R & R on the road
A little planning and a sense of adventure can turn downtime away from home into rewarding experiences.
Many truckers don’t know what to do with themselves during downtime. They may be between loads, waiting for a delivery time or far from home during a 34-hour restart — often in an unfamiliar place. The majority end up hanging around the truck, catching up on sleep, cleaning and fixing their rig, socializing and eating.
Barriers to spending meaningful time on the road are many. Pulling a trailer behind a tractor limits mobility. “A lot of what we do is based on being close to that truck,” says Scott Kinley, an owner-operator leased to Landstar. “If you’ve got a load, you’re not going to wander far from that load.”
Money is another problem. The economic downturn has tightened the belt for many operators and forced them to spend more downtime in or close to the truck.
Yet some truckers point out that many activities and pleasures cost little or nothing. Walking doesn’t cost anything and offers exercise and a respite from the noise and emissions found at truckstops. Owner-operator Joe Fenwick, leased to Mercer Transportation, spent two days in the Virginia mountains, time which included participating in a tour.
Here’s how some other truckers spend their downtime on the road.
Linda and Bob Caffee find time to stay active during downtime. The owner-operators are members of the health-focused arm of the Trucking Solutions Group, which arranges walks at trucking shows. Bob says the group holds weekly conference calls to discuss best practices and features guest speakers, while Linda says health group members share ideas on how to exercise on the road. They also are on the driver advisory council to the Healthy Trucking Association of America.
Linda frequently walks during their downtime. She says she often finds interesting places to walk, even at truckstops. “One of my favorites is in Flagstaff [near the Little America truckstop in Arizona], where there are a lot of walking trails through the forest and along streams,” she says. “When we’re in Portland, you can walk along the [Columbia] river [near the Jubitz truckstop].”
When the Caffees were staying at the Flying J in Carlisle, Pa., she started walking and ran into the Appalachian Trail a mile away. Bob says they often consult the Rails to Trails website (www.railstotrails.org). Once, when they were waiting two days for repairs to their truck, they found a trail across the road from the shop and did an 8-mile trek each day.
Linda writes a blog for Expediters Online and says expediter teams often get together for barbecues on the road. The couple also often visits family when near a delivery stop. Having “family scattered around the United States” and being drivers, she says, the Caffees “get to see them a little more often than if we had 9-to-5 jobs.”
Rhyming and quilting
To pass the time, Wayne Dollar tells stories. As he rolls along, the Mercer-leased owner-operator turns his experiences into stories told in rhyme that are “99 percent true,” he says. He’s created enough to fill three CDs, with another planned this summer (http://www.truckingaround.com).
“Before there was satellite radio and only having CB radio to talk with each other, everyone was telling the same old thing night after night about what they were missing,” he recalls. “It was boring just listening. I started telling these stories to entertain these drivers.”
To entertain himself last summer, Dollar began another pursuit — quilting. Dollar, who’s been driving off and on since 1983 and operating on his own almost as long, had been asking his wife to stitch a quilt for him. “I said what you need to do is to teach me how to build a quilt, and then we’ll have something to do together,” he says.
On the road, he’ll work on quilt designs and visit shops to buy fabric and materials. When he returns home, he’ll take a few days off and sew the quilt with his wife. “Life on the road is hectic,” Dollar says. “Your downtime is either really boring or you create something to do with it. If you’re sitting and waiting for your hours to restart and you don’t have something to do, that is really a long time.”
Eric Blake is a book maker, but not of the gambling kind. The owner-operator, leased to expediter Bolt Express, specializes in hauling art and creates books for writing journals and sketching on the side.
On the road, Blake generates ideas and plans books and sells his creations out of his 2007 Sprinter van. He also monitors his website, www.matchboxbook.com. “First thing I do is search for Wal-Mart for a place I can spend the night and to look for supplies,” he says. “I’m in a cargo van, so there’s a better chance to stay there. I will do a search for the local library where I can spread out a little bit more. I [go to the library] to be out of the vehicle and to have space.”
Blake, with a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of North Texas, also visits art museums during downtime. He bought a museum membership that allows him to have reciprocal membership privileges at hundreds of museums around the country. He uses the visits to explore ideas, enjoy art and to spend time away from his vehicle.
