Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mercury and Cougar's Eastern Seaboard Trip.

____Day 1: Considering that the Cougar has served thirty years in the employment of Revenue Canada; she is taking to life as a trucker's moll as a duck to water. When a fender-bender causes a 15 mile tail-back on the Interstate 94, exiting Minneapolis, Cougar has no hesitation going on the CB and winding-up the stationery traffic by repeating; " Damn, I'm sure glad I ain't westbound." In the style of white trailer park trash with a hint of sarcastic southern belle. We make it as far as Osseo after a mid-morning start.
____As day one begins with a delay in the yard, The Cougar decides to take advantage of stretching out on the bunk in the back, kneading the soft blanket like the feline she is, while Mercury chats with a fellow driver.It’s only day one and Cougar is tired from Mercury rising the night before so into the bunk for some well deserved catch up sleep. It’s an uneventful day as we head south east to our destination.

Flying Eagle Trailer #01 with mural and stainless steel doors and headboard.
 ____Day 2: With two drops of cardboard tubes, weighing only 9,000 lbs, progress is as good as the fuel consumption. It's flat countryside all the way to Spiceland's Flying'J on the east-side of Indianapolis. Second day of 900 kilometres and a Saturday night out.
____ Off to early start through Wisconsin, home to Cranberries and Wisconsin Dells a vacation playground. It’s another enjoyable day chatting with my Mercury as I view the countryside and he works. Burning down I90 through Illinois we come to my first toll road which costs $5.00 American, only a short stretch of road. One thing I’ve noticed about Illinois is there are miles upon miles of cornfields. We have one final rest stop at Farmland to show Mercury just how much I appreciate him and back on the road to Indianapolis.

West Virginia: Wild and Wonderful. Will always remind me of  Cougar.
 ____Day 3: Cougar has brought her laptop with her, loaded with music; so with the computer plugged into the trucks audio system, we have a soundtrack to our journey. Music is always a big part of roadtrips and one tune always becomes associated with a certain trip. This time it is Wave On Wave by Pat Green. First drop is in Manassas Park, near Washington, DC. We park as close as possible.
____It’s out of Spiceland and the cornfields of Indiana to the green hilly terrain of Ohio, my kind of terrain. Listening to soft soul music I’m not quick enough to take a picture of an exit closure with a truck turned over a result of coming around the corner a little too fast. If there is one thing I’ve noticed is I have to give credit to these truck drivers who can manoeuvre these big rigs into the tiniest of places.Pennsylvania much like Ohio with lush rolling hills, I’m totally enjoying this trip as I’m an avid nature lover. It’s a fair enough trade for a nightly workout, Mercury gets to keep his eyes on the road and I get to look at all the beauty around me.
West Virginia is a place I always wanted to see being a history buff, loved reading about the Civil War. It also brings to mind Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River, take me home country roads. A little way up one mountain, on the road going west, are fire trucks at the scene where a vehicle lost control; holding up once again westbound traffic.

Second drop was right next door to Andrews Air Force Base.
 ____Day 4: Both drops are in the Washington region and the trailer is empty by midday. The reload is from Delaware; but not until Tuesday morning. So it's a short day; running up the busy Interstate 95 to Elkton on the Maryland/Delaware border. Flying Eagle doesn't encourage drivers to use toll roads but sometimes it is unavoidable, also sometimes, it is economic. But the Susquehanna River crossing on Interstate 95 is one toll
that I didn't see coming: $30 for a four mile stretch that was so small on the map that I missed it.
____This morning, I got a view of Washington DC, no trucks are allowed in there unless they have business being there. I won’t be able to take a picture of me in front of the White House. Unloaded and the pickup not ready until the next day, we make our way to a truck stop that borders Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. A few pictures of Washington, Baltimore, the harbour and the US Air force Base where Andrews field is, two toll roads this time $12 and $30. I wonder how come they have so many toll roads in such a short distance.It’s a early end to the day time for a hot shower for two and three shot glasses, one for DC, Maryland and Delaware as well as a well earned rest for my driver. After dinner I buy two DVD’s and we watch one The Family Man with Nicolas Cage, it felt like we were at a drive-in movie which some of the younger generation would say “what is that?”

