it to go pick them up.

Fires and winds are all over the TV news -- you may have seen it if you haven't been living in a cave.  

Anyway, we are okay.  That's the main thing.  But we are ready to get on the road again.  I know that for sure.

Movies.  Terry and I have been able to see a couple of good movies lately.  The first one, 3:10 to Yuma, we saw several weeks ago while we were up in Illinois, near St. Louis.  We took time one Saturday afternoon to drop our trailer in the Schneider facility in Edwardsville, Illinois, and we bobtailed (just drove the truck with no trailer) up to Altonville, Illinois, a small village northeast of St. Louis.  We enjoyed a great movie (which  was a remake of an earlier movie, which was an adaptation of a short story by Elmore Leonard; I haven't seen the original movie or read the short story yet, but plan to) and the downtime outside the truck was good.  

Yesterday, we took a cab to a mall a few miles from here and saw the movie Michael Clayton and we both found it interesting.  It took me a while to get into it, but once I did, it was very intriguing.  

In a little while, we're going to see Into the Wild, which could sometimes be the title of a movie depicting a trek into many truck stops.  

Billy Day.  Our good friend in Texas, Billy Day, is having a procedure done this Friday -- Billy, you are in our prayers and we expect to hear from you soon by e-mail.  He will think it is funny to see his name in the blog this time.  

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.  I'm currently enjoying this book that Terry recommended to me.  It's my first book to read by McCarthy (to my surprise), and it's quite a graphic tale of violence and brutality in the Old West.  Another McCarthy book, No Country for Old Men, is soon to be made into a movie.  I'm looking forward to reading others book he's written.  

I'll cut things off there.  It's almost time to leave here to go to the movie.  Hopefully, before I write again, we will have been able to leave here.  

Until next time . . . keep the wheels rollin' (except when the winds are blowing 80 mph) . . .

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