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.