Really close to the real thing.

I’m already in my last week of trucking school. I’m honestly a little torn between feeling excited and sad. I’m sad because I really love this program at Fox Valley Tech, my classmates, and these amazing, super-patient instructors. I’ve had such a great experience learning to drive a semi truck that I kind of wish I could learn all over again… except I can’t… because I think they’ve done a pretty good job. I actually learned to drive an 18-wheeler!

I am more excited than I am sad, though. This has been a long time coming. Adam and I have talked about team truck driving for years, and we’re finally freakin’ doing it. We are going to work together, travel together, share more experiences together, and work on becoming debt-free together. It’s getting really real up in here, my friends.

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Meet Barney, our purple 13-speed monster. He's pretty friendly.

But wow. SO much has been going on! I’m going to buzz through a set of things (there just happens to be 10 that stand out) that have happened in the past week.

1. I drove an automatic semi truck. Yep, that’s right. No clutch, no shifting. Just step on the accelerator and listen to the truck shift through all the gears on its own. That was weird. In all honesty, it was kind of nice driving through town in it because I didn’t have to upshift and downshift at every intersection. I’m still not sold on the auto transmission, though. I like having control of my gears, and the thought of going through the mountain grades without that control makes me nervous. And besides, I worked really stinkin’ hard at learning to shift, and it’s fun now that I know how to do it… so dangit! I like the manual!

2. Connected to that automatic truck I drove was a set of double trailers. You’ve seen them going down the highway. Two shorter trailers being hauled with a dolly connecting them in between. They look scary, don’t they? I mean, how the heck does a driver turn with them on there? What about backing it? That’s just crazy. Well, let me tell you the surprise news. It was easier than the straight-up 53′ trailers I’ve been hauling. I’m not kidding! First of all, when it comes to backing double trailers, it’s simple. You don’t. If you have to, you disconnect one trailer, back one as a  single trailer, then reconnect the other one and back it in. As for taking corners, it’s much easier because the second trailer just follows the first one like a train, so it’s basically like you’re hauling a short trailer. On really tight corners where you’d normally have to take a button-hook turn (where you kind of maneuver the truck in a big ol’ circle around a right turn), you just turn it normal. The doubles track really tight around corners and it’s pretty cool.

3. I hauled a tanker trailer, too. It was empty, so it was super-light, and I was actually able to get the rig going to about 55mph before entering the highway! That’s gotta’ be a record for me. I haven’t found the big secret to getting going at highway speed. I just assume trucks that get up to 60 or 65mph on the highway have an empty trailer. That or I’m just a gramma driver. Which is entirely possible.

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Kind of blurry, but check out how roomy that truck cab is!

4. I bravely battled a couple of button hook turns. I managed to make a flawless button-hook turn last week, then did another one today. I was feeling nervous about them, but after today I feel much better. I mostly just need to get over my worries about ticking all of you off out there in your cars! I have to take up both lanes before the turn and pretty much suck up both lanes as I complete it. Sorry. It’s a big vehicle, and I just don’t want to hit you or that light pole!

5. A little downside to things… It’s hard right now for Adam and I being apart during our trucking apart phase. He was struggling a little bit this last run. Well, actually, a lot bit. Being apart from each other certainly wasn’t helping this whole situation. He doesn’t want to drive solo, but it’s kind of what he ended up doing while I finish school and work towards getting trained so we can get into a truck together. He was pretty stressed out about hours, he hit some bad weather, a headlight went out, he had to try to get a hold of people in the middle of night for help, his electronic logging was wonky because of his training and working off of paper logs… it was just a whole lot of things wrapped up into one giant ball of crazy. All I could do on this end was answer the phone and try my best to encourage him that we’ll get through it and it will be worth it once we’re in that truck together. I think he was on the brink of a major anxiety attack, and I just wanted to reach through the phone and hug him. He hung in there though, and he’s back out on the road again. It sounds like he’s getting the hang of it and learning to trust that the company we’re working for really is pretty awesome. So far it sounds like we made a really good choice.

