Scales and weigh stations

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The certified CAT scale.

Before I was a trucker, I always wondered what the purpose was of the weigh stations you see along the highway. I mean, obviously they were for trucks, but they were NEVER open. I swear. None of them. Ever.

Well, I can assure you, now that I’m behind the wheel of one of these big ol’ things and have to pay attention to these weigh stations, there are plenty of them that are open. My first few times through were kind of scary, too. There’s a DOT officer in that little building watching your every move. Are their stickers up to date? Is there any visible damage to the truck? Low tires? Burned out lights? Does the driver look tired? Are they following all the instructions? Scale speed limits? How about that seat belt? And are they within legal weight limits?

Well, I’ll get back to that because here’s the scoop. First we “scale,” which means we pay to find out how much we weigh so we can make any needed adjustments before getting to a weigh station along our route, where violations are given if you’re not within range.

So scaling – we get our trailer loaded at a shipper. I’ll use our last pick up as an example because some tricky stuff happened and it’ll be exciting. Maybe. Anyway…

We check in, wait for a few hours with the truck idling in 100-degree Washington heat, then finally get a dock door to back into. Ten minutes later we have a trailer full of bagged onions. (I wish I liked raw onions because that whole place smelled like one giant onion.)

Next I head in to get the bills. I sign them saying the shipper both counted and loaded the freight, I head back out, pull away from the dock, get out and secure the load with a load lock (a long metal bar that keeps the palettes from shifting inside the trailer), shut the doors, make sure the reefer temperature is set for 55 degrees as requested, then get back in the truck.

Most shippers we’ve been to don’t have their own scale, but this one does. And there’s no charge to use it. Bonus! Sometimes you pay like five bucks.

When we weigh, we need to know four weights:
Steer axle (the front set of tires on the truck)
Drive axle (the back tires on the truck, under the front of the trailer)
Trailer axle (tires in the back of the trailer)
Gross vehicle weight (total weight of the whole, loaded rig)

To be legal, the weight you’re looking for can differ by state, but as a general rule, you’re looking to stay under these numbers:
Steer axle: 12,000 pounds
Drive axle: 34,000 pounds
Trailer axle: 34,000 pounds
Gross weight: 80,000 pounds

I roll up to the scale, just getting my steer tires on. It reads 11,820. Next I add my drives to that, so combined I get 46,340. Then I add the trailer axle, which gives me my gross weight – 82,780 pounds.

Before even doing any math to get my individual axle weights, this is where I stare for a moment and say to myself, “Crap. That gross is almost 3,000 pounds over.” There’s no getting around it. Gotta back in again and get some of these stinkin’ onions taken off. I do that, also having the forklift driver shift everything a little off the drives. It was a bit heavy, and when you fill up the fuel tank, it gets even heavier up front. All these things have to be considered. We even have to be sure one of us is in the bunk. 150 – 300 pounds can put us overweight if we’re in the wrong spot!

Okay, back on the scale. After a little math, I get these numbers:
Steers: 11,720 – good!
Drives: 33,730 – good!
Trailer: 34,160 – over… crap.
Gross: 79,610 – at least this one’s good this time!

So now what? We have to fix the weight on the drives. To do this, we slide the tandems – the trailer can slide forward and backward on the trailer axle in back. (Next time you’re cruising down the highway, pay attention to the back tires in comparison to the end of the trailer on a few trucks – they won’t be in the same place on every truck. This is for custom weight distribution.)

Anyway, moving the trailer just a few inches one way or the other can change the weight on all of the axles. It works kind of like a teeter-totter. The further towards the front of the trailer the tires are, the more weight that sits on the trailer axle. The further towards the back of the trailer they are, the more weight that sits on the drives. So I need to move them back – but just a little bit. It takes me a couple of tries, and I find that I’m stuck between two positions. On one, the drives are over, on the other it’s the trailer.

Adam and I discuss options. We’re SO close. Maybe a DOT officer won’t care about 100 pounds. But maybe he will. That’s a violation and a fine. Both our record and our company’s record gets a ding for it. I don’t want to take the chance. We joke that Adam could lay across the dash when we go through weight stations. We figure we can leave our fuel below 3/4 of a tank to help. Strategies…

Then Adam says, “that’s pretty low compared to what our steers normally are. Let’s get a CAT scale and see what it says.”

