Getting the hang of things… maybe.

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One of the prettiest sunrises... and of all the places we go... this is Wisconsin.

I haven’t been able to write much lately, and I’m hoping as time goes on that this will change. I have lots of ideas and things to write about, but I’ve been recently focusing my energy on getting the hang of this over the road trucking thing. I’m getting the basics down – driving, trip planning, backing, delivering, logging… and that’s allowed me to notice other parts of this job that I am struggling with. Sleep is one that I’m working really hard on. Others are lonliness (which I need to explain), and missing the woods and being close to nature. Besides the sleep issue, these are things I expected to be hard, but they are surfacing now that we’re getting a good routine down, so it’s time to start working on them.

Sleep.
I have always been really good at sleeping. I could sleep anywhere, and usually any time. Midday on a cold floor? Curled up in the fetal position would be my choice for a quick snooze. No problem. But trucking? Dangit. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be, and not for the reasons I’d expect. It’s not because the vehicle is moving, or because it’s noisy, or because I’m not in control of the truck. Adam’s a great driver, so I’m never worried about that. And the rumble of the truck and gentle rocking from the uneven highway underneath us is actually quite soothing.

Where I struggle is my schedule, and I love my schedule. My shift is 2am to 2pm, so I get to see the sun come up every morning, and I’ve really enjoyed that. The problem lies with our time off. It’s really difficult to keep that schedule when we have a day off, because if I want to see anyone, a 4pm bedtime really puts a damper on things. So I just stay up and sleep at night with Adam, and when it’s time to get back on the road, I can’t get a full chunk of sleep before my shift starts because I’m wide awake after sleeping the night before. I usually only get three or four solid hours before I have to drive, and that’s tough on a 12-hour shift. Maybe it’ll get a little easier with time, and maybe I’ll get a little better at planning my sleep on our time off. But for now, I’m mostly finding creative ways to stay awake when my eyelids get heavy, which is usually between 4am and 6am. My latest trick, which I can only do when it’s still dark out, is exercise. Arm pumps, steering wheel dances, toe taps and leg lifts, overhead punches… all kinds of moves that I’m certain make me look like a crazy person. But it works!

After struggling through that first shift after our time off, I weerily crawl into the bunk, pass out cold and sleep like a rock for eight hours, and I’m usually almost back on track until the next day off.

Loneliness.
I have Adam with me out here, so I’m not lonely in the sense that I’ve got no company. I don’t know that I could do this as a solo driver, though. I like that I’ve got someone to talk to, touch, hug, and wake up if I need help with something. I would really have a hard time doing this alone with little human contact. I can’t just walk up to other random truckers and ask for a hug. Well, I could, but I don’t think that would be wise.

My loneliness is for my box girls, my meetup backpackers, old work friends, family, my PCT friends… I used to be such a freakin’ introvert when I was younger. That girl could sure help me now, but over the years I totally flip-flopped – finding so much joy, laughter and fun in a group of people. I knew I’d miss happy hours at Oblio’s and weekend backpacking trips in Kettle Moraine, but I didn’t know how I was going to deal with it. I still don’t. This I need to work on. It helps to tell you that, readers. You might be part of those groups I mentioned, and just know I think of you all the time. And I really miss you. I really love this job, but this part of it is really tough.

The woods.
Oh, how I miss the woods. Mountains. Rivers. Meadows. Trails. Mud. Dust. Sleeping on the ground. I get to see a ton of great scenery out here on the road, and I’m really happy about that. I’ve got the best office with windows since those scenes are constantly changing. It’s definitely one of my favorite parts of this new lifestyle.

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There's a bit of danger when I find a trail during a break. This is at Lolo Pass in Idaho. I could keep going!

But there I am, driving along feeling totally thankful, but as always just a little unsatisfied. That little bit of unsatisfaction leaves room in my imagination to dream about more. I can’t tell you how many times I look out that windshield at a wide open, yellow-grass meadow with layers of low, rolling mountains way off in the distance and wonder to myself, “I wonder how long it would take me if I parked the truck right here, got out and started walking across that expanse of sagebrush meadow to those hills. I wonder if there’s any water? I wonder if those mountains are rocky, or if they’d be easy to climb? I wonder if it’s private land? Would it matter? There’s so much space… who would know I was even out there? Just a tiny speck on the horizon, wandering off toward a sinking sun, camouflage amongst the low junipers and afternoon shadows…” Yeah, that’s one example of where my mind wanders as I drive.

