Is our trailer on fire!?

Words you don’t want to wake up to: “I need you to get up. Our trailer’s smoking pretty bad. Could be on fire.”

Adam’s so calm in these situations! He then stepped out and head to the back of the truck with a flashlight.

I unbuckled myself hurriedly, threw on my shoes, opened the bunk and reached for the fire extinguisher. Just in case.

In school they taught us it was a DOT violation to NOT have an extinguisher on the truck. It also must be charged. And secured. But nobody ever showed us how to un-secure the darn thing. It’s such a stupid, simple thing you don’t think about until you want it – or need it – pronto!

Thankfully, by the time I got to the point of finding the latch to release it, Adam jumped back in and said the trailer was not on fire. It was just smoking really bad.

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I thought the brake pads were melting like plastic. Turns out that's just grease drips. Learning stuff!

So what happened?

Oftentimes, driving a truck down a steep grade, you can get going too fast. If you’re in too high of a gear, all you can do is use your engine brake and stab brake – meaning you get to a certain speed, hit the brakes pretty hard, but sort of gradual, then when you get to 5 or 10 mph below the speed you want to go, you let up and basically coast until your speed picks up again and you need to stab brake again.

Braking too much can cause the brake pads to get too hot, and they’ll start burning up and smoking.

So it would seem like that’s what happened, but it didn’t make sense to us. We were puzzled. We were driving down a grade in California that we drive down every week. Adam was driving the same way he does every time, and we’ve never had a problem before. The speed limit is 55mph in California for trucks, so he was trying to keep the truck at about that speed. Not too fast.

We eventually got a roadside mechanic to come out and take a look. This guy… first of all, he shows up in coveralls, knee pads and get this – flip flops! I know he probably had to roll out of bed to attend to our [super-annoying] problem, but his footwear choice made me nervous for him. I couldn’t watch. I was almost embarrassed for him. But anyway…

After being totally rude to us about why our brakes were smoking – before asking what happened or even saying hello – he says, “you weren’t using your engine brake and you were going to fast.” Ouch, dude… not even a chance to explain anything. Okay… He then got underneath and looked at our trailer. After he realized we needed a slight adjustment, and we had the chance to tell him that we actually WERE using our engine brake and going no faster than 60mph, his tune changed a bit. “Well, you shouldn’t have had a problem going that speed.” Yeah, thanks. You’re still a jerk.

It doesn’t help our situation that our engine brake is more of an “exhaust brake” as he put it, which in simple terms means it’s kind of wimpy. But we sort of already knew that from experience. But we’ve still never had this happen – wimpy engine brake and all.

It was determined, I think, that the brakes needed to be adjusted a half turn. There’s like a big screw that can be turned to even out the brakes. If one brake isn’t pulling its weight the others have to make up for it. So they end up overworked and they can smoke. After the quick fix we were back on the road, rolling down the rest of the hill.

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The slack adjuster and push-rod that gets adjusted.

Being a truck driver is so humbling and kind of disheartening, as Adam put it. It’s true. Everything and anything that happens can always be traced back to being an avoidable situation somehow. And it sucks, because you can look over this truck 5 times in one shift (which we truthfully do sometimes) and miss the ONE tiny thing that’s going to bite you in the butt down the road.

We adjust our brakes automatically on a pretty consistent basis, too, darnit. You just hold down the service brake hard for a second, let up and repeat a few times. You can sometimes physically feel them adjust. Adam had just stopped at a required brake check pull-out and did just that. We’re not sure if it wasn’t enough, or if the brakes were a little too out of adjustment for our auto-adjust to work on them. We have an almost brand-new trailer, too, so the thought was maybe they didn’t get adjusted quite right in the factory – from the start.

Either way, we leave thinking, “could we have caught this on our pre-trip? We should have somehow, right? How do we next time?” The answer is to have one person crawl under the trailer with a ruler to measure the push rod’s travel (all four on the trailer, all four on the drives and two on the steers) while the other person applies the brake. Oh, fun. It’s dirty work and takes time, but I suppose it’s necessary.

“All’s well that ends well, right?” One thing is for sure – I now know how to release the fire extinguisher. Oh, and I’m pretty happy that our trailer wasn’t on fire.


Tonight I love nice people. It’s difficult to turn something like this into a learning situation when someone’s being condescending, impatient and just plain mean. So I just really love nice people. Thank you for being nice. :)

And… here’s some pretty pictures.

