Life out of order: becoming a solo trucker. 

Broken, but on the mend… an explanation.

What the hell is happening? How can life turn upside down and twist around so easily and why does it all have to happen so fast? Why is this so hard? Why does my head hurt, and why am I so tired from all of it? Why do I have to feel all of the things all at once? Frustration. Sadness. Excitement! Fear! Anxiety. Anger. Helplessness. Nervousness. Worry. Can I pause this show? Or, wait. Fast-forward? Where the hell is my backpack because I’m getting the hell out of here. No, I’m actually not getting the hell out of here, but damn, I sure wish I was. Fight the flight, Robin. Fight it. Fight. Fight. Fight. I always fight the flight. One of these days, though, I swear.

So really. What the hell IS going on? Three things broke in this order: Adam. Our GPS. Our windshield. None of them on purpose. But then, very intentionally, Adam grabbed on to the one piece of control he had left and made the decision right there to quit his job. As it turns out, trucking is full of depression and anxiety triggers for him (he’s had some pretty awful past experiences in the industry, unfortunately). So once the honeymoon phase of our new team driving adventure faded a little bit, an uphill battle ensued. He soldiered through as long as he could with persistence and courage, but inevitably reached a limit and it was over. Just like that. It had to be. It was the one, final thing he could do that was solely his decision and felt final. Forward movement. Quitting would hopefully force enough of a change to encourage the healing of a pretty unbalanced mind… So this really has been a long time coming. We’ve known it, and we’ve been hiding behind it for too long. The volcano’s been a’stewin’ for a while and it’s finally erupted.

We’ve had a few blue days out there on the [still beautiful] lonely road…

So what next? First and foremost, Adam takes a pause to rest an exhausted mind, soul, and self. Mental illness is a tricky beast – if you break an arm everybody understands. “Ouch, that probably really hurt! Brace it, rest it, don’t use it for a while.” But break your mind and everybody’s all like, “suck it up, buttercup!” But a broken mind needs rest and time, too. He is going to need to take care of himself here, so that is our #1 focus. He needs to take the time he needs – however long that is – to regain his strength and begin on that path toward healing – this has to happen at his own pace. He’s feeling drastically unbalanced at the moment – and I would add a bit fragile, too. So this is just going to take time.

In the meantime, I drive solo. This is something I wanted to eventually try – but Adam’s decision to quit just catapulted us into this change sooner than we’d planned. Life just happens out of order sometimes, I guess. Thankfully I’ve found myself really enjoying this crazy job, so I’m going to stick with it for a while on my own and see how it goes. But going solo? It’s a little scary. I’m going to find out really quick all the little things I’ve been leaning on Adam for as team drivers. But to my advantage, the big things should be covered. We’ve always run our team in such a way that I could do the job on my own if needed, which is just how I like to roll. It’s an independence thing. And, well? Good thing, because here we go…  

I’m actually writing this in the middle of my first solo run, so all of this stuff is happening – these changes are already in motion. These past few weeks haven’t been easy, stress levels have been high and I’m mentally exhausted – and fighting my own little burnout. Taking a break from social media during all of this was a result of that. It was a way for me conserve a little energy by withdrawing from the world – and frankly I didn’t know what else to do. I was scared. I didn’t have the time or energy to explain everything so I chose to shut down. I lowered my head and pushed on as best I could in a pretty lonely state. But I’m finally feeling ready to join the world again – and I’m doing that with this very blog post. It’s a start for me to feel like I’m sort of getting back to normal. It’s also a way to avoid vague-booking (which is a huge pet peeve of mine). I didn’t want to be all like “OMG, people! Big changes!” on Facebook and leave it there for everyone to wonder and jump to conclusions. I thought I’d just spill it all at once and get it over with.

So I guess the thing to take away is this: Change is happening, like it always does. We’re scared, but determined. We may no longer be team truck drivers, but we’re still a team in life and love, and we’ve been together for-frickin-ever – that gives us a pretty solid foundation to work off of, and we’re going to stand on that. We’re hoping we’re through the worst of it and on our way back up. 

So, well, thanks for listening. If we seem disconnected or withdrawn, just know that we still love all of you – our friends, family, followers. We just need some time. 

Tonight I love… a quiet mind.

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A near rollover, video-style. 

When I started truck driving, I kinda thought I’d see more car accidents. Not that I wanted to, of course, but I just figured with the large amount of time I’d be spending on the road, it seemed as though my chances were much greater for witnessing more crashes. But I haven’t, really. I usually show up to most wrecks after emergency vehicles have already arrived and things are being taken care of. I’ve driven past a few that had JUST happened, but other witnesses were already assisting, emergency vehicles were on the way, and since I didn’t see any of it happen or wasn’t involved, I’d just slow way down, pay attention to the road and drive on.  

I did witness one very minor accident in Chicago where a car lost control and side-swiped another car. They both pulled off to the shoulder, and since I witnessed it and knew I’d have footage on my dash cam, I pulled over – Adam was up with me, so he jumped out right away to make sure both drivers were okay. They were fine and already calling the authorities. We ended up moving on.  

But recently I got really, REALLY close to witnessing what would have been a terrible rollover. It was a couple of weeks ago. It was about 3:20am and I was cruising along the I-694 bypass in Minneapolis. I was driving 60mph, which was the speed limit along that stretch, and noticed a vehicle coming up alongside my truck pretty fast on the left, passing me. Then I saw his lights get a little too close for comfort, so I reacted by slowing down and moving onto the shoulder a little bit. Even with slowing down and moving over he still almost clipped my front end as he cut in front of me.  

