This week, I tested the park rangers and maintenance people for Glen Canyon National Recreational Area, so I spent part of Sunday and Monday in Page, AZ and Tuesday in Bullfrog, UT. This meant a lot of driving time, and as I drove, I started thinking it would be fun to share with y'all what you might experience if you went on one of these trips with me. I thought of a lot of things, but now that I'm home I can only remember half. Maybe next time I'll write my thoughts down and do another post. Maybe.
1. Port of Entries. I struggle with POE's. I understand the purpose of them but it's totally outside the scope of my business, so it's frustrating. Almost every time I enter a POE, the person at the desk can't figure out why the government is regulating what I'm doing. I can't either, but it is, so I'm doing my best to stay up on the regulations. Each jaunt inside a POE costs me time. The costliest was that fun stop at the Loma POE when Dad and I were returning from Colorado - it lasted 90 minutes and I found out a whole heck-uv-a-lot-uv stuff that I should be doing that I wasn't. It could have cost me thousands of dollars, but since Dad is charming and I'm innocent looking (ha!), she didn't actually fine us. Most of the time a POE stop lasts 20-30 minutes. This may not seem like a lot, but when you hit two that's an hour! And, when your trip is an 8-hour trip, you really don't want another hour tacked on!
2. Going the speed limit. I refuse - REFUSE! - to get a ticket while driving Bertha and the Beast. First, I've never received a ticket in my personal vehicle (only been pulled over once in my life - knock on wood - and that was for an expired registration; the cop knew me so didn't give me a ticket, thank you!). Second, my boss would love to hold it over me that I got pulled over, even though he has twice on the way to outreach clinics! I cannot, willnot, give him extra ammunition!
However, there's another reason I go the speed limit - not getting stuck behind slow vehicles. This last trip, I spent the majority of my travel time on little undivided highways, and I really enjoyed not having to stress about passing. I usually had a clear run of the road because smaller vehicles zoomed past me and out of sight quite quickly.
Downside to driving the speed limit - I AM one of those slow vehicles that small vehicles hate getting stuck behind! Hey, Bertha's pretty tough, so she manages to pull the Beast and go the speed limit almost all the time! It's not my fault that most other drivers want to go faster than the law says they should!
3. Braking. Have you ever heard the saying that a semi can't stop on a dime? Well they can't. There's something about having a huge, heavy trailer behind you that makes stopping quickly impossible. In fact, I've determined that I need to start stopping a good 5 miles before I need to in order to actually stop behind the stop sign/light. I'm not joking. (Okay, maybe a little, but not much!) This fact was put to the test a lot this last trip. The safety guy for Glen Canyon instructed me on the best way to get from Page to Bullfrog. He must have hated me and wanted to kill me, because sometimes the shortest distance between two points involves lots of mountain passes with steep, narrow, winding roads that mean going slow or dying. Bertha doesn't like going slow when the Beast is behind her, she likes going fast! I'd try to keep her under control, but suddenly I'd turn a corner and be going down an 8% grade that looked like a string of S's. There were times I'd be praying and whistling (see below) like mad because I could NOT slow down to save my life (not just an expression under these circumstances!). Plus, I worried about my brakes giving out on me! That would have been really, really bad. Fortunately, I knew what to do so they wouldn't, but then it meant sometimes going a little faster than was probably safe. Sigh. If it hadn't been for the amazing scenery, I think I would have been an emotional wreck. However, it was gorgeous!!! Someday I want to go back, in my car, of course.
4. Whistling. I realized awhile back that I whistle when I get into a tight spot while driving. Whether it's navigating a sharp turn, passing a wide-load semi, or going through construction and trying to fit my wide load on a lane that is barely wide enough, I whistle. Now, those of you who know me really well know that I don't really whistle all that well, so you'll know that I use the word "whistle" loosely. Sometimes I pucker up and all that comes out is a stream of air and maybe a little note or two. However, when I'm really panicked about a situation, that whistle of mine comes out loud and clear. Hope that you're never with me when that happens - if you are, best to cover your eyes, there are "rocks" ahead!
