Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Pleasant Night on the Pennsylvania Turnpike


The sun was low and the soft white clouds stretched across a dusky blue sky.  The wind had died down significantly from the gusts of the afternoon to a gentle cool caress.  So many times out on the road we are confined to the cab of the truck.  Miles and miles to run as the clock counts down.  "Hurry up, go." it says, "hurry up and get there."  But last night it was quiet.  Last night there was no rush.  We were out on the road, somewhere in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania without a care in the world. No load to rush to.  No clock taunting us.  No highway teasing us.  Just he and I and a peaceful evening breeze blowing through the open windows of the truck.

"Let's turn the truck off and go sit outside," he says.  "Do you want to?"  It should have been a rhetorical question.  The weather was so perfect why would anyone want to stay cooped up inside?  After dinner we took the four-legged fur baby for a long walk all around the perimeter of the large parking area of the turnpike travel plaza.  She ran and pranced and had a furry good time.  The wind whisked through the long white strands of her tail making it look like a flag waving in the breeze.  By the time we got back to the truck she was ready for some water and a soft spot to curl up for a nap.

After fixing some hot chai tea, grabbing my laptop and my jacket, he and I headed out to the front of the travel plaza where there were some wire mesh table and chairs. You are probably thinking sitting outside a busy travel plaza on a turnpike would be neither relaxing nor romantic.  When you are confined to 73" of space day in and day out, any change of environment is a pleasant change of pace.  

We sat and and watched the setting sun against the rolling hills of the Pennsylvania landscape.  The cool breeze was a wonderful change from the scorching heat we are used to this time of year in Florida.  No pesky bugs or humidity to intrude on the evening.  I sipped my hot tea and worked on an article I had been procrastinating on for weeks.  He had a soda and looked through a magazine.  Every once in a while the distinctive sound of good old-fashioned jake brakes coming through un-muffled straight pipes would get our attention and we'd look up to watch, or drool, as the beast rolled by.

We talked about our dream truck.  We talked about our near future plans.  We talked about long-term future plans.  We whispered sweet nothings and blew kisses in the soft winds.  It was fully dark before we headed back to the truck.  My article was complete and we were both completely refreshed and relaxed.

Its the little things that matter.  Spending time together matters.  Getting out together, even if it is just at a picnic table at a travel plaza.  Anywhere is somewhere special, as long as the person you are with is special to you.

~Sierra Sugar

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Wyoming I-80 Multi-Vehicle Pile-Up Catastrophe

By now I am sure just about everyone has seen or heard on the news about the multiple crash events that happened recently in Wyoming on Interstate 80. First, I want to state that my heart goes out to all the drivers, truck and car alike, who were in these wrecks.  Their personal and professional vehicles have been damaged, in many cases completely totaled.  To some this means a complete loss of income.  And that is just the small stuff.  The injuries, the stress, the worry, the heartache, the aftermath in dealing with it all, I can’t even imagine.  Then there is the life that was lost, that family has a missing piece that can never be replaced.  These kinds of tragedies reap all kinds of havoc in a myriad of ways.  The fallout from which leaves people angry and crying for answers, pointing fingers or blame, for vengeance.  

The media is like a leech feeding off that negative energy and continues to spin a story in what every sensationalistic light it can to prolong the outcry from the public to its benefit.  And trust me it has a benefit in the form of green, as in money.  But that is for another day.  Today isn’t about smoke and mirrors of press and government agencies, its about realities and physics, and a little bit of understanding amidst a horrible tragedy.

We spent most of the winter traveling between Nashville/Atlanta and Seattle.  That meant  many long treks across Wyoming and I-80.  The winter was mild this year.  We actually joked after being down South that we needed to go back to Seattle to get warm.  Wyoming didn’t get hit really hard until this month, a late spring storm.  On par with storms up there, it was a doozy  I-80 across Wyoming is a long stretch of… well, a long stretch.  You see lots of nothing.  Fields and hills, mountains, snow drift guards, and flashing signs warning of high winds or “interstate closed if flashing.”  There is a lot of wide open spaces in Wyoming, queue the Dixie Chicks.  Wyoming DOT has their work cut out for them in bad weather, which means, well, the roads don’t get well maintained, they get shut down.  And with this storm they were shut down, a lot. Then reopened, and shut down again, then opened, and shut.  You get the picture.  It was bad and quite hard to keep the roads clear for any length of time.