Spending time on extended layovers
As team drivers leased to FedEx Custom Critical, Mark Kathrein and his wife, Wendy Wing, encounter extended downtime of two to five days. During these periods, they like to visit amusement parks with roller coasters. “We’ve ridden quite a few of those throughout the country,” Kathrein says.
They also visit local tourist destinations, such as Snoqualmie Falls near Seattle, Universal Studios, Meteor Crater in Arizona, Niagara Falls, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, aquariums in Atlanta and Baltimore and Disney World, where they’ve been three times. They will drive to big shopping malls, such as Mall of America in Minnesota, jump out and walk around. “If we know there’s something close by to where we’re going, we’ll seek it out,” says Kathrein, who packs his golf clubs a couple times on summer runs.
Kathrein notes it was easier to go sightseeing when they kept track of hours with paper log books. Now they are working off of electronic logs that start recording after seven-tenths of a mile. “We’re having to adjust by either renting a car or taking a taxi,” he says. They rented a car for a recent three-day stop in Los Angeles.
Sometimes piloting their tractor-trailer makes it difficult to maneuver through their downtime destinations. They usually call ahead to see whether a site or hotel can accommodate their rig. Even then it doesn’t always work out. “At Disney World, they told us we could park our rig at one of their hotels,” Kathrein says. “It took us an hour and a half just to get out of the parking lot.”
Though husband and wife owner-operators Lily and Charles Williams spend six to eight weeks at a time on the road before returning home for two weeks, they stay busy when not driving. Since most of their hauling is terminal to terminal, they often get together with other husband-and-wife teams they know who are also leased to their carrier, Forward Air. “We might go out to dinner, or I might cook dinner and invite another couple over” to their extended 132-inch sleeper tractor, says Lily, who keeps the books for the Williams’ business, Shebo Express.
The Williams also visit family around the country for outings. For those occasions, Lily takes “a set of heels and a little black dress” along. They’ve downloaded Skype Internet phone software and attached a camera to their laptop, and they plan to communicate via computer with family back home while on the road.
They’ve visited the Grand Canyon, the Florida Keys and the George Washington Carver museum, among other destinations. Lily walks a lot, participates with Linda Caffee in Trucking Solutions’ health group and takes along a fitness program to play on her Wii console. “We’re never bored,” she says. “There just doesn’t seem to be enough time to do everything we need to do.”
A trucker’s favorite sites
Mike Tungate, leased to John Christner Trucking, spends four to six weeks on the road at a time. Over 17 years of driving, he has a few favorites among the places he’s visited.
At the top of his list is the view at night of the mega lights when approaching Las Vegas. He remembers that, before 9/11, you could drive a commercial vehicle across Hoover Dam and see the iconic neon Vegas Vic cowboy sign. He says he delivered furniture when the MGM Grand hotel was built.
Tungate doesn’t have Internet access on the road, so he often relies on other truckers for tips on places to visit. One of the best tips was picking up an Old West train in Williams, Ariz., for a four-hour ride to the Grand Canyon.
He also recalls visiting Walton’s Mountain Museum in Virginia; Tombstone, Ariz.; the Alamo; the Playboy Mansion West near Hollywood; the Statue of Liberty; and cruise ships in Miami. He enjoys getting out of the truck. “When I’m in Washington [State] I like to look at the mountains,” he says. “When I go to Wenatchee to pick up apples and pears, I’m next to the Columbia River and get to look at everything in bloom at the apple orchards.”
Top 25 most visited tourist destinations in America (according to Forbes)
2. Las Vegas Strip, Nevada
3. National Mall and Memorial Parks, Washington, D.C.
4. Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston
5. Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Florida
6. Disneyland Park, California
7. Fisherman’s Wharf/Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco
8. Niagara Falls, New York
9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, North Carolina
10. Navy Pier, Chicago
11. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona, Nevada
12. Universal Studios Orlando/Islands of Adventure at Universal, Florida
13. SeaWorld Florida, Orlando
14. San Antonio River Walk, Texas
15. Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah
16. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Pennsylvania/New Jersey
17. Universal Studios, Hollywood
18. Metropolitan Museum, New York
19. Waikiki Beach,Oahu, Hawaii
20. Grand Canyon, Arizona
21. Busch Gardens Africa, Tampa Bay, Florida
22. Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts
23. SeaWorld San Diego
24. American Museum of Natural History, New York
25. Atlantic City Boardwalk, New Jersey