Sunday, December 11, 2011

Epilogue

Back home with tons of impressions and memories that could not fit in this blog (or aren't fit for blogging :) ). I've learned a lot about trucker's life and had a rare pleasure of doing it in great company. Thanks Rade, you are a champ!


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Day 8

Slept well, on the road before six. It's dark and the full moon is crystal clear. It will be fun to see the sunrise as we are headed North-East.



Flooded farmland and marshy forests near Biscoe, Arkansas. Pre-dawn light reflects on water like the land and the sky are waking up in unison. Enchanting.



Red sun rising is quite a sight.






It's much colder than we got used to in the past few days. Time to break out heavy jackets, boots and jeans. Dressing up every time you step out of the truck is a chore, but we don't get out much. It's bright and sunny.

Pulled over at TA truck stop near Heth. Full trucking facility with buffet restaurant, office services, bathrooms, gym... Pumped some air in that empty tire, it seems to be holding it well. Standard pressure is 110psi, but it's hard to check it on a four tire axle without a special long stem gauge. We go by the seat of our pants, or better said by the kick of our boots.


We need fuel more often than the truck, not to mention that we leak more too :). The buffet took care of that. Also faxed some papers for the customs.

This is where old truck tires come to die:


Total fuel cost for this trip will be about $2,500. Almost as much as I spend for gas on my bike in a year, and I ride a lot.

Missouri passed in a snap, Ilinois is now. Mississippi river flooding on both sides of Interstate 57 near Cairo :).

Speeding: Truckers speed too, but on a much lower scale and with more severe penalties. One mile over the sped limit will get you a warning, two miles - a ticket. You simply can't afford a poor driving record if driving is how you make a living.

Passed through Marion, Illinois. An infamous "Supermax" prison is here, if my memory serves me well.



Rest area near Salem for refreshments. Picked up a map of Illinois, a KitKat and a pink lemonade. It looks like Americans haven't heard of ginger ale - I haven't seen it anywhere and got a blank stare when I asked.

The tire we pumped earlier is holding well, as much as can be determined by kicking it :).

The dashboard cigarette lighter socket died this morning. All our electronics are now powered from my laptop that is in turn powered from the DC/AC converter plugged into the socket above the lower bunk bed. It works, but a more permanent solution will need to be found eventually.

The fuse box list is loooooong:


So many fuses and relays,but I found the one for the cigarette lighter socket. It dosn't seem blown which is both good and bad. Good because there was no short circuit, bad because it means the wire is broken somewhere. Not a job we can easily tackle on the road, no mater how many hands I stick in the fuse box.



Issues with customs and paperwork. Its the weekend and brokers are hard to reach to confirm that paperwork we faxed earlier is cleared. If brokers don't clear the shipment, it has to go to inland customs facility (providing the shipping company is registered for inbound customs, otherwise it cannot cross the border) before it reaches the customer and that costs time and money. It takes a lot of telephone calls to different brokers and eventually the shipping company's dispatcher. Repeated faxes are sometimes necessary to get things done. After all, there's no guarantee. And they call it "free trade"...

Entered Indiana at Terre Haute. The day is great for driving.The sun is very bright but mostly at our 4 o'clock so it's not blinding. 

Brazil, Indiana :). Stopped for fuel, "only" 165 gallons this time. Faxed some customs paperwork and grabbed a couple of great foot longs from Subway.


Some paperwork cleared the customs, some did not come back yet. A few phone calls with the dispatcher later and we need to send some faxes again. A lot of time and energy wasted on what should not be driver's responsibility at all. Not to mention that shuffling papers while driving and talking on the phone is not very safe.

Reading a pamphlet Rade picked up in the toilet of Travel America truck stop. "OBAMA HAS  APPOINTED MORE TZARS THAN WERE IN COMMUNIST RUSSIA" it says among other stupidity, copied verbatim. This country is going to hell in a hand basket if morons like that are allowed in the vicinity of a Caps Lock button.

The FedEx depot and airport in Indianapolis is huge. Dusk.

A truck with a prominent sign reading "Balkan Ekspres" on it's side window :).

