I've driven with trainers, teammates, students, and as a solo driver. Each of these phases of driving have different challenges and rewards. The title today shows which one I'm going to talk about. I'm starting here because it's what I'm currently doing and have spent the majority of my trucking career doing up to this point.
Solo driving is exactly what the name implies. It's just you, the truck, the load, and if you're lucky you've got a traveling companion who lets you know how much he misses you by barking and flipping around in circles every time you return from the truckstop. Usually the enthusiasm he exhibits is based on whether or not you've brought a hamburger or hot dog to the truck with you. But, you know it's not just the food. He's watching outside the truck with an intense expression of determination that he not miss a single step of your return as soon as you come into view. Even a furry co-driver provides some challenges, but for me he's essential.
As a solo driver the biggest issue is isolation. For the most part isolation isn't a negative issue, but it can sometimes trigger unexpected problems. One example is running out of hours and not having a backup driver who can take over and finish the run on time. The solutions vary based on whether you're picking up or delivering your load.
If it's a pickup, the solution is usually to take that load away from you and giving it to another driver. That's frustrating for me because it means the money for driving that load just went to someone else. The next load assignment might be more miles, less miles, leave you sitting longer than a regular break waiting for load to be prepped, or even have your dispatcher and planners go home for the day and the next shift forgets you exist. Like I said, frustrating.
If it's a delivery, the solution could be another driver swapping his load for yours. For example, I was taking this load to Omaha, Nebraska. I ran out of hours, so the company sent another driver with a later delivery time heading to Chicago, Illinois. I just came from Chicago, but I will take his load to Chicago and he'll take mine to Omaha. Everything gets there on time and everybody is happy.
Another delivery solution is someone being dispatched to bring an empty trailer and taking the loaded one. The empty trailer gives dispatch and the planners options on where they can send you when time comes back on the clock. Sometimes, there won't be an empty trailer and the driver will just take the paperwork and load and get it where it needs to go.
Depending on the circumstances, sometimes the company just reschedules the delivery time and lets you get it where it's got to go when you can get it there. One of the hardest things for me is when the load assignment is late being assigned. Delivering a load due yesterday and not picked up until today drives me personally bonkers, but it happens fairly regularly for a variety of reasons I won't go into.
The basic problem is when you have a problem and can't go any further with your load, the solution is getting a backup driver or rescheduling the delivery. In the case of a breakdown, especially if it's the trailer, they usually leave you with the load and it gets there when you can. If it's a truck or medical problem, they reschedule or send someone to pick it up from you.
Solo drivers are very watchful of their clock. There's a Hours of Service (HOS) regulation that determines when they can drive and when they can't. It breaks down like this:
70 Hours On-Duty/Driving time per 8 days
14 Hours On-Duty time
11 Hours Driving time
8 Hours Driving time/30-minute break
If we don't follow the guidelines and rules set up for these 4 clocks, we can get fines, tickets, and habitual bad behavior can lose us our jobs. So, we watch the clocks count down, work when there's time left, and take breaks when there isn't.
With a co-driver, the clocks still have to be followed individually, but together they're just not that important. Out of hours? Switch drivers, log the switch, and you're back on the road. The only exception is really when there's mechanical issues with the equipment or medical issues with one of the drivers. You can't drive a broken truck and you can't drive puking your guts up.
Back to isolation. Emotionally, isolation can be crippling or it can be freeing. Sometimes, you can experience both during the course of the day and it leads to real self-examination or real problems. Problems like depression, suicide, road rage, accidents due to inattention or fatigue, or just the vague feeling that something is missing that you desperately want in your life.
Many drivers fight isolation by spending as much time as they can in the truckstop restaurants, driver's lounges, or meeting with other drivers at their companies. Talking on the phone to someone you know will always answer the phone any time of day or night is another method. A lot of drivers also have entertainment in their trucks. Computers, phones, televisions, hobbies, pets, and cooking are several ways drivers combat isolation.
There are also interpersonal relationships between drivers during downtime. Some drivers find a willing companion for a few hours and some will hire that companionship when it's available. The stranger relationships don't hold any interest for me, so I occasionally meet my boyfriend when we cross paths on the road. We talk most days and compare locations just so we can meet face to face, have a meal, watch a movie, sleep together, or just sleep.
Most drivers are out on the road for days, weeks, and months at a time so when they can get home to their families and friends they're like the tired workhorses of the old days straining for the barn, a good meal, and a good rest. But, there's a lot of drivers like me. We don't go home.
The drivers who don't go home have a variety of reasons. Some are saving money, some don't have a place and don't want one, and some are just in between and haven't settled yet. I spoke with a veteran a couple days ago who lived in his truck with his wife. They sold everything and moved into the truck. When asked why, he said that they wanted to save as much money as possible while they were driving because they had to start over when they lost everything in the stock market crash. Makes sense to me.
For me, I have a home. I love my home, but I love my family more. They need that home, and while I desperately want to see them standing and succeeding on their own, I vividly remember trying and failing to make a living for myself and my young family. The worry I had then was often about having and keeping a roof over my head. That, at least, I can help alleviate a bit for my children and grandchildren. It's not much, but that I can do.
I started this post because the isolation I feel is overwhelming at times. I like being alone. Often I prefer it. But, there's just something so heartbreaking when I don't want to be by myself and there's no one there. The phone doesn't ring. The voices I love hearing don't pick up the phone when I call. The diner is empty. The driver lounge holds only echoes of arguments, laughter, and football commentary. It's like walking through a world filled with people who are figments of imagination.
On those days, I desperately want to work. No, I need to work. When that damn clock is fighting with me, I curl up next to my furry co-driver, sniffle into his soft ear and fall asleep. As I fall asleep, I pray, "Please God, don't let him fart."