February 29, 2012

Oh to be so Joyful!

Paris is notorious for having to talk. She talks about everything.

This morning I told her that we would be home a couple days over the weekend, but asked her to keep that between the two of us for now.

True to form, she couldn't contain her self and had to demonstrate her joy.

February 27, 2012

Between a Rock and About a Million Other Rocks

Remember a few posts back I told you we were driving through some beautiful scenery in Utah, but at night so that I couldn't share it with you. In fact I couldn't see it myself because it was pitch black. I only knew what was out there because we'd been down that road before.
We drove it twice actually in the past month, both times in the middle of the night. But your in luck! Because we drove it again on Saturday morning, and it was a glorious day!
 We have not driven the entirety of US 191, only bits and pieces of it here and there. I know it starts in Arizona and ends when you hit the top of Montana, or vice versa, which ever direction you want to go. I know it goes through Yellowstone National Park and some scenic areas in Arizona. And I have a feeling that it's probably one of the most scenic drives in the country, passing within a few miles of a number of national parks and within the boundaries of numerous national forests. Maybe one day we'll drive the entire length of it just for fun. But not yet. For now we'll keep doing bits and pieces. This past weekend we drove the bit that travels southeastern Utah. Dropping off I-70 just east of Green River, the first 70 miles of US191 squeeze between the red rock walls, and the boundary lines, of Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park.

You know how hard a time I have limiting picture posting. Well, the pictures are half the purpose of the blog so I guess I'm excused. I got it cut down to a dozen this time. It was hard.

 There are plenty of natural wonders to gape at, along with your standard tourist traps.

And that's just what you see from the highway. We weren't even inside the park boundaries! Even Malcolm, the non-scenery admirer (he says but I know different), couldn't refrain from pointing things out and agreeing that we should come back one day. He wants to drive down and bring the jeep with us. I'm all for it, except I think we need to make a train and go ahead and haul a horse trailer behind the jeep, and maybe a little camper too. Why not? We're used to having a lot of length behind us.

We turned east at Monticello, UT and crossed into Colorado. Later in the afternoon we passed the exit for Mesa Verde, another place I'm determined to see. We talked about making a big loop, coming down through Yellowstone, then traveling south down US191 through Wyoming and into Utah and seeing the Canyonlands and Arches. Then looping over to see Mesa Vere and then up through the Royal Gorge in the Rockies of Colorado, and then north to home from there. We'll see. I hope it happens, but only time will tell. For now I have to settle for seeing all these things out my window as we pass by. I'm busy being grateful for that. I may not get to stop and explore, but I'm still seeing so much more them many people will ever get the chance to see.

We reached Texas yesterday afternoon. It was 82 degrees and sunny. Amazing! This morning it's 64 and raining. Still pretty amazing! (the rain, not the temp.) It's been such a dry winter! This time of year it feels so weird to come down here and see green grass and flowers and need the air conditioning, and then look at the weather forecast and see white blobs all over our home area. It's hard to explain how the lack of consistency feels sometimes. We're constantly changing climates.

We just delivered our load of safflower seed from Utah and now we're on our way to take a little load of some kind of mineral to north Texas. Don't know what happens from there, but we're supposed to be home this weekend for a few days to feed cattle for Malcolm's parents. It's a great week and I'm in a great mood. Knowing we have home time and horse time to look forward to has a tendency to make me a little giddy.

February 16, 2012

This Week So Far

Wedding pictures are forth coming, but I thought I'd break up the "vacation" posts with a trucking update.

After delivering our load of wheat screenings in Shreveport, LA on Monday morning, we headed over to Rusk, TX to pick up a load of iron ore.

 As you can see it was a wet and dreary kind of day. Everything was soaked pretty good and the iron ore was full of water.
For the duration of the trip, whenever we stopped we'd return to the truck to find little rivers of water running out of the trailer and across the pavement.

For the duration of the trip....
It was a relatively short trip from the east side to the west side of Texas. It took almost 2 days. Here's why.

