I passed! I have my Instruction Permit (or what could be considered my “temps” for a big truck). I’m excited! I’m scared! I’m nervous! I’m excited!
It’s nice and kind of fun to be able to take such leaping steps towards something I’m working my butt off for. I studied my brains dry for those tests. I was proud to have passed the first “general knowledge” test with only 2 out of 50 questions wrong. Then I took the “air brakes” test. I got zero wrong! A beautiful 100%. Then I took the “combination vehicles” test and got one wrong. And those last two tests? I flew through them like it was no big thing. I had my photo taken, waited in line, paid $30, and was handed my 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper that acts as my Instruction Permit until I get a pretty plastic version in the mail.
On Thursday I tried Offset Backing. Straight-line backing seemed pretty easy – that’s the one I passed with no problem last week. On that backing maneuver, you pull through a lane, stop, activate 4-ways, honk the horn, and slowly back straight back into the lane you just pulled through, all the while correcting any drift the trailer makes along the way. I learned right away it doesn’t take much at all to make that trailer turn! Well, Thursday we started Offset Backing. You pull through a lane just like straight-line backing, except this time when you back up, you’re backing into a lane that’s next to and behind you. I kept making the same mistakes and found myself feeling a little frustrated by the end of my practice. I would steer to hard and jack my trailer way too far over, and it became too difficult to correct. Yesterday I did manage to get a couple of them in, but not without direction from Jake, one of our instructors. He gave me some good pointers; the biggest being that I was oversteering. As I mentioned, it doesn’t take much to make that trailer turn. Then he hopped up onto my truck, and through the driver’s-side window, looked at me, smiled and said, “you are having trust issues with your trailer.” He was right. I just needed to trust that the trailer was going to go where I directed it to go. And I had to stop oversteering. I tried a few more times, still getting used to how the trailer moves in the opposite direction than the wheel is turned by literally talking myself through the start of the back. “I want my trailer to go left, so I turn my steering wheel right.” It’s a weird concept to get used to. I wasn’t feeling too confident by the end of my practice yesterday, but it was time to switch drivers so my partner could take a few cracks at it. Instructor Jake seemed to think we’d both get signed off today. Both Michael (my partner) and I weren’t so sure!
Well, guess what? Jake was right! We both got signed off today! I was surprised, to be honest… and it was pretty awesome. I got one warm-up lap around the practice Keller Range when Steve, another instructor called us on the radio to come over to the skid pad area to do some offset backing. I head over there, fully intending to just practice and have Steve talk me through a few more attempts. I pulled through the right lane and up to the cone, cranked the steering wheel right, activated 4-ways, honked my horn and began my back. I aimed for the lane behind me and to my left, counter-steered slowly, got as close to the cones as I could get (without hitting any!), then used one of two pull-ups we’re allowed (meaning you can pull the tractor-trailer forward to realign yourself), then made a perfect straight-line back into the lane. I had no direction from Steve at all. I did it all on my own. I was freakin’ beaming with pride. I peeked over at Steve, who was sitting in a truck watching me. He held up a finger to indicate I passed one of four offset backs I needed to make. Sigh… was it a fluke? Can I do that one more time? Three more times? I pulled up again. Same thing. Backed it in. Steve held up two fingers. Pulled up again. Backed it in again. Three fingers. Pulled up, backed in, and Steve called me over the radio, “bring me your purple sheet so I can sign you off.” I grabbed my sheet and danced over to his truck and smiled as wide as I could as he signed it. When I was all done, Michael jumped in the driver’s seat and banged out four himself. We rocked it today, and we were both pretty pumped up after that. I never knew backing a truck (successfully) could be such a rush!
These two recent steps – receiving my Instructor Permit and getting signed off on Offset Backing means that I can be taken out on the road with an instructor. I don’t know when that will happen, but it could be any time now. That makes me nervous. That might make YOU nervous! Haha!! Just look for those FVTC white tractor-trailers with “Student Driver” printed on them! I have a feeling it might be a bit yet, as I still need to work on my shifting. It’s improving slightly each time I drive, but it’s slow-going… it’s mostly still my downshifting that needs work.
Next up is the 90-degree back. I hear this one is really tough, even from the more experienced students. My current cone kill count is zero. I’ve seen many a’cone dragged, pushed and run over on others’ attempts at the 90-degree backs, so I think my cone kill count might make a slight rise. We might start that tomorrow already. We are on the range all day tomorrow, so we will have probably close to 10 hours of in-truck time. That is pretty awesome.
On a side-note, I had a break this past weekend. I went to Minocqua, WI with eight of my girlfriends for our annual “Box Tour.” We had such a great time. On Saturday I did a bunch of snowshoeing, then we all hung around a giant bonfire at the Thirsty Whale, ate dinner, then hung out at a bar until close. We laughed until our guts felt like they’d split, ate fondue, played “Cards Against Humanity,” caught up with whatever was going on in each others’ lives, talked about childish things while giggling like 12-year olds, and all-in-all had a really nice time. I’m still kind of recovering from sleep deprivation, but it was worth it, I suppose.
Oh, and my smarticles for the day – we noticed a crack in our fan belt during our pre-trip inspection, found out how to check our coolant level (by shaking the truck), finally identified the spring shackles and mounts, I got to watch the air bags deflate on a suspension dump, and did some coupling and uncoupling. That also needs work. There are so many things I’ve learned these past couple of weeks that I can’t believe it hasn’t been a couple of months already… and there’s so much more that I need to get figured out in the next seven weeks. One day at a time…
Tonight I love cones. I love them because maybe if I do I’ll be less likely to hit them. Or drag them under my tires. Or squish them… :)