Somebody pinch me.


I thought it was so cool that my shoe of choice for hiking the PCT was the Cascadia, then we were issued a Cascadia truck. It's gotta be a sign that I'm
on the right path.

I drove into the mountains after dark and parked at a rest area at the top of a giant pass after putt-putting the truck up the hill at 30 mph with my 4-ways glowing and blinking in the night. I wasn’t able to see much of the scenery since it was dark (I stopped driving around 3am), so when we woke up in the morning and hit the road, both Adam and I were smiling and giddy with excitement. We were in Montana with bright white, snow-covered mountains off to the west and south, poking up behind green, tree-covered, rolling hills. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and the roads were dry. It was going to be a great day!

When Adam and I first hit the road westbound out of Kaukauna on Sunday, we’d glance over at each other every once in a while, smile, kind of giggle and say, “we’re really doing it.” Even right now as I write this it’s still sinking in. It’s really cool. I’m not even really sure how to describe it just yet, except that we’re both really happy.


Snowy cold N. Dakota.

We hit rain in Minnesota, and North Dakota brought snow and cold weather. I remember most of Montana as being dark until this morning when we woke up. Our route then took us along a two-lane windy road through the mountains, and up and over a high pass with snowbanks as tall as me. It was blue-skied, sunny and around 50 degrees. The road we were on followed a small snowmelt river that started near the top of the pass, and as we descended, that river grew in size until it was couple hundred feet across. Mountains jutted up on both sides of us, and signs for trailheads stole my gaze. Adam was driving, so I got to fade off into la-la land every once in a while, and just enjoy what was around me… in the truck and out.


Our view for most of the day.

We are stopped for the night in a Walmart parking lot. We did a small amount of shopping, I did a little more organizing in the truck, Adam worked on some trip planning, and after a light dinner and brushed teeth we are curled up in our bunk ready to get some rest before another great day.

I’ve asked myself a few times these past few days, “am I really getting paid for this!?” It just doesn’t feel like a “job” yet, and I wonder how long it will be before it feels like hard work. Thankfully everything has gone smoothly so far, and I imagine that has a lot to do with it. I sure hope it continues – it should, since Adam used up all of our bad luck on his last solo run. He had a tire blow out on him while driving, a short while later another leaky tire, a broken marker light and then a bird pooped on him! I think his rough streak is over. :)

We got to practice a little backing yesterday, and we thought we were going to have to slide our 5th wheel (which neither of us has done before) to adjust the weight on our steer axle after filling our fuel tanks. We were already very close to our max of 12,000 pounds, so we filled up, scaled, and cringed as we looked at the scale ticket. We were still under 12,000! We did a little dance and “woo-hoo’d” to celebrate saving the time and headache before hitting the road again.

Below are a few photos from the past few days. There are many highlights for me so far – driving, fueling, driving some more, scenery, looking over at Adam’s beardy smile, and building a snowman in the mountains while we took a required 30-minute break. I couldn’t pass up that opportunity!

Tonight I love the horse I saw playing in his water trough. He had his two front legs in as he splashed his face in the water. How can you not smile at that?


My bunk net for sleeping while Adam drives. It's a bedbelt, I guess!


What a PERFECT day!


A stop at the pass to slide the tandems and check the brakes.


A great spot for our half-hour break. It was warm despite all the snow!






Teeny little snowman...

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

PCTA Photo Contest

I took a couple thousand photos on my PCT thru hike last year, and really enjoyed trying to capture as many memories as I could as I hiked along. Whenever I miss the trail I can scroll through them and allow a wave of happy emotion take over my entire self. Those photos bring back a flood of feelings and help me remember specific details about that day… and that moment. The breeze, the warmth of the sunshine, or even feeling frozen to the core from a constant Washington rain.

I get photo crazy for the same reasons I blog. The main reason is for me to remember. My memory isn’t as good as I’d like it to be, so I try to capture moments, experiences and adventures by way of words and photos. The other reason is because I really enjoy sharing it all.

When I heard that the Pacific Crest Trail Association was holding a photo contest, I gathered a handful of my best and favorite shots from last year and submitted them. Even if I didn’t win, I was happy to share them and allow the PCTA to use these shots for their marketing materials. That’s a win in itself.

But then I received an email saying one of my photos was selected! I was excited! Below is the photo of mine that they selected, and a link to the rest of the amazing photos that won. I know a few of the other winners from the hike last year, so it was really cool to see their names in there, too!