The moon is rising in it's full glory. I hope some of the pictures and a video I took from the big wobbly are going to turn out useable.

The binder that never leaves this truck has 22 documents in it.Every single one of them is mandatory, from the International Registration Plan Cab Card to the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) license, to the Annual Inspection Certificate. At the end are registrations of all the carrier company's trailers.

Traveling towards the full moon on a clear night...

Stopped at Pilot for another round of faxing. Picked up a Pilot/Flying J frequent fueler card (might come in handy on my motorcycle trips - I've developed a taste for truck stops :) ), a couple of free trucker magazines and a special trucking edition of the new testament (I'm very eager to read what Jesus said about trucking).

Gas City, Indiana.

Wow. I haven't seen the moon this bright since I was reading under it on sentry duty on the Adriatic island of Vis some 30 years ago.

Interstate 24, Ronald Reagan Expressway. My GPS says we'll be at the border at 11PM, and so does Rade. Their estimates were very different before and Rade's was always much better and more optimistic.The catch was in the GPS vehicle setting - once I changed it from "truck" back to "car" it became way more accurate. Someone should tell those GPS software programmers that trucks in North America travel as fast as cars :).

Welcome to Ohio. Smooth sailing for a few hours.

Ottawa River? Just crossed it! I75NB, near Toledo..

Motor City, USA. Soon in Ontario.

Stopped at the free shop for a break and filling up the customs paperwork for shipments that were not cleared by brokers and are going to inbound customs warehouse in Mississauga.

Crossed the border with no fuss. Secondary inspections for trucks are no fun and last for hours. A sign bu the road says it's -5. We were at 20+ just a couple of days ago, and that was unseasonably cold for the area.

Time to stop blogging and start packing. We are just hours away from home..




Friday, December 09, 2011

Day 7

Foggy morning, but still warm enough to go without a jacket. Loaded quickly. The cleanest washroom I've seen so far on this trip - it's amazing how seemingly little things like that can make your day.



Rade says: "The air is still leaking, we have a flat tire and we are still in business". We both laugh. It reminds me of the famous scene from "The Blues Brothers", except we are a long, long way from Chicago :))

Had a hearty and probably very unhealthy breakfast - deep fried mushrooms left over from last night's dinner. We ate at Fran's, a seventies style diner that wasn't renovated (and probably not even cleaned) since the seventies. Burgers were pretty decent though, or we were just very hungry. It's amazing what this lifestyle does to my appetite :).




Next stop, Taylor, Texas. Just received a message from dispatch, after that Bryan, Texas. We are going in general direction of home, but we don't know whether we'll pass through Houston, Dallas or some place else. We will be more-less full by the time we exit Texas, so it should be smooth sailing from then on.

This is what a message from dispatch looks like. Miracles of satellite communication:



A lesson: Never wear polarized sunglasses if you'll be looking at LCD screens a lot (cell phones, cameras, GPS-es, laptops...). LCD is polarized too, making the screen completely dark when viewed through lenses polarized on a different plane. On a trip like this glasses tinted on top half only work the best. I have a pair just like that but decided to bring these polarized and heavily tinted ones instead. Lesson learned.

Less barren country now. Trees are 80-90% green here, the fall has just started. Some very poor towns with uninventive names, like Milano. Good road, straight and ecven pavement.

Just saw a motorcycle. A helmet-less guy on a Harley (what else?) with ape hanger handlebars. We've seen very few motorcycles in Texas so far (less than five) which is quite surprising considering the 12 month riding season. You wouldn't catch me dead in a car if I was living here, especially since helmets are optional.

The land of tanks, tankers and pipes.

A big sign for George Bush Library, just outside of Bryan, Texas. A dog sleeping on a trampoline in the back yard. Bryan looks OK, arrived for shipping.

Engaged in some load shuffling while waiting for folks to come back from their lunch break. Reminds me a lot of the old computer game called "Sokoban". Those who played it will know exactly what I mean, except that there is pulling and lifting as well as pushing in this one. there's quite a bit of planning and combining involved to organize the load efficiently. Sometimes you need to unpack it too... The trailer is 53ft long, nine feet wide and about nine feet high.You can load a lot of stuff in here, especially if you plan well and double-stack it.



