From Beer to Baked Goods

One of the interesting parts of tagging along with Mike on his Celadon deliveries is figuring out what the heck we are transporting hither and yon around the US.  This morning while waiting to get the scheduled load in Lebanon, TN, I googled the name on the sign at the facility we had pulled into.  When the company web page popped up displaying this yummy photo my stomach rumbled with hunger.  What a temptation.  Lee is always joking about us raiding what’s in the trailers we are hauling.  I wasn’t at all tempted by the load of Bud Light we hauled up here to Tennessee but those baked goods sure look good.

Last night as we approached the customer site where the beer was scheduled this morning for the unloading, we encountered the same situation as yesterday where none of the nearby truck stops had open spots.  Fortunately, by using Google’s satellite imagery Mike was able to see that it was possible to park a truck in the back of the customer’s warehouse.  The warehouse was located in a quiet, suburban Distribution Park and proved to be a better overnight spot than most of the others we’ve had.

On the way in we had noticed a corner gas station and after parking the truck we walked through the bitter cold the half mile back to the station to see what provisions we could find.  Just before we got there we saw the sign for a strip mall next to the station and one of the businesses listed was a Mexican restaurant.  Our dinner there was a welcome reward after a long day of trucking.

The baked goods now getting loaded into the trailer are going to Indianapolis, IN.  As cold as the weather is here, it’s even colder up that way.  If I had joined Mike during the summer months instead of January, I’m thinking I might have had more trouble spending so many hours in the truck.  A short time out of the truck at this morning’s fuel stop convinced me that the warm truck cab is a pretty good place to spend the day.  And we’ve got enough food stashed in the cab’s storage bins that I shouldn’t have to raid those baked goods in the trailer in the back.

No Room At The Inn

It was a relief to get back on the road yesterday morning after our 3-day delay.  We left Syracuse early for our noon appointment at the Anheuser-Busch plant in Baldwinsville, NY, hoping they might be able to work us in early.  No such luck.

Six hours after our arrival the load was finally ready for us to start hauling to the destination in Tennessee.

Load of Bud Light ready for the trip to Tennessee.

The Qualcomm route plan wanted us to head west on the Thruway all the way across New York to Erie, PA, before turning south.  That would have us driving right through the center of the winter storm we could already see was causing major traffic backups.  Mike reprogrammed the route to head back down Interstate 81, the route that we had taken last week to get up to New York.  That would add about 100 miles to our trip, but turned out to be a wise decision given the news this morning about how bad the situation was last night on the Thruway.

Waiting to get loaded in Baldwinsville

Getting such a late start from Baldwinsville meant that Mike could only drive for 7 1/2 hours before he would have to shut down for 8 hours.  Truckers are held to a confusing daily 14-hour “on duty” clock that limits the amount of time they can drive if they have spent too much time sitting and waiting at a customer site.  I was a math major in college but I still haven’t figured out how available driving time works and how the driver “gets back” hours if he spends at least 8 hours parked somewhere.

For us, and countless other truckers, the requirement to be parked somewhere for a number of hours can be a major hassle.  The clock was ticking towards midnight and Mike was checking the app on his phone that showed available truck parking close to where his time would run out.  We thought we could find something at a Flying J near Winchester but when we got there the lot was jammed with trucks in every available spot and in spots I wouldn’t have considered available.  We circled the lot several times, choosing finally to back into one space that looked like it might be big enough.  It wasn’t.  Meanwhile, Mike’s clock ran out.

Our only option was a rest area 5 miles further down the highway.  When we got there the situation was no better than at the Flying J.  Every spot had a truck parked in it.  We ended up jammed in a line of other desperate trucks parked on the shoulder of the rest area on-ramp.  Not exactly legal parking and not exactly legal that we hadn’t shut down when the 14-hour clock expired.  But there was no other choice.  Consumers want their goods on time but don’t realize that having so many trucks on our highways means there will have to be places where they can stop.  There are simply not enough truck parking areas along major highways.  And, actually not enough truck parking in other places either.

Frozen

It’s a cold morning in upstate New York.  The air isn’t the only thing that’s frozen.  Our projected deliveries for Celadon this week are now on hold, through no fault of the hardworking driver who was doing his best to navigate the snowy highways.