5. Men. Two items of business fall into this category. The first is something you already know about - men flirt with me when I'm on these trips. Not every trip, but enough of them to make it funny. This last trip was no exception. No, he didn't kiss me (thank heavens!), but he was very flirtatious! It was fun, nothing else. The other thing is how impressed men are with the fact that I'm driving the truck and trailer. I pull up and they are amazed I don't have someone driving it for me. Then they tell me where the trailer needs to go, which usually involves backing it up, and they offer to do it for me. I politely decline and then wow them with my ability to back it up without hitting anything or having to pull forward a million times. That month of practice sure paid off! Ofttimes, the man says that he couldn't have done it any better. Also, when I'm testing guys, inevitably, some of them will comment on the size of the trailer and ask who drives it. They are shocked when I say I do. Justin, the guy who flirted with me, not only was impressed that I drive it but that I managed to survive the road I took to Bullfrog. Me, too, Justin, me, too.
6. My left arm. If you have a really keen eye, next time you see me ask to look at my arms. My left arm is slowly becoming more tan than my right. I try to keep it out of the sun while I drive, but it's near impossible. Right now the difference is slight, but I wonder what it'll look like by the end of the summer. Hmmm. Maybe I'll stop trying to keep it out of the sun so I can have it really tan and the other really white. That'd be kind of funny!
7. Fueling. Braking isn't the only thing that is more difficult while driving Bertha and the Beast. I've never obsessed so much about where I'll be able to find fuel! Sunday night, I seriously couldn't sleep because of it! It's not like any 'ol gas station will do. First, it has to have diesel. That eliminates some stations right off the bat. Second, I have to be able to get in and out of the station without killing anything or anybody. That eliminates many, many more. Tack on the fact that I'm in the middle of nowhere, and the truck is averaging less than 10 miles to the gallon (ofttimes more like 6!), and finding a place to gas up becomes the prominent thought in my mind. I love truck stops like Flying J. They have nice big lanes and wide, open spaces behind the pumps that make getting out of there a ton easier. Plus, they have big parking lots in which to park while going inside for munchies. Big bonus! I love these places so much that I've become a card-carrying member. Huh - I really am becoming a trucker!
8. Other simple stuff. While I'm at it, nothing is simple when driving a big truck and trailer. Turning (especially right-handed turns) becomes arduous because you worry about whether the whole rig is staying in your lane. Finding a place to stay for the night that has a parking lot big enough is also a toughie. Fortunately, I usually drop off the trailer the night before a job THEN go to the hotel, but there have been two times I haven't. The first time I found a hotel with a Flying J next door, so I parked there and walked to the hotel. The second time I lucked out and had a hotel with a parking lot for RV's. I didn't fit in any of the lanes, so I parked across several of them. Tee hee. Also, I only eat what I can find in a truck stop because I can't fit in any restaurant parking lot. Changing lanes is also a lot of fun when you can't see where the back of your trailer is. There's an unwritten code that the semi you're passing will flash his lights to let you know when you can get back over. Too bad every vehicle doesn't obey this code - my life would be a little easier, I tell ya!
So, do you feel like you can kind of tell what's it like for me on these trips? Mostly, I spend my time trying to stay alive, keeping Bertha and the Beast in working condition, and eating. Seriously, if I don't eat, I want to sleep. Sleeping would make it hard to stay alive and keep Bertha and the Beast operable. Since I don't want to gain a million pounds, I try to snack on healthier fare. Flying J offers fruits and veggies, so I get them a lot. I really like sunflower seeds because shelling them makes me stay awake. I stay clear of chocolate, chips, soda, and greasy foods (except the occassional corn dog - I recently realized I really like corn dogs at Flying J's).
One quick story, then I'll stop, I promise. On the drive to Bullfrog, I went on some pretty crazy roads. The worst was between Escalante and Boulder. The road ran over the tops of some really huge hills, so it went up and down a lot. The road was narrow - oh was it ever narrow! - so I barely fit in my lane. There was about a 6" shoulder on either side of the road, then a steep drop-off. To top it off, to either side of the hills were these great expanses of nothingness. I was higher than anything else around me by a few thousand feet (or so). I felt vertigo like I've never felt before. I stopped looking at the view because I worried that I'd turn eversoslightly and the back of the trailer would edge off the road just a bit. I knew that if it did, the trailer would go over the edge and pull the truck with it. I imagined how it would feel to suddenly be going backwards off the cliff, knowing I was about to die. It wasn't a pretty thought. It was an amazing, terrifying, humbling experience. One I won't soon forget.