Rest for the Weary

Usually what truckers complain about, mile-wise, is that they don’t get enough of them. For the past week and a half I’ve had the opposite problem. Ragged, is what they’ve been running me. After unloading at Sacramento I got sent to Salinas for produce.

These produce loads are famous. You run around to various packing houses picking up lettuce here, broccoli there; sometimes it can take days, what with all the waiting. I had three pickups, then three days of hard running to Oklahoma plus an early start the fourth day to get to the receiver.

First, though, I had to get to Salinas.

Steinbeck’s hometown, don’t you know. I certainly do; I used to live around there, know my way around pretty darned well, can get there from anywhere you like without a map but sat in Sacramento for hours waiting for approval on my trip plan. So many hours, in fact, that it was impossible to get there (since my day had started at blue o’clock) before my 14-hour clock ran out. And that’s before the slowdown on I5 because of the burnt-down truck in the median and the virtual standstill on 101 over a dumped load of celery.

Yes, I made it, and I may have even done so legally under the mysterious ‘split sleeper’ rule, an exception to the 14-hour rule so convoluted that nobody, but nobody, ever makes use of it.

Trouble was, it was so late once I got into town that the only three truck stops were full, fuller, and fullest, and the entire packing district was packed with trucks, a stately parade of us all cruising in circles for a place to park.

I ended up ten miles away, in Castroville. Chalk one up for local knowledge. Actually, friends suggested it, and then took me out to dinner. A pleasant interlude.

Then up not ridiculously early but earlier than I wanted to be, to get in line for my first pickup, which once I had driven back into Salinas they told me was not until five.

Strangely (and it will probably never happen again), my luck then changed. At all three pickups, where rows of trucks sat waiting, I was ushered immediately to doors. I was completely loaded by ten, and since I knew there was no hope of parking at that hour I headed down 101 to Soledad where I found a place to pull over just as the clock, both metaphorically and literally, was striking twelve (remember that though I hadn’t driven too many hours, I had started my 14-hour clock early in the day, and you may not use the split sleeper rule twice in a row). So all I had to do was run like Hell every single one of my available hours for three days and then get up at blue o’clock again.

Instead, I used the F-word. In a message to my driver manager, early the second day. Fatigued, I said; I am fatigued, and would very much appreciate a repower. And actually got one. The morning of the third day I swapped loads in Albuquerque.

My new load is not due in Long Beach until the 16th. Four days to run 800 miles.

So yesterday I headed back the way I’d just come, shut down early and went to sleep without setting the alarm for the first time in almost three weeks. Today I ran a hundred and seventy-three miles, and am currently parked at a rest area in the Kaibab National Forest, along the most pleasant stretch of I40 from Memphis to the coast. Monoculture Ponderosa Pine, but I’ll take what I can get. There’s a 12,000-foot peak just north of here, and yes, I was tempted to run out of route until I could find something like a trailhead where I could do some hiking. Chances of finding a place to park this rig (low) and of incurring the Company’s ire (high) dissuaded me.

There’s a nature trail here, a quarter-mile strip of asphalt with interpretive signs, at the far end of which I of course hopped the barbed wire and went for an amble. About the most featureless forest you ever saw, no landmarks to speak of and unbearably flat. Hills all around, mind you, except within a convenient walk of the rest area. Did see a new (for me) species of squirrel, very large with a huge, fox-like, silver-tipped tail. Did find some peace and quiet. I walked in a straight line (yes, it’s a sparse enough forest that you can just about do that, and it’s a good idea because a landmark-less land is the easiest to get lost in) until the highway was several miles behind me, and sat myself down and just sat for a good long time. I’ll probably do so again in the morning, because here’s a funny thing: I was planning to stay here through tomorrow, because if you are stopped for 34 consecutive hours you get to re-set your 70-hour clock. But my manager says that the Company will not let me do a 34-hour re-start while under a load. Probably one of those rules that sounded like it made a lot of sense at the time. and yes, I’ve already called the receiver to see if I can unload a day early, and the answer is ‘no.’ So I will putter around here, get a late start, and find a place to stop tomorrow somewhere in the Great American Desert.

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