Philly Stadiums and Skyline.
 ____Day 5: The whole morning is spent loading 38 foot of the trailer; where I am left waiting for one pallet to be ferried round from a nearby production plant. Meanwhile, the office has found another 12 foot of cargo to fill the trailer. The pick-up is in New York state, Wednesday morning, which pleases the Cougar and swells her shot glass collection. Another short day, but cutting across country to Middletown cuts out the tolls of the New Jersey Turnpike.
____A beautiful warm sunny morning sends us on our way for the first pickup in Delaware. A long snooze stretched out in the back bunk while waiting for a reload; of course Mercury was out and about because he was working, you would think one was in Mexico on Mexican time waiting for it. While we wait, I have another thing to smile about; a partial load to fill up this rig means going up to New York State and another shot glass or two. I think aloud that I’ll have to open up a little shooter bar where one can come and have a shot from around the US, might even have some body shots on the bar.On the road through Philadelphia, I get to see the cityscape along with the harbour where I can see some US Navy ships. There are lots of bridges along the way spanning the waterfront of the Delaware River.As we make our way into New Jersey, Mercury takes a little highway North were he’s never been before, number 31, a quaint little two lane highway winding its way up reminding me of driving through the Whiteshell in Eastern Manitoba a lovely way to spend part of our day.Two more toll roads to the tune of $9 and $4.25 and we arrive at our destination for the evening in New York State. Playing some Wisp and Rummy to unwind, dinner and then settling in for a movie entitled " Training Day."

Another day: another cityscape: Chicago.
 ____Day 6: I was suspicious of the reload address and even checked it out in the local telephone directory. A residential area in a small town is not where you expect to find a rubber plant. But the old factory was where the maps said it was; on a steep, narrow, tree lined street; surrounded by old clap-boarded houses. For over a hundred years, wagon drivers must have been cursing this place; it would have been difficult to get a horse-drawn cart on the loading bay. Reversing in 75 foot of truck and trailer, down-hill on the blindside, to within 2 inches of a wall along the nearside: not easy. It took longer to get the trailer on the door than it did to load it; big thanks to the Cougar for her work as a banks man. A full days driving once loaded; getting through Pennsylvania and Ohio, into Indiana.
____The Appalachian mountains; I still feel that old adage of adrenaline rush through me reminding me that I am still afraid of heights even though I’ve jumped out of an airplane and loved it.We made a pit stop in Lamar, PA (Appalachian Mtns) at the Flying J and I hit pay dirt. I’m so excited, I missed stopping at places in Virginia, West Virginia, and New Jersey for my shooter glasses, but there they were like they were waiting for me. My day is now made I have all 10 shot glasses from my travels through states where I’ve never been before (Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, DC, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania).

Toll plazas. At least Dick Turpin wore a mask.
 ____Day 7: Two short days in the trip have left me with plenty of driving hours to finish the trip. So another 1000+ kilometre day, through the heart of Chicago on my secret no-toll paying route. Onto Sauk Centre in Minnesota after catching the Twin Cities after their evening rush-hour.
____We are off again after a night spent at MacDonald’s due to the truck stop in Ft Wayne being full; at least we had Internet with breakfast. I get a happy greeting from the next trucker’s Labrador first thing in the morning; I seem to have a way with truckers, dogs, horses and cats not in any particular order. We did see spectacular lightening and a downpour which made us glad we didn’t have to step out at that full truck stop. Also on the list of sightseeing was an Amish farmer ploughing his fields with 4 strong horses and a Amish carriage coming back from Fort Wayne they must have got caught in the downpour.On to Chicago, where my driver promises me a glimpse up front and centre to its downtown skyline as a reward for giving him such a satisfying workout the night before he fell into deep sleep.  

New Big Freight Livery on a Kenworth 660
 ____Day 8: There is not enough time to get the load delivered in Winnipeg; so it's back to the yard in Niverville to end the trip. Over six thousand kilometres on one tank full of the Diesel Exhaust Fluid for the first time; an indication of good fuel economy. Mainly due to the light weight of the loads and a tailwind courtesy of Hurricane Irene, helping us over the Appalachians.
____After a hearty breakfast we head out on the road, early, for the push to home, for me with one thought in mind what next to pick up at the duty free to fill my shot glasses. As I contemplate that my to mind drifts to the Cougar making her way to her favourite place, short skirt, heels, and dancing the night away. After all it is Friday Night.
____Overall Distance: 6069 km.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mercury and Cougar crack on to Macon.