Speaking of snow, when one event causes a schedule delay it creates a snowball effect that impacts everything down the line.  Thursday’s delivery in Atlanta that made us wait 3 hours while the shipper’s clerical error was resolved resulted in a late pickup at our next stop in Lebanon, TN.

We spent the night Friday at a truck stop in Pennsylvania.  Mike started driving at 1:30am as we began to see the first edge of the snowfall moving up from the south.  As the morning progessed and the snow got heavier Mike had to keep stopping to clean off the wiper blades.  About 6:00am at a rest stop where he had pulled over to get out and clean the wipers he came back in the truck with the news that one of his tires was flat.

Since it was so early in the morning and we weren’t close to a big city it took awhile for Celadon to get a repair truck out to us.  We lost 4 hours with that incident.  Once we were back on the road it was slow going as the snowfall continued through most of the day.  

By noon we arrived at the delivery site in Johnstown NY.  This delivery was a drop and hook which means we didn’t have to be scheduled for unloading.  We could just unhook the trailer in a designated spot, find an empty Celadon trailer in the lot (amongst the many empties that belong to numerous other companies that deliver to this Walmart warehouse), hook up to the empty and be on our way.

Meanwhile Mike was coordinating with Celadon and the shipper in Syracuse where we needed to pick up the next load.  Unfortunately, this one was a live load and we would be late for the originally scheduled time.  Because of the holiday weekend they couldn’t reschedule us until Tuesday and Celadon couldn’t find a different delivery for us either.

We hauled the empty trailer towards Syracuse, getting to a service plaza on the toll road just east of Utica, NY, before Mike ran out of driving hours.  There’s no reason to hit the road early today so we are enjoying a leisurely start to the morning.  We’ve got an exciting weekend planned for our “frozen” driving adventure.

Happy New Year!

Mike unhooking my friend the Thermo King trailer. I’ll make a new friend who will sing to me.
A tight squeeze backing the trailer into the narrow assigned spot but Mike is an expert.
Arriving at Walmart warehouse in Johnstown, NY
Getting the flat tire fixed.
Frozen Mohawk River.

An Inside Joke

If you’ve never had the pleasure of bunking in the top berth of a big rig that’s hauling a refrigerated trailer across the country you might not catch the humor in the above photo.  After a good chuckle, my comment was “that says it all.” Check out the photo from my previous blog and you will see that the trailer behind Mike’s Celadon tractor is a refrigerated unit just like this one.  And that small window at the top of the cab is where I can look out at the world when I’m in my bunk.  Which means that me and the Thermo King monster are up close and personal.  I wasn’t thinking of it’s constant roar as a song but now this joke might give me a better attitude.

I’ve found that a sense of humor is very helpful out on the highway.  It’s a rough life and easy to find things that upset and annoy you.  But as a sign I saw last night said “10 percent of life is what you make it and the other 90 percent is what it makes you.”  I’m aiming to not let this experience make  me a grumpy old woman who didn’t get her beauty rest.  Instead I will try to learn the Thermo King tune and by the end of this trip I might go home having made a new friend.

Our First Delivery

Even with the expected glitches in the trucking business, our first load was a success.  Mike, of course, is the expert Celadon driver and has many successful deliveries under his belt.  But, for me, as his tag-a-long passenger, it was an exciting initiation into life “on the Big Slab” (an expression borrowed from a book I recently had the pleasure of reading–Long Haul by Finn Murphy.)

It’s certainly not an easy life and with just this first delivery I have a new appreciation for the countless drivers out there who are pulling loads of product every which way across and up and down US highways.  In the case of this load it was Wrigley gum going from Mexico to an eventual destination somewhere in Canada.  Celadon’s part was to pick it up in Laredo, Texas, and deliver it to a warehouse in Atlanta, Georgia.

We bobtailed (which means driving just the truck with no attached trailer) the day after Christmas leaving from Mike’s house in Brackettville, Texas, at 5:00 am.  Three hours later we were at the Celadon facility in Laredo where we hooked up to the refrigerated trailer.  I never would have thought that chewing gum needed refrigeration!