Next stop, Quitman, near Dallas.

The area we are passing through is nicer then before. Farms and ranches, neat and pretty green for Texas. A few oil pumps don't mess up the scenery. The road is bumpy, I can hardly type. It's good that the seat is air suspended, my kidneys would suffer otherwise :).



The truck is 18,000 pounds heavy, trailer 15,000.

Crosses on the side of the road are a fairly common sight, even on the highway. I'm wondering how fast one needs to drive here to get in serious trouble, especially having in mind that traffic is quite sparse and road obstacles of any kind rare. Scratch that - just seen a lady typing on her cell phone in earnest while hogging the left lane at 120 and occasionally swerving every which way. That's a sure way to become a statistic.

Another cross, this time where it has no place being. What does it say under it, "cheeses is lard"?

.

Palestine, TX, population 1852.

Our paperwork has cleared the customs, just got a confirmation via SMS. Our next load is our last for this trip. We are headed home from there.



I took my first nap while on the move :). The picture is from Rade's phone.



The area we are passing through is nicer then before. Farms and ranches, neat and pretty green for Texas. A few oil pumps don't mess up the scenery. The road is bumpy, I can hardly type. It's good that the seat is air suspended, my kidneys would suffer otherwise :).

The truck is 18,000 pounds heavy, trailer 15,000.

Crosses on the side of the road are a fairly common sight, even on the highway. I'm wondering how fast one needs to drive here to get in serious trouble, especially having in mind that traffic is quite sparse and road obstacles of any kind rare. Scratch that - just seen a lady typing on her cell phone in earnest while hogging the left lane at 120 and occasionally swerving every which way. That's a sure way to become a statistic. 

Palestine, TX, population 1852.

Different scenery on North 69.This road is designated "Texas forest trail" and it lives up to it's name . Smooth pavement, sweeping turns, generous speed limit of 70mph (110km/h). I'm wondering out loud what the speed limit on a similar road in Canada would be. 80, if we are lucky. Long live Texas, damn the nanny state!

Arrived to an intersection near Quitman, what a funny name. The GPS says we are at our destination, but there's nothing here but forests and farmland. Rade calls (barely a cell phone signal). We are on the right track, just need to proceed for five more miles. Got there just fine. A single loading dock, one truck already there. Waiting for him to finish loading we had time for a meal. Whatever was left in the fridge was devoured quickly.

The guy unloading his truck ahead of us travels with his dog. The first time I've seen it and Rade doesn't remember ever encountering a trucker with a pooch copilot either. 



The night has fallen by the time we loaded nine pallets of some "food stuff". I later discover it's $50,000 worth of "glutamine".



Driving through a rural area with no lights but our own is a little eerie. The road is mostly void of other traffic, corners few but fairly sharp, pavement good to excellent. Texas highway 37.

No cell signal here, writing offline again. It's so dark that I have to dim the laptop display all the way down. A red light above co-pilot's seat illuminates the keyboard really well without being a hindrance to the driver.

We'll be out of Texas soon, having driven 1570 miles through it. No more pick-ups, just fix-ups. We'll get that flat tire done at the earliest convenience. BTW, it's tire number 5 when counted left to right, front rto back, or third tire from the left on the front truck axle. I found out it's out of air when I stepped on it while we were looking for the air leak. If someone told me you can drive a loaded truck with a punctured tire ("flat" is a misnomer in this case - the other tire is holding it) for several thousand miles without problems I would have thought they are making fun of me. Now I know :). Air leak looks like it can wait until Toronto, the pump making up for the loss in pressure.

A big-ass sign reminds us that we are passing by Hope, Arkansas, the birth place of one William Jefferson Clinton.

Stopped at a TA (Travel America) truck stop to see if we can get the tire done. Two hours wait. Forget it, we'll be in Little Rock for the night by then and there's service there too.

Service center in Little Rock packed. Continuing on to Memphis, Tennessee.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Day 6


Got something to pick up so we don't drive empty to Canada. Taking Texas 83 towards Eagle Pass / Del Rio. Nice Texas desert with low shrubs, cacti and some industrial crap or the other every few miles. Sunny and warm. We are hugging the US/Mexico border due North-West for a while.