6. Videos. Lots of videos. I watched so many videos for school over the weekend. I fell behind on them a little bit and just wanted them done. So I immersed myself in them. I remember watching the video titled “Extreme Rollover” and dozing off toward the end. I decided to turn it off, take a quick 10-minunte nap and finish the last three videos when I woke back up. Well, an hour later, I woke up from a nightmare – you’ll never guess! – that I rolled a truck onto its side. Phew. So glad that was just a dream!

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About 10 hours of videos and copious amounts of tea later and videos are complete!

7. I randomly saw Adam on the road in our Midwest Carriers truck! This was a big deal. He was going to be getting back to Oshkosh and stopping there for the night and I was going to drive down and stay the night with him in the truck. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him throughout the day, so I didn’t have any idea where he was or how his schedule was turning out. Nicole was driving Barney and I was the passenger. We stopped at a red light and she said to me pointing to our left, “Hey, look, it’s one of your company’s trucks.” I peeked over, and there was this beardy guy in a blue shirt leaning into his windshield looking over at us. It was ADAM!! Ohmygosh! I got all giddy like a teenage girl, smiling ear to ear, waving frantically. I think I might have even bounced up and down. It was the coolest coincidence ever, and it was pretty much the highlight of both my and Adam’s day simply because it was so unexpected.

8. I reached a goal that I set over a month ago. When I got signed off on my 90-degree backing, I made it a goal to do one without using a pullup before I was done with school. Well, it wasn’t happening, and we moved to sleeper cabs and longer trailers. I had pretty much given up on that goal, feeling satisfied with getting them with one or two pullups… until late last week. I set up my back, cranked the wheel to the right, backed it towards the left, counter-steered slow and controlled, and as smooth as can be, backed that sucker in the lane like I’d been doing it for years. Zero pullups, straight in the lane. I was elated!

9. We went on a field trip. We had a convoy of five trucks, and Nicole and I were driving Barney. I drove first, taking Hwy. 41 to a scale in Abrams, but it was closed. Nicole took over driving and we head to Bonduel where we stopped in for a potty break. Then we convoyed on to Wittenberg where we all ate lunch together at a truck stop restaurant. After lunch, Michael (my old partner) drove Barney back to school with Instructor Jim in the passenger seat telling Nicole and I some of his stories of his early trucking years as we sat in the back of the sleeper cab in converted bunk-to-seats-with-seatbelts. It was a fun trip. I have to wonder what cars thought seeing five FVTC trucks all in a row cruising around Wisconsin together. Think anyone was scared? Five “Student Driver” semi trucks in a row?

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Convoy!

10. Real work is scheduled. Today I called Jeff at Midwest Carriers to confirm my orientation for next week. When he called me back, he asked how soon I could make it in for a drug test. I’m going in Friday after we get the “boot” from school at noon, peeing in a cup and signing some paperwork. I assume this is paperwork to get me into their system as an official employee and all that jazz. Then he says to me regarding the drug test, “That way we can get the results back for Monday and we can send you out on local runs.” I will be with a trainer, but working. Monday. For real. Graduate Friday, work Monday. Paying to drive Friday, getting paid to drive Monday.

Coming up is a cookout celebration, a special gift for our instructors, and graduation. These past couple of weeks have been nuts and full of what feels like pretty eventful stuff, and I’m feeling like it’s only just beginning.

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Nicole took a photo of me pointing out the weird bolt sticking out of our fifth wheel before we realized it was totally normal.

Tonight I’m throwing my love out to my classmates at Fox Valley Tech. I’m gonna miss these guys! Thankfully I get to hang out with them for two more days, and we all exchanged phone numbers so we can keep in touch.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

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5 thoughts on “Really close to the real thing.

  1. Robin, it’s so good to hear how well things are going! This time of you and Adam being apart will soon be a faded memory, and how sweet will be the days of co-driving with your husband! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Congratulations! If you are ever trucking through southern Ohio we would love to put you guys up for the night (again).

      • So how are things going a year later? I hope it’s all good. I’m getting close to one year on the road and it’s been tough. But getting better slowly.

      • I still really like it, but it has its good and bad days, that’s for sure! I’ve noticed that when the day goes bad, it usually piles up and really seems horrible. But I love the days when I’m just cruisin for miles. So far it’s pretty balanced. I do like the paychecks, too. :)

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