After loading, as we pulled forward, there was a loud bang, the kind you know isn't good to hear.
As Malcolm stopped and got out of the truck, I was sitting in the passenger seat hoping it was one of the other trucks or a piece of equipment there that had made the noise, all the time knowing that it was too close to be anyone but us. And of course my first assumption was that it was a tire.
It wasn't a tire, but we did have a problem.

Have you ever noticed when you drive past a truck, that some of the trailers will say "air ride" on them? Our truck and trailer ride on big black airbags. It's an air ride suspension system that acts as shock absorbers. There are 4 on the trailer and they look like this.
Normally, but one of them looked like this...

Now, here's the thing. You think just one bag is blown, so you just drive to a shop and get one. But a leak or blown airbag means the air is dumped out of the whole system. Try riding in a vehicle, a large one, on a rough road with no shock absorbers and and make sure to hit every pot hole and bump in the road that you can find. Now multiply the beating you get by 10. That's probably about what it felt like in here for the next 130 miles! Pretty miserable.

We spent a lot of time on the phone, or rather Malcolm did. We must have called every truck repair service and shop between Rusk and Dallas and beyond and no one had the air bag we needed. Malcolm finally got in touch with a shop in Dallas that could get the air bag for us, but not till the next day. So we had to call the broker and post pone delivery. Driving very far in that condition is really hard on the trailer frame and other parts.

We spent the night in Van, TX and the next morning after giving Dallas traffic time to cool off, we drove into Irving on the west side and squeezed into the ridiculously small shop lot for the repair. Malcolm had told the guy it was for the trailer and he said no problem, but it was clearly a trucks only kind of place.  Regardless, my talented husband maneuvered his rig, backwards, into their parking lot and after an unnecessarily long period, they finally were able to remove the busted air bag...
...and replace it with a new one.

And then we were on our way. We arrived in Odessa, TX around 8:00 that night and delivered the iron ore to the cement plant there.

Before anyone from Texas fusses at me....there are two or three bloggers in Texas relatively near the Dallas area that have mentioned wanting to get together, and yes I know being stranded near Dallas for almost 24 hours would have provided the perfect opportunity. I did think of you. BUT it was raining and dreary, I had a bad head cold that (trust me) you didn't want me to share with you, and neither of us were in high spirits. So I figured we best remain hermits this time around. We'll try on a better day under better circumstances.

From Odessa, we made a 600 miles empty bounce to Sanders, AZ where we loaded another load of drilling sand. Last time we took the AZ sand to the Montana oil field. This time the sand went to Idaho to a trucking company that takes it across into Canada to their oil field, I assume.  We were about 160 miles away from our destination when Malcolm gave out and had to get some sleep. You see, while I had recovered from my cold, mostly, sometime between Monday afternoon and Tuesday night, Malcolm had caught it. It's hard to avoid sharing things when you live in a fiberglass box. Poor guy. The cold had come onto my gradually, but he acted like he ran into a brick wall at 75mph. Wednesday morning he told me his throat felt funny, and a couple hours later he was asking me to please run over him with the truck so he'd feel better.

Anyway, so he stopped and we slept on an interstate ramp's shoulder for a couple hours. When he woke up to finish the trip, the truck wouldn't start.

 The shoulder was sloped, but he hadn't thought the fuel would all drain over to the tank on the off side. But that's what it did. And then there was something plugged and something pressurized and so it wouldn't drain back. And so even when he managed to level us out some, the engine was still sucking air and unable to start. It was 26 degrees and we had no heat, we're both in some stage of illness, and hungry and it was just the perfect way to start the day!

Malcolm called a mobile truck repair service and they came out and pumped the fuel back into the empty tank. $230 and I don't think they even had to drive 20 miles round trip. We're in the wrong line of trucking!

Anyway, we arrived at our destination in Idaho, about 2 hours later than planned, but still arrived! We've delivered to this business a number of times, and the way it works is they run an auger under our truck and load whatever we're hauling onto one of their trucks. Doesn't take too much time as long as the auger works well.
During our brief absense, they've built a mountain. We were impressed!

I love this set up! We've only seen it a handeful of places, but it's wonderful! Basically we drive up on top, while an empty truck pulls in below....
then we open our hopper doors.....
 and....WHOOSH.....we're empty and the other truck is loaded! Five minutes tops! It's brilliant!