Just crossed Rio Grande after Eagle Pass. There's nothing "grande" about it here, it's about the size of Toronto's Don River. We would have missed it if it wasn't for Rade pointing it out. No chance to take a picture, it went away too fast.

There won't be any cell signal here, so I'm blogging in advance. Towns are few, small and far between and coyotes and rattlesnakes have no use for cell phones.

All of the sudden, in Normandy, a flooded farm field. In the middle of the desert. Mystery. Again no picture, scenery changing too fast.

They grow pecans here by the Rio Grande. We saw a farm that had pecan trees under which they were keeping roosters. Funny, each tree had a little tin roof about the size of a dog bouse under it. Every little rooster has his own house and there are hundreds of them. never seen anything like it.

We saw a fallen eagle by the road. It's a huge bird up close. Unclear whether it was a road kill or natural death.

Crossing quite a few creeks and rivers. Most, even some pretty big ones, dry as a bone. Reminds me of "dry waterfalls" of Death Valley. This is one of the bigger ones - two big bridges over a dry riverbed:



A plane passes across 85 very fast. Military jet. Loughlin Airforce Base is on the right, we can see the runway in the distance.

Loaded three pallets in Fabricas Elena in Del Rio. Quick and easy, friendly folks work here. Next stop, Austin. We are officially heading back home from here. Due North-east, with a few stops in between.

A nice but deserted and apparently abandoned park in Del Rio:



Yours truly:


A side note: Border patrol checkpoints are common in this area, even further away from the border. They are not aggressive or obtrusive, but it's still not pleasant when they have a dozen cameras and a drug sniffing dog pointed at you. There's a prominent sign that warns commercial truck drivers that they will loose their license for life if caught smuggling people, weapons or drugs. Well, we have cameras too :).

Many deer by the road. Fortunately, wire fences are solid and high enough, so no one is in danger. Such beautiful and graceful creatures. This is ranch country, but one can see only the entrances. Houses are far away in the distance, if you can see them at all.

Sun is behind our back, setting. Photographers call this "the golden hour" for a reason. Decided to forget the camera(s) and enjoy the view of the desert at sunset. I'm wondering if there's a way to make a living doing this (blogging about travels, not driving a truck - I know that's too hard :) ). Speaking of blogging, I'm getting seriously used to typing from my lap in the constantly bouncing seat :).

San Antonio, the place of the Alamo. A pit stop. The truck has been showing a little leak in the air brake system. Nothing to worry about (the compressor is more than capable of keeping up), just something to keep an eye on, check and fix eventually. The first step in troubleshooting is to determine which part of the combo the fault is at - the truck or the trailer. Rade will do that by disconnecting the trailer and checking the blood, I mean air, pressure. He'll do that tonight or tomorrow morning at the loading dock.


Well, the air leak problem appears to be on the truck, not the trailer as we originally suspected. It's not critical though, as predicted. Not all is bad too - in our efforts to find what is hissing and where we discovered a flat tire and a burned-out marker light (sure, it's just a marker, but a trucker can be fined for it nonetheless). We couldn't find out what pierced the tire either, so the treatment is going to be pumping it up and monitoring to see how big the leak is. For all we know it may have taken months for it to deflate through a slow leak.It looks like we'll be busy fixing these annoyances for a day or so and may be delayed a little, but it's all a part of the experience for me and quite normal for Rade, so we are having a lot of fun joking about it :).
 


I was about to post some pictures but I'm too tired. Maybe tomorrow. Sleeping in a parking lot in deserted industrial area of Austin. Our natural habitat :).

A roadside grill:

 The "combo":

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Day 5

Unloaded the last palette and are now running empty, at least for a while. Apart from not being good for the business, an empty trailer is very unpleasant at high crosswinds you are bound to encounter on a trip like this. it's just not designed to travel light :).

I always wondered how truckers lean those trailers so perfectly against the loading dock. Well, apart from the skill it takes to align it, the rest is easy - just reverse slowly until the trailer hits the dock :).



