I took the shuttle to the office with the people doing orientation and then hung out there all day. There was a drivers lounge with a pool table, showers, and laundry. I did my laundry and spent plenty of time surfing on my laptop. I remember reading about ethereum for the first time.
I also spent some time playing pool and talking to the other drivers. They all said I was in for something, starting out in the mountains in the middle of winter. I had never driven truck in winter or on mountains. I was really green and I knew it.
One driver asked if I was into football. I'm never too interested in talking about sports so I said I wasn't. She asked if I at least had a team. "Well I'm from Philly..." I started. The Philadelphia Eagles are a good team that consistently disappoints their fans by almost winnng the super bowl every year. Their fans are very loyal and can be rude about it. "I'm from Philly so... no, no team."
Finally, just before 5, I went out to meet Bear in the gated parking lot where all the trucks were kept. It was nearly dark but overcast and threating to snow.
Bear was a short-haired caucasian. We shook hands. He asked if I'd gotten enough sleep. I said I was ready. We pre-tripped the truck and moved in. We were driving a new Peterbilt with a manual transmission. He was as dissapointed about the transmission as I was. The back of the truck, where the bunk beds were, had a felt floor and he asked me to take off my shoes if I went back there. He liked to treat the front of the truck as a work area and everything behind the curtain as "home". These Peterbilt trucks are not as tall as other semis so my bunk (on top) was tight like in a submarine.
Our load was a reefer (refrigerated) load so we had to set the trailer reefer to precool. We were picking up candy from a Hershey's distribution in Ogden and delivering in Tacoma, WA.
I got in the drivers seat, set the addresses into the GPS, and clocked on duty on the electronic log. Then I pulled out. Bear kept asking if I had really never driven before, except in trucking school. I said it's true and I still had difficulty but recognized my weaknesses and was ready to be cautious. I asked him to tell me when to cut the wheel so I could make the tight turn out the gate and onto the road.
Bear had a deep voice and spoke very little. He was always stoic and never raised his voice. He was named Bear because his dad had a thing for native americans. His Dad had claimed to be an indiginous shaman but it wasn't true. Bear said his dad was a con man who tricked his mom. I didn't press for any details.
We got on I-15 and started north toward Ogden. Bear told me I was doing great. He said most new drivers have trouble with staying between the lines. He also said he's had to send drivers back because they couldn't get along in close quarters. Some people would argue with him about the no-shoes-in-the-back-rule for example. I was with him. "It's your truck," I told him. "You make the rules." He said I seemed reasonable and he felt like we could get along. The feeling was mutual.
I followed the GPS to exit in Ogden, drove to the gated entrance to the facility and stopped at the security gate. Bear and I got out and checked in. Bear did, mostly, and I watched how it was done. The security guard told use to slide our tandem axles to the back before entering the gate, and told us what trailer we were picking up. It was a drop-and-hook; we were dropping the trailer and picking up a different Pride trailer. They would load our empty later. The security guard told us where to drop the trailer (in which numbered parking spot) and which trailer to pick up.
Bear and I slid the tandems all the way to the back and pulled in. He told me the importance of writing down the dock or parking lot number if I tend to forget these things (which I do) or else I'd have to return to the security guard to ask what it was again. And turning around at those gates isn't always easy.
We found the drop spot and Bear got out to help me back. Pride had several other requirements for newbies backing, like no radio, windows down. This is to hear the trainer yell. There were no adjacent trailers so it wouldn't be hard. He didn't seem to have high hopes, even though I told him I was good at backing.
Everything was different from the gravel lot in Hammonton. This was my first time backing at night, and more importantly, my first time trying to back up with the axles slid all the way back. There were thick patches of ice on the parking lot and the white lines, dimly lit by streetlamps, were tough to see. I rolled over the ice patches and put the trailer in the spot perfectly with only one pull up. "That's actually not bad," Bear told me. He hadn't even finished his cigarette. Later he commented that I was much better at driving and backing than any of his previous trainees.
We picked up the new trailer, inspected it, and coupled. Everything we did had to be clocked on the log. We drove back to the security gate and slid the tandems forward. Bear got out and stood near the tandems, signalling to me with his arm. I watched him in the rear mirror and pulled forward and back until it was right.
The security guard gave us our choice of king-sized candy. Bear said he always liked coming here for that reason. After leaving, We had to check the weight first and possibly slide the tandems again. Fortunately there was a Pilot truck stop at this exit. Bear directed me. He was always puffing on an eCig. As I pulled in, he asked if I'd ever used a truck scale before.
After scaling, we got back on the higway. It was around 8pm and Tacoma was more than 800 miles away so we wouldn't arrive on this shift.
Bear was 28, three years older than me, but had already been divorced with two kids. He'd been driving for ten years, since he was 18. He had lots of experience, with more than a million accident-free miles under his belt. His uncle was a trucker and had taught him. Ten years ago, you could get your CDL at age 18 (it has been raised to 21) or maybe he just worked under the table for three years. In any case, Bear had wanted to drive trucks since he was a kid, and he never wanted to do anything else.