Our steers are almost always right up to 12,000. And shipper scales, like the one we were currently using, aren’t “certified.” The CAT scales at truck stops (giant yellow sign with a black cat logo) are certified, meaning they’re as accurate as we can get. In addition to that, if their scale tells us we’re legal, and we get cited for being overweight, our records still get dinged, but CAT pays the fine. It’s their little guarantee.

There happens to be a CAT scale down the road – most importantly, it’s BEFORE we cross any weigh stations. I say a prayer and we roll on. We pay ten bucks and get our official ticket. Holy frickin’ crap. We’re JUST legal! Whooop! After eight hours at the shipper, removing 3,000 pounds of onions and shifting them around, sliding tandems three times and scaling four times, I am SO happy I uncontrollably laugh out loud. This more accurate scale says we are good to hit the road and roll through weigh stations without worry. Seriously the best news of the whole day!

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Our legal weights! Ohmygosh. YAY!!

So that’s scaling. Now we hit the road and go past a weigh station. If it’s closed, we roll on by. If it’s open, a couple of things can happen. Some weigh stations scale you while you’re on the road (weigh in motion). If you have Pre-pass, which we do, it will beep slowly about five times and a green light will blink if you get a bypass. Yay for green lights! They’re the BEST! That means we don’t have to pull in. We just keep going.

But then sometimes it beeps fast five times and gives you a red light. It doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong, but it does mean you have to pull in. There are a lot of things you have to pay attention to now. There’s usually a posted speed limit for the scale, first of all. I hear that quite a few speed violations are given out at weigh stations. Seat belt violations, too. Drivers unbuckle to reach for their paperwork or something and get pulled aside because of it.

Anyway, so you pull up to the DOT shack where there is a scale. They’re all a little different so you have to pay close attention to signage and instruction. Sometimes you stop before rolling on, sometimes not. Sometimes you stop for each axle and sometimes you roll on through, usually at 3mph. After driving over the scale, there will usually be either a red/green light or a marquee sign with instructions. A green light or instructions to continue on are what we want here.

I haven’t gotten a red light at the scale yet, but if I’d have left those 3,000 pounds of onions in my trailer, you can bet I would’ve have had the experience!

If you’re overweight, if they see something out of place, a broken light, if they think you look fatigued or even just randomly, they can pull you aside for an inspection. Inspections are a whole other story. Probably longer than this one! We’ve only gotten pulled aside once so far as a team, but that’s because there were two lanes to go around the DOT shack. There were two lights with arrows indicating which direction we should go. Neither light was lit up. we took the wrong way. The officer seemed quite irritated and asked us to pull around and bring in our paperwork. Adam was driving, so he parked and brought his papers in. The officer gave him a level 3 inspection, which is only a driver inspection – hours, paperwork – things like that, which he passed no problem. We run electronic logs (another whole story in itself!) and we simply don’t run illegal, so no worries. He got a clean, quick inspection and we were on our way. At that point, they can send out an ispection officer to look over our truck with a fine tooth comb.

So that’s the difference between simply scaling the truck and going through weigh stations. There is so much more responsibility with truck driving that I could’ve ever imagined before I started with this career. It’s a pretty big job, but it’s fun. When things go right, anyway… like that CAT scale ticket.


Tonight I love green pre-pass lights. I seriously smile every time I get the slow beep-beep-beep-beep-beep and blinking green!

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I still don't quite know what the yellow is for, but the red and green ones work. Green rules.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

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35 years of magical life

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Birthday steaks by dad.

It was my birthday last week, and as always, I thought about my years here on this little planet so far. That’s what this post is all about. My past and what I can remember. How much I’ve already done. The places I’ve been and the places I have yet to go.