After that it was a sit and wait game, and kind of still is. Not a lot moving around up here at the moment load wise. There were a couple of options, but nothing definate. We're taking a load of wheat to Ogden, UT,  a little short 200 miles trip to fill time. From there we're looking at either a load going to North Dakota (and a weekend at home), or a bounce to Arizona for more sand. We hopefully will know within the next hour. Either way works for me. One means home time and the other means money. After this week, I'm kind of leaning towards the money.

I had a couple more questions shot my way about trucking.
Michaele wanted to know why Idaho needed Arizona sand. Guess I kind of answered that in this post.

The other question was from Nikki, who wanted to know how we have internet on the road. We have wireless internet through Verizon wireless. There is a small card that plugs into one of the USB ports on the laptop and pretty much as long as we have cell phone service, we can get internet signal too. It's been a life saver as far as our sanity. It's a major source of entertainment, but also we use it to check weather, road conditions, keep in touch with family and friends, and stay up to date with the news.

Since our current trip is so short, 200 miles and more than 12 hours to get it done, we're going to go shower and have a leisurly dinner in Idaho Falls. Here's to a better second half of the week!

February 13, 2012

Meeting Ava Grace

On Tuesday we had to leave sunny, warm Florida and head back to Tennessee to rescue our dogs and my parents. We were happy to discover that everyone had survived. All were intact and still sane. What a relief! Not to say that all weren't happy to see us! I'm know the girls were relieved that they hadn't been permanently abandoned and I'm sure my parents were glad we were back too to take command of the grand-dogs.

Wednesday morning, my sister drove down from Nashville with a little pink package for me to hold and cuddle. Ava Grace, at 4 weeks old, made her first of many future pilgrimages to Chattanooga to be with family.
She is a sweet little girl who is so good! She hardly ever cries. Even when she wakes up from a nap, she just sits there looking around, taking in her world, waiting for someone to come get her, which you know doesn't take long at all since we're all sitting around watching, just waiting for her eyes to crack open! In fact, for the day and a half that she was with us, she only had one crying episode, for about 10 minutes, because she was a little constipated and not feeling good.
Everyone took their turn holding Ava Grace and getting to know her. And while Uncle Malcolm had her, Ella just couldn't deny her curiosity any longer. She was pretty baffled by the little squirming thing in her man's lap. Up till this point, she'd been too chicken to investigate, though I'd caught her off and on throughout the visit watching Ava Grace from a distance.
Meagan and I took Ava Grace down to Grandma and Grandpa's house so she could meet her great grandparents for the first time. We had a nice long visit there. And then it was time for Mom to come home from work. We visited with her for a little while, and then we all packed up in the cars and headed to dinner, where Ava Grace had her first meal at Couch's BBQ.

She actually didn't have a meal, but she napped through her mom's meal. Actually she pretty much slept through the whole experience.
While Ava Grace slept, we all enjoyed the best BBQ in the world, and visited with my brother and his family. Bentlee got to share about her birthday trip to the American Girl Doll cafe and store in Atlanta, and Kensley stayed busy mooching potato chips from her Papaw, and entertaining us all. Both of my brother's girls are adorable and so much fun to be around.
And then Ava Grace woke up a little bit, and when her Grandmommy scooped her up, it became pretty obvious that her cousin, Kensley, had assumed Ava Grace was a baby doll. Kensley was pretty fascinated when the baby doll started moving around and making noises.
Pretty soon it was time to go back to Mom and Dad's and do some relaxing before bed time. But before we left, we had to get a picture to document Ava Grace's first trip to Couch's BBQ. It will be printed off and added to the "wall of fame" on the shelves behind Dad and Ken in the picture. That's where all the grandkid and family pictures are.
Thursday morning Meagan and Ava Grace headed back to Nashville, and that afternoon, Malcolm and the girls and I hit the road. Back to work! Oh joy!

