Day 61: Books for Company
Photos taken in Arches National Park, Utah
One week ago, I started with this, and now yet another week has passed:
Has it been a week? Sitting here on a fleece Pendleton blanket, stacks of folded laundry around me, outside, sword ferns and moss, a little rushing stream and the opulent wet of the Pacific Northwest.
I’m busiest when not in the truck. Days out involve so.much.laundry, errands, grocery shopping, small trips that add up to big days.
This last run (onions!) we ended up with a blow out on the trailer and were fortunate to have a good spot to pull over in a little town in Texas. But the ground was soft, and the jack sunk as we watched it. With sincerest apologies to ranchers everywhere, I traipsed through the mud, threading myself through a barbed wire fence to unwire a board used for a stay in the fence, promising myself to return it. But by the time we finished wresting off the old tire, using three prying tools, and finished jacking up the axle to set the spare, the sun-weathered wood was toast.
Daniel and I made it back to Washington with our onions.
We spent time at an Airbnb on the Olympic Peninsula, where we found out there was some pesky paperwork + repairs that needed immediate attention, and have dragged on as these things do... thus we are still in the Pacific Northwest.
Yesterday we walked into town and back, about 7 miles, the day overcast and misty like winter here is, past moss-draped trees and the storm-cracked limbs of fragile birches, their paper-bark a pale peach with curls delicate as ghost pipes. I mailed a long-overdue package back to the Safford library, an audio book of The Good Earth by Pearl Buck, and a copy of The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, by Linda Gordon. I was fortunate enough to interview her for an essay I wrote for The Copper Era. It's a well-researched and rather incredible tale.
While job seeking has taken far longer than I would have hoped, I have had time to read. On the road, I've been using a Kindle for the first time, ruefully accepting the constraints of my living space: There isn't room for stacks of books. But beginning at Christmas, when the Kindle arrived in my stocking, I've finished a few reads.
Of all contemporary writers, Cormac McCarthy is the author who most has me reaching for a dictionary. I wanted very much to like his two linked and latest novels, but math and philosophy and science are not the topics that interest me most, and while I underlined many sections for their beauty—mostly on grief and loss and nature—they took discipline for me to finish. I followed The Passenger and Stella Maris with Fire Sermon, and after finishing Gilead, saw an unexpected and unintended theme of religion, Judaeo-Christian theology, and relationships emerge. Quite a nice lot for that, if you're up for it.
I'm currently in the midst of The Song of Achilles, which feels a wee bit juvenile but less heady, more easy, frankly, more in line with what I need right now.
Last year was a good one for books, and my favorites ( and why they are such) are below:
In the meantime, I'm starting to write some fiction again, writing for the pure joy of details, waking in the middle of the night to take odd descriptive notes like these: "Rolls of sod looking like the bloated bodies of winter-kill sheep," or "Her pupils looked like pools of oil."
Toss me out some characters. I'll create a world for them.
In the meantime, laundry.
DAY 48: Wait for It
The past three days in south Texas: warm; humid; long hours waiting.
After a drop-off Monday was delayed five hours after the scheduled 4 a.m. appointment, we showered at a Flying J truck stop and walked across the border to Mexico where we immediately purchased knock-off designer sunglasses and wandered streets, swallowed in color and the scents of frying onions, grilling meat, garbage. We sat under an awning and Daniel bantered in Spanish with the owner of the bar while a slim man took great care in preparing a complicated set of steps before walking over with two huge styrofoam cups rimmed in bright-red strawberry syrup and rolled in Tajin, micheladas packed with ice and green olives, a film of black pepper floating atop.
For dinner, tacos, of course.
Across from the lot where we’d parked on the Texas side was a grassy field, and under the stars we played frisbee with Hatch until he was worn out and our bare legs were itchy. Across the meadow the constant susurration of birds, and through the night as a grain mill was nearby.
The next day, 83 degrees, muggy, impossible to find a load. (Side note: Load boards are open roughly from 8 am. to 5 p.m. Eastern and show a list of available loads, destinations, and rates. We use brokers to book the load if the timing, rate and other criteria make sense for us. Daniel’s trailer is equipped with a reefer, or a refrigeration unit, which means he can haul both perishable and dry loads.) Near the end of the day, Daniel found a load of onions headed back to Washington, and the first thing Wednesday morning we showed up to get loaded.
I struggled to be patient as once more, hours passed with no progress. The pickup spot was rural, with goats and horses and a beautiful Jersey cow grazing nearby. I tried to tamp the anxiety of not yet finding work, to speak kindly as Daniel and I wilted in the heat. We walked to a Dollar Tree with Hatch for water. On the way home, a strong breeze as we passed tilled fields, meadows, a field of young onions.
I made chicken salad for an early dinner: canned chicken, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, chopped hot pickled peppers and kosher pickles (never too much pickle!), mayo, mustard and wrapped it with lettuce in flour tortillas. It’s not my preference to eat meat, but until I can get my feet under me again, I’m not being too discriminatory. I thought going veggie on the Arizona Trail was difficult, but it’s pretty tough on the road, too. Gas stations are chock-full of fried, meat-based products. The restaurants associated with them are usually fast food. Subsisting on precooked hard boiled eggs and cheese is not sustainable. And to eat mostly vegan, as I have for years, will require a level of thought and planning I haven’t quite reached yet as I navigate this new life.
But if I have learned anything over the years, it’s to be adaptable. Most often, situations aren’t going to be whatever the hell “ideal” is, and I’m learning to value experiences over expectations.