I find small joys to satisfy my need to touch the earth. At rest stops I’ve found small nature trails, flowers, a pond or river in the back, birds in the trees… there’s always something I can turn my focus to for just a moment that sends a wave of comfort over my entire self, even if only for a few seconds. I can hang on to that for a while. I stopped a rest stop in the salt flats once, walked out to the water and bent down, inspecting the salt crystals, picking them up and even tasting it. Stuff like that is just another thing I love about being out here, moving from place to place. I get several tiny experiences like that one. I guess I get those mini experiences instead of one giant adventure for now. Which in reality is part of a different big adventure. Huh… that’s a pretty good deal. I’m already figuring this out! I just need to think about it in the right way.

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Salt crystal. Yup, tastes salty!

I’ve got future adventures stewing in my mind, though, too. Lots of them. Hopefully down the road Adam and I will be sorting through all of our ideas, settling on one that fulfills both our needs. I am pretty sure hiking will be in there somewhere. For now, we truck. We drive, we work, we smile. We widdle down debt and feel pride for working hard and being responsible. When the time comes to put one adventure to rest and set out on that next one, we’ll be ready.

But I must focus on enjoying one thing at a time while I’m here, in the present. :)


Tonight I love my people. I miss my people. If I could I’d reach through this screen and squeeze you.

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Pre-sunrise early morning reflections in a pond at Lolo Pass. Idaho mountains.

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Parked at Lolo Pass.

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An Idaho beauty.

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The view behind our truck, parked along the Columbia River in Oregon.

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Entertainment. Dude in the red truck was feeding them. They didn't poop on our truck, so okay with me!

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Mid-June mini-blizzard in Montana near Butte. Twas a bit freaky.

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Early morning in the salt flats.

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One more. Salt flat sunrise. Love!

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

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A weekend on the river

Paddling, pouring rain, mosquitoes, friends, family, beers, bonfire, burgers, smores, laughs, tubing, sunshine, more mosquitoes, outdoor videos… and everything in between.

Paddling group

That’s one hardy group of paddlers!

It really was a great weekend, and it was already more than a week and a half ago! Time flies! I finally got a chance to sit down and think about what a wonderful weekend it was – Adam and I woke up Monday morning after it was all over, called work and found out we had to hustle back to Kaukauna and get the truck ready to roll on out to Idaho. We had to say good-bye to our long weekend, get packed quickly, fill the car, drive, speed-shop for trip essentials and get to work. We’ve been kind of hustling since. We did a couple of runs out west and got back for our 34-hour restart yesterday afternoon, working on fumes of workable hours and staggered sleep. We were grateful to get back for the break.

We are now sitting in a hotel room, enjoying our time off while celebrating our 13th wedding anniversary ten days late. It’s fine with us! We splurged for a nice room, and plan to splurge for a nice dinner later on, followed by a visit to the hot tub, then wine, chunks of Abbyland cheese that we picked up at a truck stop, and couch-cuddling while watching stupid, mindless TV. That’s just sometimes how we like to roll.

So… wow, I am getting off-subject! The canoe trip! What a great weekend! Adam and I actually mentioned this weekend upon hire at V&S Midwest. We wanted to be sure we could get the weekend off, and thankfully they were really cool about it, and it all worked out great.

We had about 20 paddlers this year, so another great turnout. I really enjoy hanging out at my parent’s house in the boondies and doing some river-paddling with a mix of family, friends, and this year – even a few new PCT friends!

Pickle Jar PCT

The PCT crew piled into the Pickle Jar for ol’ time’s sake!

Everyone arrived Friday night and we hung out, taking it easy so we could be up early and ready for our 8:30am shuttle to the river. On Saturday morning the shuttle pulled into the driveway right on time. We all gathered coolers with drinks and snacks, slathered on layers and layers of whatever mosquito repellants we could find, and lined up for a group photo as it started to sprinkle. The sky off in the distance was a dark blueish-gray, and we all just shrugged, smiled, and without question we crammed as many people into the shuttle bus as possible. Off we went.