We were kind of in the dumps about having to go. It was hard leaving Florida when everyone else was staying to play a few more days. And it was hard leaving Tennessee because we felt like we'd hardly gotten any time there. Plus we just didn't want to go back to work.  You know how it is.

But we'd had a load on our trailer all week long. We'd brought a load with us from Missouri to TN, and the plant in GA was waiting for us. We delivered our load Thursday night, and Friday we reloaded in Birmingham, AL. We stopped Saturday in Jackson, MS and spent the day with my aunt and uncle there, which was really nice! Seems like my aunt and I are always coming to Chattanooga for a visit at different times and for different holidays, so we always miss each other in passing. It was pretty special to get her for the whole day just to myself. And it was great to visit with my uncle too!

I had the sniffles all day long and assumed it was southern pollen. I've always had bad allergies down here. But then Sunday morning I woke up feeling pretty wiped out and icky. I had heard rumors (via Mom) that my sister and her family were sick, so I called Meagan. The minute I heard her voice, I knew I had whatever she had. Thankfully it seems to be a short lived crud bug and is kind of clearing up today. But yesterday was miserable. I was glad we only had 240 miles to travel. And I hope with all fingers crossed and wish upon a star that I didn't share it with my aunt and uncle....or Malcolm! Oh, if he gets it....honestly I'd rather by sick again than have Malcolm catch it!

We delivered our load in Shreveport, LA this morning and are now on our way to reload in east Texas. We'll have this load in west Texas by morning, and then we'll be reloading sand in Arizona and taking it to Idaho. And that will get us up to Wednesday and back out west!

I had a couple questions from bloggers after my last Trucking 101 post that I need to address.

Jake wanted to know what we do about eating. I know quite a few drivers eat meals out of their trucks, but with both of us in here, storage is limited. I haul too many books around and the girls have a big wardrobe! :) Poor Malcolm! 
But to be honest, most days our meals are the highlight of the day and kind of break of the monotony. As Malcolm likes to point out, we spend enough time in here without eating in here too. So we usually eat out. Most days, we just have 2 meals. If we're stuck with fast food, we try to eat Subway, assuming it's healthier or as healthy as we're going to get on the road. If we have time to go in and sit down for a real meal, we like to give our business to "mom and pop" places when we can. I think that comes from my family having that type restaurant, so I like to give my business to others like them to help support them. That, and it's just generally better food and more interesting. It's probably more costly to eat out instead of making sandwiches in the truck...well I know it's more expensive....but it's one of the things we splurge on because we enjoy it.

And Cedar View Paint Horses wanted to know what kind of engine was in our truck. This truck has a Cummins ISX 550 horsepower. The last truck had a CAT. Malcolm liked the CAT better...I think.

February 10, 2012

Fun in the Sun and Sand

Last Saturday morning, after a brief visit with my parent's in Tennessee, and getting the girls settled in with them, Malcolm and I hit the road in a rental car, heading south to Florida. We quickly re-discovered that it was fun to be traveling like "normal" people again! 
We passed through Atlanta, choosing to go through the heart of the city instead of taking the by-pass. We seem to make better time that way. I always enjoy craning my neck to see the tops of the sky scrapers. I also enjoy getting back out of the Atlanta.