I kept an eye on him after he passed, and things got crazy shortly thereafter. Watch the video I pulled from our dash cam! You may want to pull it up full-screen, and wait at the end – I zoom in and replay it in slow-motion. 

 

After he passed me, I watched him swerve around, and then he started fishtailing. At first, it was really short, tight fishtailing. I slowed down again, and that’s when he really started to swing back and forth.  

It’s amazing how many thoughts can run through your head in such a short amount of time. This same week, I came close to hitting a deer. He started walking out in front of me, and I started braking, but I had to strategically brake so I didn’t lose control of the truck. I also happened to be changing lanes after passing by a weigh station, so I was also making sure I kept my line of travel and didn’t swerve. It was raining, so the roads were wet. All these things were processing in my mind, and on top of those decisions going on, I clearly remember thinking, “I’m going to hit this deer. There’s no other traffic around me. There’s a good shoulder here I can pull off on. I’ll have to get out and check out the damage it caused. Then I’ll have to call safety…” And just then, the deer looked up at me and ran. I missed him by what seemed like inches. After my heart rate slowed down a little bit, I still couldn’t believe that I was already in action-mode, taking care of business. It was like two seconds! 

So as this driver in the video started to fishtail, I was already throwing on my four-ways and pulling off to the shoulder because I was certain I’d be calling 911 to report an accident while running out to check on the driver. I was scared.  

I remember saying over and over as it was happening, “Oh God, Oh God.” Adam had just gone to bed, and he felt me slow down and move over, and then he heard my panicked-sounding chant along with the pickup driver’s squeeling tires. He asked if everything was okay, and I just said, “not really” and continued to explain to him what I just saw.  

I tried to get the vehicle’s license plate number, but he was too far ahead by then – he hadn’t stopped! When he finally did stop, he pulled into an off-ramp and drove up onto the curb. Another car also saw what happened, and they pulled off behind him. I was thankful someone else saw it and was able to pull over, because at that point there was no longer a safe place for me to pull over.  

I was still moving slowly with my emergency flashers on, and just as I was approaching where he nearly crashed, I looked in my mirror and saw a police car come flying down the on ramp behind me with his lights on! I thought, “great! He saw it all happen, and he’ll check on this driver!” Then he flew right past the whole situation. Obviously he missed it and was off on some other call.  

It was crazy, and one of the scarier things I’ve seen while on the road. I’m so very thankful he somehow – miraculously – kept that pickup under control. I don’t know what happened. Given the time of night, my first assumption was that he was drunk, but it could’ve been a health issue – a seizure, a heart attack -or  maybe even a mechanical issue with his vehicle or something. But… It’s hard not to jump to the conclusion that this was alcohol and/or drug related. But who knows. Either way, it’s a good reminder – don’t drink and drive, people! 

All I can say is this dude got damn lucky. That, or he’s a Hollywood stunt driver. But I’m leaning towards the luck theory.  


Tonight I love designated drivers. If you can’t find one, be one. :)

A really bad day and a winter shut-down

Winter is kicking our butt this year!

Picture this scenerio: Two truck drivers, doing the best they can to keep their wits in poor weather, are pulled over in a designated pull-off of a two-lane, winding mountain road to let a line of cars go by. When they try to head out they find themselves stuck with tires spinning – on a cold, lonely mountain pass. After several attempts and strategies out of their situation, frustration and worry begin to surface. As if that wasn’t enough, the passenger-side window shatters after shutting the door with the window half down. All they can do is just stand there, staring at each other in disbelief from their bad luck. Feeling totally worn and defeated, they stare into the snow-turned-freezing pouring rain for a few seconds. The truck is stuck and freshly-broken window glass is spewn about. All they can think is, “is this really happening right now?”

Most trips go pretty smoothly with not much to talk about. Then some – well, like this one – leave you with a story to tell. These trips test your patience, character, ability to make decisions, knowledge, and simply whether or not you can hold yourself together. Which really, in the end, you have no choice in the matter. You just gotta do what needs to be done. But it sure isn’t fun.  

It started before we even left. Our route to Portland, Oregon from Wisconsin would normally take us through North Dakota, but a blizzard came through, shutting down most of our route along I-94. We took a slow-going alternate route through Wisconsin, dipping us down toward I-90 through South Dakota instead. This put us a little behind our normal schedule, but that was okay. One blizzard bypassed? Success, I suppose. 

Not a great outlook. Red is closed, red/white is not advised.

We confidently cruised through rain and snow flurries in Montana and Idaho. Then we crossed the Columbia River gorge from Washington state into Oregon. It was like someone turned on a light switch, only it was a blizzard switch. We found ourselves in a world of white, falling and blowing snow. After a couple of hours of poorly-maintained roads a sign told us we had to stop and chain up. We pulled out our tire socks, installed them and head back out. I went back to bed as Adam slogged along at 20mph in the snow storm. We finally, but safely, arrived to our pre-paid reserved truck parking spot at 11 pm. We made it through another nasty blizzard. 

Chain restriction on I-84. On go the socks!

Then came the ice. The next morning we planned to walk over to the restaurant for breakfast. We stepped out of the truck onto a glassy, reflective sheet of solid, thick ice that covered the entire parking lot. And every truck. And every branch of every tree. Every… thing. We literally shuffled our feet by inches to make our way across the lot for breakfast, then slowly head out into those elements to our delivery. At our delivery, the ice-covered lot made it pretty tough to back into our dock. I kept trying to pull up to the right, but the tractor would just slide to the left. Finally after about ten attempts I got backed in, all while a couple of forklift drivers looked on, entertained. I was tempted to install our tire socks on my steer tires just to get backed in… I was close! 

Just a little ice.

