At the end of June, I was able to join my boyfriend Thomas for a week on his semi truck. He does over the road driving and for most of this year he’s been doing a non-dedicated regional loop between Tennessee and Michigan that allows for stop-overs in Gary, Indiana. The manager of the Petro in Gary said it would be fine for me to leave my van there for a week.
I knew that it was very important that I pack light. By choice Thomas drives one of the smallest types of semi tractors. It’s basically two seats, a bunk, and a few storage compartments over the bunk. I was determined to fit everything in a small cloth backpack/purse that I used to use as a diaper bag. This saved space in the truck and was easy to carry into truck stop bathrooms. The only other thing I took was a pillow.
Day 1: We didn’t know for sure that I’d be able to ride along until the day before; we didn’t want Thomas to use any of his vacation days to get me on and off the truck. But he got a dispatch to pick-up early that morning about three hours from Gary. As soon as my kids left with their dad, I was able to drive on over and park my van.
There was a storm getting ready to kick up in Gary, so he decided that we would try to get a little further down I-65 before settling for the night. Once we got parked we headed into the truck stop and grabbed some gas station food to take back to the truck. Then we went back in for one last bathroom trip and to brush our teeth before going to bed.
The first big adjustment is that Thomas prefers to start driving by 6 in the morning, and he’s usually ready to go to bed for the night by 7 or 8. My day usually starts and ends a lot later. We both worried how I would handle such a different schedule.
We also had to figure out how to fit two adults somewhat comfortably in a bunk that’s not much bigger than a twin bed. The first night’s sleeping arrangements did not work well at all. Plus, he is very hot-natured and I am very cold-natured, so one of us was almost always sweating and one of us was almost always freezing. But we persevered.
It also took me a night to get used to the different sounds. There would be the pop as trucks were pulling in and putting on their brakes. The APU that provides electricity to his tractor when the engine is turned off would kick on to work the air conditioner. Then the reefer (the refrigeration unit) on the trailer would come on from time to time to regulate the temperature of the cargo. The APU and reefer were right behind the bunk. On top of that the storm caught us. Wind shook the truck while the thunder roared and rain pounded.
Day 2: At some point after midnight I needed to be walked back to the truck stop in order to use the bathroom. We got up a little after sunrise to start the day. I grabbed a cup of coffee and a breakfast Tornado before we started on down the road.
We had to stop for fuel just south of Indianapolis. It worked out for us to meet my mom for lunch just near Louisville, so we took about an hour break there. Then we headed on down towards Nashville. It was kind of neat because it had been about 20 years since and I had last traveled that stretch of road together.
The further south we went, though, the more my sinuses started acting up, and I developed a headache. By the time we got to the receiver, I didn’t feel the best. So, I laid down in the bunk while he dropped his trailer and picked up another loaded one that needed to go back north. It was hard to rest the best because of all the jerking around that comes with disconnecting and connecting the trailer, but I did drift off a little bit when we left for the truck stop.
There was a little strip mall next to the truck stop that had a local wing joint. Thomas had never been before, so we decided to give it a try. We got some fried pickle chips, and I had some delicious teriyaki wings with a side of ibuprofen. By the time we finished eating it was time to get ready for bed.
Day 3: We got up extra early in order to take showers. I had already learned from him that showers at truck stops are individual rooms. The ones we were assigned I later learned were the handicap accessible ones. This means that they were more spacious than the regular ones in addition to certain safety and accommodation features. Mine had a sink with a mirror, a large bench, and a very roomy shower. Big, clean fluffy towels and wash cloths were provided. It was a really nice facility, and I was later told that they’re not all that nice.
Once we got out of Tennessee we were able to meet Thomas’ dad for breakfast at the Petro in Glendale, KY. Then it was time to really get moving, because it was his long day. He had to get his load straight from Tennessee to Michigan. We stopped for fuel once and much later at another truck stop in northern Indiana for me to get some dinner. Then it was on to the receiver, where we would be staying for the night. I was excited about going to Michigan for the first time.
The receiver was a cold storage facility that allows drivers to park in the yard. They had a small lounge with a bathroom and vending machines. Once the trailer was dropped we were parked bobtail (without a trailer). Thomas opened a can of ravioli and ate it straight out of the can. Usually when he delivers at this place he just makes a sandwich or eats something out of can. He does have an electric kettle that he sometimes uses for noodle cups if he wants something hot.
Then it was time for bed.