I first thought about my three trail birthdays (it’s pretty tough to beat a trail birthday, so they’re among my favorites). In 2006 I was on Argentine Pass, Colorado on the ADT with my mom and hiking buddy, Hickory. In 2009 I was on the Tahoe Rim Trail, cowboy camped for my very first time on a saddle below Freel Peak, with a gorgeous wildfire sunset view over Lake Tahoe. I was with my mom, dad, and friends Leo, Hickory and Ken. Last year, 2013, I was hiking with Rachel out of Sierra City after an epic cake and ice cream party organized by Adam the night before. I hiked up a mountain wearing a birthday hat and trying not to lose the helium balloon tied to my pack. I eventually popped it and tucked it into a pocket before the wind tossed it into a tree somewhere miles away. Camp that night was in the woods with Rachel, Bird Dog and King Street. All very great birthdays.

This year I was driving a truck through North Dakota. I woke up to Adam playing a birthday song on the radio and giving me a really sweet card. Throughout the day I enjoyed several texts, voice mails and fun facebook messages – you all made my day! With our short time off we visited my parents in Phillips. I tubed the Elk River, went for a run, ate dad’s fire-grilled steaks and mom’s garden-fresh salad, followed by her made-from-scratch carrot cake. Then we sat around the campfire with a few beers before heading inside and zonking out. It was really nice.

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This was on my card from Adam. He says he's terrible at drawing, but I'd take his little drawings of us over a Picasso any day.

My life really started on July 16, 1979 in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. I think I was nearly 10 pounds of chubby baby. My poor mother! I grew up in the Milwaukee area, living in Hartland, where I was too young to remember much of anything – Waukesha, where our apartment was broken into while we were away and the police confiscated the pot plant my mom was growing because she simply wanted to see how big it would get – Menominee Falls, where I played with my best childhood friend, Nick, and fell into the swamp minutes after mom said, “don’t play by the swamp.”

I honestly… sadly… don’t remember much about my childhood. Either my memory has always been this poor, or I lost some of it when I got sick in 1998. Either way, several “memories” exist only because I’ve seen photographs. If you ever wonder why I take sooo many photos – that would be why. It’s also one of the big reasons I write. To simply remember.

Anyway, when I was about eight years old, we moved up north to Phillips into the house my Aunt Margie lived in. She was moving out of state and my folks were wanting to escape the city. I am so glad I got to grow up surrounded by forest and field. I played in the mud, made “soup” from findings in the yard (who didn’t do this as a kid!?), and swam in the river with our neighbors Tami, Eric and Jamie. Tami wound up being my very best friend – the best friend I’ve ever had, despite our age difference of four years. We don’t see much of each other any more, but I think of her often, and haven’t found anyone that can match that level of friendship we had. I miss those summer days tubing on the river with her. A lot.

I became a teenager and was a snot to my parents, snuck cigarettes with my friends and smoked them in the alley next to the movie theater. I never went to many parties, but I could feel that I might be heading down a rough path.

Then I took a bus to state solo & ensemble. I played the flute and had a solo. Adam was on that bus, too. For singing, of course. We hung out, he bought me an Icee at the mall, I sat next to him on a hotel bed and noticed a tiny hole in his jeans just above the knee. I put the tip of my pinky finger in it and gave him a smile. This might have been when we fell in love… I don’t know. He then drove me home afterward and called me as soon as he got home to apologize for something he said, worried he might have offended me. I don’t even remember what it was, but I wasn’t offended. He was also the first boy I showed interest in that my brother approved of. I’d like to say at the time I didn’t care what my big brother thought of my decisions. But I did.

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The weekend Adam and I met.

Meeting Adam was one of the best things to ever happen to me. I straightened myself out after meeting him. I wanted to care about school, I wanted to be good, and he supported me and let me spill my guts to him and bawl my eyes out about all the things I didn’t like about myself. I changed. He helped me like myself again and I love him for that.

I went to college. I got weak and tired and didn’t understand. Then I got diagnosed with a deadly blood disease. Aplastic Anemia. I had transfusions, treatments, side effects, several seizures, rode in a Life Flight helicopter, had my last rites read to me by a priest, and then my dad put a set of headphones on my ears and played “Lord Is It Mine” by Supertramp. I swear the love of my parents brought me out of that mess. God blessed me with that disease. It brought on several more changes in my life, most of which came on slowly and shaped me into who I am today. I love who I am because of it all, too.

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A summer in the hospital. Love my dad in the background!

