Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ten hours of driving will make your mind kinda numb

RENO, NV - The wind blows hot and relentless across the desert, nothing in its way to block or slow it down so it picks up speed until it's strong enough to blow anything down. Driving on I-80 today, I watched a cloud of dust rise up and turn into a dust devil as I approached it. It picked up twigs and carried them into the road, spinning its own mini-apocalypse right on the blacktop. So I slowed down, made sure no one else was around me on the road, braced myself, white-knuckled the steering wheel, and drove through it, because there was nothing else to do. It blew me clear to the edge of the left lane with its sheer force pushing against the trailer, a terrible vibration through the whole truck, the trailer fishtailing a little as I tried to steady it all back to the right lane. Hours later, I'm still a little on edge.

And that's what it's been like, emotionally. No matter how much I brace myself and try to prepare for what the days bring, it just bowls me over, leaves me edgy and exhausted. Lots of "Oh god what have I gotten myself into?" moments on all those long and lonely roads, when friends don't pick up their phones and those hours just stretch on and on.

For the five days I've had my truck, I have not stopped running as hard as possible. They way the company has been scheduling me, I have barely had time to stop for the federally mandated 10-hour sleep breaks before hitting the road again. Ten hours is just barely enough to sleep, eat, and shower. This also means that my sleep breaks come at different times each day, not letting me get on any sort of regular schedule. So I drive for 10 hours, then stop and eat crappy truck stop food because I need a real meal and I can't bear to be in the truck anymore, then I crawl back in the sleeper and pass out, get up, start all over again. No real downtime at all. Like right now: I pulled into this truck stop at 5pm local time, and in order to deliver this load on time I'll have to get out of here at 3am. It's still light out and I can't sleep, hence the Internet-time.

I've been told that usually drivers that just get out of training get pretty easy loads with big windows of time, but this has not been my experience. And this kind of frenetic scheduling was one of the things that made training so hellish for me. I know that this sort of running is the only way to make money in this business, but my sanity can't handle it.

There are a lot of things I've learned about myself lately. About my own limits, physically and emotionally. And I'm discovering less and less of a need to prove things to myself and the rest of the world, and trying to figure out what that means for me as a truck driver.

I'm supposed to be home starting this weekend for five days, and I'm already dreading getting back on the road. Five days doesn't feel long enough to make up for the last five weeks.

14 comments:

Dave said...

I remember the long boring drives, i was about to lose my mind being so isolated and alone. Then I sprung for XM radio. It definitely saved my sanity and kept me at my trucking job.

Also, I got lots of loads during my first 90 days that seemed excessive, then after that it got worse... sorry...

Carol Clarke said...

From one gypsy to another, I have truly enjoyed reading all your posts. Nice to hear it from a woman's perspective. I have my own blog about my travels if you'd like a different take on life on the road. http://outlookgypsy.blogspot.com/

My husband is desperately trying to get a job in trucking but not having much luck since he's from England. I told him that if he doesn't get something soon then we'll have to swap places and he'll have to do my job selling pictures and I'll have to hit the road in a truck. Not exactly something I want to do but not willing to let my good credit go down the crapper either so will do what has to be done until he can find work.

Oh, and good advice from Dave. I have Sirius radio and I listen to it ALL DAY just about -- especially the blues channel.

Rob Carlson said...

Every time I see a new entry from you in my blogroll I click on it knowing that I'm going to be amazed and impressed all over again. Keep up the great writing and illegitimi non carborundum.

gabsatrucker said...

Get a Sirius or Xm radio and if you have an Ipod, load up on podcasts--that's how I keep my mind occupied. Running otr is going to be just more of the same of what you're experiencing now with the erratic sleep schedules and the dispatchers will try and push you to the limit with every load until you tell them that you need to slow down. Use the qualcomm if they're trying to force you, it's amazing how quickly they back down if it's documented.

My best advice is try to stay with them 1 year and start looking for a regional company or a larger company that does regional routes. It's a myth that the only way you can make money in this industry is to push, push, push to the limit. That usually comes from people who can't manage their money or who have screwed their driving record up so bad they're limited on who will hire them.

Terry said...

Gabrielle is sooo right.. It is a myth. I make a very decent paycheck with only four days out on the road. Get your year in and start looking around, there are bluer skies out there!!

Decorina said...

I had a similar experience when I first got my own truck. What I had to learn was how to use the QualComm to my advantage...that is, how to sleep at night and drive during the day.

What I would do is make my delivery (usually early in the am after having gotten to the area the night before) and then stay logged on LINE 1 long enough to take a shower and eat a meal. Only after that would I go to line 2 and sleep, thus starting my 10 hour break. This usually worked unless I was in the LA,CA area - they always wanted me to pick up a Sears load in Fontana and take it to Sacramento for a 0400 delivery.

I escaped that several times, but again, it was using my Line 1 time against the QualCom. It may cut down on what you make, but I couldn't switch days and nights too easily, my biological clock would explode and I would be useless.

Gi-Gi Roxx said...

In a 2 door Toyota Carolla with windows that wouldn't roll up without the assistance of another person I got acosted by a dust devil in New Mexico... windows down. Not fun.

