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)

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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)

My first big rig tire blowout!

Well, I blew my first big rig tire yesterday. This was no flat tire that goes, “thump-thump-thump” like when you get a flat on a car. This sucker went “boom” and included flying rubber shrapnel.

But it also wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it could’ve been. In fact, considering it actually “blew,” it was pretty mild. And know what? That’s totally okay with me!

I was driving along on I-80 just west of the salt flats in Utah. it’s a pretty lonely (but pretty) stretch of highway. I noticed a couple chunks of something black in the road up ahead, and assumed they were chunks of another truck’s blown tire (also called ‘alligators,’ or ‘gators.’). You always try to avoid running these over because they usually have some pretty hefty sharp wire running through them. They can pop tires or fly up and cause damage to your truck or other vehicles around you. They’re dangerous.

Well, these chunks were right in my way, directly in front of my right steer tire. There was a truck behind me and I believe a car passing me, so I didn’t really have the option or time to move over a lane. I steered toward the right, just a smidge, maybe just enough to touch the white line with my right steer tire. The chunks passed underneath my steers and drives, but just about the time it would’ve passed under the trailer tires I heard a “THUD!” Just the sound – I felt nothing.

The first weird thing I noticed was that the truck behind me immediately moved into the left lane. Then I checked my passenger-side mirror, and was pretty certain that I saw a couple pieces of something black fly off onto the shoulder from our truck. I immediately threw on my four-ways and safely pulled to the side of the highway. Thankfully there wasn’t a ton of traffic, and this particular stretch of highway was pretty straight.

Adam had woken up just a little bit before this happened, so we both jumped out and walked toward the trailer tires.

Yikes. Sure enough! A giant, shredded, gaping hole in our right, front, inside trailer tire. The damage was impressive!

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Ginormous tire hole! Youchy!

I pulled out our emergency triangles and got them set up while Adam got going on the phone calls. We make a damn efficient team, I tell ya! Then we just had to sit for 2 – 3 hours and wait for the tire guy to arrive and fix us up.

We played on our phones, I did some exercises (in the truck so as not to distract any passing drivers and risk being hit), I vacuumed the rugs and floor of the truck, made up my bed and enjoyed the surrounding scenery under a bluebird sky. It wasn’t so bad being forced to sit and soak that in!

Then the tire dude showed up – super-nice guy. I talked with him a bit and when I told him I hit a gator he said, “oh, those black chunks a little ways back there? I almost hit those, too.” He said he was pretty sure they were some sort of hard plastic. He guessed another truck had a blowout and those pieces were some part of their truck. So that kind of explained the violent result to our poor tire. Although, I’m sure if you hit a gator just right it would do the same thing. So anyway, I wasn’t happy that I ran something over in the road, but it was kind of reassuring to know the blowout wasn’t because I missed a weak spot on the tire during one of my inspections. We inspect those tires several times a day, so that would’ve bummed me out.

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Yay for nice tire fix-it dudes!

In the end, we got a new tire and were on our way. We had to skip our shower and keep moving to make our deliveries on time the next day, but all in all, not too bad of a first tire blowout experience. I was shaking, don’t get me wrong. It’s freaky. But nobody got hurt and there was no other damage done to our truck or any other vehicles. Is there a such thing as good bad luck? I dunno. That’s something to ponder.


Tonight I love clear, long, lonely stretches of cruisin’ highway.

More photos from our tire experience:

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The surrounding scenery.

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Roadside service!

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Triangles! At least it was a pretty spot, right?

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Lots of pretty flowers... or is it a weed? I don't care. Pretty.

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One more flower pic.

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Ugh!

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Close up.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

Stupid, perfect aim!

I know I haven’t written in a while, but I’ve been in a bit of a writer’s funk lately and must have needed the time off. Then today this totally random, small thing happened and I thought, “this is funny [to me] and I should blog about it!” So I guess I’m back. I hope, anyway, because blogging makes me happy.

So before I build too much suspense over something kind of stupid, there’s this crank on our trailers that raise and lower the landing gear. The landing gear is basically the “feet” on the trailer so when we drop it from our tractor the trailer will stay standing up and not take a nose dive. That would be bad.

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The handle (crank) is that crooked piece of pipe on the left-hand side of the photo and the "feet" are the thingies holding up the trailer.

On our trip to the receiver in Wisconsin from Washington state, it rained. It rained a lot. And really hard, too. In the past, when I’ve gone to crank the handle to lower the landing gear, water that had build up inside the handle from rain (the handle is basically like a bent, hollow, metal pipe – see photo above) would fly out and douse me with nasty, rusty rain water. I learned – but only after getting wet shoes a couple of times.