I married Adam and graduated from college. I got a job as a graphic designer at 4imprint in Oshkosh and fell in love with the people and family atmosphere there.

I lost a bunch of weight… a journey all it’s own. I went from 235 pounds down to 170.

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Some people don't believe that I used to be so heavy... I can hardly believe it now, too.

I was told I was in complete remission from Aplastic Anemia.

I had a new lease on this one, short, precious, fragile little life. So I planned a walk. A big walk. I hiked across America with my mom. Every step from the Atlantic ocean to the Pacific. For nine months. Dad and Adam worked their rumps off at home to make that possible, too. In the end, we raised over $100,000 for awareness, research and support for the AA&MDSIF on that trek. So worth the hard work.

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Mom and I in our tent on the ADT. I still use that same sleeping bag!

After that I kept working. I went on backpacking trips. I started running. I ran my first and only marathon in under four hours. A time I worked hard for and was so happy with I may never do another one. I weny skydiving. Twice. I hiked and completed the Frozen Otter – 64 miles in 22 hours, in January, in Wisconsin, in the freezing cold winter – overnight. This may have been the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done. But I did it. I was the fourth person to ever finish it.

I found that by staying really active I was constantly proving to myself that I was no longer sick. I used to tell myself while running, “no way you’d be running like this with low hemoglobin.” I was also striving for that damned flat tummy that my shape doesn’t allow for. I’m finally getting over that. Only took 35 years.

Then I went on another long walk. I thru hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with my friend, Rachel. Adam went along as vehicle support – for pretty much the entire hiking class of 2013. He is my hero.

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Tears, Aloha and Toots on the PCT - Onyx summit.

Now he and I are driving an 18-wheeler around the country. It’s fun. It’s an adventure. And what do we talk about with all that time in the truck together? Future adventures. With smiles on our faces.

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Joy.

I turned 35 years old last Wednesday. It’s been great so far. I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t ask to be younger (at least not yet – haha!) and I just know that whatever time I have left, whether it be hours, days or years – I’m gonna find joy in all I do and love it all.

There it is. My life in a nutshell. I am satisfied. I feel like I’ve done a lot already. All I can do is hope for more.

Happy 35th birthday to me.


Tonight… I love my life.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

A wrong way kind of mistake.

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Shiny! Just got a washin'! Finally!

The TA truck stop in Troutdale, Oregon. I’ve been there a couple of times, now. One thing you don’t want to do is turn left when exiting the parking lot. It’s a one-way street with three lanes going to the right.

Guess what I did yesterday morning? Yup. Exactly that. I went the wrong way… on a one-way street… in a freakin’ hard-to-maneuver gigantic semi truck. This is not a good situation from many angles. Oh, the emotions that flowed through me as I worked my way out of this pickle I got myself into!

First, upon realizing my mistake when I noticed the white arrow painted on the road pointing at me, I got this weird knot in the deepest part of my belly. It was an undefined, not-yet-processed fear. “Oh, sshhhhooot.” I whispered to myself. I pulled to the side of the road and turned on my fourways as I immediately went into “what the hell do I do now” mode.

My second emotion kicked in, and to my surprise it was a simple calm. Everything slowed down. I woke Adam as I inspected the intersection in front of me thinking I may need him to spot traffic for me as I back up to get turned around. I felt like I took ten minutes looking around and thinking of options. Can I make a u-turn here? Do I need to call for a police escort? Can I just back up?

The third emotion was humor, thanks to the sweet beardy-faced guy in the white mini van. He turned onto the road towards me (going the correct way) and stopped next to my truck. With his window rolled down, he looked up at me and said in a very calm voice, “Hey sweety? You’re goin’ the wrong way.” I smiled at him, snickered uncomfortably and replied, “yeeaaahh. I know. Thanks.”

Before my fourth emotion took over, I spotted my solution – an old, pot-holey gravel parking lot across the road. As I made my way to my left, making a turn towards the parking lot, Adam came up front and sat down. That’s when the short burst of anger kicked in – I think because I had someone to release it to.

I scrunched my eyebrows hard and gripped the steering wheel as if I were trying to squeeze out whatever was inside of it. “Why am I so f#*$in’ stupid!?” I exclaimed as I rounded the corner and somehow calmly continued to fix my error.