The rest of the day free, we spent some time walking around a big shopping mall in Laredo, having coffee and doing some shopping. If someone teleported us here there would be no way to tell where we are. A shopping mall like this could be anywhere in US or Canada.


Popped the hood to check the truck engine and suspension components. Doesn't need anything but a quick "Balkan style" fix of the air box cover. With few minor fixes it will be good for another million miles :).



Waiting for something to load for the trip back we are taking a break until tomorrow. Booked into a Red Roof, took a good SSS (the last two S-es stand for the Shower and Shave, don't ask what the first one means :) ). Got beer, ordered a big pizza and relaxing. the truck is parked right outside and properly secured. This is not a neighborhood you would leave thief magnets like laptops and cameras lying on the dashboard.


To serve us and protect us:


Pizza was good and so was the beer. Time for a movie :)

As for the rest of the day (and night) let's just say that what happens in Laredo stays in Laredo :)).

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Day 4

Awakened by a knock on the door at 5:30. Cindy said that the guy scheduled at 6 didn't show up so we can unload two hours earlier than we thought, full four hours before the delivery was originally scheduled. No one is complaining, it will give us more time to rest later.


Unloaded and on our way to the next stop in Austin. It's still pitch black out, sunrise is about an hour away. Rade is afraid that we'll hit Austin just in time for rush hour. 

Arrived in Austin.Wall Street it is, but wrong building. This rig is a pain to turn around in a small parking lot, but Rade is a master.

It's cold today, temperature hovering around freezing. I didn't expect that in the lone star state.

Delivered some steel pipes to Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. They are going to apply pressure on them until they collapse and then pump them up until they burst. That's the kind of stuff they do here, ultra macho cool :).



It's finally sunny again. Rolling towards our next stop.

We have to wait a while to unload three palettes of food grade acid in Elmendorf (outskirts of San Antonio), so we had a good snack. Rade is taking a nap while I'm exploring the area, shooting pictures and writing the blog. I'm fascinated by this beautiful old oak tree in the middle of an otherwise barren field. It makes a great shade with it's overhanging branches and it has a cactus growing from it's trunk up where the biggest branches split. This would be a great picnic spot, but there's no one around to appreciate it and it's on company land.




It's sunny now and getting warm enough to walk around without a jacket. Just as should be in southern Texas in early December.

Passed through some back country. Now this is more like how I imagined Texas. longhorn cattle, ranches, an oil rig here and there. Dry and mostly poor, as far as I can gauge.



Getting close to Laredo, just passing under a highway intersection. They sure build these ramps and overpasses high here.

Parked behind a closed restaurant in Laredo, had a quick snack and a beer and headed for a stroll to downtown. We haven,t found any places inviting enough to enter and the main strip is mostly deserted. There are some places that have character though, like these drive-throughs that sell everything from cigarettes and booze to car washes. It looks like there may be some extracurricular activities there too, but we weren't inclined to check them closely (how do you go into a drive-through on foot?).




It's getting late and we are exhausted. Three deliveries today after abbreviated sleep last night. Hitting the bunks, see you tomorrow.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Day 3

Slept in Joshua, Texas. Rained again all night. Unusually cold for these parts, but we wrapped up better this time (two nested sleeping bags and pijamas) and Rade ran the engine a couple of times during the night to warm us up. The big diesel sucks a gallon an hour just idling at 500rpm. Not a terrible lot in the grand scheme of things, but you wouldn't run it all night unless it's really cold out.

Unloaded the first shipment, going back forty miles for the next delivery in Grande Prairie. Damn, Texas has more churches than gas stations, not to mention hospitals or anything else more useful. They are better looking too. Sad. What we've seen of Dallas is not impressive at all. We may as well be driving through Oklahoma. Nothing of distinction, just shopping malls, chain stores and "restaurants", parking lots, nondescript buildings and the highway.

There ain't no guns in our facility:


but you can buy ammo in Walmart across the street.100 shotgun shells for an every day low price of $20:


Second load of the day off, heading through Fort Worth towards Waco.

Uploaded some pictures to the album. It's really cool being able top do that while on the move.