____Prologue: The same load to same place as the last trip; so to make it different, I have a passenger. She will be known as the Cougar and has kindly agreed to write down her thoughts. The Cougar will also be responsible for the photography, window cleaning and dusting. I will be known as Mercury.
____Day 1: The Company has two conditions when carrying passengers: one is that they sign an insurance waiver, relieving the company of the responsibility of any mishap. The second is that they are named on the customs declaration when entering the US in the truck. I have two conditions: one is that the passenger's presence does not hinder the progress of the trip and the other is that they allow their body to be ravished, as and when required. At the end of the first day, we are at Albert Lea, Mn.
____Hi, I get to hijack this blog for a paragraph or two, you can call me "Cougar" and I’m amazed that I’ve lived in North America all my life and it takes an Englishman who has seen more of it than me to let me experience it. Life on the road for this newbie, there was a vehicle that looked like a San Francisco trolley and the US Forces finest from the ND air show. I missed taking those pictures (got to be fast) especially the three air force jets flying over the truck stops. Tally for the day, SF trolley car, Minnesota afternoon delight, US air force jets and two US states.

Nashville, Tennessee, Music City, USA.
 ____Day 2: Having done the trip before and having plenty of time to get to Morrow in Georgia is a big advantage. I can relax, appear competent and keep the Turrettes under control. Fuel from Wayland, showers at East St.Louis and onto Mount Vernon, Illinois.
____Onward through Iowa where I see some eerie looking windmills against the grey drizzly sky backdrop of skyline which prompted a discussion about them with Mercury and a note to self to do a little web searching on windmill power as there were lots of these in Iowa. One thing I did learn is that some rest areas have free Wi-Fi.  One of my favourite quotes is by Mark Twain and it was Hannibal Missouri boyhood town that I got to see. At the end of it a fire truck was a putting out the last of the fire on his trucks trailer. A few miles down the road the cops were in hot race to the scene leaving their donuts behind or so Mercury stated. Tally for the day, Windmills, Hannibal, Mississippi River, Missouri afternoon delight, St Louis arch and three more states where I’ve never been before.
____“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbour, Catch the trade winds in your sails, Explore. Dream, Discover" – Mark Twain.

Choo Choo Truck Wash : that'll be Chattanooga then?
 ____Day 3: Just 33,000 lbs of payload makes for an easy finale to the outward run; with three stops splitting up the day. Diesel and showers from the Petro Stopping Centre on the western bypass of Atlanta; before joining Lee Atkinson and Flying Eagle #25 on the bay at Morrow ready for unloading in the morning.
____Out of Illinois and into Kentucky, where I look around and wonder: where are all the horses? Unfortunately for the horse sight-seeing it's a short drive through Kentucky with no Tornado in sight either. Tennessee is a beautiful place with lots of rolling hills and the only place where a truck has to stop and check their brakes for a steep downhill grade. Everywhere I see signs for Ruby Falls or Rock city, but soon learn that it is one place I can mark to come back to, a city in the sky and a water fall in a cave. Out of Tennessee into Georgia and then back into Tennessee; I feel like I’m on a merry-go-round, but it’s short lived and we are finally in Georgia. Tally for the day, Ohio River, Tennessee River, Nashville, Chattanooga Choo Choo, no afternoon delight; giving him a break and three more states.

Gateway Arch : that'll be St Louis then?
 ____Day 4: Unloaded and instructions to run to Macon for the reload of paper going to Winnipeg. Macon, Georgia undoubtedly named after the Macon in the centre of France. A place well known to all truckers as the half-way point on the  run from Calais to Milan in northern Italy. My lasting memory of Macon: the over-powering stench of urine in the truck-park of the Autoroute Services. A multitude of British trucks waiting for the end of the weekend driving curfew; before driving over the Blanc, to be in Milan on Monday morning. Hot summer Sundays spent drinking beer and then pissing it over the trailer wheels. Loaded and north to the city-centre TA Truckstop in Nashville, Tn.
____Up at the crack of dawn as they unload the truck, we are heading a little further south in Georgia where the highways reminds me of Mars Sands a golf course out in Libau, Manitoba with its tree lined fairway. I keep looking for the fox that steals the balls but all I see is the endless beauty of boulevard of dreams I like to call it, marred here and there by a path taken by one of nature’s wild storms, remnants of past tornados that have ripped down the majestic trees that line Interstate 75.