After that I took a deep breath and head south to a second delivery a couple of hours away, and got a break from the ice. The temperature rose and it poured rain, but it wasn’t icy! Unfortunately we had to head back right into it for our pickup in Tillamook, Oregon. This trip is normally a beautiful drive along a winding, two-lane mountainous road in the Cascade mountain range. 

That’s when our bad luck started to pile up. Already working on spent nerves, we made our way up the pass. It wasn’t long before the rain on our windshield started to splatter. It was starting to snow, and as we slowed down, a line of cars built up behind us, impatient and wanting to pass. It’s common courtesy and sometimes law to pull over if possible to let others by. So we did. We pulled off on a pullout designed for these sorts of things. This one, in particular, was covered in snow but looked pretty solid. We sat and let the cars go by, taking advantage of being stopped to breathe, gather ourselves, and discuss and prepare for the night’s uncertain weather that lay ahead. 

When we were ready to go, Adam released the brakes, lightly pressed the fuel pedal, up went the rpms, but nothing. We weren’t moving. It was a classic case of warm tires on cold snow. The tires get warm from driving on the road, and when you stop, those warm tires melt through the snow, and when it’s cold enough, that melt freezes, and there you sit. Aaaand so there we sat. We were basically stuck with each individual tire in its very own icy hole… spinning. 

First we pulled out our handy collapsible shovel and shoveled the snow out from under each drive tire. Nothing. Then we tossed kitty litter under each tire. Nothing. More shoveling, more kitty litter, nothing. We rocked and rocked and shoveled and kitty-littered… Still nothing. I grabbed a couple of tire socks and tucked them under a couple of the tires. The tires grabbed them! But then spit them right out the other side. No go. 

I started to worry, and we were getting frustrated. We were cold, muddy and wet from the sloppy snow/rain that was coming down. I stepped back into the truck to grab another set of tire socks, with the new plan of trying to install them onto the tires that weren’t going anywhere. That’s when Adam closed the passenger-side door. We had the window halfway down so it kept out most of the rain, but so we could still hear each other while trying to get unstuck. The door banged shut, with an eerie simultaneous, “crash!” I turned to see what happened and saw the passenger seat full of shattered glass. My heart immediately sank to my stomach. Is this really happening right now? I felt like we were stuck in some kind of lucid nightmare. 

In an effort not to lose it myself and run off into the snowy forest screaming and crying, I just kept going the only way I could. I got out of the truck right away, walked over to Adam, hugged him tight and said, “we’re just having a really bad day. But we’re going to be okay.” We stood there in what was now pouring rain, hugging, and just for a single minute gave up and didn’t care that the truck was still stuck, and now our passenger-side window was gone. 

After letting ourselves just be in our craptastic moment, we continued on with the task of getting the truck moving. I got a couple of tire socks halfway on, and with some tricky rocking of the truck, Adam finally got it moving forward. I quickly gathered our tire socks, shovel, and kitty litter into my arms, jumped in the truck, and off we went. I wore my jacket, hat and gloves the last 30 miles to our destination to thwart off the cold coming in through the broken window, and thankfully the rain mostly stayed out. 

We made it to our shipper, and while we waited for an open dock we started to deal with the window situation. We gave our awesome maintenance guy a call, and he got us going on a plan. He talked us through how to rig up a temporary window using clear plastic and Gorilla tape, while he called to see if there was a place nearby that had the window we needed. Trying to get the plastic and tape to stick to the wet truck while it poured rain was quite tricky, but we worked fast and managed to patch something together – but it was most certainly temporary. Thankfully there was a place in Portland that had a window – and they were open until midnight! Now we just had to get our trailer loaded and get back over the same pass in the declining weather before they closed! 

Makeshift window. Not an easy task in the pouring rain.

We arrived at the service garage with a few hours to spare. We dropped our truck off, and got a ride to a nearby hotel where we took hot showers to rid our bones of the wet chill we’d been fighting, and went right to bed. The next morning we picked up our truck with the plan of finally heading home. 

Nope. We weren’t done yet! I-84 eastbound (our route home) was closed down because of not only poor road conditions, but also to clear up some accidents that had occurred due to the roads being slippery. Maybe it was a good thing that we weren’t able to head into that the night before. Did our broken window save us from that mess? Who knows. Maybe we wouldn’t have gone anyway. 

Enough of this!

In an effort to keep moving, we head north toward Seattle to catch I-90, avoiding the whole closed I-84 mess. About 10 miles out we realized chain laws were in effect over Snoqualmie Pass. We pulled off at a rest area and made a call to our after-hours dispatcher (it is now Saturday). Our company is always totally supportive of our comfort zone when it comes to driving in adverse weather conditions, and with no question, the decision to try the alternate route or go back and shut down was totally up to us. We turned back. Heading up to a chain-restricted mountain pass sounded a little too nerve-wracking and dangerous. 
Will this week ever end? Keeping fingers crossed! 

About says it!

Tonight I love summer. 

Let’s play catch up!

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Bonneville salt flats, Utah. Always beautiful.

I miss you, bloggity blog and faithful readers/friends! I am happy to be back. I don’t know why I go in these streaks where I just don’t write. Busy? Lazy? Bored? I don’t know. But I’m still here and the trucking adventure continues to continue. In between driving, inspecting, backing, loading, unloading, fueling, securing, logging, sleeping, eating, and more driving, other things have been happening, too.

Let’s see. A little catch up. I started running again, which has been a great experience, except that I got a little too excited about it and maybe did a little too much a little too soon. I’m currently nursing a sore hip, which I think is a strained IT band – some muscle and tissue that stretches from your hip down the outside of your leg and kind of wraps underneath the bottom of your knee, connecting to the shin bone. I’m no expert, so I may have that screwed up (experts, please correct me if I’m way off on that).