This is my winning photo. I was hiking near the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness through an old burn area. I enjoyed a lot of the burn areas because they were usually blanketed in wild flowers, and the skeletal trees looked beautiful against the sky. Seeing signs of new growth under the remains was uplifting and I always got really good views of mountains and scenes ahead through the vertical mass of barren trees. This tree in particular obviously caught my eye because of the new PCT trail sign nailed to it. I’m not a pro photographer, and I took it with my phone camera (as I did for all of my photos), but I knew when I saw something I thought was cool.

Anyway, I’m kinda’ proud of this, so I thought I’d write about it and take a moment to toot my little horn. :)

Definitely take a look at the rest of the winning photos – they are incredible and WILL make you want to get out there and hike the PCT! (Do it!)

2014 PCTA Photo Contest

(I wasn’t able to view this slideshow on my phone, so I just wanted to note that you may have to look at it on a laptop or other device if it doesn’t work on your phone.)

Today I love motorin’. I’m hittin’ the road with Adam this morning!

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

A rookie’s first over-the-road run


My new employer. What a great place!

I turned off the New Jersey Turnpike just before it heads into the Holland Tunnel. Big trucks aren’t allowed in the Holland Tunnel, but if I were to continue, the tunnel would take me under the Hudson River right into Manhattan. New York City. Needless to say, it was busy. There were tolls, and traffic was crazy. When we got to the place where we were to load the trailer, my first observation was that it was a tight spot. There was a truck with a flatbed parked right in front of the docks as it unloaded some sort of granite slabs, and this left me little room to maneuver my way into the dock I needed to back into. In front of me was a road with four lanes of traffic coming OUT of the Holland Tunnel back into Jersey City. The cars were moving fast and there were a lot of them, but I had to back into this dock. That road was the only place I could really place the truck to position myself to back up. Thank goodness I had my trainer with me. I probably would have never thought I could inch a big rig out into that four lanes of traffic without causing a major crash, but he looked at me with a confident smile, knowing I was unsure. I inched my tractor out into the first lane, and as cars noticed me (usually at the last second), they swerved their way around me. Then I nosed out a little more, now completely blocking the first lane, but starting to inch into the second lane. Then the third. Not only was traffic moving quickly, but they were coming from around a curve, too, so when they came around the curve going 40 mph or whatever speed they were going, they saw me – a giant truck pulled out perpendicularly into three lanes of their road. I’m not going to lie. It was a bit freaky. With Justin’s help, I was able to back that truck into the dock, ding-free. Wow. Let me tell you what — my pits haven’t sweat that much since hiking in the desert out of Scissors Crossing on the PCT in 100-degree weather! I focused on keeping myself calm and collected, but it was still scary.

I haven’t been to New Jersey before this. This was the first time in my life that I saw the Statue of Liberty. Even though I was seeing it from a busy highway as I navigated busy traffic and tolls, it was really cool. I kept peeking over to see it and the other super-tall buildings of the New York City skyline as I wound my way around the turnpike. I’m pretty sure I picked up a glance at the new World Trade Center building and the Empire State Building, too. This is a big part of what this is all about! I’m going to see new things, and I’m looking to be awed. And awed I was. This job is just really freaking cool so far. What a rush. I love it!!

I’m a rookie at this whole truck driving thing, and I’m used to driving my four-wheeled car in easy, relaxed traffic in Wisconsin. Throw me into a gigantic vehicle with ten gears, the power to haul 80,000 pounds, 70-plus feet in length, 102 inches in width and over 13 feet in height, and then place me in the middle of near-New York City traffic? Okay… let’s do this thing. I knew this had the potential to be all sorts of crazy. The best thing I knew I could do for myself was to stay calm, and I did. My trainer talked me through some lane changes and toll booths, but some things you just can’t plan for. The most exciting thing was when I was in the left-most lane at a toll booth, just about to pull up into the slot and up to the gate to let me through. Along my left side was a row of those tall, cylindrical orange barriers that are bolted to the ground. Well, I didn’t know just how flexible those things were until a dump truck came flying up next to me, on the left, going about 30 mph (I was probably going about 8 mph at this time, since I was just about to pull into a narrow toll booth lane). I saw him coming up on my side and thought, “no way…” Then I heard a “thud-thud-thud-thud-thud-thud-vroooooom.” That dump truck had those orange barriers lined up right smack in the middle of his front bumper and just pegged each one as he zoomed around and past my truck about a foot away, then darted in front of me to get through the toll. Well, okay then! Guess he was in a big hurry! Those barriers just flopped under his truck and flung back up, waving back and forth as they let loose from his back end. Justin just laughed. Welcome to Jersey traffic!