Reloaded and out of Georgia, I am so special to have Mercury who is so considerate that he planned and made good time to let me spend the night in Nashville. As we leave the truck I notice birds flying over head, thousands of them reminding me of the movie The Birds. Mercury  figures Monday night in downtown Nashville would be quiet, boy, was he wrong? All along Broadway there were establishments open trying to lure unsuspecting tourists in. We had a light dinner at one rib place on the second floor that was open to the air reminding me of one of the many places in the tropics. It was right across from Bridgestone Arena where we could watch all the antics of people walking by and two motorcycle cops. On the way back from the truck, I stop to pat a horse and Mercury is slipped a sex card, can’t leave him alone a minute.

Just a 2 km walk from the truckstop to the heart of Music City and Rippy's Fine Restaurant.
 ____Day 5: This load is heavy: the truck scaling 80,280 lbs gross. Two hundred and eighty pounds over-weight; just about the same weight as the Cougar and her baggage. I did consider unloading her onto some other poor truck-driver and let her make her own way back to Manitoba; but decide on running with half tanks of diesel and staying legal that way. A long day behind the wheel gets us back to Nashua in Iowa, just within range of one-day-away.
____It’s an early start to the day to make up for the gift Mercury gave me yesterday of Nashville, and uneventful as we retrace our way back home. One side detour, another gift from my generous driver is going straight through St Louis so I can get a better look and picture of the famous St Louis Gateway Arch. It amazes me also the twists, turns and tiers of the concrete bridges on I64. Through Tennessee I get to see my first actually live wildlife, two deer grazing by the side of the highway. A long day finally stopping where there is internet connection.

I've always wondered who bought all that souvenir stuff they have at truckstops.
 ____Day 6: Nothing delays a roadtrip more than the dreaded phrase: "I need to pee." But the Cougar, point blank, refuses to slip into the driving seat and do a spot of steering whilst I nip into the sleeper and piddle in a bottle. This negates the big advantage of having two in the cab; so I have to pull over, as usual. Meanwhile the Cougar seems to have superb bladder control. A thousand kilometres, back to the yard with the paper, getting home  at dusk.
____Pushing back on early, through the last of the states, listening to music, it’s the first time during the trip I head into the back for a snooze. Waking up just in time for lunch in Fargo, then Mercury allows me one quick stop before the border for some nice Orange Patron; so I have something to fill all 9 shot glasses I picked up along the way, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia. I actually got three in Nashville, which included a Jack Daniels Jigger along with another shot glass with Nashville and some instruments on it. Last of all; I thank my guide, advisor, confident and bunk mate for taking me to places I’ve never been before, a very pleasurable trip indeed.

Georgia: Destination State: Again.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Georgia Overdrive.

____Day 1: The last trip was to Aberdeen; this one's going to Georgia and there is a connection. What is "Aberdeen Overdrive" in the UK, is "Georgia Overdrive" in the US. The first and last time I tried that; nineteen-seventy-something. I had a Leyland Buffalo off the clock, northbound out of Swindon on the A419 with twenty tons of sugar. Coasted halfway to Cirencester; knocking it out of gear is easy, getting it back in is the problem. Niverville to the TA at Albert Lea on a Friday, after a midday start.
____Day 2: This is getting a regular run for me; but at 2650 kilometres across country, there is plenty of chance to vary the route and the stops. However, I find myself spending another Saturday night at the Interstate crossing of numbers 57and 64. A TA, a Pilot and the local independant: Hucks; three truckstops and all full, with a lot of guys resetting hours or waiting for work. The chat on the CB is about the total lack of hookers; offering company to the many bored drivers. Then some joker comes on and tells everyone that they are parked at the gay-trucker capital of America. Asking why do they think it's called Mount Vernon? It goes quiet after that.

Proof that you can have it all : and take it with you.
 ____Day 3: The whole route is pretty flat with the Pete staying in cruise at 104 kph. The one exception being Monteagle, a long twisting climb between Nashville and Chattanooga in Tennessee. I reach Morrow at dusk and with an early unloading appointment; decide on an early night. But it is overcast, hot and humid. I am  laying awake until the early hours; thinking that a thunderstorm would take a lot of the heat out of the air. Midnight rain in Georgia on my mind.
____Day 4: Unloaded; and a reload is already arranged from Pendergrass, 60 miles north-west of Atlanta. The rolls of geo-textile, a regular reload, going back to Manitoba. Enough time to get back to Mount Vernon again [lucky lad] with a payload of 34,000 lbs, about the same as the southbound trip.