....as for your running wild and not having 'down time', I don't know if you guys do like we do with sending in a macro over the qualcomm to let the company know your hours of availablity or not... but that's a great way to manage your own time.

I am pretty much a "9-5" driver, not really those hours, but I have a set schedule I prefer to work on and make sure to let the company know when I'm available and how long I wanna work each day. I'm able to stay on a pretty steady schedule unless I get aload that delivers really late at night or early in the morning.

Anonymous said...

I would think it would make your butt numb as well. Mine gets numb just from sitting at my desk doing marketing for the trucking companies. Your photos are excellent. What kind of truck do you drive?

fatcaster said...

Leaving before you started . . .

You can't run solo and whine about lonely.

Perhaps if you'd researched the industry before tossing off a few grand. Perhaps if you'd honestly been willing to "get your hands dirty." (Werner was paying you to learn--you wouldn't even help tie-down and tarp. A lot of people in the business would have fired you for that and left you to get home as best you could; no free bus ticket.) Perhaps if you'd understood that you don't "not do what you're told" in a heavily-regulated industry (or in life). Perhaps if you hadn't expected Werner's world to spin 'round your axis. Perhaps if you could have ditched your insular 'tude, your snarky comments, and your savage narcissism . . . I kept waiting for you to get it. What, really, did you learn?

Fatcaster / Million-miler

kimisols said...

My husband is a new trucker and he is having a hard time with the way they are scheduling his hours. They are not taking into consideration his downtime and his pick-up/drop-off time. He doesn't have any time to eat at the restaurants. Once he gets to his destination he can't even drive his truck any more otherwise he will be in violation. How can he fix this? He is so stressed out right now and thinks about giving up. I really don't need him sick. This is starting to be too unhealthy..... I have no idea what is wrong with FATCASTER but has he/she ever drove a truck? What a bad attitude everyone can do without!!!! Seriously!!

Anonymous said...

ARE YOU SERIOUS??? KIMISOLS???? Do you or your husband actually think that he deserves to be treated better than the other thousands of truck drivers out on the road. HE can't deal with his schedule.. He should learn to get used to it or find creative ways around it. If only I had a penny for very time someone whined about being delayed......I would be wealthy beyond my dreams...

FATCASTER makes a very valid point... Did you see the part where it said "million miler"....I would assume that means he/she has spent many years behind the wheel, as I have over a million miles under my belt as well.

This is what is wrong with one aspect of the trucking industry! Too many newbies not willing to give it their all, such as Gypsy not willing to help out with the flatbed loads....They were paying her for this.....And there are too many inexperienced drivers whining and complaining about delays, loads, traffic, dispatch, etc....

If you can't handle the pressure, get out of the truck!!!!

kimisols said...

"ANONYMOUS", Do you actually think that you are any better than anyone else because you have more miles under your belt. No-one said he wants special treatment! He is giving it his all. Did you forget what it was like your first time all by yourself on the road. A lot of you veteran truck drivers think you can just make fun of other who are new and think of nothing to help the new truckers some advice. Maybe you get mad at them because they get more loads than you and more money? Where is all that anger coming from ...all I did was try to get some advice. Atleast I care about my man!

Anonymous said...

kimisols You answered your own question -"they get more loads than you and more money" if that is the case then you have to be willing to work for the goodies you are getting not ask for more goodies. Effectively complaining about fat on your steak. That is what the vets are annoyed with. The unwillingness to work for the bennies given. Asking for advice is 1) how do I work my schedule to get in a real meal from time to time - 2) what is the best way to work in downtime and manage pickup and drop offs to make the most of downtime? What is the best most creative ways to avoid or reduce the chances of burnout NOT "They are not taking into consideration his downtime and his pick-up/drop-off time. He doesn't have any time to eat at the restaurants. Once he gets to his destination he can't even drive his truck any more otherwise he will be in violation."

Fatcaster a millionmiler is breaking it down as to the reality that you learn only by paying attention or through the school of hard knocks i.e. paying dues - which means doing the tough stuff. All you did was whine - if there is a question or a willingness to listen and learn it was lost in the whining pity party poor little me refrain.

SMH

Indy said...

I have to say that (after 30 years of OTR in Australia) I can understand people NEW to the industry not understanding what it takes.

I have seen all types come and go, Downunder and feel that one of the biggest problems is the unpreparedness of the industry to understand that the adjustments for newbies are monumental. It is different if you've been raised in the game.

It IS a good living - once you understand it and how to make IT work for YOU!

I was previously an "in house" driver trainer but thankfully, no longer. Because of that experience, I guess I am able to have empathy with those who struggle as you do, Petal.

Also, my experience has taught me how to assess people - and quickly.

Once they get past the stages YOU'VE been through, then comes the "superman" or "bullet proof" stage.

If they survive that without any major incidents, they just might make a driver. In the meantime, they usually create nightmares for the good guys!!!!!!!! Hahahaha

One last thing. Your CDL (we have another name for it) is your licence to CONTINUE TO LEARN. After 30 years I am still learning something new every day. When the day comes that I don't, I will either be:-
a) dead
b) so full of myself I soon will be, or I will kill someone else
c) In either case - that would be time to get out!