Our last run – photos by state.

We travelled several states on this last run (thirteen!), we endured a pretty gnarly snow storm, and had some equipment break down on us. In the end we drove, made our deliveries on time, drove, made our pick up on time, drove, made more deliveries on time, drove some more and got home at a decent time. In one piece. It was a somewhat exhausting week, but we’re alive and well, and we didn’t hit anything. This equals success every time! I must admit we are very ready for a little time off!

I made a point to take a few photos in each state we passed through along our route, with the exception of two, because I was asleep. Here they are:

Wisconsin:

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Winter work gloves for a chilly Wisconsin pre-trip inspection.

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First light starting to appear along Hwy 151 in Wisconsin.

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Pretty bluffs near Platteville, WI.

We started our trip in Wisconsin, as we always do, by picking up some paper at 1:00 am and hitting the road. The majority of the drive through Wisconsin was in the dark, but it lit up a bit before getting to Iowa.

Iowa:

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Bridge over the Mississippi River, just before crossing into Dubuque, Iowa.

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Simple beauty along I-80 in Iowa.

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Adam and I switched in Iowa, and I stepped out into the bitter cold to exercise, where my jump rope broke. The little plastic pieces lining the rope flew all over the place... it was pretty funny!

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It was cold so I wore tall socks. I look like such a dork sometimes! But it's fun.

The drive through Iowa was pretty uneventful, which can be a good thing!

Nebraska:

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Sunset in Nebraska. I went to bed just after taking this photo and slept through the rest of the state as Adam drove.

Wyoming:

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Approaching a tunnel along I-80 in Wyoming. See that color? This is why I enjoy the 2am - 2pm shift - the morning golden hour.

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Some places in Wyoming are wide open and you can see forever.

Utah:

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Near Echo canyon's red rocks. Still cruising along I-80.

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Amazing Utah mountains.

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The tree sculpture in the Bonneville Salt Flats.

I love Utah. I think it’s my favorite state to drive through. It’s only 200 miles long when traveling I-80 but it’s got so much diversity in terrain in that short distance. And those mountains!!

Nevada:

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I'm winding down in my pjs, getting ready for bed.

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Near Reno when Adam found an air leak and we head to a repair shop.

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Brand new air brake chamber! So glad Adam caught the leak before it stranded us on the highway!

I’m usually sleeping through Reno, but with the maintenance downtime we needed for the new brake chamber, we switched there. So I got to see Reno’s lights at night! Pretty! (But too difficult to get a photo).

California:

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A bridge near Sacramento.

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Waiting to get unloaded. Enjoying my new Midwest Carriers hat!

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Truck stop kitties in Westley, CA along I-5.

We made three deliveries in California near Oakland, then made a pick-up and head out, taking a more southern alternate route to avoid winter craziness in Wyoming. We ended up in snow anyway, but it was for a shorter stretch than if we’d driven through Wyoming.

Arizona:

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I took a break at a rest stop where I could walk out onto the rocks. I couldn't resist laying down in the sunshine for a few minutes.

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Arizona color.

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Just about to enter New Mexico. This is along I-40.

We don’t drive through Arizona very often, so it’s a treat when we do. Unfortunately the mountainous section in the western half of the state was bathed in pitch-dark under an almost-new moon.

New Mexico:

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Hoping that's not snow up ahead!

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New Mexico has some cool bridges along I-40. Some are simply painted bright colors, but it's a nice change.

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That's a road-crew pickup truck. We had a flat!

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Just loose from the rim, but no major damage, thankfully.

After getting the flat tire fixed, I went to bed. Adam drove through the rest of New Mexico, then veered off to Hwy 54 across the corner of Texas’s and Oklahoma’s panhandles and into Kansas.

This is where things got ugly.

Before getting the flat tire, we were on target to stay ahead of a snowstorm, but the two hours set us back and tossed us right into the thick of it instead.

When I woke up, Adam was driving 30 mph through snow and wind and yuck. Yay. My turn to drive!

Kansas:

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I was able to catch this one photo during a mellow part of the storm through a town.

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The storm finally winds down!

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Icy aftermath. You would not believe the ice buildup we had on our truck!

I had a freak-out moment during the storm. It was a 2-lane road, at night, and my wipers were icing up and I couldn’t see. Snow was flying inside the truck through the window seals, and my arm was wet, the steering wheel was wet, and so was the door. The temp was in the low teens with horizontal wind carrying snow, making visibility difficult WITH working wipers! I pulled to the side of the road and had to get out of the truck with an ice scraper to rid the windshield of its ice chunks. I thought we were going to get rear-ended being parked on the side of a two-lane road in the middle of a snowstorm, but I had no choice. I don’t remember this, but Adam told me I was repeating, “we’re going to get hit! We’re going to get hit!”