So I survived New Jersey! I also made it through the mountains in Pennsylvania. I got used to using the jake brake going down hill, and got better at downshifting as I slowed going up hill. You’ve all seen the trucks climbing up or down mountain highways with their 4-ways activated… well, that was me in a few spots! It was a cool experience, and I know once I start heading out west there’s going to be plenty more of that! Bring it on! This is fun stuff.

Once we were done picking up four separate loads in New Jersey, we began our trip back to Wisconsin. We dropped that load off and head out right away again to Minnesota for a new run. On the way to Minnesota is a Norwegian Restaurant that Adam stopped at to eat dinner when he was training with Justin. Adam raved about these “popovers.” He mentioned them about four times on that trip. It was something about a flaky, buttery bread with pulled pork, mashed potatoes and gravy stuffed in and around it. Oh, and the restaurant also had these crazy-awesome cream puffs. Well, since I was heading that same way with Justin, we decided that would be a really good place to stop for the night to take our 10-hour break. Yup… that popover was just as good as they said. I was worried they’d hyped it all up and it would be one of those things where you just got way too worked up about and wasn’t as good as you expected, but nope. It was freakin’ delicious, and I know we’ll be stopping there more often. And that cream puff? Yeah, I had that sucker for breakfast the next day. Oh. My. Goodness. Deeelicious! (Just a quick note… I did eat one meal on the road each day in addition to the fruits, veggies and snacks I packed… kept it light and actually maintained my weight to the pound the entire week. Booyah! I can do this!)

That run to Minnesota had a couple of events that stood out (in addition to the popovers). First of all, near the town of Edgar we saw a giant bear run across the highway and into the woods. Giant. Like 400-plus pounds giant. He was big, and it was really awesome to see. Then a while later, we head into St. Paul. I drove along I-94 in stop-and-go traffic. I thought to myself that maybe Fox Valley Tech could bring all their students here to learn shifting! You cruise along at 35 in 8th or 9th gear, then all of a sudden it’s all brake lights ahead. Slow down to 15, or 10 mph. Down to 6th or 5th gear. Then speed back up. 7th or 8th. Then brake lights. Brake, 6th. 5th. Roll and upshift to 7th. 8th. 9th. Brake. 8th. 7th. Back up to 8th. You get the idea. It’s not a place you can really lose your train of thought. Except sometimes when you’re in a stressful situation like this, and you know you need to relax, maybe it’s a good idea to laugh. Justin was joking around and we got to laughing so hard that I was crying, and so was he. Here I was, a rookie driver, totally chilaxed in stop-and-go traffic in St. Paul, laughing until my guts hurt as all those brake lights blurred through my tears. I was able to maintain my lane and be safe, but man… that was fun.

I love my new job so far. And it’s only going to get a whole lot better.

As I neared the end of my training with Justin I felt ready. For the first time driving, I felt ready for the next step. In school when they told me they were going to take me on the road, I thought they were nuts. I didn’t feel ready. When they scheduled me for my CDL test, I thought they were nuts again. I didn’t feel ready. I always was when the time came, but this time… I’m ready. I actually feel like I could go out on my own as a solo driver and be okay. I’d need to call with questions and get help here and there, but I knew that was a sign that everything was going to be just fine. What made me feel even more ready was when Justin told me the same… that he thought I could go out solo and be just fine. Yeah, my backing needs more work, but that’s normal. My pre-trip pretty much kicked butt. I don’t think I missed anything when he “tested” me on that. There’s a checklist he goes through just like when I was taking my CDL test. He told me it was one of the most thorough pre-trips he’s seen a long while, and I felt pretty awesome about that! I took to the electronic logging like a champ – in fact, after paper-logging locally with the other trainer for two weeks, I LOVED the e-logs. I’ll have to go into that one a little later on, because it’s quite interesting. Truck drivers can no longer be “creative” with their logging on these new electronic systems. The world of truck driving is changing, and I’m coming in right in the middle of it. I’m glad because I don’t know any better. For me, it’s e-logs. I don’t know any other way, so I’ve got nothing to compare to, and I’m okay with that!

Next up? This is the most exciting thing ever! It’s happening. After all the back-and-forth, impatience, struggle and hard work, I am done training. Adam is done solo driving. The next run we will have… will be… TOGETHER!!!

We got our first team assignment! Oh boy oh boy oh boy! We are headed west. We are headed to mountains. We are going together. We are going to trip plan, prepare, and drive… together. We are so excited about this I can’t even describe the feeling in my tummy!! It’s finally here. We leave Sunday and hit the road and this new adventure begins for reals. Here we goooooo! Hang on for the ride!!