We got dropped off at the river, threw ponchos on underneath our life jackets and pushed off into the river. Some were in canoes (Adam and I took a canoe this year), and some were in kayaks. The water was really high this year, and it was moving very fast. Good. It was a little chilly, and the thought of getting out to pull the boats through low-water sandbars wasn’t sounding too appealing – yes, we’ve had to do that in past years! Higher water is always more fun! You just never know what it’s going to be like from year to year – that’s a fun part of it all. This year granted us a brand new challenge – pouring rain, and even some thunder!

Rainy paddling

Paddling on the Flambeau River in the pouring rain. Still fun!!

We all constantly paddled our arms off from the very start since it poured down rain the second we got onto the water. I took a photo at one point when it let up to a light sprinkle and I remember thinking, “Oh, cool. Maybe it’ll stop.” Then it started to pour rain again. Seriously. It was like two minutes of calm.

The rain didn’t feel too cold until a little over halfway into the trip. I would swish my hands on the surface of the water to warm them up at that point. Most of us were soaked through because of the rain, and I think that’s why we were feeling so chilled. Since the water was so high, we were able to paddle the 12-mile stretch of river in only three hours. We didn’t stop for lunch, we didn’t stop to swim, we didn’t stop to fish, or play, or drink. But we all paddled on with smiles on our faces. Everyone was still having fun! I kept thinking how awesome it is that I have such a hardcore group of friends. I guess you can’t be afraid to get wet if you’re paddling on a river! Even if you don’t fall in!

Before we even left for the paddling that day, my dad snuck out into the mosquito-infested forest, through tall grass and rough terrain along a creek to drop supplies for a mid-paddle bloody mary drink bar. When we arrived at the secret spot, I pulled up to the shoreline, hopped off the canoe and into the grass to help set up the drink bar. I was immediately swarmed by thousands of mosquitoes. Thousands. And thousands. My face turned to a fuzzy layer of blood-sucking vampire bugs, and I quickly scrambled to grab all the supplies, throw them in our canoe, jump in and push back out into the middle of the river where there were at least only maybe hundreds of skeeters. Damn, they were thick this year! It was a bummer we couldn’t enjoy the bloody mary bar that my pappy worked so hard to get ready. Stupid mosquitoes. Anyway, we enjoyed the bloody marys the next morning – we couldn’t let the ingredients go unused!

Adam and Robin paddling

Adam and I enjoying the rainy paddle. I think I have a mosquito carcass on my forehead.

The rapids were fun this year, too. There were hardly any rocks showing for us to run into, so we just navigated some fast, large swells and a few white-water dips while freezing water splashed up inside the boats and covered our already rain-soaked laps. We had only one tip-over. There’s got to be at least one each year, or I don’t know that it would be an authentic canoe trip! I guess it was my dad’s turn this year. He got caught up on rock and tipped just enough to catch the fast-running water over the edge of his kayak. In he went. It was early in the trip, too, so it made for a really cold trip for him!

We were all happy to get to the landing down the road from my parent’s house. We pulled our boats out, gathered coolers and untouched lunches and walked up to the house where we all immediately went into dry-out mode. Gear was scattered all over the place and dry clothes were pulled out and put on. Before we knew it, my dad had a fire going, we were dry, some had taken naps, and food and beers started to come out. The rain stopped, too, but the mosquitoes did not. At least around the fire the skeets weren’t as bad, so that was kind of the place to be! Adam even set up a projector outside later in the evening and we watched some videos on a sheet that hung from the house gutters. It was a really cool addition to the weekend.

Dad starting a fire

All the wood was soaking wet, but there’s never a worry with my dad around. He will ALWAYS get a fire going. No matter what it takes!!

It was great to have a few of our PCT friends make the trip out – thank you SO MUCH, Hoop Dreams, Peter Pan, Lighthouse and Treekiller! Please come again next year — and we hope to have more! I demand sunshine next year, too… the rainy paddle was fun and all, but it’s a lot more fun in the sun when we can stop to have lunch, snacks and beers, and even swim a little bit. Next year!!

