I drove on a road today! Already! I’m talking traffic, speed limits, right turns, left turns, stop lights, more traffic and even a freakin roundabout! I got up to 40 mph and 9th gear! It seems like every single day we are thrown into something new and slightly unknown, constantly pushing us into… well, stuff we might not be sure about, but find out that we are totally capable of. It’s really quite exhilarating.
When I studied for my IP (Instructor Permit), I at least felt like I went in knowing my stuff and was kind of prepared. It happened faster than I imagined, but I at least had an idea of what taking a test was like. You basically just answer questions. There’s not much danger in that. Well, driving on a real road was different. I wasn’t sure that I was ready to deal with cars that need to be places with real, living people in them while I buzz along at 15 mph hoping I don’t run into them. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to downshift in time for an intersection. What if I took a turn too tight and hit a light pole or rode my trailer tires onto a snowbank? Mr. Plow Man wasn’t going to be behind me to give me a nudge and save me out here. I was nervous, but here’s the thing. These trainers aren’t going to take us out on the road until they feel we’re ready… or at least that’s what I kept telling myself. They think I can do it, so I must be able to. Well, I did, and once again surprised myself.
“The trainers do this all the time,” I thought. Instructor Jake brought me out. He’s pretty awesome. He started out driving, talking me through shifting, traffic checks, speed, intersections, break hovering, turns… all kinds of things. After about twenty minutes or so, he pulled over on a lightly-travelled road where we switched seats. He told me to just take my time, not worry about ticking other drivers off (it’s okay if they tell me with their hands that I’m “#1”) – just take it easy and keep my vehicle in control.
I didn’t hit anything, I took some beautiful corners, I had some amazing upshifts and even a few great downshifts, I didn’t jump any snowbanks, and only had really one, tiny awkward moment when I pulled up a little too far at a not-so-busy intersection. I think I just made the other driver at the stop light nervous. I can’t really blame him. My vehicle was much larger than his and it read on the side, “Student Driver.” He was doing the smart thing to wait.
After we got back to the school, Jake went through the things I need to work on. I think one of the big ones was to stay calm. When I got nervous or felt rushed my shifting went haywire. How can I seriously forget what gear I’m in so often!? Anyway, even though I felt as though my shifting greatly improved, it still needs work, and that was no surprise to me. I was hugging the white line a little too tight, and I need to make more traffic checks at intersections. I hope I get the opportunity to go again tomorrow and work on these things!
A couple of other fun things about today – first, my embarrassing moment – I got hung up on a stupid snowbank on the practice range again. Same damn one as last time. I seem to want to practice my downshifting on that curve and loose sight of my trailer tires. I held up about four other trucks that just had to wait until an instructor could drive over and talk me out if it. Sigh… just call me “snowbank.”
Second, I took out two cones today while working on 90-degree backing. One I pushed in front of my tires, and the other I tipped over – but on a different attempt to do this tricky back, I backed it in with only one pull-up (we get two). Then I did another one later tonight. I dedicate both successful backs to the cones that sacrificed their placement for my practicing. ;)
Even through the mistakes, bonked cones, and embarrassing moments, I’m having a blast out there. Driving an 18-wheeler includes a TON of responsibility – not hitting other drivers, not hitting other things, not hitting anything in general, and following a lot of laws, understanding how important they are and how much fault can be laid upon us as a professional driver if we don’t follow them. It’s pretty serious stuff, that’s for sure… but it’s also been so much fun!
I pray that the rest of my road runs are safe and successful. I’m feeling more confident each day, but I definitely still have a long ways to go.
Cone kill count: 2
Tonight I love the patience of these FVTC instructors. All of ’em. Seriously, there’s a reason this is the best trucking school in the country.
Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!