Our first night out was sleeping (or trying to sleep) in the truck at a Pilot truck stop in Beaumont, Texas.  To make our delivery time in Atlanta we had to leave there yesterday morning at 3:30 am.

We got delayed by a traffic backup yesterday and didn’t quite make it to a truck stop last night before Mike ran out of driving hours. Instead, we overnighted in a Walmart parking lot just before the Alabama/Georgia border.  Say what you will about there being too many Walmarts,  but I was more than grateful to have a 24-hour access to bathroom facilities and a place in the morning to buy something for breakfast.  After all, we had to be on the road by 3:00am this morning.

The plan was to be in Atlanta (actually Kennesaw, GA) by 5:00am where we would drop the trailer and bobtail to Lebanon, TN, to pick up the next load.  Mike did his part to make an on time delivery, but when he checked in at the warehouse office he was told that the shipper had left the “put away” number off of the paperwork.  Since Mexico is in a later time zone it would be awhile before they could contact the shipper to get the number.

We had to park for a couple of hours on a side street and wait for a call that we were cleared for unloading. A “drop and hook” was the hoped for type of delivery, but when the call came that we could pull up to a loading dock, Mike was told that he would have to wait for the trailer to be unloaded before he could get back on the road.  At some warehouses they let you hook up to an empty trailer and be on your way, but not this one.  Besides the possibility of missing the next scheduled pickup, if too much time is wasted waiting at a site, then the driver doesn’t have enough on-duty hours left in the day to get as far down the road as he needs to get before he is required by law to shut down for the day.  That eventuality is something called running down your 14-hour clock.

But Mike and I are hopeful that we will soon get the word that the trailer is empty and ready for us to haul up to Tennessee.  Keeping on trucking!

Southern California

Summer-like weather in mid-December is one feature of the desert in southern California that we don’t find in the deserts of northern New Mexico. It was that promise of warm temperatures that drew us to Indio, California, for a week of hiking and sightseeing. And on our hikes we enjoyed seeing other features that we don’t find in New Mexico’s deserts. For example, Joshua Trees, which aren’t trees at all, but are members of the Agave family.

The stalk in the foreground is a young Joshua tree before it branches.

And then there are the California Fan Palm Trees. So strange to be hiking in barren desert terrain and then come upon an oasis of palm trees.

Some other interesting features:

Gneiss rock formations with distinctive black and white bands are the oldest rocks in Joshua Tree Park.
Cactii don’t look their best in winter. Beavertail is a variety we usually don’t see.
Teddy bear cholla
Seed pod of wild cucumber

And then there are beautiful views from hiking trails:

Look closely to see Lee on top of the hill in the distance.

Our last day in the area we temporarily left the desert and rode the Palm Springs Tram up towards Mount San Jacinto to do some hiking in the mountains.

Riding up the tram.
Looking towards Palm Springs from top of tram.
Hiking a trail in Mt. San Jacinto State Park at the top of the tramway.

White fir tree.

Riding back down to the desert.

Manzano Peak

My question of the day is why did it take us so long to hike up Manzano Peak? I don’t mean that the hike itself took us a long time–3 hours for the 4 miles up and 2 hours to get back down. I’m just surprised that it wasn’t a hike that we thought of doing until recently. I think I had a vague idea that it was a hard place to reach, one that required overnight backpacking. But it’s actually easier to reach than many of the other day hikes that we do.

We have done a lot of hiking in the Manzano Mountains, usually this time of year when it’s getting too cold at the higher elevations. Manzano Peak, at 10,000 feet, is the highest point, so temperatures are milder than the other mountains around Albuquerque. It’s also not a populated area and most of the time, like today, we are the only people on the trail.

Last month we did a 6-mile hike on the Keyser Mill Run Trail that goes up to the Crest Trail and back down. After we got home and looked more closely at a map we realized that it was less than a mile along the Crest Trail to reach the peak. So today we knew what to expect on the steep climb to the Crest, since we had already done that part. Then we were pleasantly surprised at the relatively easy section to the peak. The biggest surprise was the awesome view from the summit, even on this cloudy day.

Looking northwest.
Looking east.
Looking southwest.
Interesting heart-shaped rock.
Elevation profile of hike.
Click on map for interactive version.