As I slowly cranked the truck around in the gravel, the anger quickly subsided and I suddenly found myself trying to hold back a few tears – and failing at it. Any strong emotion will usually make me cry, and they all came to a head now that I was in a safe position with the truck. I was embarrassed, scared, angry and ashamed. I was also okay. Safe.

In school and in all my training, complacency has been brought up several times in discussions. Once you start getting comfortable in the truck, and you gain a little confidence, you make some mistakes that you never thought you’d make. You become complacent. Is this where I was? It must be. Time to take a few steps back and check myself because mistakes like this one… I will not accept from myself.

I was lucky. It was about 4:30am, so there was hardly any traffic. However, if there had been traffic, I wouldn’t have turned into it, so maybe that’s not lucky. Either way, I felt lucky to have the time and space to safely fix my mistake. I could’ve gotten a citation for this, or worse yet, I could’ve caused an accident. Neither of those things happened. Besides mental bruising from beating myself up about it, the truck and I came out unscathed. Thank God.

I’m still very new at this whole truckin’ thing, and I’m making some mistakes. Big ones and small ones. I’m learning from them and allowing myself to swallow pride and take a few steps back when I need to. I don’t need to act like a pro. I’m not a pro. It’s okay if I never am a pro. I just need to be safe and keep learning from these experiences, as sucky as they can be.

After I had my truck pointed in the proper direction I took a few deep sighs. “I gotta’ put this behind me and move on with my day.” I said it out loud. This is another thing I learned in school – you can’t stay hung up on that snowbank all day or you’ll never get anywhere. Learn and move on. I still had four deliveries to make and I needed to stay clear and calm.

I let myself comfortably slip back to the basics after that blunder – two hands on the wheel at 10 and 2, slow down to a crawl through intersections and make six attentive traffic checks at each one. Mirrors. Signs. Think. Slow everything down.

Three deliveries went smooth, and the last one brought me to downtown Portland, navigating a sleeper cab and 53′ trailer down streets and around corners where I just didn’t feel like I belonged. I got my big truck shimmied alongside the curb, facing the wrong direction, and taking up almost the entire side of the road. Big truck… small spaces… traffic, bikers, walkers, shiny black Beamers parked inches from me.

Just another ding-free, white knuckled experience to add to my day! On the way out of Portland I slowly approached a tunnel that looked too low (but thankfully wasn’t) and navigated through traffic that had me holding my breath and clenching my teeth.

Oh, and the day started with discovering locked gates at our receiver where we planned to park overnight, a reroute to a truck stop, a faulty turn signal, a visit to the maintenance shop, and actually getting a parking spot at 3:00 in the morning! That was all before my wrong-way turn and crazy Portland deliveries. Not many dull moments with this job, that’s for sure!

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A 3am visit to the maintenance shop. Darned turn signal!

Our pick up wasn’t until the next morning, so we ended that day in a most incredible way. First, a truck wash. It felt good to get the fuzzy layer of insect carcasses off of the truck. Then… a few of our PCT friends came to hang out! What a fun night. We got to see Fruit Basket, Treekiller, Lighthouse and Fun Size. We did truck tours, had dinner, watched a movie, had drinks (sodey pop for me), ate dessert, and endured some gut-busting laughs. (I love you guys!)

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Fruit Basket/Bleub!

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Lighthouse finally learns to drive. Hah! Just kidding!

I don’t really see it as being a bad day, just a busy one with a giant “oopsy.” And it was all made better being topped off in such a good way with some great people. In the end, I wouldn’t change a thing.

One thing is for sure – I will NEVER turn left out of the Troutdale TA again. EVER.


Tonight I love being a truck driver. Even when it’s tough.

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A new tool so we can jiggle that turn signal ourselves. It's got a short somewhere...

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You may have seen this on my Facebook page. This dude parked in a truck space, crooked. I even got in there straight with a big rig! And he's pulled up just far enough that I couldn't pull out. Had to back up to exit. What a guy, hey!?

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Portland streets are really cool.

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Parked in downtown Portland. Our truck is a tree hugger!