What happens when you get stuck somewhere for an extended length of time?  When you finally are able to be on your way?  Why of course you typically tend to rush, even in less than ideal conditions.  Oh come on!  Be honest here, no one is looking.  You’re just reading.  Admit to yourself that you’ve rushed somewhere, sped a little when you shouldn’t have in the rain, the snow, too windy, bad traffic, something because you were late for something.  Just about everyone has done it some time or another if you've ever driven a motor vehicle in your life.  Now imagine a pack of people heading out from a gathering point where they’ve been held over against their will for hours.  Some trying to get home to waiting family, maybe school-aged kids.  Some trying to get to work.  Others, truck drivers trying to make deliveries with dispatchers hundreds of miles away in a warm cozy office, or at home in their pajamas with their families talking on a cell phone being uncaring to the stranded truck driver, making threats of decreased pay for late delivery etc…  Everyone heading out is in a bit of a rush despite horrible weather conditions.  Despite the fact that Wyoming DOT probably should not have opened the highways so soon, but probably did so under pressure from thousands of people stranded trying to get across the state.  Maybe these rushed people weren’t “speeding” but traveling a too fast for weather conditions.

What were those weather conditions?  Roads slushy, black ice, snow covered, high winds, very low visibility.  Essentially winter blizzard, yet DOT opened the highway saying it was ok to travel.  In those weather conditions semi trucks absolutely by law are required to have tire chains on their tires.  Most cars do not take this precaution.

Most of the larger trucking companies out there today, JB Hunt, Schneider, Swift, Wal-Mart, Celedon, just to name a few, have their trucks governed, or equipped with “speed limiters” usually between 58-65mph anyway.  These trucks because of their controlled speed are used to running in “packs”, meaning they don’t space themselves out naturally.  They can’t pass normally, they hold up traffic, etc  So they get in a pattern, a habit.  Now they are out there in bad weather, repeating a dangerous habit in extremely dangerous weather.  When you run in a pack and something goes wrong it has a domino effect escalating rapidly.  One truck gets in trouble and suddenly they all are in trouble because there is no room or time to maneuver.  This is a serious issue with speed limiters.  They may not have been running at top speed in this storm, I certainly hope not, but they were repeating patterns learned by being limited by their speed limited engines.

Another issue is CBs.  For a truck driver CBs are not a toy, but a necessary toolbox matter what anyone says. This trend to stop using them is a detriment to the industry when it could be use to prevent so many incidents.

For those that cry they are a distraction, if you’re going through a town or at a truck stop and someone is being obnoxious that’s what the volume or power knobs are for.  But in bad traffic or weather situations CBs are an excellent tool for ANY driver, not just truck drivers.  In the case of the Wyoming pile up, if the drivers in the back had their CBs on, or even HAD CBs in their trucks they might have heard some of the other drivers in the pile up yelling out on the radio about the accident.  Or heard from drivers heading the opposite directions giving them a heads up to slow down and stop that there was a big accident.  They would have known instead of just continuing on and plowing into everyone else.  

So many new truckers today say they don’t need a CB because of the new technology, ie cell phones and such.  But even for a car driver a CB is a great tool to have at your disposal.  A cell phone can’t tell you about that accident around that sharp curve when it’s raining, or notify you that hey your brake light is out, or did you know you’re dragging a chain and it’s sparking back there?  Or, there’s a huge accident 3 miles up and they have the interstate blocked, instead of sitting for 2 hours you might want to jump off at the next exit and go around on local roads.

Should DOT have kept the roads closed longer?  Probably
Should DOT have done a better job clearing the roads?  Again probably, but it was a bad storm and their workers may have been at capacity.
Should everyone (cars included) have had chains on their tires?  Yes.
Should everyone (cars included) have been traveling at slower speeds?  Again, Yes.
Are vehicles traveling in packs a safety issue? Absolutely.
Would everyone, or at least all big trucks, having CBs in their trucks at least lessened the damage of the pileup?  Probably.

The purpose of this long explanation and rant?  Don’t believe everything the media tells you.  Semi truck drivers are not complete idiots and reckless road mongers.  80,000lbs just can't stop on a dime. Many of the trucks that were on the road were under pressure to get delivered regardless of circumstances. And believe me there were cars being reckless in that mix too,but the media doesn't like to focus on that.