Today I pulled the handle up, stood back and a ton of water splashed out onto the ground. I did a little internal celebration, feeling proud that I remembered. Then I went in for the kill and gave that thing a good, fast turn. It suddenly spewed out a perfect line of cold, dirty, rusty, nasty water! I guess it wasn’t done with me yet. It arched just perfect as if the handle was strategically aiming for me. It started at my armpit, went straight across my chest and down the front of my tank top, soaking my chest from the inside of my shirt, and finishing by soaking the other armpit, and also somehow getting a big splash right into the inside of me left glove.

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Big wet spot on my shirt - got wet from the inside and soaked through two layers of tank top. Oh, and a side-note: my boobs are not that big, it's just the camera angle. Although... I'm not complaining. :P

I jumped back and just said, “awwww, maaaaan!” It was gross, but I still somehow found it funny. And you know what? I showered about 3 hours before this happened. Go figure! Just can’t stay clean on this job! Good thing I’m a hiker and trucker and I’m used to being dirty. Haha!


Tonight I love showers. Even if I won’t be staying clean for long.

A couple of unrelated photos:

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Sometimes my gym is surrounded by tires, is littered with cigarette butts and smells like stale pee. But you do what'chya gotta do!

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A picture of the beautiful Columbia River gorge, hoping WordPress will choose this as my featured image instead of my boobs. :)

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

Hauling little plants

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Delores gets dirty.

What’s it like hauling 10,000 little plants? Well, to be honest, it’s kind of a pain in the butt.

Sigh… We were assigned a nursery load out of Oregon.

These always kind of suck because they take forever to load – as they load the plants, the guys build crates and things to stabilize the freight inside the trailer. No forklifts or palettes to quickly stack inside. Just a few guys hand-hauling plant after plant into the trailer. 10,000 of them. That’s a lot of plants.

It took just a bit over four hours for them to fully load us. During that time I worked on trip planning and other work stuff – including calling both the broker and the shipper to get an estimated weight on the load. I was told 34,000 – 38,000 pounds. That’s great, because we can usually comfortably haul up to 43,500. The CAT scale for us to weigh the load was a 45-mile drive, including Portland traffic, so it would be super-sucky if we had to drive all the way back to have the load adjusted because we were overweight. Which is why I made the phone calls in the first place. I was assured it couldn’t be over 35,000 pounds. Okay. No problem.

So we got done getting loaded, shut the doors, locked and sealed the load, and got the bills. Then I see the weight listed on the bills – 50,000 pounds. WHAT!? Yeah, that’s not going to work. I make more phone calls and I’m told that the 50,000 is a high estimate and again, we can be sure it won’t be over 38,000 pounds. Ooookay. Off we go.

Along the way there happens to be one weigh station. We are literally TWO miles from the weigh station and we get a call from the shipper. He realized that they watered all 10,000 plants the night before and the weight was probably closer to 42,000 pounds. While this is still under our normal 43,500 max, it’s pretty likely an axle weight could need an adjustment. At this point – two miles from the weigh station – there’s no way to turn around or avoid it. If it’s open and we’re overweight on one of our axles, we’re looking at hefty fines and CSA points. Bad news.

As we approached the scale it was unclear whether or not it was open, so we pulled in anyway. Thankfully it was closed, but the scale was still working so we rolled over it. We were under the 80,000-pound limit for gross, but we were over on our drives by about 500 pounds. Yikes. That would’ve been a violation.

We were able to slide our tandems all the way forward to make it a legal load, which was a sigh of relief. That meant we didn’t have to go back to the shipper to be readjusted. Whew.

We may have had a little bad luck getting assigned this load, waiting for it to get loaded, and not getting a clear answer on our weights, but in trucking, this actually turned out to be a pretty lucky day for us… I guess!

Next time when I call for weights like 8 times, a little accuracy would be great! Crazy how just watering the plants we’re hauling can change so much – and potentially cause such a headache!

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We carefully drove those little plants a couple thousand miles to another nursery in southern Wisconsin and arrived at the wee hours of the morning. Adam parked the truck along their dirt road and came to bed, but a short while later a storm rolled in. I peeked out the window and realized there was a giant puddle forming in front of us from the rain. It was getting really muddy and I feared getting stuck. I pulled forward with our power dividers locked in and drove to the end of the road and waited another hour before the workers started to show up. At 7 am I backed up next to a greenhouse where 15-20 men began to unload these plants the same way they were loaded. By hand. It took three hours.

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Hand unloading.

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Mudddddy!

I should’ve taken a picture of the inside of that trailer afterwards. What a mess of dirt, mud and leaves! No biggie, that’s what trailer washouts are for! We head home with mud flinging off our tires, anxious to begin our short 30ish-hour break.