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A run in North Dakota to visit Salem Sue, the world's largest Holstein Cow.

You see, the excitement started with my discovering a friendly Facebook page for truckers that are runners, like me. There are some obvious challenges to being an over-the-road trucker that needs to find places to run that are safe – from traffic and creepers. I mean, I’m not going to run just anywhere because I don’t want to end up in ghetto-ville. Unless I’m carrying my three-pound hammer/tire thumper. And I’m not going to run carrying a three-pound anything. Running is tough enough!

So anyway, this Facebook community has shown me a few routes already that I’ve taken advantage of. There’s a trail in Utah where I can park on a ramp and run up part of a mountain where it smells like juniper trees and fresh air.

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Utah

There’s a park in Evanston that has trails that wind along a river where wild moose are known to roam, and I hope to see sometime I’m out there. And there’s a 1.8-mile trail in that leads to the Arizona Trail, which is an 800-mile long-distance hiking trail that stretches the length of Arizona from north to south. My favorite!

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Can't wait to get back out here again!

So I got excited and I ran as much as I could when I got any opportunity, since they’re hard to come by. Then I did some speed work when I was short on time. Then my hip hurt. Now I’m taking time off and I miss it already. So there’s that. I hope to be back up and literally running soon.

We’ve also had a little time off. In early February we took a weekend so I could join my group of girlfriends for our annual “Big Box Tour,” which is a name we’ve given our girl’s weekend.

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Girls eating yummy paella and drinking wine.

We’re pretty low-key. We hang out, catch up, eat, drink, talk about getting old, act childish, cuss, laugh, shop, play, and just have fun together. This year we went tubing, colored in an adult coloring book of swear words, ate paella, enchiladas, and morning egg-bake, watched TV, compared ourselves to the Golden Girls, and suffered from Poo-pourri poisoning and gut-blasting laughter. I love those girls, and our annual get-together is especially important to me now that I don’t see them as regularly as I did when I worked with most of them.

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Tubing fun!

In March Adam and I took a full week off and rented a very cabin-y cabin in Door County.

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Super cabiny cabin!

Some highlights were wine tasting, having a campfire in the fire pit outside, couples massages, dressing up and going out for a fancy dinner, driving to the tip of Door County and back, getting snowed in for a day and hunkering down, playing lots of cribbage, having our own private basement frat-style party complete with drinking games, enjoying a shower every day, and taking advantage of the kitchen. Adam made tons of delicious french-pressed decaf coffee, omelettes, and even pork egg roll patties – a new favorite of mine. On his birthday I baked him a butter cake in a bundt pan and it actually turned out really freakin’ perfect. It was a great vacation and very relaxing. Door County is pretty quiet in late March and a lot of businesses are closed for the winter season, but we enjoyed the quietness of it all. That place gets nuts in the summer and fall with the touristy seasons. We’d do it the same way again. March is more our speed.

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Adam enjoying some wine tasting.

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The butter cake I baked!

Other than those few things, I’ve gone on a couple of day hikes. One was in January on a snowy, cold, sunny day and the other was a fantastic 20-mile jog/hike a couple of weeks ago. It was cold with hardly any signs of spring yet to be seen, and it even snowed. But it was still great and felt awesome to push myself a little bit. I was surprised to find that I could have easily done more than 20 miles, so I’m looking forward to another long day hike soon to see if I can creep closer to my current limit. Should I go for 25? 30? I dunno!

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January's wintery day hike.

The driving and working side of things has been going pretty well. I mean, I haven’t had too much to write about simply because things have been fairly smooth. I guess that’s a good thing. We’ve had a couple of interesting weight issues, having to get our freight reworked or cut, and a couple of times we even had to keep our fuel below a certain level to keep our load legal… which is a pain in the butt. But that’s been about it. No blown tires or breakdowns, and we’ve managed to miss or intentionally drive around some pretty major winter storms (mostly Wyoming) – oh! Except for the wind storm! We did end up stuck in Laramie for two days because of 75 mph winds. I forgot about that – I probably should’ve written about that. It was kind of crazy. We’ve never really had to sit somewhere that long, but thankfully we were at a pretty big truck stop, so we had bathrooms, showers and a restaurant to keep us occupied.

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I went for a run in that wind. It was blowing me all over the road!

This was also the first time we missed our deliveries. So we ended up delivering on Monday (instead of Friday), then driving a load to Iowa where we met another driver and switched trailers. He delivered our load and we took his to California to get us back on our regular program. It was an interesting couple of weeks.

So now that I’ve caught y’all up with a super long-winded, boring blog entry, maybe something super-exciting, but good, will happen that I can be long-winded about! Haha! Actually, I’m thinking about doing an entry showing what Adam and I eat on a normal day in the truck, and eventually one that shows some of my workouts and ways I keep active out here. It’s tough, but I’m staying determined to keep it up.

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You might be surprised to see what we normally eat while we're on the road.

Is there anything else any of you would like me to write about? Let me know!

In the meantime, enjoy yourselves, and thanks again for following along with me. I look forward to sharing my next big hiking adventure with you. I have a mini-long-distance trail in the works. It’s a longer trail, but one I only need some vacation time for. But I’ll leave ya’ hanging there! I’ve got more research, planning and decision-making to do before I can even really get too excited about it.

Onward!

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Love from the Grapa Truckers!


Tonight I love comfy beds. Lordy, we need a new, firmer mattress in our truck!

What the heck are tire socks? Here’s a review.