Right now there is more going on behind the scenes with the ATA and government/industry payoffs, CARB fraud being uncovered, congress and OOIDA going after the FMCSA to tear them down and reform or completely dismantle, and so much more.  In the midst of it all, instead of building the industry up, “big trucking” if you will like the ATA is doing everything they can to destroy the image of trucking and make it impossible for the American Trucker to earn a living.  The harder we fight for real reform and cleaning up of regulations and our image, the worse they actually make it.  

I will end my rant for now.  But I will continue to update on reasons why car drivers hate truck drivers so much, and vice versa.  And why we really just all want to get along if the big agencies like ATA and FMCSA would just get out of the way.

~Sierra Sugar

Monday, April 20, 2015

Share the Road

Truck Drivers want to share the road. The only reason I keep pushing so much big truck this and that is because I didn't realize how one sided things really are until I came out here. Truck Drivers have a professional license. They pay road use taxes, car drivers don't. They pay hundreds of dollars for all their CDL endorsements. The industry is highly over regulated and micromanaged, more than almost any other industry.  You really have no idea. And still they are pushing for more regulations.  It's making it almost impossible to do the job.

I challenge anyone to ride with a driver over the road for a month and will you see the reality. Yet car drivers are never taught how to drive around big trucks. They are never taught to share the road with us. They are never taught the physics of a big truck, not safety and courtesy around them. They are not taught history of the highways nor why trucks are on the road. Nothing about commerce and shipping and what the truck driver does. No, instead they are taught truck drivers are evil road mongers, when that is not the case, not usually.

Trust me, truck drivers would like nothing more than to share the road with car drivers if only they would take the time to educate themselves and do the same.

~Sierra Sugar

Friday, February 27, 2015

Mema's Magic Refrigerator

Fridge and microwave next to the bed in our 73" sleeper.
Mema's magic refrigerator.

My mother's mother lived in northern Mississippi. They had 86 acres of farm land, so there was always an abundance of food, especially veggies. She had a deep freezer, a  second small refrigerator, and a magic refrigerator with an unending hole in the back.

No matter how many left overs we had, or fresh fruit, or gallons of tea getting cold, or any number of things needing to go in the fridge there was always room. More to the point, she alone knew the magic combination to open that vast hole mysteriously cloaked in the back of that old fridge. Nothing ever had to be thrown away that was still edible. And no matter how many groceries she came home with from the commissary, she always found room for it all.

This magical legacy has been passed down to me. Even with the tiny dorm fridge we have in the truck with a freezer smaller than a mailbox, that magically hidden hole opens for me allowing me to find a place for everything that needs chilling. Gallon of creamer? Sure. Milk, 2 types of deli cheese, butter, cream cheese, deli meats, tortillas, condiments, sodas, fruits, and veggies? No problem. A whole pot roast, beef tips, ground beef, ground pork, chicken breasts, frozen spinach and peas?  Sure thing!  Left overs? Pudding? Candy? Chicken salad? Juice? Yogurt? Ricotta? Mozzarella? Eggs? Bacon? Apple sauce? More? I can make it fit with room to spare!

This gift is a god-send while we are over the road.  A big truck, even with a 73" sleeper, has limited space. Every inch is valuable and utilized. Eating out all the time is expensive and unhealthy. I love my little fridge and other appliances that allow me to cook more meals than not while we are on the road. He drives all day, in all weather conditions. This way I can always have fresh food to fix him a nourishing hot meal at the end of the day.

Thank you Mema, for passing down this witchery, this magical heritage, the unending refrigerator hole!

~sierra

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mountain Snow, Deer, and Anxiety


Last week while night driving through the western part of Idaho there was a range of mountains ahead of us that was covered in snow.  It was later in the afternoon, closer to early evening.  The sun hadn't quite set yet, so the sky had that bluish haze of dusk that makes things seem magical and surreal.  While my picture doesn't do justice to the actual site I saw ahead of me, hopefully you can get a little bit of an idea.  We have all heard about mountains being blanketed in snow.  Indeed these appeared that way, blanketed in a shimmery layer of whitish/bluish satin.