Tonight I love cream puffs. I don’t know if I should sit in them or eat them. If you get that reference, that’s pretty awesome. :)


Yuuummmm! Cream puff!


Night driving is cool.

Quick training update


I’m laying in the top bunk of my trainer’s truck, listening to the low rumble of an idling truck next to us and the higher rumble of others passing by in front of us. We’re in New Jersey at a truck stop. It’s insanely busy with trucks weaving back and forth, circling and circling, waiting for a parking space to open up.

We got a spot right away – I think we got lucky. Justin (my trainer) helped me with getting set up to back into our spot since it’s so busy here. There’s not much room to move around, so I was glad to have his help. I’m not sure I’d have known what to do to get in here by myself. I had to weave the tractor around a few obstacles near a service garage before I could start backing, and I got it with one short pull up just to straighten out. We sat for quite a while and watched other drivers back into some even tighter spots, and cringed at a few going waaay too fast through the lot. It was interesting to watch the hustle and bustle.

I drove a lot yesterday, through four states, got up around 7am today and drove through Pennsylvania and delivered our load. I got to see some mountains and use my jake brake to help control my speed on some of the down hill grades.

I’m learning a TON from Justin out here. I don’t even know where I’d start if I were to make a list. It’s going really well. I’m a little nervous about Jersey traffic tomorrow, but I’m going to just focus on staying relaxed but alert.

It’s my first over-the-road run, so there’s a lot of firsts going on. I’ve seen two new states (PA and NJ), drove in mountains with a big truck, hired a lumper to unload our trailer, slept on the top bunk, and just tonight I took my first truck stop shower. That was actually a good experience. I got my own room with a shower, sink and toilet, and they even supplied the towels… and it was really clean. Bonus!

I’m having fun out here. This doesn’t feel like work yet at all, and the cool thing is that it’s only going to get better. It’s really looking like next week Adam and I could get our first run together.

Well, I have so much I want to write, but I need to get some sleep. 3am is going to get here very quickly!

Tonight I love showers. As much as I love getting dirty, getting clean is just as great.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

The decision

First of all, thank you so much – all of you – that offered advice, suggestions and encouragement from my last post. It’s really nice to receive feedback. I feel so cared about… and kind of cared for by all of you. You are the best followers ever! :)

I bet you want to know what I decided to do! I decided to go with Adam…

…but guess what? I’m going with the trainer first.

I think it’s funny, really… like smiling and chuckling funny. It’s only funny because of how back-and-forth I was, trying to figure out what to do, all the while knowing it might not be up to me anyway, but trying to prepare in case it was. So I made a decision, and it felt good to decide. I was ready to go for it. As it turns out, they scheduled me to train over the road, which is okay. I’m totally fine with it. I didn’t even have to say anything, and nobody asked, so I’m just staying on the training path they described to me from the start.

I’m excited. It sounds like I’ll be hitting a longer route with the trainer later this weekend, so I have one more day with the local trainer, and that means one more solid day to practice backing. That’s a good thing.

Sidenote, tooting of my own horn moment: A dock worker today told my trainer that my back was better than some of the experienced drivers he sees come through. I’m cupping my head tightly so it doesn’t get much bigger! :) Now the challenge is to keep backing like that. That one was a good one, but I am still quite a far ways from being a pro… some of my backs (ones that dock worker didn’t see) certainly prove that point!

Just one other quick thing I wanted to share – going back to the comments you, as readers, left me on that last post. I found this so interesting. Most of you that haven’t driven a truck suggested I get as much time with the trainers as I can. Those of you that have driven or do drive a truck said I’d be totally fine and should go with Adam. I just thought that was actually pretty cool, and maybe sort of justified my wishy-washy decision-making abilities regarding that dilemma. I am a truck driver, but haven’t been doing it long enough to know much, so I was right smack in between those two thoughts. I agreed with all of you, so in all honesty… I’m kind of glad the final decision was made for me. It might be mentally tough to get through another week or two on a different schedule than Adam, especially knowing I won’t be able to talk to him as much as I have been, but dangit… we’ve made it this far. Even if it’s tough, we’ll get through it.

I just keep reminding us both that even though we might not be together, we’re still in this thing together, and it’s all going to be okay.

Tonight I love… reaching underneath the trailer and pulling the release arm for the locking jaws on the fifth wheel. I don’t know what it is about it, but I just really enjoy it. I’m weird. ;)

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

A trucker-in-training dilemma

I’ve been going back and forth lately with a decision I hope to make in the next few days. I think logic is telling me one thing and my heart is telling me another, and they are both pulling at me equally as strong.

Do I go with an over-the-road trainer for a week or two, or do I jump in the truck with Adam right away and hit the road?