I just really didn’t want to get hit, I guess!

Adam calmed me down and I got myself together. He decided to try cooling off the windshield. He turned the defroster and the heat off. Within 15 minutes we were chilly, but the snow was blowing right off of a clear windshield instead of sticking to it. Waaaay better!

Winter weather sucks when you have to drive in it! I’d much rather be playing in it…

Aftet the storm, things went pretty smooth.

Missouri:

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Well... hello there, blue sky!

Missouri went ahead and gave us blue sky. Oh, and that put a smile on my face.

Iowa:

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My only Iowa return trip photo.

I slept through Iowa on the way back.

Wisconsin:

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Hello Oshkosh and all of our friends!

I woke up in Wisconsin early, delivered some cheese to two warehouses – one in Mayville and the other in Appleton. Then we drove back to Kaukauna and finished up our trip.

Now for a bit of down time!


Tonight I love heated side mirrors. Why can’t we have heated windshield wipers, too?

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

There. I’m giving it a name: The Grapa-jinx

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A misbehaving trailer lands us in the shop somewhere in Nevada.

The Grapa-jinx is in full effect and I can only assume it’s because we have vacation coming up and we’re super-excited to drive, drive, drive and get home. But you see, there’s this trailer. And it’s out to get us… or so it seems…

Two weeks ago —

Bad luck: The reefer (refrigerated) unit stopped working on our way to pick up a load of apples.
Good luck: The trailer was empty so we didn’t have to worry about freight being affected and we were close to a service station and were able to get it fixed.
Additional good luck: We were running behind because of this, but the apple-loading forklift guys stayed over an hour late (on a Friday) so we wouldn’t have to wait until the next morning to get our load.

Two weeks later, same trailer (our current trip)

Bad luck: Adam discovers a significant air leak. It’s coming from the brake chamber on the trailer.
Good luck: He caught it on his circle of safety inspection after a break, so we didn’t end up stranded on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere at midnight with locked-up brakes (this one’s actually not luck, but the good work of a damn safe driver. I love him). The brakes were just starting to smoke as we pulled up to the maintenance shop. Just made it.

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An older brake chamber all dirty and stuff - but working just fine.

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Our brand-spakin-shiny-new brake chamber. The flag sticker is a nice touch. :)

Bad luck: The whole stinkin’ state of Wyoming is pooping winter all over the roads. And we just learned portions of I-80 is closed as a result.
Good luck: We aren’t going through Wyoming because we’re taking an alternate route – which is also pooping winter, just less of it. And not in mountains.

Bad luck: A trailer tire gets a giant gash in it and goes flat. We need a new tire and the replacement process takes two precious hours.
Good luck: A fellow trucker pointed it out to us just as we pulled into a fuel island, so it didn’t have a chance to shred while driving 60 mph down the highway… and it stayed on the rim, which was undamaged.

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Major tire gash.

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Getting a new tire. This guy worked quick!

Now we head straight into our alternate route’s winter diarrhea. If the tire hadn’t gone flat, we may have been able to stay in front of it. But hey! We’re not stuck in Wyoming! That’s good luck. Right?

Thanks for “listening” to me whine about our truckin’ woes. I do want to mention that these things going wrong are normal things that just happen in trucking, but they’re pretty unusual for us because we are issued really good equipment and are never questioned when something needs to be looked at or repaired (I love this about V&S MC!). So I whine about it when it does happen because it’s… well, just bad luck!

Interesting side-note: The jack used on our fully-loaded trailer to replace the tire was about 18″ high, weighed 35 pounds, and has the ability to lift 52,000 pounds! Crazy, huh!? In the photo below, the jack is the little red thing. So small!

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Tonight I love vacation time.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

Gunshots and nightmares

I had a pretty bad dream last night. In fact, it made it into the top three of my most horrific nightmares. I thought I’d share it (and the other two) and see if it might spark some of my readers to share their scariest dreams…

Dream one: Gunshots (the one from last night)

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Adam and I were at a party at a friend’s house in our hometown of Phillips, Wisconsin. I remember very specific details from the dream and some were strangely entertaining, as usual. For example, there was a toilet that had a tiny hole you had to hit when you sat down and the seat was made of styrofoam. (Interpret that!)