So last week we had to chain up for the first time. You can read that whole story in my last blog entry. It was kind of crazy.

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Winter is certainly here, and it's already been a little crazy!

We got back to the office and a discussion ensued. Were the cables we were carrying legal or not? The Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) guys at the checkpoints in the middle of a slushy snowstorm said they weren’t. A lady we spoke on the phone said they weren’t. Our crew at work tried calling the same number but no one answered or returned their calls. Three different people at our office searched the caltrans website finding no specific information on what SIZE cables were legal or not. Everything was very vague, usually just referring to chains and “other traction devices,” and that’s it. So… were we crazy? It probably seemed so.

I guess this opened up the discussion of arming us with the latest technology in traction: tire socks.

Caltrans clearly weren’t fans of the socks when we went through, saying the only reason they were legal was because “someone was greasing the pockets of politicians.” I don’t exactly know what that means or how it works, but two separate caltrans dudes told us the same thing, nearly word for word. Makes me wonder – are they trained to say this? I’m already feeling skeptical after they convinced us to buy $300 in chains last week. I don’t know. I don’t have anything against chains, especially since I know how to install them now. But honestly? They’re a pain. They’re heavy, they’re tricky to get tight, and they can fall off. They’re also tough on tires and equipment.

The tire socks on the other hand? They are not a pain. They kind of rock, actually. We ended up having to use them over Donner Pass in California again, only we had to start at the Nevada border this time, instead of just the summit like last week.

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The socks - installed, driven on, centered and secure.

So here’s a review of our first use of them – a brief description of what the heck they are and how they work, installation and a downside we discovered, too. Keep in mind this is one use in one particular weather situation (16 – 24 inches of snow at the summit). I can’t really speak for other unique weather situations. But we did get a good feel for them on this week’s trip.

So what are tire socks?
These things are weird. They are basically a special cloth that covers the tire and it grips the snow and ice. The AutoSock website does a better job than I could really do to describe it (which would be “fancy fiber grippies”):

AutoSock, a high-technology textile tire covering, utilizes GripTech® technology. Specially patterned fibers optimize grip on slick surfaces by managing the thin layer of water on top of ice and snow. Through its weaving pattern and thousands of small fibers AutoSock clings to snow and ice, increasing vehicle traction, improving safety and adding to driver confidence.

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This is what they look like installed, brand new, before rolling on them at all.

I also read somewhere on the website that snow won’t stick to the fabric, like you might see with wool, for example. You know, the little icy cling-on snowballs when you’re trying to roll out a snowman. They don’t do the cling-on thing.

So yeah, little fibers. It sounds crazy, but I think they actually work!

Installation
Our first time installing these in the cold and sloppy snow took a tiny fraction of time compared to our first time with chains. They are stupid-easy. You just drape the sock over as much of the tire as you can, roll the truck forward or back about three feet, then pull it the rest of the way on. It’s elasticized, so it kind of wraps tightly around the tire.

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This one is half-way on. Then we roll the truck a few feet forward and pull the loose side on over the other side of the tire. Done!

If they’re not perfectly centered, no worries. We rolled forward and back a few times like you’d do with chains to make sure they were on securely, and they were. And sure enough, we checked again a mile or so down the road and they were all perfectly centered and looking solidly secure on the tires. Self-centering! Nice! I felt pretty confident they were going to stay on. And they all did – for the entire 50+ miles we had to drive with them on (it was a longer stretch this week!).

The downside to these crazy things?
Wear. First of all, they’re pretty expensive. They are sold in sets, and the four sets we got (eight socks total) cost about $900. Youch. I’m not sure how many uses you can get out of them, or more specifically how many miles you can put on them, but inspecting them after their first 50 miles, they generally held up well. I’d be comfortable using them again, and we’ll have to reassess their condition then.

Here’s the downside part – as we were driving, we were able to dodge four out of five chains in the road that other trucker’s had lost. The one I did run over was covered in snow so it was hard to identify it as a chain, and there was another truck passing me on my left so I couldn’t really swerve around it. I wouldn’t want to swerve for something on an icy road, anyway.

Running over that chain ripped some holes in one of the socks that was covering a trailer tire. Our safety guy theorized that when it rolled under my front steer or tractor drive tires, it got jumbled up, then wrapped around that trailer tire, causing more than just one rip. So we’re not exactly sure that one sock is legal any more, or how less effective it will be now. We have a spare set (only three sets are needed in California when max chains are required), so we’ll hang on to the damaged one as a spare or something to throw on in an icy driveway for dropping a trailer (for example).

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The damage. A big bummer.

How did they grip compared to chains?
This is hard to tell. The important observation is that we stayed on the road! It didn’t feel like we were sliding around at all, but we were also going 20 mph the entire time we had them on.

Sidenote: 20mph is the recommended max speed you want to drive when the socks are on the tires. I believe going too fast, accelerating too quickly or braking too hard could possibly bunch them up and cause them to pop off. You also want to drive very slowly with chains on, so it’s not like the 20mph speed is a disadvantage to the tire socks.

With chains on, you really feel them clattering under your tires, and this kind of gives you a confident feeling like, “Wow. These are really doing their job digging into that snow!” Whether or not that’s true, I don’t know, but history shows they’re effective.

With the tire socks you don’t even feel them on. The truck feels smooth and normal, so you don’t have that hard, clunky grip feeling, but this new technology from AutoSock has apparently been tested in a lot of different situations and I guess they hold. They did for us!