I know, it doesn’t seem like a major dilemma, and it probably isn’t. But seriously… I just can’t seem to make up my mind, and it’s driving me batty. Welcome to my thought processes —

I honestly think either way, I’ll be fine. I can be ready. But…

I’ve been training with a local trainer, and it’s been great for experience. I’ve been driving on the highway, in the city, practicing cornering in new areas, dealing with traffic that doesn’t see me as a student driver (because it’s not written on my trailer!), coupling and uncoupling, backing… lots of really good stuff that I’ll need to know. But I haven’t been over-the-road yet. I haven’t dealt with electronic logs. I haven’t driven in mountains. I haven’t slept in a truck in a strange city. I haven’t dealt with eating and exercise away from home. I haven’t experienced weigh stations, scales, inspections or tolls. I haven’t had to… well, I don’t know! What else do I need to learn?

The thing that’s making this decision hard is that I fully trust that Adam can teach me these things – the things I haven’t learned about being over-the-road while working with a local trainer. But Adam also tells me what a great trainer this guy is that I’d be going with, so he’s feeling torn, too. He wants me to have that experience with the trainer, but he wants to be driving with me as his partner. We both want that. Bad. It seems like an easy decision, right? Go with the trainer for a bit, be patient, and then Adam and I will be driving together. Well, unfortunately my heart is screaming at me to jump in with Adam. NOW. I don’t know how much more emotion and stress I can take with this anticipation. We’re so close, and it seems like every week we’re almost there… and then it gets extended. Making the decision to go with Adam as soon as possible feels solid. And the bonus is that it allows us to feel excited and giddy.

I know Adam doesn’t expect me to be a pro at this right off the bat. I know he is willing to help me with things I need help with. But I also know he doesn’t want me to feel inferior in any way (he’s told me that). We’re in this together. A team. It would probably help me feel more comfortable having that “training” experience, but maybe it would be fun to just have those experiences learning and growing with him. Trusting him, enjoying letting him show me things and teach me from his experiences. I know he’s safe, he’s thorough, and he follows the rules and the laws. I know he would teach me right.

But what to do… I feel like I might be cheating myself out of a valuable experience skipping the company’s over-the-road trainer, but I also feel like I could be cheating myself out of a very cool growing experience for me and Adam.

I guess if I could choose a very specific path, I’d do one run with the company trainer. Something no more than about five days. Just enough to get a few nights on the road to get a feel for driving for hours, maybe some mountains, big city traffic, truck stops, diet, e-logs… Then when that’s done, I could go with Adam, but not run as a full-on team. When we’re running as a full-on team, we’ll be on opposite shifts. When he’s sleeping I’ll be driving, and vice versa. So if we ran kind of like one-and-a-half for a week or two so he and I can find a rhythm, a routine, and figure out our best ways to work together in this new environment… that would probably work. Ah, but what do I know!?

I don’t know if any of this will be up to me, anyway. I get the feeling that I could potentially have a say in what it is I want to do, but how much can I ask for? How specific can I be? I certainly don’t want to push it. I’m new here. I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I want to help Adam, and I want to be as good as I possibly can be at this job.

A big part that is overwhelmingly leaning me towards jumping in the truck with Adam after all this thought, is that I worry he’s going to go completely nutso. He wants to be more patient, and feels sorry that he’s having a hard time controlling his anxiousness. I don’t blame him. He’s doing a job he already knows he doesn’t enjoy – he enjoys truck driving, just not as a solo driver. He’s been there. Done that. And he’s left it behind. He came back to finally fulfill his dream to team drive with me. And now he’s back there. Solo. It yanks at my heart to see him struggle through this part of the journey, and I want more than anything to make it better.

And it comes down to this in my mind, once again:

Either way, we’ll be fine. In a few weeks we’ll have it all down, just like any new job, whether I go with the trainer or not. So why not just jump in and go with Adam right now? Why not?

Tonight I love the unknown. Because sometimes I have to remind myself that it is a great joy in this great big little life…

Training and impatience

I’m bummed out today. Sad. It’s gloomy, it’s raining, and I don’t have the gear here with me that I need to go camping, which I would’ve seriously considered, despite the thunder and rain. Adam left to go over the road solo again this morning and I just wish I was with him. I’m feeling quite impatient, and before yesterday I was doing a pretty good job acting patient. I know I still have training to do, but I just want to be done training and out on the road making some real money working as a team and spending time with Adam. Sigh… that’s the whole purpose of all this, but the closer we get, the longer the waiting feels.

