Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wandering through the hills of Iowa

WALCOTT, IA - I am currently in the world's largest truck stop. No, really. It's pretty exciting.

Another exciting thing: I just took my first shower in four days. Ah, welcome to life on the road.

The first two weeks of student driver training are supposed to be introductory. The trainer gets loads that s/he can handle alone, with the student along to observe and drive a few hours. After the two weeks, the truck becomes a team truck, which means it never stops moving, with the trainer driving 10 hours then the student driving the same amount of time. In practice, this rarely happens, and dispatchers treat the truck as a team truck from the day the student gets in it.

This arrangement does not work well for a student like me, who ought to go call her truck school and get her money back - at least, according to my trainer. I don't know how to shift a damn truck. I don't know how to shift, period. I never drove stick shift before truck school, and the transmissions my school used are vastly different from the transmissions Werner uses, and I'm lost. It's been suggested I go work for a company that uses exclusively automatic trucks.

My trainer has actually been very nice and honest about all of this. He's a nice guy, a big, bearded, dry-witted man from Michigan. It's a little bit like driving around with Michael Moore. It's not his fault that I suck at this, and he's doing all he can to help me, but it's been a week and I'm still lost.

And with every wrong move I make and every gear I miss, I think about the person I left behind. My heart is not in this. It's not on the road anymore, at least not right now.

It's always been so easy for me to leave. Sure, I've missed people and places, but it's always been a wistful glance in the rearview mirror as I drove away. But it gets harder every time, the weight of previous departures building up to an anchor I carry with me.

Today, driving down the rolling hills of Iowa, I realized that all I'm doing is running away again, as I always do. And I hate myself for it.

I don't know what this all means. I've been two seconds away from grabbing my stuff and walking off the truck for the entire time I've been here. But I'm in Iowa so I can't do it right now. And my mind spins through so many thoughts in the span of an hour that I lose track. And, well, I just don't know.


Anonymous said...

I didn't know they had automatic 18-wheelers. Maybe that's something to look into. Or maybe you should try to tough it out until you learn it -- or until they fire you. Hey, it'd make a good story, right? :)

And I sympathize with that feeling that you've got an anchor now, that you might want to stay somewhere because you want to. Took me a while, but I've got it now, and I do think about the people I'd leave behind and learning a new town again and new computer systems, blah blah blah, every time I contemplate my next move in life.

Jason said...

Just so you know, it took me forever to shift well. While I did drive stick before getting into the rig, I had to get into the habit of double-clutching and learn a different shift pattern than in my pickup. In that respect, there's two hurdles you don't have to jump.

In the trucking school I went to, we learned on 10-speeds. When I got into my mentor's truck, he (as well as the rest of the company) had an 8-speed. All the gears were in opposite places than in the trucks I learned in. It took me TWO FULL WEEKS to shift without apologizing for a hard grind. Even in weeks five and six, I'd still get lost in the gears, coasting in neutral, searching for a gear that wouldn't grind. I can still remember my trainer call out from behind the curtain, "You need me to come out there?"

The only cure for this is experience and practice. I've been at this for about 9 months now, and I still grind a gear here and there. It's a harder skill than those that are good at it let on.

I know you're not asking for my opinion, but I'm giving it to you anyway--Don't give up. You're going to get this.

gabsatrucker said...

It takes time to learn to shift, despite what your trainer is saying it takes longer than a few weeks to get the hang of things, esp. if it's a different shifting pattern than the school's trucks. I was fortunate that my husband had been driving for 12 yrs before I decided to learn how to drive and he worked with me for a few months on the shifting before I went to school.

There is a lot to learn and with everything being new in the beginning it can be overwhelming. The company we work for now runs automatics and I love it. Wouldn't go back to the manual transmission unless I had no choice.

Hang in there, we need more women in the industry. July will be my 8 yr anniversary of driving, six years (so far) of it solo. Still married to the same guy, we just don't like driving team--we both prefer sleeping in a non-moving vehicle.


Joel said...

The feeling of being 2 seconds from quitting struck a familiar chord for me; I was involved in the LDP program with a Youth Corps out of the Pac. Northwest, and it was the most grueling experience of my life.... I did actually quit, and don't regret it, because I felt like I didn't belong. I'm reading your blog and others, to see if trucking would appeal to me.

Thanks for sticking with it, and for being honest about your feelings.

Trkrjim said...

I have moved around a lot in my life: california, new york, new hampshie, Japan, and now iowa. I like change and always felt sorry for people who where so solidly rooted they couldn't consider changing. I often considered myself a tumbleweed with my roots above ground.My last move to iowa turned out to be pretty tough for the family, so my heart's not in it anymore. I've become very happy in place; although I still get to travel. i'm home now.