Then back to California. I’m feeling ready. Cross your fingers that we get to haul back some cheese… Not plants!


Tonight I love our Portland friends. Thanks to those of you that met up with us to hang out a bit! Love you guys!

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Karaoke!! (yep, that's Greenie up on stage!)

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Treekiller, Hops, me, Aloha, Mr. Green. We also met up with friends Ginny, Kris, Rocky, T-rex, Chik Chok, Starfox, and a few others that we met for the first time. Fun, fun, fun!

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

Meet our new truck!

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The last four or five weeks have been rough, which you’ve most likely guessed if you follow me here or on any social media. Part of that stems from truck troubles. In the last three weeks alone, we’ve driven three different trucks.

Week 1: Timmy the Freight Shaker was our original truck that we started out team driving together – a 2013 Freightliner Cascadia with a 10-speed manual transmission. After getting a brand new radiator out on the road, he most recently needed a new part we couldn’t get in time for our run, so we temporarily moved into a loaner truck.

Week 2: Mental, as Adam called it, was our loaner – a 2015 Freightliner Cascadia with an automatic transmission. We were totally thrown in to this truck last-minute. It was like moving into a new apartment in a big rush, minus the pizza and beer.

Week 3: We knew we were in line for a new truck, but we were going to be waiting a while yet. Well, the folks back at the home office worked their butts off the week we were in the loaner so we wouldn’t have to move two more times, and they got our new truck ready for us this week! So we’re in our official new truck now! We’re sure hoping to be in this one for a while!

It’s a very brand-new 2016 Volvo 780 automatic. It had less than 1,000 miles on it when we started driving it on Tuesday, still had plastic coverings on the seats, floor and mattress, and she smelled like new car. How sweet is this!?

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Still in plastic!

We really like it so far. We like the way it looks, the bed is a little bigger (but there are no sheets that fit it because it’s width is somewhere between a twin and a full), and it’s got tons of cubbies and cabinets for storage and organization. We’re still moving things around to find their best place and we need to purchase a couple of storage bins, but as far as the interior goes, it’s a big win. Oh, the seats have like 6 different adjustments as well as a “back cycler,” which sort of massages you as you drive. It pushes air into the lower back, releases and continues the cycle. That’s just another little thing that makes it nice. Oh! And we have a sunroof!

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Sunroof! (And a handsome co-driver)

After a week of driving it, I already like how it drives way better than the Freightliner automatic. It holds speed much steadier and buttons and switches all just seem to be built smarter. I’m still getting used to it all, so I can’t review a whole lot about it yet in detail, but I can already tell I’m going to like it a lot. I might miss driving a manual every once in a while, but I don’t think I’ll miss shifting through turns and from a stop, in stop-and-go traffic and city driving. This truck just goes, and it’s pretty sweet!

We did have one disadvantage to getting this truck so soon. Early this week was a DOT blitz. This means a lot of scales are open and a lot of inspections occur. Having a new truck for this is awesome, because it’s new. So it shouldn’t have anything wrong with it and would pass an inspection with no problem if we were pulled in for one. The drawback is that we have a temporary registration, so our EZ-pass is inoperable. This is the gadget in our windshield that gives us a green light prepass signal at weigh stations so we don’t have to go in and weigh. This means for every scale (weigh station) that’s open, we have to pull in, weigh, and have a better chance at receiving an inspection. It’s time consuming pulling into the scales, too – especially when so many are open for the blitz. We had to pull through a lot of scales, but only two had us bring in our paperwork and only one did a level 3 inspection (driver only) on Adam. It was all good. We’ll take another clean inspection for our records, thank you very much.

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Our EZ Pass is there, but just for looks at the moment, I guess.

So on we go. In a beautiful new truck. It doesn’t smell like a previous owner, cigarettes, animal, nothing. Nothing but they gluey, plasticy, clean, new car smell. It’s awesome.

Oh, and for those of you that know about how horrible my Vibram Five Finger running shoes smell (seriously like rotting corn nuts), they’ve got their own little home hanging from the back of the cab, on the outside, from a carabiner. They need lots of air. And they need to not destroy the new car smell. We’re going to enjoy that as long as we can.

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This just cracks me up.

So meet Delores, our new Volvo. (Bonus points to anyone that can guess why we named her Delores.) :)

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Shiny, freshly painted engine compartment.

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The interior dash area.

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The gear selector consists of soft buttons on the dash.

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Chillin' in the bunk before the move.

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There she is! Meet Delores! She's pretty cool!


Tonight I love that we’re about 40 minutes away from our very much-needed vacation week!

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)