Some things were more normal, and pretty cool, too. At this party, in a corner of a large room covered in old, brown carpeting was a group of about eight people gathered around an old-school CRT TV watching a reality show about backpacking. As I walked past, the people on the show were buckling the straps on their packs, dramtically getting ready to head into some unknown wilderness. Yup… I know how to party hard in my dreams!

Then for some reason Adam and I had to go to his mom’s house really fast, but we had to go on foot. We head out and were literally running through town. It was winter and I was barefoot, but the cold wasn’t bothering me. I remember stopping for just a moment to slide my feet across a patch of ice and enjoying how smooth it felt. I was having so much fun – we were jumping over snowbanks, dancing around corners and laughing about dodging the yellow spots in the snow.

We were coming up to a convenience store and I realized all of a sudden that I had shoes on! I laughed out loud and while looking down at my feet, I playfully called out to Adam (he was now in front of me) “hey! I have shoes on! How did that happen!? Hahaaahaa!”

Then I looked up and stopped in my tracks. This is when the dream took a really dark turn.

Adam was standing next to some sketchy characters along the side of the convenience store having what looked like a very serious conversation. There was a girl with really long, straight brown hair wearing an old, crackled leather jacket and a guy with some blackened teeth that stuck out through a permanent-crazy grin. He had a surprisingly well-trimmed beard and was wearing a pair of blue coveralls – the kind a mechanic would wear – and it was unbuttoned halfway down in the front exposing part of his chest and a cheesy gold necklace.

I sensed right away something was wrong and we were in trouble, so I walked up towards Adam and these strangers as if everything was totally normal, but I knew I had to get into the store to call for help. I cheerfully said “hey, I’m just gonna run inside and get our…”

Before I could finish my sentence, the girl with the long brown hair reached into the pocket of her jacket with her left hand, pulled out a gun and shot me. The bullet hit me in the neck. The sound was quieter than I’d expected – just a quick “Pop-whizzz-thud.” I didn’t really feel it, but I instantly reached up towards where it hit and looked over at Adam with panic on my face silently asking, “am I really shot?” Then she shot me again, this time in the right shoulder/chest area and I dropped to the ground. As I fell, everything went into slow-motion and the air around me visually reverberated into translucent waves. I fell and rolled into a fetal position, and with the last morsel of my consciousness I thought, “cover your vital organs in case she shoots again.” Then everything went black.

I suddenly woke up in my bed in the truck, but didn’t jump or anything – I was completely still except for the instant when my eyes opened wide with fear. I stared into the darkness straight in front of me for a few long seconds, hardly noticing the dull glow from the alarm clock off to my side. I realized it was a dream but I just lay there, still. I was frozen, afraid to move. Then I realized the truck was not moving and not running. It was so quiet. I barely found my voice but was able to get out a whispered, “Adam… you in here?”

No response.

I opened the bunk curtain and he wasn’t in the truck, and outside I only saw one parked tanker truck in a gravel lot, unlit and totally dark. It was an eerie way to wake up from a very frightening dream.

I think I might have actually died in that dream, but I’m not entirely sure.

Dream two: Car accident

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A while back I did die in a horrifying dream in which Adam and I were in a car accident. I was on the phone with my mom when the car suddenly broke through an embankment and began a slow-motion descent off of a really high bridge. I interrupted my and my mom’s conversation saying, “I  have to go. I love you,” and I hung up.

Adam and I looked at each other with calm expressions on our faces, knowing full well what was about to happen. We lightly grasped each other’s hand just as the car hit the pavement below. The loud sound of impact flooded my head and surrounded our bodies and within the smallest fraction of a second, before the “crash” noise could even finish or settle, everything went completely silent and… not even black. Just nothing. It was as if a pinhole sucked everything in and it was gone. More silent than the deepest corners of space. It stayed like that for a few long seconds before I woke up.

I died in that dream. I once heard that if you die in your dream, you die for real. Well, that’s obviously not true. I’d had dreams prior to these where I would get to a point just before death, knowing I was going to die, then woke up. But that car accident dream was the first time it continued through past death for just a moment. I still woke up – shaken and sad.

Dream three: Stalker

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I was camping in a secluded stealth camp in the middle of nowhere. I can’t remember anymore if I was by myself or if there was another person in the tent with me, but I do remember the moon being so bright that the walls of my tent were lit up almost like daylight. I lay there totally content, following the crooked shadowed lines of bare tree branches on the tent wall with drooping, tired eyes, just about ready to fall into a peaceful sleep.