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Sky art!

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A backroad in Nevada where I took a walk.

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Mountain scenes that keep me dreaming but make my heart ache a little. They're RIGHT THERE!

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

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Oh, the trucking adventure

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AD · VEN · TURE
adˈven(t)SHər
noun
1. an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.

Truck driving is an adventure, all right, and comes with a full set of rollercoaster-like emotions.

I’m generally a positive person. I’m the type that tries to find the good in even bad situations, and I drive my husband bonkers with my “it could always be worse” scenarios. But there are times when I can’t hold my calm, positive demeanor and I temporarily break apart or snap. Sometimes it comes in the form of a long string of cuss words. Sometimes my eyes just frantically start spitting out tears. On rare occasions I’ll even throw something.

This new career in truck driving is fun for a lot of reasons – I get to see the country, spend a lot of time with Adam, get dirty and feel accomplished with what I do – to name a few. Thankfully the good parts of trucking still outweigh the bad by a lot. I hope it stays that way.

But the truth of this adventure: It’s hard.

For those of you that know me well, might find it hard to believe that I’ve cried my “happy” little self to sleep in the sleeper bunk on a few occasions. That, my friends, is a confession that I haven’t revealed to anyone. I don’t like the feelings I’m usually having when I get to that point – where I need a crying release in private. It’s almost always an equation of events + frustration = mini-breakdown.

I tend to hide my crying. It’s not because I feel ashamed, nor do I consider it as a weakness. I just don’t want people to feel sorry for me, and during those raw moments I don’t want the extra attention because it oftentimes makes me spin into an even bigger self-pity party. I want to cry, feel better, get over it and move on as quickly as possible. The attention somehow keeps me dwelling on it. So I try to let my tears fly in private. I do enjoy a good cry now and then, anyway. It releases toxins and stuff. Right?

There have been a few occassional stretches of what I started calling my “trucker blues.” I’ll temporarily feel sad, a little hopeless and things that would normally make me smile somehow plant alligator tears in my eyes. It’s kind of like a sporadic mini-depression. But soon after, I snap out of it and go back to my normal self – and I once again love this gig and all the crazy that goes with it.

In fact, even the stressful situations can bring out some good. For example, there was a delivery Adam and I had to make in downtown San Francisco last week, where it’s kind of scary to drive due to heavy traffic, tight turns, and many obstacles for a big rig to carefully navigate around – including pedestrians – in every direction. On this particular occasion we pulled up to our delivery location (with a plan to double-park on the street and meet a forklift driver that would quickly unload us right there) and we were met with a construction situation that wouldn’t allow us to unload.

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Downtown San Francisco.

A new plan was needed, and quick as traffic flowed around us. We decided to quickly route-plan to the only fuel station in San Francisco that was “truck-friendly” while we wait for further instructions from dispatch, but our maps took us there from a direction in which we couldn’t enter the parking lot. We had to keep driving past it while route-finding on the fly. This is much scarier than when you’re in a car – especially in San Francisco where there are so many places we simply won’t fit with this truck.

My point of this story is that Adam and I both stayed calm, worked together and came out with a feeling of pride from tackling a potentially stressful situation without incident.

What’s funny… well, not super funny… about that day was that it kind of went downhill from there and we later lost our cool for a bit, but I guess that kind of demonstrates the whole back-and-forth emotion and stress that makes this kind of hard sometimes. I might make it seem like it’s always puppies and rainbows out here with my uber-positivity, but that’s obviously not always the case (just like any job, really). It can be really frickin’ hard. It’s not always just the long hours, sleep struggles, getting dirty, bumped, bruised and missing family and friends, either. A lot of times it’s just the stress from unexpected little situations that snowball into one big crazy day that makes it hard. Like getting to your shipper an hour late, begging them to stay because it’s Friday and you don’t want to wait until Monday to load, paying them cash for their overtime to stay for you, then finding out your axle is overweight and you can’t get the load rearranged because the warehouse is closed down for the weekend. Yup… That’s when things get hairy again.

But then you make another new plan, cross your fingers and roll hoping everything else goes smoothly. And when it does, and when the week is done, you get home and take several deep breaths and prepare for the next trip out. Again with fingers crossed.

In between all of this there’s those mountains I adore, so many fantastic miles to cover, time to quiet my mind and think, listen to podcasts and audio books, hang out with Adam, and enjoy the fact that I’m in a different place every single day.

