The Upside of Downtime

| April 07, 2005

ACTIVITY TIPS

1. You are often your only source of positive reinforcement on the road. The real key to using time productively in East Gumshoe is learning to tap your inner resources.

2. If your hobbies are transportable, take along the materials you require to do them. Remember before you leave the house to take reading material or other stuff to pass the time productively.

3. Consider taking a distance learning course.

4. Think about your future and write down a plan. Make checklists to get you to your goals and check off each item as you accomplish it.

5. Downtime is the best time to take care of your body. Downtime is the time for personal discipline to kick in and help maintain your health and longevity.

6. Use the Internet if you are wired up. Research a subject in which you are interested.
7. Consider becoming a Trucker Buddy. Go to www.TruckerBuddy.org.

8. Boredom is the product of a lack of will power. Overcome your boredom, and you will develop a more positive outlook about life on the road.

As a professional driver, you are traveling in the wake of a full-throttle change in the way you run your truck.

The new hours-of-service rule allows you to drive 11 hours within a 14-hour time period, but it requires you to take two more hours of rest than in the past. In some cases, you may have a little more time on your hands, especially if you use the voluntary 34-hour restart provisions that resets your clock and gives you back the full 60/70. If you’re not home, you’ve got a long slog in a doggy bog.

This extra downtime doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you plan ahead. You can use it to relax or get something accomplished you’ve never had time for before, like getting a college degree, organizing your finances, working out to keep fit and healthy or finally sitting down to write that great American novel.

But you have to work at having a meaningful life on the road. Such discipline is much more easy to come by if you have had the foresight to bring along the items from home you may need to put your willpower to work.

Think about the activities you enjoy at home and find a way to bring them – or a version of them – with you on the road.

Some drivers, like former owner-operator Lance Gates, polish their trucks. “I used long layovers to clean my truck,” Gates says.

The idea is to keep busy but to relax as well. You would hate to spend your 34 hours or your extra two hours accomplishing nothing and getting tired doing it.

For those who want to pass the time in self-improvement, reading or listening to tapes is an excellent option. The Teaching Company offers tapes that can help you with a continuing college education. From this vast selection of courses on tape, given by lecturers from Harvard, Yale and other such respected places of higher education, you can choose your curriculum, listening while you drive or while you’re at a truckstop. You can finish an entire semester course on subjects from astrology to zoology in 30 to 40 hours.
The Teaching Company can be reached at (800) 832-2412 or on their website at Teach12.com. Look at www.classesusa.com, www.universities.com/Distance_Learning/> or www.yahoo.com/education/distance_learning to find out some more possibilities. If you don’t find something for you there, go to www.google.com and type in “distance learning” to find more choices.

Books can also be purely entertainment. Teresa Fox, a driver for Miller Trucking of Stroud, Okla., tends to read romance novels. “My last read was a Cassie Edwards novel,” she says. “I finished it in a day.”

If reading isn’t for you, you can still pass the time with books on tape. Truckstops rent or sell them, and you can rent and return books at the next truckstop, or the next, and pick up another one [or get them free from Truckers News, see Audiobook Reviews].

The Internet is another excellent educational and recreational tool for those who are wired up. Fox browses the Internet when she has time on the road. “I try to learn as much as I can about trucking,” Fox says. “And I stay in touch with my children and grandchildren.” Simply plugging in a search word on a topic of interest in a major search engine (such as www.google.com) will generally pull up pages of websites on the subject.

Even for those not inclined to surf, e-mail is a cheap and easy way to stay in touch with family and friends via a computer of your own – especially if you have a laptop along on the road – or via a truckstop kiosk. Those same computers can find you loads and organize your life.

But nowadays you don’t even need a laptop. Hand-held electronic devices are worth shopping for if it’s just e-mail you want. For example, PocketMail is a hand held e-mail device that works over nearly any existing phone line. At just under $100, it is also cheaper than some of the other life-organizing and e-mailing electronic devices.

But keeping your mind sharp and your loved ones aware of your thoughts isn’t always enough. Stuffed behind the wheel for hours, subject to the abuse of inactivity, your body cries to you for attention. You needn’t be a hardcore bodybuilder or health nut to want to stay in a little better shape. Walking or jogging is one simple way to improve your health – and it requires no more special equipment than a pair of sneakers. Yoga, stretching, weight lifting and martial arts or boxing training routines can also be done in little space and with some major health benefits.

Bob Stoker, an owner-operator from Michigan, likes to walk. “I walk for my health and for the pleasure of it. I try to find a park or athletic field nearby,” he says. And while truck drivers often joke among themselves that they never walk farther than a cup of coffee, purposeful walking is perhaps the smartest thing a sedentary truck driver can do to control calories and stay healthy in general.

There is also equipment out there that’s perfect for drivers to use went they are parked. Folding bicycles that take up little room for example. Or specially designed equipment such as the Truck Gym could be your answer. It is a piece of equipment that fits around the driver’s or passenger seat and attaches to the floor with self-tapping screws, and there are 50 exercises you can do, most of them for the upper body, including your gut.
Similar devices used regularly can increase heart strength.

You can also improve your health by using that extra downtime to prepare a calorie-conscious meal in your cab. Investing in a portable refrigerator and/or cooker can save you money in the long run and perhaps introduce you to a new hobby on the road. Not only can cooking this way improve your health, it can become a fascinating pastime. Becoming a top-quality chef is a possibility for drivers who use their downtime to learn how to prepare gourmet food. While space and cooking facilities are limited, today’s range of cookbooks and websites dedicated to fine food preparation will let you enjoy a wide range of styles and dishes.

Sports are also a possibility. Check out this month’s The Great Outdoors (on page 40) and see how one flatbedder uses his stopovers to go sky diving. If that’s a little extreme, consider taking fishing tackle with you in the cab.

Or how about carrying a chess set, checkers, playing cards or dominoes. These games provide a wonderful pastime and offer challenges at truckstops in all corners of the country. Bridge may sound like a game for highbrows, but when it comes to cards it is a game that can take a lifetime to learn and be as inspirational to those who love to play as sky-diving is to our flatbedder. The Internet also offers links so that you can play live board or card games with other players anywhere in the world.

Remember, boredom is not relaxing. It is stressful. Finding an activity that gives a sense of accomplishment restores the positive mental attitude it is very easy to lose on the road. And that positive attitude is a primary player in being able to achieve that state of relaxed readiness that driving requires.

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