Day 4: Early the next morning we were off again to another part of Michigan. First Thomas had to connect an empty trailer before we could leave. I really got to see more of how beautiful Michigan is, and I really liked when we passed through Grand Rapids.
When we got to Reed City a few hours later we stopped at a local truck stop down the road from the shipper and waited to get a dispatch to drop off his empty and pick up a full trailer there (known as a drop-and-hook). And we waited, and we waited, and we waited.
Then at about 6 pm he got a call and e-mail from dispatch asking him to pick up and deliver a load somewhere else in the middle of the night. He had to tell them that he couldn’t do it. Besides the fact that he had been awake since the early hours of the day, it would have messed up any chance of getting me home when I needed to get home.
Day 5: I knew that there were sometimes hiccups in my boyfriend’s route, and that a hiccup could make it extremely difficult for me to get home. As a precaution I had scoped out rental car agencies in the Michigan cities on his route. So, when he finally got a dispatch out of Reed City, I had to decide if I wanted him to take me on back to Gary or if I wanted to keep riding along with him and have to rent a car in two days in order to get back to my van. It was really a no-brainer for me…I wanted to stay with him. Off we went down south again, stopping in northern Indiana for the night.
Day 6: On the way back down we stopped to meet Thomas’ mom and step-dad for lunch. In Tennessee he had to drop his full trailer at the cold storage facility, but then he had to pick up an empty and drop it off at the factory before we could go to the truck stop. A loaded trailer would be waiting for pick up the next morning.
The weather was kind of bad, and we were both pretty tired. So, we just grabbed some gas station food to eat in the truck and then went on to sleep
Day 7: Once I had made the decision to get a rental car, I realized that waiting until we got to Michigan was not the best option. I really had to be back in the Chicago area to pick up my kids that night. So, we arranged for me to be dropped off at a McDonald’s in Louisville where my dad met us. Then my dad drove me over to a rental car place, and I left from there. I just had to be at the rental office in Gary before 5 pm which I managed to do.
Here are some more general things from my adventure in truck driving:
*One thing that struck was how much concentration is required to drive one of those big trucks. Thomas was constantly having to check his multiple mirrors and be on the alert for “four-wheelers” doing stupid stuff like cutting him off or hanging out his in blind spots. I had a better understanding of the mental wear-and-tear in addition to the physical wear-and-tear of that life.
*It was an amazing view being up high in the semi truck. I could see over the interstate barriers better and take in the different variations of wildflowers. I would look down into deep ravines and contemplate how old the trees had to be to still tower so high. I could see the little rivers and creeks flowing further back.
*There was a lot of bouncing around; you feel every crack and joint in the road in a semi truck. And due to some problem with my seat that we never got around to figuring out, my seat would actually slide back and forth a bit when we hit really hard bridge joints.
*During my time on the truck, my only responsibilities were to close and open the curtains in the evening and morning. There was no television and no computer. I wasn’t even on my phone very much; it spent a lot of time in my travel bag. It was a really nice getaway from the circus that is my daily life.
*There was downtime (a lot of it in Reed City), but there is not much opportunity for sightseeing. Semi trucks can only legally park in certain places, and there are all kinds of laws and limits about the driving time per day and week. Some of the places we spent the night didn’t have much of anything around them. People think that truck drivers get to stop and see all the sights of the country, but they mostly see highway, truck stops, and shipping/receiving lots.
*When any two people spend too much time together they are bound to eventually bump heads. We knew going in that we were going to be spending a lot of time together in a very confined space. But thankfully we didn’t have any issues. We were both being a little extra considerate (I was very worried about interfering with his job), but we just tend to get a long pretty easily no matter what we’re doing.
I think we were both also just really excited to have a large chunk of time together. Normally we only get to see each other for two or three days every few months; sometimes there’s a lunch or a dinner in between. We started to find our rhythms and had plenty of time to relax in each other’s company.
*Our goodbye was a little rushed and awkward considering that I had to be dropped off with my parents in order to get a rental car. But I knew there was a chance that I could catch up with him at his fuel stop. I was extremely disappointed when there was no sign of this truck in the fuel lanes when I got there.
I decided to torture myself and call to find out by how much I had missed him. So, I was shocked when he told me that he was still at his fuel stop, taking a break in the back parking lot. We both laughed when I pulled my rental car into the space next to his truck, and we were both glad that we got the chance to say a proper goodbye at the end of our adventure.