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Some of those mountains. These, in particular, are in Nevada.

I wanted adventure, and by definition I got myself into a doozie – that’s for sure!


Tonight I love boiled eggs.

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I love when the sky is so blue against the red rocks!

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A very damaged trailer on the road - being transferred, I believe. Not hauling anything. As if it could!

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Blue sky, puffy clouds, and miles of road. ♡

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Sunrise in California.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

Keeping my hiking obsession alive

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This. A dirt ribbon of trail that goes on forever. I love it with all my heart. I miss it every day. It is my passion and it calls to me.

I’ve made a couple of bold statements on Facebook recently, and I hope that helps hold me accountable for them. They are both kind of a big deal to me, too.

If you’ve been following me recently, you know that I’m a truck driver, teaming with my husband.

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My current home, job and life. Many, many miles have yet to be covered on this journey!

If you’ve been following me for a couple of years, you know that I recently thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (2013).

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I ♡ this trail so much it hurts.

Longer? The Tahoe Rim Trail (2009).

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This was an amazing thru-hike with five amazing friends.

Longer? The American Discovery Trail, or ADT (2006).

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Mom and I - a hiking blur on the American Discovery Trail.

So with that…

My first big statement: I’m going to write a book! It’s still a little scary (but exciting) to state that in writing!

The ADT was a doozie. It was my first thru-hike. And I hiked it with my mom. Yes. I shared a tiny, lightweight, not-quite-2-person tent with my mother for 9 months. And you know what? It was awesome. I have stories, and lots of them. My mom turned out to be one of the most entertaining, laid-back hiking partners ever, and when you put the two of us together? Well… we laugh until we pee. I’m serious. We’ve literally peed our hiking pants. Several times. The fun news is that I’ve finally gotten the bug to write about it all! I’ve got fire crackers going off in my tummy from excitement whenever I think about a chapter I want to write.

This book has to happen, so there you have it, friends. Please don’t hesitate to encourage me or kick me in the butt now and again. Lord knows I’ll need it! I’m probably way in over my head and don’t really have a clue what I’m doing… but what the heck! I’m going for it anyway!

My second big statement: I’m planning another thru-hike!

I have the bug. Duh, right? I want to thru-hike every trail in existence, and even though that’s totally unrealistic, I dream of it anyway.

So which trail? I don’t really know! Or care! And I don’t know that I’ll ever hike the trail I end up planning. Adam and I have tons of driving to do yet. Tons. But to keep my aching hiker-mind at bay, I figured I’d plan a big hike. It’ll be fun, and then later on if an opportunity arises, I’ll have something in my back pocket. Maybe I’ll plan a few. Who knows.

Okay… So admittedly I already have one in mind – for now. I’ve secretly picked an odd trail to obsess over. I’ll come clean. It’s the Florida Trail. I’ve got a few good reasons for picking this one, so we’ll see how it goes. If nothing else, I can virtually hike it and maybe follow a few others currently on the trail and go back to read old trail journals. I need to obsess over something – this is going to be my thing. For now. Could change. I allow for that.

So there you have it. I’m still driving a big truck, I’m still loving it (although I’m anxious for winter to be done), but I’m also keeping up my passion for backpacking in the best way I know how while working the crazy life of a trucker. A girl’s gotta’ do what a girl’s gotta do!

Keep dreaming, friends! It never gets old!


Tonight I love the present. I love where I’m at. But… I also love the past – so many memories and stories. Oh, and I love the future, too. Who knows what it holds, and that’s freakin’ beautiful, man. I love it all. Life is good.

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So much hilarity happened in this bathroom along the ADT. The story will definitely be in the book! We probably didn't pee our pants, though... I mean, there's toilets. Two of them. Right there. Right?

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We never let a moment be dull! Even resupplying.

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One last trail photo.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

Girls’ weekend – aka The Big Box Tour

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Boxes. Our 10th, Jack-in-the-box, was there in spirit. She lives in CO and had to work. We missed her!

Every year since 2009 a group of us girls get together for an extended weekend of drinking, eating, lounging, shopping, outdoor activities, laughing, talking like we’re 12 years old again, and no. Sorry. We don’t have pillow fights – which always comes up whenever we mention “girl’s weekend” to anyone.