Outside of urban centers Texas is pretty green, but still boring. I expected more arid and desert-like scenery, but this area is so far flat and covered in grassy farmland.

Flying J truck stop for shower and lunch. Good, clean facilities, tasty food and plenty of it. I'm learning a lot of things about trucking that can come in handy on long drives or motorcycle rides. Truck stop facilities experience is among those things.

The rest of the day is spent replenishing supplies in Walmart and doing some maintenance on the electrical equipment. Between my cameras, two GPS-es, two laptops, USB power supplies, battery chargers, etc.  there's a lot of wiring in the cabin, but we are managing OK. A blown fuse and some sparking here and there is more-less expected with such a setup but with some Balkan style fixing everything works again. More solid than it was before, if I may say so :).

Found Mobil 1 oil for my bike that costs $40 in Canadian Tire for $24.99. Champion spark plugs for %3 a pop too. Cheap is good, but I can't stop thinking what the real socioeconomic cost of "walmartization" is.

$5 rotisserie chicken was delicious:


and so was the Michelob dark:



Sleeping arrangement is the same as last night, parking lot of the company we are delivering to in the morning. I'm going to sleep now, will try to spice up this post with some pictures in the morning.

Here's the bunk side of the truck's cabin. Plenty of room indeed:


Day 2

Slept well, rain beating on the roof of the truck cabin all night. Cold by the morning and needed to pee but too stubborn to get up and out, so decided to tough it out. Woke up around 7 to a gentle beep and vibrations from the big diesel warming up.

Rade's brother Goran who left Toronto later caught up with us last night (smaller engine, heavier load). We'll be travelling in a small family convoy (black truck, white truck) to Texarkana, on the border between Texas and Arkansas.


A quick refreshment and breakfast in Starbucks (very clean facilities, the staff knows Rade :) ).

Rolling through Marion, Illinois.

Missouri, a truck stop near Memphis, Tennessee. Rade doesn't have a very high opinion of the food here and he used to be a chef so I can't contradict, but I was hungry enough and enjoyed it anyway.

Towards Little Rock, Arkansas, pretty heavy rain. Looks like some truck was bouncing between guardrails and plowing the field repeatedly. No sign of him though. Stop and go traffic for seven miles, radio says. Rade predicts an hour lost here and I trist his judgement and milions of miles of experience.

Rough road for a while, they should have fixed this long time ago. Arkansas (Bill Clinton's home state) looks in -pretty bad shape. Almost every river we crossed today is overflowing it's banks and the rain is still falling pretty heavily.

Typing this in my lap as we drive, so excuse an occasional misspelling. I guess it will add some authenticity to the story in the end:)

Rolling full legal speed again (65mph). Rade and Goran were driving in parallel for a while to prevent overtaking in front of a one lane zone. Construction pilons everywhere, no crews in sight. They either don't work on Sunday or their union prohibits working in the rain (it is heavy, I have to admit. Crnogorac brothers are discussing over CB to bypass Arkansas next time - too much construction. Well, they better start actually working because Interstate 40 is in bad shape.



Arkansas still flooded. Both sides of the Interstate. in many places less than a meter below the asphalt level.

Someone went plowing:



Just crossed Arkansas River near Little Rock. It's shores are bursting. Rain is not letting go yet.



Stopped in Texarkana for fuel. 228 gallons heavier truck, $890 lighter wallet. Bid fairwell to Goran as he continued to Shreveport, Louisiana. We may hook up again on up on our way back. Grabbed a couple of slices of greasy but tasty pica and continued on. Still raining. Entered Texas, planning to stay in Dallas for the night. I hope there be InterWebs there, starting to feel a little silly for writing a blog no one has read yet :)



So far, about 1,100Km through non-stop rain, mostly showers with some lightning too. I don't think I ever travelled this long without seeing a dry patch or a piece of blue sky. We are heading southwest and the storm front is moving north so we should be out in the clear tomorrow, just on time to enjoy Texas scenery. we'll see.

Over 800 miles today, officially the most I ever travelled on land in a day. Also, the most I ever travelled in almost continuous rain. I'm glad I wasn't on a motorcycle today, but if I was would I ever have a story to tell (if I survived, that is).