“Crunch… Crack… Crunch… Crunch…”

I sat straight up and froze, eyes wide, listening. The steady “crunch” sounds continued. Footsteps. “That’s a big critter,” I thought to myself. “Is it a bear? Maybe just a coon. Deer can be that loud, too.” I stared at the tent wall as a new shadow slowly crept up from the ground. It grew with each footstep’s heavy crunch. It was moving so methodically. So slowly.

Then my stomach knotted hard. It was a person. I swallowed so hard I feared it might echo across the canyons through the forest. “Why is there someone here? What would they be doing wandering through here so late?”

The footsteps stopped. The shadow stood still. I could hear the person breathing. Then the shadow slowly turned, and an arm slowly angled out from the body… and in their hand… was the distinct shadow of a handgun.

I awoke suddenly. I think this one made me jolt into a seated position, breathing heavily, throat too dry to swallow. Had I been holding my breath? “Why do I have to dream something like that,” I thought as I finally swallowed. Cripes almighty.

This dream haunts me to this day and is a major factor in my fear of camping alone. Bears? That’s okay. Snakes, scorpions, tarantulas? Yes, scary… but okay. Strange person? With a weapon? The worst… kind of scared… ever.

I hope I don’t give you nightmares from sharing mine!

So… have you ever dreamt you died? What was your scariest dream ever?


Tonight I love the recurring dream I have where I can move along in a hover instead of walking on the ground. Not that long ago I dreamt I was doing just that on the Appalachian Trail thinking, “this is great! I don’t have to worry about my feet getting sore!”

More dreams like that, please!

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

Our first winter shut-down

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Ice. Wind. Snow. Yuck.

Slipping and sliding
I’m driving down I-80 in Nebraska, going east. The road is covered in a thick layer of white ice. The wind is blowing directly from the north, straight at my driver’s-side door and sneaking through all the seals around the window. I cranked up my heat to keep warm, and notice there’s a build-up of snow on the door by the lock and down by the handle. It’s literally snowing inside our truck as we drive down the highway. I’m going really slow – 25 miles per hour – but I’m moving. Two trucks pass me going maybe 50 mph. I get nervous as they fly by, the reflection of their rigs on the road surface next to me. On the ICE. Snow blusters up around them and in front of me. Visibility is pretty low in areas, and this doesn’t help.

Then I have my first freak-out moment. A gust of wind blows toward me and I feel the truck shift to my right. I naturally turn the steering wheel just slightly to the left – it’s one of those corrections you make in normal circumstances without even a thought – except this time the truck doesn’t react. I can tell there’s resistance under my tires, but the ice keeps them from grabbing and the truck slowly continues toward the rumble strip on the shoulder. I let off the fuel and hold my steering position. The truck slows down, my passenger-side steer tire just bumps the rumble strip and finally catches and slowly straightens out. I realize I’d been holding my breath, so I exhale and loosen my white-knuckle grip on the wheel. I slow down even more, but this happens a few more times as I cruise along. “How in the heck are these other guys driving so fast in this?” I think to myself. We’re even loaded heavy! I can’t imagine how much worse this would be if we were light. Yeesh!

The first detour
I’ve seen quite a few cars and a bunch of semis in the ditch. One rig was turned on its side, a couple were jacknifed, and others just looked to be calmly parked. In a field.

I look up ahead and see flashing red and blue lights. I slow to a crawl. A police car is blocking the highway, waving an orange flag and directing traffic to take the exit ramp with no other information. The highway is shut down. As I exit, I notice two trucks stalled on the overpass. There’s no on-ramp, so I turn left, following a flatbed trucker, hoping he knows where he’s going. We’re on an alternate road to I-80, so I figure we’re okay. I wake up Adam so I can have a navigator, making sure I don’t end up on some dinky road in the middle of snow-drift-ville, Nebraska with no way out.

The flatbed and I approach a stop sign, but there’s a set of railroad tracks before it. Just as flatbed dude gets to the tracks the red lights flash and the gates come down, but he stops in time. We wait, and finally one of those pickup trucks with the train wheels comes gliding by at a snail’s pace and I almost laugh. The gates go up, the lights turn off, and flatbed dude slowly proceeds. Just as his tractor gets onto the tracks, the lights blink back on and the gates start back down! One gate is in front of his truck, and the other is between the back of his truck and the load on his trailer! He’s wedged between them, right on the tracks! He does exactly what I think anyone would do – “screw these gates,” and drives forward. The back one catches a little on his tarp-covered load, but then they start going back up and he just gets through without incident. And no train. Holy crap. That was freaky. Glad it wasn’t me! I’d have pooped for sure.