It took a little over 8 hours to get to our destination. We drove the entire length of Georgia on I-75, and then in north Florida, we jumped on I-10...
...to Jacksonville, where we turned south on I-95. A couple hours later, we were in New Smyrna Beach, FL and turning into the driveway of Malcolm's aunt and uncle's house, where we discovered a number of family members had gathered to visit and catch up. It was a warm, cozy scene.
 We had arrived just in time to share a dinner of pizza and lots of laughs and hugs. There was also some time to relax and start right in on Florida vacationing. Shortly after arriving we'd migrated to the dock where Malcolm partook in some nightime fishing...
...and I enjoyed the novelty of being comfortable in February without a jacket. The scenery wasn't half bad either.
After a night of restful sleep, we woke up early to get busy helping with anything that needed doing to prepare for the main event of the weekend. There were lots of last minute tasks, but we made sure to get in some fun too. I spent a little time in the morning sitting on the dock some more. I could have stayed there all day long!
It was so quiet and peaceful, and at the same time there was lots to look at, and activity everywhere. Malcolm's aunt and uncle live on a....I don't know what it's called....it's like a river that comes off the ocean into the land and then back out to the ocean. It's really pretty with the scenery of the ocean, but not the waves and crowds. You can see the lighthouse right from their back yard (as you noticed above) and there is lots of wildlife to enjoy. There were dophins playing off and on throughout the day, lots of pelicans and other water birds,...
...and the biggest surprise of the day was when a manatee surfaced for air right beneath our dangling feet as we sat on the dock. I was so surprised that I fumbled the camera and only caught the tail.
Like I said, I could have sat there all day. 
But there were projects and errands to attend to.
When the day was done and tasks complete, we all loaded up in the cars and headed to Orlando to meet Malcolm's sister, her fiance, and his parents for dinner. They took us to Midievil Times, which was a dinner theatre. It was really neat! Good food and great entertainment. We dined while watching knights joust, and nobility parade.

After that, we had about an hour long car ride back to our family's home. It was an hour of laughter and hilarity, with Malcolm at the wheel and his cousin's husband egging him on to spin the wheels and other silliness. It was so much fun to laugh so much! It was a blast to spend time with a couple our own age, and we had so many things in common. We hate that they live 2000 miles away!

Once home, we visited a bit more, and then it was off to bed. We all needed lots of rest for the day to come. 
The next day was a long day of Fun in the Sun and Sand!
The wedding was beautiful and I had my first experience taking important portraits. I was very intimidated but SO pleased with how they turned out. However, Justine and Rob are still vacationing and the bride should get to share her photos first. So after she gets home and posts pictures, I'll will share mine with you! Get ready for bridal overload, because there are so many I love!

February 5, 2012

Trucking 101: Cleanliness and Necessities

A quick little Trucking 101 post to fill the gap while we're off the road.

Some things in life are necessities, and I am questioned about a couple of those things, in regards to my trucking life, probably more than any other aspect of trucking. Any guesses? I bet it's something you've wondered about, especially the ladies.

While Malcolm gets asked things like "what kind of fuel mileage do you get?" or "what kind of engine is in your truck?" the number one question that gets presented to me is....

"How do you....well you know.....what do you do about a bathroom?"

Well my answer is...I go when we stop, even if I don't need to. Take the opportunity when it's presented. And as to the when you need to, but there's no where to go....
All I have to say is necessity is the mother of invention, and sometimes I have to get creative.

Enough said on that.

The second question I get asked frequently is about showering. I can give you a few more details on that without you screaming TMI at me!

Almost every truck stop in the country has showers, unless they weren't originally truck stops and the diesel islands were added as an after thought when they realized there was a huge market they could cash in on and make a tidy profit. So that is, almost every truck stop has showers, but there are many fuel stops that don't, especially those in small rural towns.

The actual truck stops though have showers. Most of them have between 5-10, though we recently stopped at the Triple T truck stop in Tucson, AZ and discovered that they have more than 80! We were impressed, though let me say quality still gains more brownie points over quantity in my book. That's my rule in many, many aspects of life!

Most of the showers are uniform in size and quality. A sink, toilet, and stand up shower in a room about the size of a moderate walk-in closet is the norm. It's a tight fit sometimes, but usually I'm just glad to be getting a shower!
Hauling agricultural commodities like we do puts us in rural areas a lot of times, far off the beaten path and away from full facility truck stops. Quite often, much to my frustration, when we have time to shower, there are none available, and when we're going through an area where there's a truck stop every few miles, we're pushing to get somewhere. Very irritating! But we do the best we can.

Anyway, back to shower details. They are very small and uniform. But you hit the jack pot sometimes. For instance the Little America truck stops (we frequent the one in Little America, WY and Flagstaff, AZ) have two sinks, a nice size stand up shower, AND a jacuzzi tub in every shower room, of which there are about 20 perhaps! It's a favorite showering location for many!

But here's a glimpse into the typical truck stop shower. These pictures were taken at a Love's truck stop, a couple years ago. That's right, I've been planning this post that long, and am just not getting around to it.