We did have a small crew tube on the Elk River on Sunday morning. I always wished people didn’t have to get home for work on Monday. It’s always sad to see the weekend come to an end and everyone head home. I always recommend folks hang around for a just a wee bit longer to go tubing. It was a great year for that, too! The sun came out and the air warmed up, so after the initial shock of cold water splashing onto our laps as we jumped and butt-landed into our tubes, the water felt great! We floated on down the quick-moving river and navigated by arm-paddling away from shore until we reached the landing, hauled our tubes up the road and ended our river weekend in the sunshine.

Tubing the Elk River

Sunday’s Elk River tubing – thank goodness for sunshine and blue skies!

Thanks again for everyone that made it out this year – you make it worth putting together year after year, so watch for next year’s trip! It’ll be around the same time, which is usually the first or second weekend in June. I hope everyone can make it!

Tonight I love the river. Nothing beats the sound of a moving stream of water, big or small.

Richard and Robin on tubing day

A photo of me and Richard riding in the trailer on our way to go tubing a couple of years ago.

We were missing one of our friends on the river this year. Every year we paddle that river, I will think of Richard. He always added laughter and a butt-load of extra fun to the trip. For those of you that have been following my blog, you may have read a few months ago about how we tragically lost Richard in a car accident. It was sudden, unexpected and totally awful. Those of us that have had the pleasure to know him – even if only for a short while, will miss him forever. And to Meryl – thank you so much for making the trip up this year. I’m sure it was difficult for you to do this on your own, but we were all really happy to have you there. We love you to pieces!

There are obviously a lot of parts of our lives that will never be the same without him – and for me, this canoe trip is a big one. Of course we’ll continue to have fun on this trip every year, but it’ll just be a little different. Every once in a while, when the river turns calm and quiet, we’ll glance over and imagine Richard laying back on his kayak, floating down the river as he soaks in the sun’s warmth. And we’ll miss hearing his laugh (which always forced a smile) echo down the river as he squirts the next person to paddle by with his water bailer. Shit. We miss you, buddy.

That one rough day

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I’ve seen online videos of truckers ripping the tops off of their trailer in a big curl like the top of a sardine can because they drove underneath a bridge that was too low. It put a fear in me. I never, ever want that to happen to me!

Even though we trip-planned for a total of six hours, going over routes, zooming in on Google maps, checking for restricted routes and low clearances – we still encountered a low bridge. What if I’d have looked down at my speed for that second I noticed the clearance sign? Or sneezed? Or anything? It was posted right on the bridge, so there wasn’t much time to think. Now what?

This was the scariest part of our bad day, but several other things happened that added up to a cluster of stress that broke us both at some point during the day. Looking back, it doesn’t seem like it was too big of a deal, and of course things could always be worse, but at the time it was just too much. So many things went wrong throughout the day that they just piled up, and honestly, I can’t even remember them all.

We had four drops (deliveries) and three picks over two days. That’s a lot of stops for us over-the-road team drivers! The appointment times were tight, but we were told that if we showed up early, they’d take us early, and we could run ahead of schedule. Our last drop was set for 2:00pm, but our first pick was also set for 2:00pm. They were in the same time zone and an hour and a half drive apart. There was just no doubt from the other side that we’d be ahead enough to make them. If everything had gone more than perfect, meaning we did get ahead, it might’ve been a better day. Instead it just didn’t work out that way.

Our first drop: We showed up two hours early and after waiting an hour and a half we got unloaded. We were a half hour ahead. Well, it wasn’t quite what we hoped for, but it was still better than being behind!

We avoided a major traffic backup on our way to the second drop and cheered that it was going to be our lucky day. Wrong.

Our second drop: We showed up at 8:30am for a 9:00am appointment that one guy said he thought was for 10, and the other thought was 11. Oy. We got a door, backed in and sat until we felt them first enter our trailer at 10am. Now we were more than an hour behind and our other appointment times had to be changed, but we still had to race the clock and get there before they left for the day.

Our third drop: The route took us down a narrow, residential street. The kind with no painted lines, and cracked pavement that slopes off into soft gravel shoulders. Our customer was a carwash that we were delivering some parts to. Pulled up, got unloaded, backed into a street behind us, and took the turn out as wide as we could until we saw that the trailer tires weren’t going to clear the decorative field rocks lined along the corner. I ended up pulling forward into a guy’s lawn (with him directing us to keep going once we hit the grass), and while inching past a tree, we were finally able to head out to our last drop.

