Trucking Is A Lifestyle: Some Tips For Surving Life On The Road

by Rainy
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My current trainee researched trucking, watched all the YouTube videos, read all of the Trucking Truth articles and headed to my company. He had spent a week in orientation and two weeks over the road with a CDL instructor before passing his CDL exam on the first try.

He's from a southern state, and while adjusting to the cold weather, he got sick. I felt bad for him and almost drove into our first customer for him, but decided he needs to get used to driving when he's sick or tired. I explained this to him and his response was, “Yeah, I'm learning that. I'm starting to wonder if this was all a mistake. When people say it's a lifestyle, you just don't understand until you live it. I gave up a job of ten years.”

My heart sank.

The same career which has given me so much freedom and financial gain was making him miserable. He had doubts already and had barely started training, which is the hardest part of trucking. Many people hate change, so leaving the security of the known is sometimes very difficult when starting any new career or relationship.

Of course, I wasn't sure at that time if it was the illness, the homesickness, or the initial shock of adjusting to life on a truck that was bothering him. We had only been together a couple days at that point, so I didn't want to press the issue, and I tried to make life better for him.

I asked him later how I could help, and what he meant, and he explained, “I was sick and my stomach was bothering me. I didn't want to leave the warm truck to trek through the freezing winds across a huge parking lot just to go to the bathroom. Having to do that several times throughout the night was a jolt.”

Earlier that day I allowed him to get in a lot of backing practice at the truck stop, and he parked in the last row once we were done. Had he told me then his stomach was bothering him, I would have moved us closer to the building with restrooms. He is not the only new driver to feel this way when it comes to personal needs.

When Nature Calls

I recently had dinner with a new female driver who was trained by a man. She was in a similar situation in the freezing cold and snow, and her trainer told her if she didn't want to walk through the snow, she could use a trash bag and his bucket. He gave her a choice of going behind the curtain where he could not see her or sneaking under the trailer. She had those two suggestions, or she could walk across a 300 spot parking lot through the snow and ice at midnight.

Which would you choose? Imagine if you were sick and there was a chance you might not make it to the building before nature calls.

The best advice I can give on this topic is to get a plastic container, line it with black Hefty “Force Flex” 13 gallon Febreeze scented trash bags, and keep some Feline Fresh pine kitty litter on the truck at all times. The litter is broken pieces of chopstick looking pine wood. It turns to sawdust from the urine and covers the smells well.

Also, some Assurance wipes found in the incontinence aisle at Walmart are great. They are bigger and stronger than baby wipes and are intended to be used on bedridden patients for bathing purposes. It might be an embarrassing topic, but it is better to be prepared than to get stuck at a customer or parking area that does not have a restroom.

That's right, not all customers offer restrooms to drivers, so parking at the customers can have its disadvantages. Although some may offer port-a-pots, trust me when I say, my “litter box” is cleaner than some of those.

And if I needed to use one because I had a student on the truck, I took my cleaning wipes and sprays and sanitized that sucker! Some realities in trucking hit new drivers hard and fast.

Difficult Sleep Schedules

Another difficulty in trucking involves erratic sleep and drive times. Truckers can have erratic sleep schedules. The division you're in or the company you work for will be a factor in how regular your sleeping and driving times are.

For example, pulling a dry van may allow a more natural pattern of sleep than reefer, but sleep is a major concern throughout the industry.

See also: Choosing A Truck Driving Job Part VI: Dry Van and Refrigerated Companies

Line Haul and P&D will have regular driving schedules, but they must get sleep and make quality family time at home.

For many truckers, there is no set work schedule. If you shut down at 5pm, your hours come back at 3am. Then you might shutdown at noon and your hours would return at 10pm. So you see, there is a “revolving” start time to your day. There are times you will be driving nights, days, weekends, and holidays.

It is perfectly acceptable to inform dispatch you require more sleep before the next load is assigned, but remember, dispatch has no idea what is going on in your truck unless you tell them. They may have 100 other drivers to coordinate, so they aren't looking to see if you're parked next to a train track with a blaring horn all night, or if the shipper was so noisy it kept you from sleeping. It is your responsibility to rest and to communicate problems to dispatch.

Why is showering such a hot topic for new drivers?

First you need to know that shower credits are accumulated on truck stop fuel rewards cards. The more fuel you buy, the more shower credits you receive. Each chain has their own requirements for fuel purchases. At Sapp Bros, you only need to buy 25 gallons to get a shower credit, but at TA/Petro you must buy 60 gallons.

Sometimes they do promotions where you can get a free shower everyday for a whole month to all of the drivers at a particular trucking company. Flying J and Love's have a “Buy 1000 gallons of fuel in a month, and earn a free shower daily” program. The Ohio Turnpike Service Plazas offer free showers, but you need your own towel.