On top of this growing, annoying impatience, I think I’ve been ignoring my stress as a strategy to push through it. That stress kind of came to a head on Friday. Training went okay but I had a couple of things happen that irritated me during the day. When I got home, I think my stress triggered Adam’s stress, and we became a big huge ball of crazy feeding off of each other. We’re both starting a new job here, so that in itself is hard. He’s driving solo, which he doesn’t really want to do, and I’m training, which is good, but it’s exhausting. Everything added up and I found myself getting uncontrollably emotional about all of it when all I want to be is excited.

You know, I want to be excited and happy about this, so I’m just going to be. So there. Tantrum over. I know Adam has a hard time making a switch from “this sucks now” to “it’s going to be freakin’ awesome in a week or two,” so I’m just going to be there for him as much as I can. This is all temporary stuff that we’ll get through, and before we know it we’ll be rolling down the road in our gray Freightliner 10-speed semi truck, hauling some sort of freight from one part of the country to another part of the country and back again. TOGETHER. We’ll be listening to some old country music as we glance out the windows and watch miles and miles of farm field, city lights, rolling hills, homes, businesses, farms, mountains, roads and waterways fly by. There will be times when one of us is driving and the other is sleeping, but there will also be sections of our time that overlaps and we’ll be able to hang out in the cab together. I keep envisioning this perfectly clear day, dry roads, sunshine, light traffic, and endless expanses of farm fields. You know… the kind of scenery that most people would find “boring.” Every once in a while in my on-the-road fantasy there will be a herd of cows that will make me smile, and some little kid with his face pressed up against the window in a passing car pulling down on his imaginary air horn. We’ll get there.

So with my emotions all laid out, and my daydreaming strategy to control them, I’ll move on for now. Hopefully that will hold me until things are running smooth.

Training. It’s been a week of learning. I’ve been riding with Emmett, and he’s a great guy. He used to teach part-time at Fox Valley Tech, so working with him as my trainer was kind of a nice transition for me. He showed me a few things that I can do differently now that I’m not in school. They aren’t any less safe, they just save fractions of time that eventually add up. I know some habits will have to come and go as I get into rolling on my own, but it’s good to see what options I have. One example of this is downshifting. At school they teach us to progressively downshift through every gear. I understand the importance of this – it forces you to learn and gives you lots of practice. Downshifting is tough to get the hang of at first. Out of school, however, I can just slow down when the light turns red and not worry about grabbing each gear in order as I slow. Once I get to around 20 mph or so, I can kind of feel the engine juuust start to lug, then I downshift to about 6th. Then if I can, I continue to downshift so I can just roll through when the light turns green. Otherwise I stop in gear, put it in my starting gear and be ready to roll when the light turns green again. It’s one little example of something I don’t need to think so hard about.

Emmett runs shorter runs around the Fox Valley and does several pick-ups, drop-offs, loads and deliveries each day. This gives me a great opportunity to do a lot of coupling and uncoupling, working with trailer tandems, learning paperwork and more practice with backing. My backing seems to be improving each day, and that feels pretty good. Emmett has been working with me on my set-ups, too. Finding the right way to pull up to a dock or space to park a trailer is important, then setting up the trailer at the best angle to slowly back it into whatever hole you’re shooting for. I’m starting to see an imaginary line each time I back, and as long as I follow that I seem to do okay. I also keep in mind my tendency to oversteer, all while singing “Rock you like a hurricane” from the Scorpions like my school partner, Michael, would randomly sing while we practiced backing. It helps.

Keeping logs through all of this has been a little overwhelming. Emmett doesn’t have to keep a log due the mileage radius in which he works from the main office. But I do have to keep active logs since I’ll be over-the-road soon. So because a lot of these runs I’m doing with my trainer are short, my changes of duty are mostly 15 minutes apart, so it’s hard to keep track of, but I’m doing my best. I already messed one up, but there’s not really much I can do about it now. By law we have to take a 30-minute off-duty break within an 8-hour period. I guess with all the back-and-forth around town I forgot about it, and didn’t even realize that I’d been working for eight hours. I always let mistakes make me better, and this one will probably stay fresh, so it shouldn’t happen again. Besides, once in the truck with Adam, I’ll be on electronic logging with longer stretches between change of duty, which I think will be easier to deal with. Soon!