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This guy seriously cracks me up.

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Our our way back to Wisco.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

Time to think. And hike.

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Curled up in my sleeping bag, lazily waking up with warm morning sunshine on my face. I love this too much.

If I were a drifter, a gypsy, a wanderer… I don’t think I’d hit the roads with my thumb out. I’d carry my essentials in a pack, find trails and take my time meandering wilderness, bouncing from one place to sleep to the next. I think about places like this, Jones Spring in northern Wisconsin. A sign at the trailhead said you can’t stay on one site for more than 14 consecutive days. Two weeks here, two weeks there, and when the weather starts to turn cold, make my way south where I can repeat the process in new territory.

I suppose I’d have to pick up small odd jobs here and there to earn food money, but I wouldn’t mind. I like work. I could save enough to hit the dirt and go until I ran out again. I often fantasize about walking off into nowhere particular, but headed towards some random, unnamed mountain or forest that I see in the distance that looks like it aches to be explored. I would know when my time there was up, and then I’d head out, aiming for the next beautiful place I can see on the horizon. I imagine what sorts of things I might encounter on the way. The people. The trouble. The beauty. The adventure. I sometimes think I was born to be a gypsy but somehow missed my calling.

This life is pretty good, though. I love someone who loves me, I do work I enjoy so I can do things I enjoy even more, and my future is wide open with all kinds of different ideas and adventures spinning in the universe above me, just waiting to be chosen at just the right time.

Sigh… what a spectacular couple of days this has been. I’ve had so much time to myself that it feels like a week has gone by. Why don’t I allow myself this pleasure more often?

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A pretty little lake that I practically have all to myself. Comes complete with a pair of adult loons and two adorable babies.

I went for a hike today. I took every trail in the Jones Spring area, and missed one junction that sent me at least a mile down an equestrian trail to a pretty meadow dotted white with daisies, and finally a gravel road. I turned around and went back the way I came, never finding the turn I missed. I arrived back at my last trail junction, not to be defeated, and took the loop in the opposite direction. After hiking through waist-high ferns and discovering, picking and eating tiny, sweet wild strawberries, I came out onto the trail I recognized from earlier. Looking back was an overgrown, tiny hiking path. No wonder I passed it by twice.

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I love daisies! These meadows had lots of them!

I took a lunch break at a ski shelter. I munched juicy celery, m&ms and jelly beans. I laid back and watched the clouds float by. I took my shoes off and put my feet up. I closed my eyes and rested. 

I took pictures of flowers, trees, ferns and meadows. I picked up an empty, broken robin’s egg and looked at it closely for a while, wondering what it must be like watch a tiny baby bird peck its way through to light.

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Tiny little vibrant mushrooms.

I didn’t worry about miles, or time, or speed. I just hiked however my feet and lungs wanted me to hike.

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By the time I’d navigated all of the trails, I found myself heading back to camp tired. Exhausted, actually. It felt great. My legs hurt and my hip bones felt bruised from my pack’s hip belt. Things sure have gotten soft since last year! If I had a couple of weeks of hike straight, these small discomforts would subside, and if they did’t, they’d become a part of the day just like anything else… a norm I’d be happy to take.

At camp, I set up my tent, built a bird’s nest in the fire pit, read my book, watched a turtle walk past me like he owned the place, sat by the water, ate instant mashed potatoes and the rest of my m&ms, watched the loons eat and play, and eventually lit the nest in the fire pit. Now here I sit in front of a crackling fire, looking out at the lake in fading light and listening to a trio of trills from some bird I’ve never heard before. Aaaand there goes the darned whooperwill. At first I love the sound. I could even sing or whistle along. Then after about thirty times in a row I wish I knew a way to get the whooperwill to stop whooperwilling without harming it. Too much, whooperwill, too much. Shut up. Let the frogs talk!

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I shall call him Harvey.

Almost time for bed, and when I wake tomorrow it’s back to work. I’m refreshed and I’ll be ready to go. Thank you, forest, for clearing my mind. You are magical.

Oh… and on second thought, maybe I didn’t miss my calling to be a gypsy, or wanderer. Maybe I’m just getting set up for it. Maybe I’m just gettin’ warmed up. Or maybe I already am one. I don’t know where I’ll be three days from now. That sorta’ counts.