Another trip,  another truck on a stick. Rush Truck Centre, Nashville.
 ____Day 5: At the truckstop diner's counter, I find myself breakfasting opposite the spitting image of Bernie Ecclestone. Whilst thinking of ways in which I can annoy him, another driver comes in and thinks the same. The Bernie clone says that, sadly, it happens a lot. Somehow, I resist the temptation to tell him that if an old man has a naughty school-boy haircut; then it has to be expected. Retracing my route has me back to Mount Albert Lea, that night.
____Day 6: The earliest start possible after a 10 hour overnight break lets me get round the Twin Cities By-pass before the early morning rush. A visit to the Northstar Truckwash at Fargo delays my arrival back at the yard; but the bugs on the bumper needed professional attention. It's just a shame that some more had taken their place by the time I got home.
____Overall Distance: 5424 km.

Nashville skyline.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tip Aberdeen : Reload Suffolk.

____Day 1: After a 36 hour log reset, I'm leaving on a Thursday afternoon to load flour at Portage La Prairie; an hours drive west, on the Trans-Canada Highway. This is the sort of work pattern that a long-haul trucker has to expect in North America. Anything less and a company's profitability suffers as much as a driver's take home pay. When loaded; the truck scales heavy, but as it is the normal payload for this particular job, I will have to go with it. By sliding the trailer axles; the best I can get is a 240 lb overload on the drive axles. But as I have full tanks of diesel, that will soon diminish. Remember to refuel only to 75% capacity. The load is for Maryland, so south to Fargo for the first night.
____Day 2: Delivery is for Sunday, at a bakery in Aberdeen, a 24/7 operation. A full day's drive needed and that gets me to La Salle, Illinois; where something strange happens. I fuel up with my card at the pump with it's attached card reader. But when I go in for the receipt; the Flying 'J denies any transaction has occurred. $500 of free diesel. As my free shower has also failed to register on my loyalty card; I have to pay to get clean but get clean away with the fuel. The first time it has happened in four decades of driving and I only filled the tanks to three quarters full!

Did you know I went to the University of Kentucky?  ...........and bought a sticker.
 ____Day 3: There are enough different fast-food franchises across the US to let you eat at a different one; every day of the year. I'm working on it; but one of my favorites is Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen; chicken and biscuits. Found at most "Travelcentres of America" truckstops. Spicy Cajun chicken tenders, coleslaw, biscuit and sweet iced-tea; all for under $10. The trip is planned by thumbing through my TA directory; letting me finish at Breezewood, Pennsylvania.
____Day 4: Only a short run across the Appalachian mountain chain, down to the Chesapeake Bay area; where I have to wait for a shift change before being unloaded, early Sunday afternoon. Before leaving Niverville, I was given written details of the reload; which is ideal as it is 250 miles away, down the coast at Suffolk, a town in Virginia. Another day, another TA. Richmond for a three-piece chicken supper.
____Day 5: Suffolk is where you would expect to find it; just south of Norfolk. A big peanut-growing area; but I'm after a load of plastic granules; destined for Alberta. Soon loaded, signed, sealed and with just the delivery to do. West, back over the Appalachians, knocking the fuel consumption for six before leveling out at Kentucky.

Big seal for a load of plastic granules : still no problem for your average pikey.
 ____Day 6: Very hot: three digits on the US preferred  Fahrenheit scale. Over a thousand kilometres needed for the next two days. There will be a truck waiting at Niverville to take the load to Edmonton, for Friday morning 08.00 am delivery. My big worry is "Tyres"; high payload, high mileage and high temperatures mean it is highly likely something will go bang. The Peterbilt is still knee-deep in virgin rubber; but the trailer has a couple of retreads that could be on their last trip. Back to La Salle for some more fuel, same fuel card, same pump; but there is a receipt waiting at the fuel desk.  It was worth trying.
____Day 7: Just enough hours left to get back across the border on another hot day. The office phones and says that the Flying'J at La Salle has made contact about some fuel that was not payed for. Somebody must have cross-checked all the diesel sales with the CCTV footage of the trucks at pump 19. But it's not as if I drove away without paying; I stayed the night. The tyres stop the air from showing through; so I'm back in the yard before dark.
____Overall Distance: 6209 km.
Legend has it that the truck was returned in this position after being abducted by aliens. The advertising was added later.