Sliding downhill
Towards the end of our detour, I take a big curve in the road and plow through a snowdrift as wide as the road I’m on. A cloud of snow swirls up around us, but we make it through okay. Snowbanks and drifts still freak me out ever since I got stuck in one when I was training in school. Then I see I-80! Oh, thank goodness – soon we’ll be back on route!

My excitement carries me to the overpass over the highway, where I’ll take a left-hand turn and be back on track. Except I suddenly realize I probably should’ve been going about 5 miles per hour instead of 15. I head toward my turn on a small downhill slope coming off the other side of the overpass. I try to very lightly tap my brakes but there is absolutely no response. I’m on glare ice. The truck actually speeds up a couple miles per hour and I realize I am not going to make my turn. I slide right past and continue a short ways down the road until I’m able to come to a stop – about a truck-length past my turn. Thank goodness the road continued on there!

The road behind me is clear, so I activate my flashers and start backing up. Except I’m trying to back up with nearly 80,000 pounds of weight – uphill. I only get so far before it gives up on the ice. I crank the tractor to the left – I can aaaalmost make the turn, but not quite. Now there’s a semi waiting behind me and a DirecTV van waiting in front of me. I put the truck back in reverse – nothing. The tires just spin. Directly in front of me is a snowbank. I lock in the power divider and still nothing. Just spinning drives. Damn ice! Adam jumps out, and so did the DirecTV guy, and they let me know I can go forward another foot or two. I do but it’s still not enough to make the turn. But my drives finally find grip in reverse and I’m able to aim our rig up the on-ramp. I am so done with this ice! I take a couple of deep breaths and drive on. At 20 mph.

The second detour – shut’n ‘er down
Adam finally got back to bed, and I’m just focused on moving on down the highway nice and slow. My ditched-truck count jumps from 12 to 15 when I pass by three trucks in the median, drivers still in their seats. A short while later I approach a marquee sign that reads, “CRASH AHEAD. I-80 CLOSED AT EXIT 353.” That’s the next exit, so I turn off the highway. Again. I turn right and enter a Petro truck stop. It’s insanely busy! I have to wedge our truck between two other trucks just to get through the entrance, and as I begin to circle the parking lot I wake up Adam. I figured he could start looking for a detour while I just keep circling the lot, but then I see an open space next to an oversize load. I turn around and set up for a blind-side angle back. Ooooh, goody.

Adam jumps out and we turn on our headsets. Adam calls me and spots me into our space – I had to set up for it twice, but otherwise didn’t need a pull-up. I seriously LOVE being a team in these situations. Solo drivers — respect. Seriously. I don’t know if I’d ever want to drive solo. Especially in situations like today!

We sit, quiet. Now what? We decide to take a break and head inside. My stress takes over my will power and we sit down in the restaurant and have dinner (Adam has breakfast). Then ice cream. There’s a Baskin Robbins here, so… duh!

We check the weather and alerts say to only travel in emergencies. It’s Adam’s shift now, and he’s wisely not comfortable going on. We discuss the consequences of staying put. This is never, ever an easy decision to consider. Our load will be late. Our weekend will be even shorter than it already is normally. And our plans to visit our friends Andy and Kris will have to be postponed. And… we might have to get a loaner truck because ours desperately needs an overnight visit to the shop for fresh brake pads. But… with all that in mind we make the decision to shut down. Once the decision was made we both feel relief. Dispatch was totally supportive of our decision, and our receiver seemed okay with our being late, too. We relax a bit.

Might as well watch some Super Bowl that neither of us really could care less about. It’s on the restaurant TV as I write this. Seattle just got an interception… but I don’t care. I’m enjoying reliving my crazy day.

I traveled only 250 miles today. I started at about 3:30am and stopped at the Petro around 1:00pm. I started driving in Nebraska and never even got into Iowa. Sigh…

Tonight we will continue on, carefully, and pray that maybe the roads are… I don’t know… a little less icy?

Oh… one more crazy thing really quick! On Friday I had a truck’s tire blow in front of me and a huge chunk nearly hit my windshield! I ducked, cursed, and my nerves shook me for a few minutes afterward. The dude just kept on driving. I don’t think he had any idea, but I don’t know how! His back tires were bouncing so violently that he had to feel it! I guess he had somewhere super-important to be!

What. A. Week.


Tonight I love summer. That is all.

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My indoor mini snowbank.

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All ice. Very, very slick ice.