Tonight I love the tiny coo the baby loons make when their mumma dives underwater to bring back food for them. Oh, and I love how they ride around on mumma’s back. These little guys are killer adorable!

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Skeeters were out in waves.

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These are tiny but pack more flavor than three giant store-bought ones. Yum! Wild edible things!

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I love the freakin CRAP out of my new Injinji socks!

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Paintbrushes and trail.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

To the woods…

I drove north today, all by myself, towards the woods. I left around 10 pm so I shared the dark, tree-lined country roads with no one besides one raccoon, one skunk, three or four deer and a farm cat. I arrived at the trailhead, folded and tucked a ten dollar bill into the pay envelope, dropped it into the steel pipe with a slot in it, lifted my pack onto my back and followed the lit circle of light emanating from my headlamp down the path through the trees.

I needed this.

I am alone, and I thought I’d be afraid of the dark, as I usually am in the woods when I am by myself. Because, you know, there’s animals with long claws and sharp teeth behind curled lips, dripping with saliva. And there’s weird men in ripped jeans, flannel shirts, the overwhelming scent of whiskey on their breath and a shotgun in the crook of their arm, just waiting for some girl to come out here all by herself.

I had a nightmare once that I was camping, laying in my tent, heard a noise outside, and when I opened my eyes I saw the moonlight glow around the silhouette of a man… holding a hand gun. I woke up with a jolt, scared as hell. That image is forever burned into my brain, even though I know it’s not real and will most likely never happen.

Ahh, cheery thoughts as I lay here in the dark. However, my reality at this very moment overrides my nightmares and vivid imagination conjuring up demon bears and rabid, blood-thirsty raccoons. My reality is this:

I have a view of eighty bazillion stars above me. No rain fly is needed on such a clear night. There is a small, glassy lake on the north end of my campsite, gray and still with sparkling reflections of the moon glittering on its surface. The temperature is cool with a small bite of chill just enough for a good sleep. The air smells of fresh leaves, pines and clean lake air. Bullfrogs croak, glug and gulp around the lake, their echoes fading in an instant. And then there’s the loons. They’ve quieted now, but just a while ago they were cooing and singing so loud I wondered how far away they could be heard. Seems like miles.

I hear critters in the leaves and branches around me. Small or big, I don’t know. But I’m a critter, too, living amongst them all for a day or two, so I may as well enjoy their company. I hung my food in a tree. I almost didn’t and probably wouldn’t have to, but I had a perfect branch to toss the rope over and the challenge of food bag hanging is always good fun. I hit it perfect on my first try. Success.

It’s now 1:36 am and I’m usually starting my day about this time. I think I’ll read my book for a while and take a nap, hopefully waking up in time to see the sun come up. Tomorrow I hike, eat, read, relax, and soak in as much of these these woods as I can.


Tonight I love these bullfrogs as they sing to me in their perfectly broken beat.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

Working over the road

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A Montana valley along I-90.

I find it interesting that on the days we do the most “work,” meaning the days we deliver and pick up, we get paid the least money. We get paid by the mile, so on the days we’re just cruising along to get where we need to go, we’re making the most money. It all evens out in the end, but it’s kind of a backwards way of thinking about work.

A while back we had this one perfect run. The only thing that would’ve made it better was more miles. But the whole thing went so perfect. We picked up coils of metal from the Fox Valley, drove it to Utah, backed up to an outdoor portable dock, they unloaded us, then immediately reloaded us with empty coils, and we hauled those back to the same place we originally picked up in the Fox Valley. So simple. One drop.

We sure get some variety. Compare that to our last run. We picked up some paper in Neenah, WI and hauled it to California and stopped six different places outside of San Francisco. Six! That was a busy day! It went pretty well, but I got behind at one place because they wouldn’t take me early (I arrived 45 minutes early), and everything they were doing seemed to me to be a snail’s pace. I couldn’t really say anything, so I stood there and practiced my patience, and failed with constant fidgeting and quiet sighs. I was going to be late for my next appointment.