Our fourth drop: Oh, Pennsylvania Hwy 40. We checked the atlas. No low clearances or restricted routes. Turned off the highway and were moving right along, anxious to finish up our last drop, all the while checking minutes tick by. They were apparently only open until 3:00 and it was almost 3. Our GPS said we were 2/10 mile from our turn when I looked up and saw the yellow diamond-shaped sign posted on a railroad bridge: 13′ 4″. We are 13′ 6″. There was traffic behind me and the lanes were dropping from two down to one. My only option was to stop. In the middle of the road. I wasn’t going to clear it! Now what?

I activated our 4-ways and we scoped an abandoned parking lot to our left as we just sat there stopped in the main traffic lane. Was it big enough to turn around in? Could I make the turn? I flipped on my left turn signal and waited for a break in oncoming traffic. It was busy. I finally began my turn, taking it as wide as I could to avoid hopping the curb as much as possible. My turn brought me face to face with a fire hydrant. Too short! I had to stop and back up as traffic piled up in front of us and behind us. I stayed calm and watched the other drivers as I took my good ol’ time maneuvering as safely as I could into that old parking lot. Thankfully the cars around us were being patient and not rushing me with their horns and middle fingers!

I pulled in, set my brakes, and took a deep breath as I rested my forehead on the steering wheel.

We quickly figured out an alternate route, but as it turned out, it wasn’t all that much better. We navigated a tight, unorganized residential area with old men sitting on their porches watching us crawl by at 5 mph as both Adam and I plastered our faces against the windshield, watching the low power lines slowly miss the top of our truck by probably inches. We took tight turns around and up steep, short hills until we finally arrived at our destination. A sign told us trucks weren’t allowed where we came from. News to us, but I totally get it! I did not feel like we belonged on those roads!

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A bad sign for a trucker - so many low powerlines!

After all the scary maneuvering to get there, this warehouse we were at had nobody around. We walked around looking through dirt-fogged, broken windows, knocked on locked doors, and admired the open docks that grew viney weeds inside and out. It looked completely abandoned! I thought for certain we had the wrong address. We eventually got in touch with the customer and they were going to come out to meet us. It was the correct place. Even getting backed into the weedy docks was a challenge. I could explain how that all went, but then this already super-long entry would be twice as long. That was another adventure for the day in itself.

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A very abandoned-looking warehouse.

Adam got directions from a local to get us out of there without having to go back from the way we came, and with one more crazy turn, we were finally on our way out of there. Sigh… only three more stops.

I finally broke when we stopped to switch and I was able to let my guard down. I held myself together pretty well, only joining Adam on a few raised-voice tirades about bad directions and stupid maps and how Pennsylvania hated us. Even though I wanted to shut down and cry a few times, I breathed deeply and did what I needed to do to get done what needed to be done. But at the rest area while Adam was outside looking over the truck, I pulled our e-log screen towards me to change my status to off-duty, and the whole damn thing came unmounted from the dash and crashed onto the floor. I lost it. I busted into a fit of giant tears, hyperventilating as Adam crawled up into the truck and immediately put his arms around me. He understood. He just said, “I really need this hug, too.”

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New location for our elog. The floor.

Yup, rough day.

Did I mention that this trip started with an animal encounter of the “cracked our fender” variety? Yup. We should’ve been more mentally prepared for a bad luck streak right then! Adam was heading through Milwaukee in the pitch dark of early morning, in four lanes of traffic with cement highway dividers, when a small deer jumped up, over and directly into the side of the truck. We didn’t even feel it, but at the next stop we noticed a hole in our fender. Thankfully it was just cosmetic damage and nothing functional like a light, but it was still something we had to report and deal with.

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Fender damage from a suicidal critter.

That night we slept at our shipper, lined up along a muddy, narrow road with milk trucks passing by every few minutes. It was a busy place at 10pm! I even had to don my safety vest and stand out in the road so we could back up enough to get us parked for the night. I didn’t care. We were glad to be done for the day. And we weren’t moving.

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How I felt at the end of the day.

The next day started with pouring rain and lots of mud, but nothing horrible happened for which I was entirely thankful. Our third and last pick had us waiting for 10 hours. Ten. We slept, watched a movie, I went for a walk, watched a few minutes of a boring baseball game over the hill, and just waited.