Of course cooler weather and snow at these elevations brings creatures of all sorts down from the mountain tops.  This created an up-close encounter that was slightly less exhilarating than the Bald Eagles from the other day.  Rounding a curve there straddling the center line was a mule deer.

A giant female mule deer.

The top of her head must have come at least as high as the hood of our big truck.  There was no where to go, and she was in no hurry to go anywhere.  Thank goodness he was driving because my brain froze.  The only thing I could do was put my feet on the dash (don't laugh) and say “Baby! Baby! Baby! Baby!” over and over again like a record with a scratch stuck in repeat.  With his many years experience of driving his reaction was much calmer and productive.  Thankfully, he was able to slow enough to give the mammoth doe time to make up her mind that yes, she did want to get out of the road.  I watched as she casually trotted off to the snowy grass on the other side and he went around her.

Heart pounding, stomach churning, I spent the rest of the night curled up in the sleeper.  I will never forget that deer, her eyes, her size, and the fear of hitting her or sliding off the side of the mountain.  Thankfully, I will also never forget the beauty seen just a little while before of the satiny mountaintops.  And I am so very thankful for his calm handling of our fully-loaded, nearly 80,000lb truck in that sticky situation.

If anyone ever thinks driving a big truck is a skill-less trade that anyone can do better think again!  It takes a calm mind, quick thinking, rational though, quick and steady reflexes. And lots of road, equipment, land, and animal knowledge to successfully survive out here across America's highways.

~sierra

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Size Matters


A beautiful morning in Arkansas, just because.
Bigger doesn't always mean better.  Especially in the case of cities.  Certainly big cities have their benefits.  Most things you could possibly need or want are close by.  Bigger cities usually are a host to a variety of entertainment, cultural, and shopping centers, not to mention easy access to an abundance of educational opportunities.  But they are also crowded, congested, often dirty, and higher crime.  But the biggest thing that stands out to me while traveling across the country is the lack of architectural diversity in larger cities.  Yes, they have huge sky scrapers, interesting medical buildings, art museums where the building itself is a work of art.  But essentially they all look the same.

You have your grid lock of street lights with cars racing between the reds.  You have your big box stores, your typical strip mall shopping centers, your chain restaurants.  You have your residential sections split up according to income and social status.  And driving through these larger cities very little stands out that is worth seeing aside from a famous night skyline or two.  Otherwise, the only thing you are usually watching are the taillights in front of you as you try to avoid an accident from the bumper to bumper, always in a rush, traffic.

It is the smaller towns that catch my eye.  The rural life with its rustic beauty and diversity.  The ones that have historic town hall buildings that are still functional.  The mom and pop stores and family owned grocery.  They are filled with history both in landmarks, stories, and architecture.  These little towns catch the eye as you travel slowly through them with all their neat little buildings and layouts.  They aren't as segregated as the larger cities.  You can often see residential mixed in with businesses, right next to “industrial”.  These little towns are made for walking, exploring, and enjoying.  They boast a slower pace in life.

When we are younger most of us want to escape to the big city to experience all the excitement.  But as I get older I realize the the beauty of a slower paced life and enjoy the quaint beauty of the tiny towns.

~sierra

Friday, February 6, 2015

The All-Terrain Dog goes Mudding

Look at that face!  You can't tell me she's not smiling.
My 12-year-old grumpy old lady of a puppy was having the time of her life at the beach!

Now let me give you a little background.  This is the dog that grew up in Florida.  She hates getting a bath.  She hates going to the beach.  She won't go near the water.  And she has never been much of a playful dog nor done much running around.

Since being in the big truck she has suddenly become my “all-terrain dog”.  She absolutely loves riding in the truck.  The cooler weather and the higher altitudes seems to bring out a playfulness in her that was never there before.

On this particular day in late January we were at Ocean City State Park in Washington State, which is on the Pacific Coast.  For my puppy and me, it was our first time ever seeing the the Pacific Ocean.  Her reaction was priceless!  She spent a good hour literally running (on her leash of course) all over the beach, in and out of the water, splashing in the puddles, even swimming in the chilly little rivulets of water left behind by the receding tide.  She pranced and pounced and thoroughly covered her legs in cold beach mud with what can only be described as a smile on her pretty puppy face.


Catching her breath before taking off running again. 
Splash! Splash! Splash!
Look at the mud on those feet!

~sierra