Nothing fancy, but clean by all appearances. However, I always wear the shower shoes and try not to touch anything with bare skin other than my hands, going into a frenzied one legged hopping dance whenever I accidently drop a shoe or shed a sock too soon, leaving Malcolm rolling his eyes at me. He's not quite as germ-a-phobic as I am. And for the record, trucking has made me that way.

Maybe I go over board. Probaly so. But I've seen them "clean" the shower, which basically involved spraying the walls and floors (half heartedly I might add) with what I assume was a bleachy concoction. And I was unfortunate enough to over hear a conversation at a truck stop in Minot, ND between truck stop employees, this past fall. It went something like this:

Employee #1 (to co-worker): "We're out of clean showers. Will you go clean some?"

Employee #2 (who we will assume was new): "ok" (...leaves....and returns moments later and says ....(in a stage whisper to employee #1)) "how do I clean the showers?"

Employee #1 (with very little effort to keep their conversation quiet): "Just make sure there's no hair.

At which point I cringed and walked away, not looking forward to my shower that much anymore. I wish so badly that I could have forced those two to go, right at that moment, and shower in said "clean" showers! And I would have withheld the shower shoes, just to make a point!

Maybe the guys don't care as much. And granted, there are FAR more guys out here utilizing the truck stop showers than there are gals. But there are few home comforts out here on the road, and many's the day that a shower is the highlight and much looked forward to, and I'd wager even men like a clean shower.

I'd like to let myself pretend that more care goes into it than that. I know better though, and knew better before these two experiences. It's a truck stop, and people are lazy. Goes without saying they aren't going to meet the standards of my bathroom at home, which I'll admit is FAR from clean, but it's MY dirt! Makes a big difference! You know what I mean?

Anyway, almost all the truck stops "give" truckers a "free" shower with a fuel purchase of at least 50 gallons. Some want you to buy 75-100 gallons first, but most are 50. And usually we have a week to use the shower credit. So if we're in a hurry and don't have time right then, we can use it later on if we pass back by within the week.

And that, my friends, is my spill about a few necessities while living on the road. Now you know and don't have to wonder anymore.

February 3, 2012

We Left the West

This morning we left the west. I have evidence.
Well, ok, technically we were still in the west in this picture as I had not yet driven across the river. But once you cross the river heading east, you can't get a picture of the arch, because it's at your back. I was happy to be heading east, but let me tell you, those traveling west this morning had a doozy of a traffic jam, which would have provided them with an incredible photo shoot opportunity. In my mirrors I could see the arch and all of Saint Louis bathed in beautiful pink morning light. It was gorgeous! Almost enough to make me turn around and head west to get my picture. Almost! Then again, no picture is worth sitting in Saint Louis morning traffic! I got through by the skin of my teeth and was a bit in awe that I had escaped so easily!

Barreled our way through Illinois. I am so thankful to that state for doing away with their ridiculous split speed limit! It's so nice to be able to drive 65 like every other vehicle on the road, instead of the previous truck speed limit of 55!
Now if only CA, WA, OR, MT, ID and so many others would follow their example! Unite for uniform speed limits!!!! It's so much safer, not to mention makes for more pleasant travel for us!

And a few hours later we crossed the Ohio River...
...into Kentucky! Back in the southeast where tea is sweet and accents are sweeter. Where there's a new niece waiting for me to come hold her and a beautiful Montana bride waiting on a beach in Florida for her big day!

Nashville is just over the hill ahead, and Chattanooga is a couple more hours. An evening with my parents and then a road trip in a rental tomorrow.

Y'all say a few prayers for my girls, and my parents too while your at it. The "GrandLady" and "GrandMan" are puppy sitting for us. The girls don't know yet that they are about to get dumped for FOUR days and three nights. I'm not sure who I'm more worried for. My dogs who have never spent more than one very traumatic night apart from us at a time, or my mom and dad who are liable to have a nervous breakdown before we return from Florida if Ella and Toby can't figure out  how to get along or at least give each other space and not bark at each other the entire time. It's so hard leaving the kids. How do parents do it?