A couple of odds & ends regarding the tire socks:
If you’re installing tire socks in California, Caltrans will lecture you when you go through the checkpoints. As I mentioned, they really have something against these things. In fact, one guy told us they’d be ripped off by the time we got to the summit, but we found that hard to believe because he also told us we had 3,000 more feet to climb at that point, which would’ve put us at 9,000 feet. The highest we get is at the summit (Donner Pass), which is 7,000 feet, so he was oh… only 2,000 feet off. That’s a big difference in this situation!

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One of two Caltrans check points. They don't let you through if you don't have the proper chain set up.

If using socks in a MINIMUM chain law area (one set on the drives and one set on the trailer), you must use the MAX configuration with the socks, which is a set on both drive tires, and one set on the trailer tires (so three sets total instead of two).

Second, Caltrans will warn you that if you get stuck up there with socks on, “You get NO second chances. You get towed back to the STATE LINE (Nevada!).” Apparently they just pull you out and send you on your way if you have chains on? It’s a question – I don’t really know.

They are machine washable! For some reason I just find that kind of funny. Not sure I’d want them in my home machine, though. They pick up quite a bit of road grit and sand. You’d at least have to be sure to shake them out really well first.

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How they look after driving on them (and not running over a chain). Still in good shape!

AutoSock sells these for big trucks and cars, but you need to know your specific tire size to order. And I believe their website said max speed with a car wearing tire socks is 30mph – but you may want to double check that detail if you get them for your car. (I keep thinking how nice they’d be for ice fishing.)

Just a couple more tidbits – first, don’t let them freeze. Don’t park overnight with them on or store them used and wet somewhere they could freeze. Second, obviously, try not to run over thrown chains when you have tire socks, but don’t drive off the road to avoid them, either! And last, if you’re in a situation in which chain laws are in effect, shut down if you can. It’s really the safest bet. If you do proceed, please drive slow, safe, and courteously.

Well, that turned out to be quite the long review, but what else would you expect from me!?

If there are any other tire sock users out there that have experience using them and would like to add to this review, please comment! Thanks!

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Tonight I love NOT having to chain or “sock” up.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

And out come the tire chains!

So there I sat, in the driver’s seat, parked. Waiting. My pants were soaked from the thigh down from kneeling in slush, but they were starting to warm up and dry off, thanks to the truck’s heater. I stared at all the other trucks slowly rolling by, sort of enjoying the cling-cling-cling of the excess chain links spinning and whapping up against the trailers and the thud-thud-thud of them against the snow-packed road. It was a new experience for me. The chains part, anyway. I’ve had a flat tire before. This time is was during a snowstorm, right at the summit of Donner Pass (California). And chain restrictions were in effect… and I had wet pants. This whole situation was just uncomfortable.

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That's a pretty natural, honest expression on my face. Excitement and nervousness combined.

We finally had our first experience chaining our truck, and I can’t say I’m surprised that it was not a simple ride. Is there really a Grapa curse? I wonder sometimes.

I got up around my normal wake time of 1:30am. Adam said chain laws might be in effect at Donner Pass, which we were approaching. Now there’s a lot of thought processes that go on in situations like these. Normally we’d prefer to just shut down and wait for the chain restriction to be lifted. And usually the reason the chains are needed is because of crappy roads. But a series of things happened in just the right order in which neither of us even questioned it. We were going to chain and go.

First, Adam saw a “chains required” sign with yellow lights that flash when the chain law is in effect, but the top of the sign where the lights are was covered in snow, so he couldn’t see if they were on or not. The Caltrans website wasn’t very clear about whether chains were needed or where, and when I called 511 it said nothing about the situation. We were questioning whether or not we could just keep rolling.

We approached a chain-up area full of trucks, four-ways flashing, all squeezed in, parked in unorderly chaos, drivers walking around, chains laying out next to tires. We pulled over and another driver approached us asking why everyone was chaining because he didn’t see any signs that saying it was required yet. Neither did we, so we decided to keep going. Why go through with chaining tires unless we have to, right? Besides, it was kind of nuts in that spot.

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Chain-up area chaos.

A little further up the road there was a checkpoint and a stop sign. Caltrans was directing chained vehicles through and unchained vehicles to the exit to turn around. Well, this was it. If we turned around and found a safe place to park and wait, there was a 100% chance we wouldn’t be able to make our deliveries. At all. This is a problem with our run because our delivery day is a Friday and these places are closed for the weekend. If we couldn’t make it, would we be stuck in California until Monday when they reopen? Normally we would be totally cool with that, but my parents took time off of work to meet us in Appleton for a little Christmas get-together, and we were really hoping to get back to see them. We even had a pretty nice backhaul set up.

This all went through our minds in a flash, as well as knowing a fellow team from our company chained and went through this same spot a few weeks prior. And it wasn’t like we were in Wyoming where the road is crap for 150 miles straight – this would only be about 10 – 15 miles, then clear sailing. We were not parked in a safe place. If we sucked it up and chained, we could still make our deliveries. We didn’t really discuss it much. We both had the same thoughts and just decided to go on. So we went to work.

I donned my thick, tough Dickies winter bibs and jacket. We pulled out our set of chains and two sets of cables and splashed them down into the snow and slush. (Cables are lighter and easier to install than chains but are most likely a one- or two-time use only, as they wear out quickly.)

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Prepping chains. Wish I would've gotten a pic of the cables.

As we were laying the chains out to check for kinks, two Caltrans guys in full safety-green snowsuits with reflective striping came by asking us to pull up further to apply our chains, then stood over our setup and let us know our cables weren’t legal in California. Oh. Great. California requires trucks to carry four sets of chains, even when chain laws are not in effect.