When I arrived at the next drop (late), I got a dock right away and a list of rules, which included staying in our cab until a dock worker came out and took our keys (some places require you to surrender your keys for safety – I suppose so nobody can drive off while there’s a guy in the trailer with a forklift). Not only were we required to stay in the cab, we couldn’t idle the truck. Normally it wouldnt matter, but we waited for over an hour and the California temperature blessed us with triple digits. No idling means no air conditioning. I felt sorry for myself and pathetically compared myself to an abandoned dog. I was admittedly being a little dramatic. At least we were able to have the windows down!

Our last two drops were in new locations. The first was a tight little parking lot full of cars giving me an ultimate challenge. Could I pull off a 90-degree back here? I tried! I got into the dock straight, but about a foot to the side. Just far enough over that they couldn’t lower the dock plate into the trailer. The front of the truck was inches from parked cars so I had no room to pull up and shimmy over. The worker said I could pull to the left and he could unload us in the parking lot. Well… that’s good to know! I still felt bummed out and defeated. I wanted that back so bad, and I was sooo close! Our last drop was a similar situation, but we just parked on the street the wrong way with our four ways on and got unloaded right there, similar to the last one.

From the busy day with six drops we were going to miss our appointment for our pickup, so our awesome driver manager rescheduled it for us. She’s seriously awesome. Turns out our pickup location closed at 3pm, so we were rescheduled for the next morning.

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A trucker's sunset. Looking back at our truck stop during our walk.

With a whole night to relax (which we really needed at this point), we decided to park at a truck stop and walk a couple of miles to treat ourselves to pizza. It was a beautiful night for a walk, and I even found some grapes growing along the side of the road. They made a delicious pre-dinner appetizer. The were small, sweet and the kind of crispy where they sort of pop in your mouth. I wanted to collect more but feared they belonged to someone, and I didn’t want to push my luck.

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Mmm, grapes!

So not much happens while we’re making miles. Most of our busy work when stuff happens, exciting or not, is delivery days. But during my morning shift driving, I do get fantastic sunrises, and before that pretty moons and falling stars, which I’ve witnessed a couple of times. There’s critters – I’ve seen deer, antelope and elk, and had a tiny bunny rabbit sit in the middle of the road, forcing me to center him between my tires so I wouldn’t smush him. As long as he didn’t move, and as long as he didn’t have a heart attack, he most likely survived.

I haven’t witnessed any accidents yet, and that’s okay. I haven’t many strange habits of car drivers besides the typical nose-picking and texting while driving. I’m starting to watch more, though, hoping to catch something fun and worth sharing. People are being way too normal out here! What the heck!?

There was the guy at a rest stop that pulled up next to me, looked around, saw me sitting there in the driver’s seat of my truck, ignored me, turned around, unzipped and relieved himself behind his truck right in front of me (but thankfully with his back facing me). I just laughed. And this, my friends, is why you don’t do burpees in truck stop or rest area parking lots. Unless you wear gloves.

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This guy...

For the rest of my time out here, I’m enjoying the heck out of the scenery while listening to podcasts, xm radio, and audio books, daily hugs from Adam, and driving. Yup, I still love spending all this time with Adam, and all the driving. It’s a good life so far.

If there’s ever anything you’re curious about with trucking or the lifestyle, ask me in the comments or email me at robin.grapa@gmail.com. I’ve got a few things I found interesting that I plan to share, but I just gotta put it together. Oh, and I’m going to do a 30-days of trucking kind of thing, too. I’ll post a photo and tid bits from the day. That’ll be fun!


Tonight I love the California heat. Bring it.

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The dude who was pulled waaay past the stop line, making our left turn impossible. We waited through a green light so he'd be out of our way.

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Tunnel through a buggy windshield.

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Speaking of bugs... this is the grill on our truck. We really need a wash!

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A CAT truck at the scale. Oy. Not a good sign.

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Navigating the concrete jungle known as Oakland.

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OH! Total highlight! A stop at the Donner Pass rest area on I-80 in California, where the PCT crosses - we met a 2014 thru hiker! Mr. Cup! So freakin' cool!

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Look what Adam found under our trailer during pre trip! It was empty, whew!

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Cutest trucker ever!

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)