I told him about how I got into driving. I had been hitchhiking a long time and loved it. I had been to lots of countries but hadn't seen much of my own. And I had sat in the passengers seat of trucks for many of those countries and gotten to know the life. So I figured I could keep traveling and make money, and all I had to do was move to the driver's seat. I told Bear that I wanted to make some money to travel in Asia, and then later buy land out west and build a house.
We crossed the border into Idaho and I said I was considering that state among other places. Bear said a buddy of his had just bought some property in Idaho. This was my first time in Idaho and I couldn't see it at all. The state had always been a shape on a map to me, and now it took on meaning. If I never came back, I would still have this for a memory of Idaho: the road and the grass growing along it, bathed in white LED headlights.
I told bear about how I'd driven a rig before I was allowed to. He had a similar story. As a teen, he went out on trucking trips with his uncle. His uncle taught him to drive and put him in the drivers seat to do it. He was taught how to stay betwen the lines, brake, and float the gears. Then he said "You seem to have the hang of it! I'm going to go catch some ZZZZs, just holler if you hit a chicken coop." And then he went in the bunk and left little Bear to do the job.
We stopped in Mountain Home just past midnight to get fuel and to take a thirty minute break for the e-log. Bear had to teach me how to fuel the dual tanks, and how to use the company card. When I climbed back up to my seat, I saw that a few little chocolate bits from the candy I'd eaten had melted under my but against the seat. Bear seemed to have a higher standard of cleanliness than me so I felt bad. I scratched the chocolate off with my nail. He came back while I was doing this. I looked at him and said I'd spilled some chocolate and sorry. He said "That's ok. Thanks for cleaning it up." After scratching all the stuff off the fabric, I used a few drops of water to soak the last bits of choco-dust up. The whole method was surprisingly effective.
After pulling out of the fuel island, I got out and stretched my legs and bought a cup of hot coffee. Then we set off again.
We passed through a sleeping Boise: four empty lanes of cold pavement. A little later, we crossed the bridge into Oregon. The speed limit dropped, but our truck was governed at 65mph, as is pretty typical in this industry. By tapping the gas pedal twice and holding it, the truck could do 68mph, but this was only allowed for 30 minutes a day, intended for passing. Most companies do not have such a system in their trucks, which is why motorists are often waiting for a 65mph truck to pass a 64mph truck.
The road started to curve and the speed limit was dropped. I took the turns as fast as I thought I could, which was not very fast. It started to snow and soon there was an inch of powder on the road surface. This opened up to a large valley after Baker City. There was not much snow accumulated on the road, so I could still see the lines.
It was about 3:00 and I was starting to feel tired. I checked the e-log: I had another two and a half hours to drive. I had hoped I could make it all night, but I was starting to doubt that I could do another hour or two. Bear was quiet, but awake. I could see him in my peripherals, puffing his e-cig and browsing facebook. I had been drilled on what to do in this situation: if you're tired, stop. And I was driving, not Bear. So even though I was taking direction from him, I would have to decide when to call it a day.
We left La Grande and the road started to curve. I felt a little less tired. We passed a rest stop and I regretted that I didn't stop. The road was endless and curving and snowy. It was nearly 4. I saw a sign for another rest area.
"Hey, I'm gonna stop at that rest area and call it a day," I said. Bear looked up slowly.
"Welp," he said, and took a long drag from his e-cig. "If you can go... about... forty more miles..." He took another puff. "There's a pretty big truck stop. That would be a better option."
I felt rejuvinated. I was sure I could go another 40 miles.
"Before we get to the truck stop, you'll have to go down Cabbage hill," he said. "That's a long downgrade; you know how to do that?" Of course I did, that was another thing I had been taught several times. Put it in a lower gear with higher RPMs, don't use the engine brake, keep steady pressure on the service brake. In better road conditions, it's better to use more engine brake to keep the service brakes cool. In hotter weather, one should also use stab braking to let them cool. But in ice, stab braking can jolt the truck to slide.
Slippery roads require the service brake because it applies friction to all 18 tires. The engine brake only brakes the four on the drive axle, which is less effective. Since it brakes only the tractor, the trailer can try to get ahead of the tractor and cause the rig to "jackknife". Jackknifed tractor-trailers and their pileups frequent the nightly news in the winter.
There were a ton of signs indicating our approach to the drop. They showed the standard downgrade pictogram, often with warnings about downshifting. At the crest of the hill, I put the truck in a low gear. We were fully loaded and it was my first time, so I probably set it lower than necesary. Cabbage hill has a rock face on one side and a drop off on the other side, so I was pretty intent on staying on the road. I gripped the wheel with both hands and didn't touch my coffee. There were actually a couple of other 18-wheelers on the road, and they tore past me. I was going 40 miles an hour at times, and couldn't believe anyone could go faster than that.
The hill leveled a bit and the switchbacks straightened out to a long slight downgrade. The big truck stop, Arrowhead Travel Plaza, was lit up a mile or two away, and Bear pointed it out.
It was 4:30 and I was dead tired but still had to park. We had no trouble finding a spot near the building (probably somebody who had just woken up). I'm good at parking, but it's still hard sometimes, especially when I have to park between other rigs.
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