22,750 Miles Later and 10 Days to Go!

Kenworth T-2000

It’s been quite a while since I’ve last posted here, due mainly to our hectic schedule since I started training with my “mentor” trainer. As I wrote before, we’re constantly on the move. I seemed to have lost control of my life these last several weeks as my instructor decides where we go, when we go, when and where we sleep, eat and shower. While this isn’t entirely true, as he does often include me in the decision-making process, the bottom line is he doesn’t earn any money unless the truck is moving, and believe me this Kenworth has been on the move!

I’m reminded some of what it was like when I was in Air Force basic training, only this time it’s Swift Transportation’s version of “basic” and my Technical Instructor (or “T.I.”) is an old-school truck driver with 34-years experience. But now, with a little time off for my son’s wedding yesterday, I finally have an opportunity to rest, recharge my batteries and share some of my thoughts.

First, I’d like to thank all those family and friends that have written or told me personally how much they enjoy reading my posts and that they hope I will continue. There’s great satisfaction in knowing that there is an audience out there that takes an interest in reading of my experiences and thoughts. It’s greatly appreciated and thank you to each and all.

As I mentioned, my son Matt was married yesterday in Seattle with a reception last night in Tacoma. His bride, who I met for the first time yesterday, is a wonderful, sweet and spunky young woman who he met while serving a Church mission in Brazil in 2001-2003. As I repeatedly said last night, with those who came to celebrate the occasion, I can’t believe that so many years have passed before us and my kids are now themselves marrying, and no doubt will soon have families of their own. Getting old(er) has never been something I’ve looked forward to, but to see my kids grow into happy, successful and responsible adults is truly a blessing as those years continue to mount up. The reception was a great occasion and an opportunity to see and visit with family and friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen for several years. Matt’s mother did an exceptional job arranging for a memorable event, in a beautiful location, with an awesome roof-top view of Puget Sound’s nearby Commencement Bay, but soon, at least for me, it’ll be “back to reality.”

To date with 32 days of training behind me, and just 10 days left to go, my mentor and I have accumulated an amazing 22,754 miles together. I never expected, in my wildest dreams, to have covered so many miles, in so short a time, but the log books don’t lie. We recently made our fifth trip to the St. Paul, Minnesota area. To say the least I’ve seen enough of Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota. We’ve been through the area enough now that I’m beginning to recognize the bathrooms and aisles of several truck stops that we’ve visited before. Meanwhile we’ve visited Salt Lake City once again and have made several stops at our home-base in Lewiston, Idaho.

I’ve seen Swift company terminals in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota., Fontana & Lathrop California as well as Salt Lake. We’ve twice been to Las Vegas and neither time did I even set foot in one of it’s casinos, as we “dropped,” “hooked” and passed right on through. Twice too we’ve been in California, first in the southern part of the state, and more recently visiting it’s northern region passing through Sacramento and then Stockton. We were in “Salty” (Salt Lake) a week ago yesterday and it was amazing to see how large the Swift terminal is there.

There were hundreds of Swift trucks and trailers parked at every available space. The yard was fast filling up as truckers were parked for a rest of a day or two, possibly the entire weekend, as they prepared to venture to places far-and-wide and in every possible direction from Salt Lake. Terminals are especially nice as they have free showers and the opportunity to relax and commiserate with other truckers. On our arrival we waited in line in fourth position for about 45 minutes at a fueling stand at the terminal — one of three — with each line at least four or five trucks deep. One of our recent trips originated from a Pet Foods plant in Tracy, California with delivery at the $30-million Regional Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Hermiston, Oregon. The distribution facility had nearly 200 dock doors serving hundreds of trucks each day. It’s amazing what goes on behind the scenes to bring the millions of products and services to the nation’s public. It’s something far too few of us give any consideration to, as well as the trucking industry’s huge impact on our lives as well as the nation’s health and economy. More on this subject someday in a later post.

Our routing often takes us along the shortest distances possible. This means traveling along the back roads and through the smaller communities that we regularly overlook when we drive the Interstate system. In late May, and again just this past week, after leaving Las Vegas, rather than heading up Interstate 15, we were directed off “the beaten track.” The route took us along Nevada state highway 93 that travels a distance of more than 550 miles from the City of Lights to Twin Falls, Idaho where we finally picked up westbound Interstate 84 for the short trek to Payette. From there it’s still another nearly 200 miles north, along yet another two-lane roadway (Highway 95), to our destination in Lewiston. Northern Nevada has got to be some of the most desolate desert traveling anywhere in the country, with no cell phone service for literally hundreds of miles as we pass through, or by, small towns like Ash Springs, McGill and “Mule Foot” as we make our way to the better-known, and somewhat larger, communities of Ely and Wells. Some of our travels gives me the distinct impression that I’ve suddenly found myself on the set of an old western movie.

Our last trip from St. Paul, Minnesota took us westbound on highway 19 from the community of Cannon Falls to Northfield until we picked up Interstate 35 and headed south to Iowa and Des Moines. Along 19 we traveled through several small towns where I couldn’t help but notice the numerous beautifully maintained farms there. Many of the homes included large, sprawling, green, meticulously trimmed lawns with their houses, barns and other buildings freshly painted. A far cry from many of the farms I’ve seen elsewhere. It appeared that the folks in these Minnesota communities take special pride in the appearance of their properties. Then it was westward through historic Council Bluffs and then on to Omaha. In western Iowa and into Nebraska I counted nearly a dozen large wind turbines spread among the miles, as their huge blades, driven by the wind, slowly turned — most of them miles in the distance. No multiple turbine farms, like I’ve seen in Washington state, but these impressive power generators seemed to be even larger.

I’ve seen for the first time the beautiful Snake River Canyon along Idaho state highway 95. The northbound drive approaching Riggins along the Snake River offered some picturesque scenes and impressive opportunities for white-river rafting. And then there was the long, nearly 45 minute, climb up White Bird Pass. Unquestionably the steepest and longest grade I’ve negotiated a big rig over in my short career. Another recent trip took us along the beautiful Columbia River Gorge which marks the border between Washington and Oregon.

Shortly after leaving Minnesota a week or so ago (I’d have to check my log book), while traveling south on I-35 and some 25 miles into Iowa, we once again passed by the town of Clear Lake. Mentioned in my previous post as the place where singer Buddy Holly last performed in concert in the late 1950s. After the performance he, along with Richie Valens and The Big Bopper, boarded a plane at the local airfield and then crashed just five miles north of town. The scene is accurately portrayed in a Lou Diamond Phillips movie chronicling the short life of 17 year old Valens. The incident is memorialized in Don McLean’s hit song “American Pie” as “The Day the Music Died.” Apparently the club, “The Surf Ballroom,” where the three performed, is still in operation and hosting concerts. When I’m “solo” I’ll make an effort to see the memorial that marks the crash scene. One thing I’ve come to appreciate is the wisdom that some folks have in their travels of venturing off the Interstate in an effort to see parts of the country otherwise missed. From here on out, whenever time and opportunity allows, I would choose to do the same thing in my personal travel.

So, with my return to Lewiston tomorrow, I’ll begin the downhill grade as I wrap up my final 10 days of training. Sometime during the final week of this month I should finally be assigned my own truck and officially a “solo” company driver for Swift Transportation. To say the least, I’ve paid my dues and I’m excited about finally having my own truck organized and outfitted per my personal tastes and preferences. The venture from my first post to this has been a long one, and more difficult and challenging than I had expected, but the reward, as it’s been said, is — in the journey. That journey will continue …

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