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Taking advantage of the unique opportunity to sit under the sun, in the grass and watch a few minutes of some random baseball game next to the shipper.

Finally we made it home a day later than what we hoped for, but we were on our way to a four-day weekend, and at that point we were already putting it all behind us.

It was rough, emotional, tiring and trying, but I do appreciate a good challenge, so I’ll take that from it. I’m sure I learned a lot, too. One good part of all this is Adam and I stuck together as a team and handled it the best I think we could. After all of that, I’m convinced we make a pretty good team.


Tonight I love runs out west. That’s where we’re headed today. Yay!

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Before the bad day, Adam and I enjoyed a stop along the mountain-y Hwy. 20 heading out of Idaho and into Montana - just west of Yellowstone.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

I suffer from trip planning anxiety

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Where will we be going? Trip planning time! Ugh...

The last couple of times I worked on trip planning for work, it did not go very well. Emotionally, that is. The actual planning part was okay, meaning I figured out my directions and got places safely and everything, but for some reason the process was totally stressing me out.

I started to wish they’d gone over more trip planning in school. We worked on it a little towards the end, but it seemed a little rushed. And just not enough of it. We learned to read the trucker’s atlas and where all the important stuff was located, but it would’ve been cool if we had to plan a couple of trips from start to finish – on our own.

My last trip plan brought me to frustrated tears. I am disappointed in myself for not being able to hold it together a little better, but in my defense, pooey. I was tired as heck after a full driving day and had to plan four drops with three pickups afterward. That’s like seven trip plans in one shot. Oy.

It’s not the same as planning to head to your friend’s house for a party – plug it into the GPS and go. We have an expensive, large-screened trucker’s GPS, but the first thing you learn about them is that it is a tool, not a guide. They can’t be trusted.

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Our giant trucker GPS (Gippus).

So when trip planning begins, I think I’m just feeling overwhelmed. First of all, this last one started with no directions at all, so I was starting from scratch. Sometimes our load assignment gives us an idea of how to get there. We can also call the shipper and ask. I was planning on a Saturday for Monday deliveries. Nobody was open to call. So, okay. Off I go. Plan from scratch.

After entering the addresses into Google maps, I get a very, very general idea how long it might take to get there, and usually a few options of major highways and routes I can use.

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Google maps satellite view. Sometimes helpful.

Then I go to the trucker’s atlas and find my starting city and destination city. I decide which major roads I want to take. Truck routes in a trucker’s atlas are highlighted in orange.

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Orange roads are "safe" for our truck... usually.

Then I plug the address in the GPS and compare those to Google maps (which routes for cars, so really can’t be trusted). Most of the time they don’t match up. I need to figure out a better order for this process, but I like using both GPS and Google maps.

The GPS will talk me through directions enroute (as long as I determine the directions are accurate before I Ieave). Google maps allows me to switch over to satellite view, where I can visually see how traffic moves on or off a highway, how tight a particular turn is, if there’s a gate at the shipper, and I can even get an idea of how their docks are set up. I also use this feature to see if there are other trucks on smaller roads I need to travel once I’m closer to my destination. Speaking of which, I then need to check my atlas and the Google satellite for any low clearances (bridges, trees, powerlines, etc.) or restricted truck routes. Sometimes this info is there, and sometimes it’s not.

This process takes me a while as I’m still getting used to it. It also gives me a giant headache whenever I start – especially if I lose my patience. It will get better. Writing about it here actually made it seem a little easier than it feels, so that means it probably is. That’s good.

Since my last trip plan was so rough, I naturally started searching for a solution to alleviate some of the stress. I decided to look at it from a different angle. I’ve done a lot of trip planning for hikes and loved those processes. I know this is different, but what if it doesn’t have to be? I start here, end there, sleep here, fuel there, take note of these junctions, and plan these particular stops. I don’t think I will ever enjoy anything as much as I do backpacking and hiking, but who says I can’t use that love and passion to my advantage? It’s a bit corny, but I think it’s putting my mind a little at ease. Hopefully the next time will go better. And the next. And pretty soon it’ll be no big thing.

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I dunno. Trip planning for this just seems so much easier!


Tonight I love the feeling when I’m done with a trip plan. I’m all like, “Ducks. Rows. Ready to roll.”

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)