We asked what our options were, and they said if we couldn’t get more chains we’d have to go back to Sparks, Nevada to purchase some just to drive through on a normal day. There was a dude up ahead that was selling chains out of the back of a small RV. He also charges to install them for you. What a job! Thankfully he still had some for sale, and thankfully we had $300 on us to pay for them. We threw the heavy bulk over our shoulders and walked back to our truck. We were going to have to learn this eventually. Why not now?

After pulling up a little further we got started. A driver next to me was just about to head out, but he gave me a few pointers before he left. I think he was able to tell I was a rookie chainer. I’m sure it was obvious!

Between what he told me, YouTube videos, and online written directions, I knew to drape them over the tire nice and centered. Make sure the dogpaws (a hook that connects the chain parts together) were facing out so they don’t rub on the tire. Tuck the remaining chain under the tires, then back over them. Hook the loose ends together and get them as tight as possible before locking in the cams (there are four cams on each chain and they turn and lock to tighten up the slack in the chain). We did all that, and I thought we had them as tight as we could get them. We even strapped two bungee cords across to hold them even tighter in place.

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Tough-lookin', hey!?

The whole process of moving, buying chains, and installing them took us two hours. We were cold and I was soaked from kneeling in the slushy snow so I could reach in behind the tires to connect the chain hooks. After wringing out my Thinsulate gloves, we got back in the truck, I stripped off my wet bibs, cranked some heat, and we rolled through the checkpoint with a wave from a Caltrans lady.

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Caltrans checkpoint

Now you’re supposed to stop and check the chains within a mile to retighten them once they get settled onto the tire after driving on them a bit, so I planned to stop at the summit rest area (which was closed due to being plowed in). About two minutes from the summit our central tire inflation (CTI) warning light came on. [Sidenote: Central Tire Inflation supplies air to the tires if one has a leak so it can stay inflated long enough to get it serviced. If the device is putting extra air into a tire because of a leak, the light illuminates on the trailer to let you know something is wrong.] I pulled over as close to the snowbank as I could to get off the road and walked back to check the tire. Air was hissing out of it. I thumped it with the hammer and a low THUD came back. It was definitely flat. And on top of it, our chain was gone. We lost a chain and I didn’t even feel it. That is an unsettling realization. I wondered if I would feel it if I lost one and now I know. With the way the chained tires clink and thud as you drive along on the road (max speed with chains is around 25mph), it was impossible to even notice.

That should be the end of our bad luck, but then our trailer ABS (anti-lock break system) warning light came on. We were lighting up all over the place! We finally gave up trying to figure out what to do with air steadily hissing out of our tire, our ABS light on, being new to the whole chain thing, and being stuck in a stressful spot that I didn’t even know whether a roadside truck would drive to or not. By this time it was 5am. We called our maintenence guru to help us out. He talked us through turning the CTI off, because the chain that came off must have severed the line that carries the air. We tried a few tricks to reset the ABS light, but it didn’t go off until about an hour later (but thankfully it did go out on its own – it’s illegal to drive with that ABS light illuminated and can result in a violation).

After about two hours waiting on the roadside, watching plows come within inches of our truck to plow around us, and seeing another driver get stuck in a snowbank behind me (a plow eventually plowed him out), our roadside service guy showed up. They did brave the weather and road conditions! Yay!

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More chaos. Trucks everywhere!

Another hour later, he had a new tire on us and even checked our chains for us. He recommended we tighten them a little more, so we spent yet another hour tightening the remaining three chains and applying a new one where the last one fell off.

It was only about seven miles down the road and were able to take the chains off. The road cleared up and I was able to cruise on like normal the rest of the way. We were super late for our deliveries, but our dispatch made some calls and they stayed to take us. I did have to sweet-talk some forklift drivers to remove three pallets to get to their nine pallets because we delivered out of order, but they were really nice and did it with only a little friendly harassment.

So there. Now we know how to chain. It actually feels like a bit of a weight is off our shoulders now because we know how, yet there’s still a lingering anxiety because just being in a situation where you need to chain is scary in itself. Sometimes this job is just hard. Physically and mentally. I was totally burned out by the end of my shift on Friday. So was Adam. He was up that whole time helping me instead of sleeping like he normally would be. But we did it, and I can’t help but feel a little pride in how we handled everything – even though it didn’t go exactly smooth. And maybe I’m feeling a little tougher, too – in a badass kind of way because now I can chain truck tires.


Tonight I love the scenery snow leaves behind because it’s so pretty it can literally make my stomach hurt with joy.

After the chains came off, it was light out and we got this:

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Yeah. It was achingly beautiful.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

The winter driving season begins with a scare

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See? This is me, loving winter a couple of years ago. Pre-truckin'.

I used to love winter. I’d walk three miles to work in the snow, sleet or cold. I didn’t care. I’d just bundle up. I’d camp in it. Sure, it’s not as relaxing and carefree as summer camping, but it got me out into the woods. I’d hike in it, hunt in it, sled, ice fish, run. I even completed a 64-mile adventure race in it. Winter has always been okay in my book.

And then I started truck driving. And know what? Winter can go away. I mean, it’s still super-pretty and everything, but in a truck weighing up to 80,000 pounds with 18 wheels to skid around on… it can be kind of dramatic. Slippery. Dangerous. And at times… downright scary.

For example. Yesterday was our first big winter run-in of the season. A stretch of road in Wyoming along I-80 was expecting 3 – 6 inches of snow. Adam showed up at our shipper on Tuesday night, about 5 hours early with the hope that maybe… just maybe they’d load us early. If they did, we might get through that stretch before it hit. They didn’t load us early. Right on time, in fact. We were out of there at 1:30am on Wednesday morning. We tried!

