The Upside of Downtime

| April 07, 2005

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 Look at,> or to find out some more possibilities. If you don’t find something for you there, go to 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 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.

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