Not all trucking companies will allow you to fuel at all fuel chains, and because of this, you may need to shut down at a location where you do not have any fuel credits. If you choose to shower at that location, the $10 to $15 comes out of your pocket. Your other option is to shower during your drive shift.

Recently on the forum, an old thread about showering on the road was reactivated. It discussed showers and how often drivers get to take them. This is one more area that requires adjustment on the part of the new driver.

A person in a “normal” job has access to showers more often than not. Whether at home or the gym, most people have access to a shower or bath tub for more hours a day than they work. That is not true with truckers. Having a bed in your truck is awesome, but we often spend our 10 hour breaks at customers or need to park at convenience store type of locations that do not have laundry or showers.

Sometimes we are so elated just to be able to park and sleep, we don't care whether we sleep at a casino, weigh station, or adult book store. We are tired, out of hours, and need sleep. This can make the hope of “starting the day with a hot shower” impossible.

I know some drivers in dry van divisions that park at a truck stop every night and shower in the morning. They can often take more than the 10 hour break and still rack up the miles. Other friends of mine in reefer or flat bed avoid truck stop parking at all costs because of the potential accident danger. They're afraid someone might run into their truck trying to get parked. They shower mid shift then park at Walmarts or other locations.

If you are a low-performing driver who isn't getting many miles it will be easier to park and shower on a daily basis. However, because you're not running many miles, you aren't burning enough fuel to earn those shower credits. Therefore, you may need to put out cash for those showers.

For top tier drivers, you will often schedule your showers. When I am running team with a student I'm training, I find it much easier to shower daily because one of us has hours at all times to ensure we get to a truck stop. Most days when I'm running solo, I can easily shower during my shift, so showering does not have to factor into where I park for the night.

Accounting For Personal Needs

One thing new drivers need to learn is that personal needs require planning. You are parked at a truck stop for a very limited time, and you must eat, shower, do laundry, and sleep within that time. It can be smart to throw a load of clothes into the washer, take a shower. When you come out the washer is just finishing, so throw that load into the dryer and go get something to eat. By the time you get out of the restaurant, your clothes are just finishing in the dryer.

Planning is essential for everything you do out on the road, and often new drivers are terrible at time management. New drivers are constantly exhausted so sleep will eat up the time needed for other activities such as showering and laundry. There were plenty of nights when I couldn't figure out if I was more tired, more hungry, or more smelly. Quite honestly, sleep usually won on those occasions.

Dealing With Traffic And Other Delays

It takes time and experience to learn which cities have the heaviest traffic and will require more time to get through than others. Some interstates will be more congested or have lower speed limits than others. Other things may slow you down like hills, curves, weather, and how heavy your freight is.

All of this needs to be incorporated into your trip planning. It could take you 9 hours to drive 450 miles in some parts of the country and you can fly though other parts with no issue. Also, some places cost a lot more to take care of your needs than others. Food prices in the Northeast will be a lot more expensive in the south. The same McDonald's meal in MO going for $6 could be $12 in a NY state service plaza. Even Walmart prices across the country will vary greatly, so deciding where and when to shop can affect your wallet.

The same goes for the cost of doing laundry. While TA/Petro charges $3 per load, some AMBEST or the Ohio Turnpike charge half of that. There's a Freightliner dealer in MO that has free laundry, and some trucking terminals offer free showers and laundry as well.

Planning your personal needs has to be done while trying to pick up and deliver loads across the country while navigating unfamiliar roads, dodging aggressive drivers, dealing with inclement weather, trying to make the load on time, keeping the truck in top notch safety conditions, securing your flatbed load, filling your reefer, and watching the weather apps for future dangers. Sounds easy right?

It Will Get Easier

My trainee and I have been together two weeks now. He says life on the road is getting easier. Today he was offered his old job back at a higher wage. He turned it down. Now it seems he is missing his family more than anything.

I asked him what advice he would give someone considering trucking and he said, “You have no idea what it will be like until you do it. Spend a night sleeping in a cardboard box in the furthest part of your yard. When you need to get up and walk all the way to the bathroom in the dark or cold, then you will get it.”

I asked him what the hardest part of his old job was and he said, “Dealing with people. Dealing with customers and other people's mistakes.”

The Best Part Of Trucking

The best part of trucking for me is that I don't have to deal with anyone I do not want to, and I have freedom. The customers I visit I will rarely see more than once. The only mistakes I need to correct are my own, and there is no one to blame for that. No one comes into my truck unless I allow them to, so I don't have to deal with people. Dispatch hardly ever calls me, so the hardest part of my student's old job, dealing with people, is not much of an issue in trucking. At least not in my world.

In trucking, attitude is everything. Your work ethic and the way you perceive things will be the key factors that determine whether you can make it in this industry or not. Keep truckin' along cause it gets better. And stay safe!

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