In Nebraska the rain started. Adam woke me up somewhere around Cheyenne, Wyoming, and it was snowing huge, wet, sloppy snowflakes. We watched the outside temperature drop. 35, 33, 28… The snow turned less wet, the roads got shimmery, and our Wyoming roads notifications were warning us of slick roads and… Dun-dun-dunnnnn. Black ice.

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The snow begins heavy and wet.

For the future, if our warnings ever tell us of black ice between Happy Jack Road and Laramie, I’m shutting down. Here’s the story –

At the top of a climb, at around 8,400 feet in elevation, is Happy Jack Road. There’s a big rest area with a giant statue of Abe Lincoln all lit up in a creepy yellow glow. Maybe a minute after I passed the exit for this rest area there was a marquee over the highway that read, “Accident 1 mile ahead. Expect delays.” I saw brake lights a ways ahead so I began to slow down. Good thing I started early! The second my foot hit the brake – ever so lightly – I felt the truck slide just a tiny bit. I was able to strategically get myself safely stopped before the backup, and then I watched as trucks behind me tried to stop. One started to skid and took to the shoulder to avoid running into the truck in front of him. This is all at low speeds, by the way. So freaky. I held my breath, hoping none of the drivers were going too fast. Flashbacks of photos popped into my head from some of the major pileups from last year. I was shaking just thinking about it. Had I known… I’d have stopped a mile back and gone to bed until the sun came up to warm the road and melt the ice. But here we were, stuck in stopped traffic with nowhere to go. Just a moment too late.

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Sitting. Waiting.

We were on a 5% decline, which is a pretty steep grade. I set my tractor brakes, but left my trailer brakes released hoping it would keep them from freezing up while we waited for traffic to start rolling again. When I let my foot off the service brake (foot pedal), the truck slid slowly forward down the hill and finally stopped with my passenger tires on the rumble strip after a few feet. This road was solid, glare ice.

A fellow trucker informed us on the CB that there was a pickup with a trailer tangled up, as well as a semi jacknifed down the road, blocking the whole two lanes. So we waited.

After nearly two full hours of sitting and watching the road get icier and icier as a light snow continued to fall, we got word that a lane was being cleared and we were going to start moving soon. Then a state trooper drove by, stopping to tell all the truckers and 4-wheelers to take it SUPER slow. Here we were. A whole line of trucks and a few cars (it was maybe 3am) about ready to roll down a 5% grade on glare ice. I kept thinking, “this could get ugly really fast.”

When the truck in front of us started to go, he pulled off the shoulder and into the right lane, going maybe 2 mph. It was a crawl. And then his trailer started to slide out in front of him, forcing him into the beginnings of a jackknife! I just sat and watched, totally freaked out, as he tried to regain control. At only two miles per hour!

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Yikes! You can see where his tires were skidding down the hill.

This was nuts. I shouldn’t be here! I was thinking I may have ended up in a situation where I’d actually need to pull out the chains! I always said I’d shut down before that happened (and thankfully our company supports these decisions!). I wish I had shut down. I wished I wasn’t on this slippery hill.

So the driver with the wayward trailer finally got his tractor tires on the shoulder for some grip and came to a stop, taking up all of the right lane and half of the left lane. He had to physically get out of his truck, and crawl under his trailer to hammer at his trailer brakes to break the ice that formed between his pads and shoes. All this went on as a few other trucks started to pass him on the left shoulder. I wasn’t going to move until I felt safe to go, but I also didn’t want to sit there and watch this guy crawling under his trailer on a slippery road with trucks going by. What if one of them slid and clipped his trailer while he was under there!? “Oh, God. Quit thinking,” I thought to myself as my stomach turned.

The dude made it out just fine. He got his tires rolling and rolled on down the hill. Whew.

Me? I followed behind, but I stayed on the shoulder using the snow and rumble strip for extra grip. I drove 2-3 mph for about an hour. By then quite a few trucks passed by in the left lane, and the warmth from the tires and engines (I guess) warmed the road enough that it was no longer glare ice, but a slick slush. Still not ideal.

That was a terrifying 15 miles of downhill, and it took almost three hours to get down, but we made it down safely. I thankfully saw no other accidents, skidding, nothing. And the crazy thing? Once past Laramie at the bottom of that hill, the roads were clear and eventually completely dry maybe 30 miles later. The sun came up, and it ended up being a beautiful day (with the exception of a little bit of snowfall at the border of Wyoming and Utah).

So winter is most definitely here. All day today we received notifications of black ice and a few more accidents in Wyoming. It looks like by the time we get there, our drive should be clear. Lord, I hope so, anyway!

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Just a tiny sample of the 20+ texts from WYDOT this morning. Glad to be in warm Cali!

Next week it’ll be the Sierras and good ol’ Donner Pass. Unless the forecast changes. Let’s hope for sunshine!

A couple of other tidbits from this experience –

The original truck that jack-knifed (not the guy in front of me) got towed back UP the hill, and the poor driver and his co-driver were sitting in the cab with the dome light on… It was like a walk… er… tow of shame, rolling past all the other truckers. Ugh. That sucks.

While we were waiting on that hill for the accident to clear, the stretch of road we were on officially closed down due to winter conditions. Gah… A little late, in my opinion!

The trucks trying to climb the hill going eastbound (the ones that squeaked through before they shut the road down) were clearly struggling to get enough grip to continue rolling upward. That became totally clear when we passed two trucks pulled over, stopped, with a snow plow that stopped next to them. The snow plow driver got out with a shovel and was shoveling sand under their tires to help them get going!

Winter as a trucker is totally insane. And a little crazy. It’s and adventure, that’s for sure!


Tonight I love LOVE LOOOVE dry roads.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)