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. :)