Well, actually… I lie. We had a pillow fight ONE time. It came up on a phone-app game of Truth or Dare. We shrugged, grabbed pillows, and met our challenge. But it’s not like we planned it as a major activity for the weekend, and we didn’t giggle like school girls – it was more like screams and hoots of full-gut laughter. We weren’t trying to be cute. In fact, we didn’t mess around. For example, Iron Box Walinda nearly threw Brown Box Becky across the room, and a few of the pillows were actually quite hard – thankfully nobody was injured. Also, we were fully clothed, and there were no flying feathers. After all, we wanted our security deposit back, ya’ know? We did end up laughing quite a bit throughout, and honestly? It was pretty fun.

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The beginning.

A little history: Somewhere in our past, we came up with a name for our girl’s weekend. Correct me if I’m wrong, ladies… I believe it came up on a break at work. There were six of us that worked together at 4imprint at the time, and we regularly took an afternoon break together. Our group morphed into “The Big Box Tour” after several daily conversations that were most likely of a childish (but super-fun) nature. I think originally the plan involved an actual tour bus and a cross-country trip (we should totally still do this, by the way!). We pared it down to one weekend, usually around February when beautiful cabin rentals are cheaper, easy to come by, and our calendars aren’t chock full like they are in the summer.

We’ve been on seven “Box Tours” now. Wow. Seven. And we now have ten girls. Each girl has their own “box” name, too. We have Brown box, Jack-in-the-box, Cat box, Hiker box, Iron box, Drop box, Chatter box, Veggie box, Jukebox, and me – Bounce box, which is a thru-hiking term. It’s a box that hikers pack with things they don’t want to carry on the trail, so they “bounce” it up the trail from post office to post office. And maybe I get bouncy when I’m excited. Haha! I don’t know, but I like my box name, and it’s stuck.

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2015. Juke even designed the awesome t-shirts!

2015
This year we got a giant, beautiful, roomy barn that was converted into a cabin in Waupaca, Wisconsin. We usually go somewhere different each year, but I’m pretty certain this place will be on our list for another tour.

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Huuuuge barn-cabin!

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A view from the loft.

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Another view from the loft. Such a pretty place!

We arrived on a Thursday, picked rooms to sleep in without major strategy, arguments, or arm-wrestling. We established the #2 bathroom, cracked beers, and moved in. Juke made an awesome dinner with Iron’s help and we ate. Some crashed early and some stayed up late. It was a low-key first night. That doesn’t always happen!

On Friday Juke and Hiker went into town and rented two fat-tire bikes. Iron and I jumped in with them and we head to Hartman Creek State Park where we played on the single-track bike trails. This was my first time on a fat-tire, and it was a total freakin’ blast! I had a sore bum from the seat for a couple of days, but it was totally worth it! While we were out in the woods, I think a couple of the other girls did a little shopping while others stayed back and relaxed and/or napped. We do whatever we want on girls’ weekend. That’s how we roll.

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Fat tire biking! Most fun ever!

Later we all went to Central Waters, a local brewery for drinks and ran into a group of 17 dudes that were out for what I gather was a dude’s weekend. They were all wearing bowling shirts – and were going to go bowling. They invited us, but it was time to go. We had dinner reservations. After dinner we head back to the barn for more drinks, chatter and Cards Against Humanity.

On Saturday we took our time getting up, and then we all went to the park for a little winter hiking. In the evening we visited Weasels, a local bar, and ended up back at the barn to enjoy our last night. We made animals out of balloons and maybe a few body parts… I’m not denying that… and Brown and I played Jenga. Yeah, I know. We’re pretty wild, hey?

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Cabiny Jenga.

What did we do in between all of those things? Well, we ate. I, for one, ate mostly popcorn. I think I ate 20 pounds of the stuff.

It was a fantastic weekend, and I especially feel a little extra appreciation for our annual event now since I’m not around for regular happy hours and other get-togethers. Trucking really keeps me away, which can be hard. I love these girls and miss them all the time. So The Box Tour is one of my favorite yearly events. I already can’t wait for next year. And for real – some year we’re going to end up somewhere tropical. Or we’ll get that bus.

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Hiking! Yay!


Tonight I love my fellow boxes. ♡

A few more photos:

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A non-raunchy balloon art piece.

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Yup. Beer. (And popcorn, of course.)

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Crocheted bottle koozies from Cat box!

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The porch and back yard. And field.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)