I had a couple of interesting situations my first week. My first one was in a stupid roundabout. I needed to make a left turn, so I was in the far-left lane. As I pulled into the roundy-round, a car from my left came zooming in at a million miles per hour and cut me off. I had to slow down to a near stop and it sort of freaked me out and got me flustered. I ended up having to bring the truck to a complete stop in the middle of the roundabout, take a half-second to gather myself, and get in gear to get going again. Once I continued on, in that same roundabout, a van started to pass me on the left! I slowed again and watched him in my mirror as he realized he wasn’t being very smart and he drove up on the trailer apron (the raised part of the inside of roundabout, which is there for truck trailers to track up onto) to get by me. Oy. Seriously… I was pretty frazzled, but thankfully nothing happened. That was on Friday – part of why I came home stressed out. If you’re not familiar with how a truck and trailer track through a roundabout, just keep in mind that we can’t keep the entire rig between the lines going through. We will need more than one lane, and it’s probably best in most situation to just take your time and hang out behind the semi until they’re all the way through. Pass them when you get onto a straight section of road.

My other situation was actually pretty fun. I was at a shipper, and we were given a dock to get loaded at. To get there we had to maneuver some pretty tight corners. It’s hard to explain, but as we approached an already tight corner around a building so I could pull up and back into the dock, an SUV and a straight truck were parked on the corner I needed to make a right turn around. On my left was a dumpster and another trailer backed into a different dock. I didn’t have any room to swing out to my left so I could clear the SUV and straight truck on my right. But Emmett looked at it, kind of smiled and directed me to keep going.  I looked at him like he was nuts, but he knew what he was doing! I crept along at like 2 miles per hour, hugging the dumpster and parked trailer as close as I could without scraping my mirrors and started to make the turn. Once my trailer was about a foot from the straight truck on my right Emmett jumped out to spot me. I actually had to drive my steer tires up onto a curb and then up onto a step, shimmy to the right for just a second to avoid a lamp, then back to the left. As I finished the turn, my driver’s side mirror was about 6 inches from the building next to me, and my trailer was only about TWO inches from that straight truck. But we made it through with no bumps or scrapes. Whew! What a rush. I got all lined up and ready to back in and we found out that we no longer needed to load there! I laughed. We pulled out and dropped that trailer somewhere else. It was a good experience and I learned that those big trucks can actually get into some (but not all, of course!) impossible-looking spaces.

The rest of the training is gaining experience driving, shifting, turning, shipping papers, coupling and uncoupling (hooking and unhooking trailers), and setting tandems. The tandems are basically where the trailer wheels are located under the trailer. They can move forward and back to distribute the weight of the trailer more evenly. It’s pretty cool. You pull in some giant locking pins, set the trailer brakes so the wheels can’t move, then pull the whole rig forward or back and the trailer actually slides over the back trailer wheels until they’re about in the position you want to be in. Then you shimmy to get the pins to pop back out and lock the trailer axle back in place. I’m getting the hang of it. Oh, and another weird thing is getting loaded and unloaded. Once we back into a dock, we just sit in the truck and the warehouse guys either load or unload the freight, usually with a forklift. As we sit in the truck it bounces around and moves back and forth a little bit as that crazy up-to-9,000-pound forked machine goes in and out of the trailer. It’s pretty weird, but cool. I like those times loading and unloading – gives me a chance to eat some snacks and drink my water.

It sounds like I will be training with Emmett through Thursday, and I’m not sure where I’ll be after that. I’ll either be in the truck with a trainer over the road or with Adam. I am going to push for the latter. For obvious reasons. I feel like I’m pretty ready, and I’m confident that Adam and can figure out the rest. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Tonight I love coming home with dirty workin’ hands. It makes me feel proud.

The end and the beginning

The end (of trucking school).


Our graduating class. I'm gonna sure miss all of these guys!

Well, I graduated from truck driving school at Fox Valley Tech. I’m proud of myself. I really am. I worked hard and learned way more than I thought my little pea brain could hold. The plan is still in motion, on schedule and it’s pretty darn exciting! Sick of hearing that from me yet?


Tom and Nolly, grilling experts.

On Thursday our graduating class of nine brought in all kinds of food for a cookout. We fed ourselves and our instructors, and it was nice to treat them to a meal and thank them for putting up with us grinding gears and running over their cones. I know we pay to go to school at FVTC, but the things they taught us, and how they taught us was worth waaay more than what we paid to attend this course. We learned to drive a truck, yes. But they also taught us how to drive it safely, and even focused on being respectful and professional in this industry. I will strive to be the safest truck driver I can be, all the while representing the school in the best way I can. If any of you FVTC Instructors are reading this… thank you. You seriously rock.

As we ate our cookout food – brats, burgers, salmon, coleslaw, beans, chips, salsa, oreo fluff, and a bunch of other stuff, we presented our instructors with a gift. We picked up an orange construction cone from Fleet Farm – to represent all the cones we shattered, smushed, pushed and yanked out of our dualies – and we all signed it. They said no one had thought of that yet, and it sure was fun to give that to them to remember us by… the best class ever! :)


The thank you cone that we gave to our instructors.

On Friday we officially graduated. We’re given the option to rent a cap and gown and go through the whole rigamarole of graduating formally with all the other tech students (probably sometime in June), but I’m going to pass on that. I feel totally content with how we concluded our last week. On the last day I was a co-rider for a couple of Level 1 Instruction Permit holders, and we washed trucks so they’d be all perty for the new Level 3 class. Then just before lunch, we met with Instructor Jim and he called us up to the front of the classroom one by one to hand us certificates and shake our hands. One more “see ya later” and we were out the door.


Truck wash party in the safety bay!

Right after I left school I drove north to my new place of employment, V & S Midwest Carriers. I took my drug test, got some paperwork, and that was it for the day. I was assigned four orientation videos to watch, given an appointment for a physical capacity test and a list of things I needed to have with me for Monday.

After leaving there, I head right to The Bar in Appleton to meet my classmates for lunch. We all became pretty good friends and just wanted to prolong our experience just a wee bit longer. It was nice to just sit around and talk about our future trucking plans and share fun stories from school while they were all still so fresh in our minds. And I’m not one to turn down an opportunity to eat some hot wings!

The beginning (of my new job).
So this morning (Monday), I went to Appleton for my physical. First I had to get in and out of a truck five times in a row. They had a real truck door and grab handles cut out and mounted at the clinic to use for this portion of the test. That’s pretty cool, hey?

Next I had to pull a stack of palettes using a pallet jack across the room, then push them back. Following that I had to lift a 20-pound box from the floor to head-height 20 times using proper lifting form. Then I lifted the same box with 40 pounds chest-height 5 times, then 50 pounds 5 times – then I walked around the room while carrying the 50-pound box. I broke a light sweat, but it was no problem.

Last, I had to use a machine that simulated the landing gear crank and the 5th wheel locking arm. I had to crank the “landing gear” for 13 seconds and pull on the “locking arm.” I passed all these tests with ease, and the doctor even told me I was one of the more fit drivers to come through and he noticed I wasn’t hardly out of breath. I guess my morning squats and push ups are paying off! Yay!

Adam was with me, so we head back to the office together. I got to meet our dispatcher, and she seems really awesome. I’m looking forward to working with her. I then headed out for a road test. I was nervous. Can’t lie. It was evident when I tried to back the tractor up without releasing the tractor brakes. Hah! No biggie, though. I did a pre-trip of the tractor and checked the lights (just now as I’m writing this I realized I forgot to check the oil. Boy do I feel dumb. Easiest thing ever… stupid nerves!). I drove the truck over to the maintenance shop and backed it up to a trailer and coupled to it, did a pre-trip of the trailer, a brakes check and hit the road. I think I did pretty well. The truck I was driving was newer than the ones I drove at school, and wow, did it ever drive nice! My shifting felt great! Matt didn’t really say much, so I hope that’s a good thing. I drove us to another trailer yard and set up to back into a spot between two trailers. My set up was pretty good and I backed it in without a pullup. Sweet! After uncoupling the trailer, sliding the tandems and doing a post-trip on the trailer we head back to the office.

Then I got on a fork lift. I’d need another day or two to really feel comfortable buzzing around on one of them things, but I got a crash course (thankfully not in the literal sense!), and was able to pass on the basics with some instruction. I’ll stick to the semis for now! I could operate a fork lift if I had to, though. Admittedly, it was pretty darn fun. I wanted to spin in circles but wisely resisted the urge.

The rest of the afternoon involved standard employment paperwork and sitting in an office in Green Bay to apply for my TWIC card, which is an identification card of sorts for being in ship yards. I’m not sure how often I’ll need it, but it’s required, so a couple hours of waiting and $130 later I will be issued a card in the next few weeks. Whew… what a process!

So there ya have it. My first day. I know I was long-winded, so if you hung in there until now, you must be on the toilet or really bored. :) Either way, thanks for sharing in my day with me. I enjoy writing about all of this so I can go back later on, read and remember what it was all like. If you’re following along, then cool. Even more reason to keep jabbering.

Soon. I’ll be in that truck-home with Adam soon. I wonder what tomorrow will bring…

Tonight I love fork lifts. I may not have been super-awesome-pro-like at driving it, but it’s always fun to learn something totally new! And they turn fun.


Trying out my geeky headset. It works pretty good!


One of the three certificates I was handed at graduation.


Tom vacuuming out a truck.


We were all given a cardboard FVTC truck to put together. Fun!

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)