In the meantime, we’re headed to Washington with 42,000 pounds of onions from Mexico, saying farewell to tank tops and shorts — sure was a nice break from the 6 degree weather and blizzard conditions of the West! — and (hopefully) putting another day in the log books.
Onward and upward!
Day 42: Underlayment
Why am I here, anyway, in this life, this truck, this place? I believe some folks think I have lost all sense of reason in going on the road to live full-time in a 50-square-foot sleeper cab and attempt to hack out a living writing remotely.
But after several attempts to make it at newspapers, I was not making anything resembling a living wage, a fact driven home this summer as I skipped meals, put off travel and ate countless cans of beans. There is loving what you do, and then there is loving your life, or the kind of life you are living.
There is no place to me, like the desert.
I was excited to move back to Arizona last February. But fast forward to the last few months of the year, when a poor decision compounded with a dental emergency found me facing the equivalent of two-thirds of my annual earnings in expenses.
I had to move out of my apartment.
I couldn’t afford my rent.
I had to leave my job.
A talented shipwright who studied at the Northwest School of Woodenboat Building, Daniel began driving trucks around three years ago in order to provide a more steady income to support his son. We’ve known each other for about five years and dated for a while before parting ways and reconnecting last fall. We’d toyed with the idea of me living on the road with him years ago, but both of us were not in the right place to do so.
This time, we made the decision to try it.
I spent about 20 days in the truck with Daniel in 2019, fresh off the Arizona Trail, so I had a limited picture into what living on the road doing long-haul trucking might entail. Initially, I was curious about the stereotypes I had experienced surrounding trucker culture. My father had his CDL and a logging truck when I was a kid back in Minnesota, but he didn’t fit the caricature I'd formed of a cussing, smoking, womanizing, sleazeball. But I did not see any of this when I was on the road initially, and thus far, that’s been consistent. Where I gathered these impressions and judgements from I am still working to understand, but I still pick up the impression that truckers hover slightly below blue collar and are categorized as lower-class citizens by many folks.
I'm here to look at why this is so.
Out of love, curiousity, necessity, I’m committing to exploring a whole new country.
An underlayment of networks, institutional knowledge, stereotypes, dedicated drivers and a transportation system critical to the way North America works. Regardless of what you’re wearing, eating, sitting in, reading, sipping or typing on, there's a good chance it came on a truck. The American Trucking Association states that more than 72% of the nation’s freight by weight is moved by trucks, and that in 2021, 3.49 million truck drivers — like Daniel —were self-employed, an increase of nearly 4 percent from 2020.
And yep, that's the rig below, from a vista at Wilson Arch in Utah.
DAY 40: Pears to Apples
We wind down Blewett Pass, just a few cars on the road.
Dark, silent, snow falling.
Spines of pine, bare branches traced in a thick outline of white. Toward Wenatchee, Chelan County, where Washington’s famous apples and not-as-famous pears sit in warehouses like the one we will pull up to tomorrow, rows of orchards dormant until spring.
We pull into town around 7 p.m. Daniel goes to the gym; I go to Big Lots and make a supply run. Precooked pasta pouches and a jar of red sauce. Boxes of protein bars. A packet of couscous. Paper towels. Water. Melatonin gummies. There are a few treats too: small tubs of garlic stuffed olives, some salt and vinegar potato chips. I avoid the sweets I seem to have acquired a ravenous desire for, whether for comfort or due to the constant assault at every fuel station, I’m not sure.
Despite the peaceful float of snow covering the parking lot where we’re settled in for the night, and my best intentions to get to bed early, it’s nearly midnight by the time I put my AirPods in and go to sleep. The noise canceling feature is a godsend. I'm trying to shake some anger at the slowness of the day, waking suddenly at hotel in Port Townsend where enjoying the sunrise becomes a blur to hit the road: Dan’s appointment to clear up some tardy paperwork was in a different town then he’d thought, and we'd had to rush. Then a short disagreement about whether to stop at his storage unit on the way to deposit an expensive Lego kit half-assembled with his son. I vote no, a choice that finds us at Walmart in Wenatchee at 10 p.m., he trying to navigate the truck around a tricky parking lot turn, and me desperate to find something to shield the structure from life in the cab of a truck.
I come out with flat boxes, bubble wrap, and stretchy plastic cling.
Daniel has his idea of what will work, I have mine. We rarely argue but it's been a long day.
I know he is missing his son. I know I am feeling powerless, a little insecure about my decision to head out on the road with no job in sight. I think back to an acronym I once used as a tool for self-care, HALT: I am all the things right now: hungry, angry, lonely and tired.
Daniel doesn't sleep well. We are up at 1 something, 2 something. Just before 7 a.m., the broker calls.
Daniel tells me to go back to sleep, but the roads are slick and it has snowed through the night. I once considered working at a newspaper in Wenatchee; now I’m glad I wasn’t seduced by photos of the verdant valleys of orchards. This place sees some real winter.
The truck slides, hits the center median on the road headed toward the main drag. The slight uphill grade is too much, and I start layering up to help put chains on. Light filters through the nearby chainlink fence, striating the top of the snow. The razor wire is comically soft, covered with snow.
The chains are heavy and steel and rusty and cumbersome.
Drivers nose toward us only to discover the road is blocked. Finally, one cavalier truck passes us and with the tracks laid in the snow, folks start to follow. Dan is under the truck, reaching between the duallies to fasten the chains, sitting on ice and snow. A driver honks and I feel like punching the window.
I feel unable to be be truly helpful. But the truck eventually makes it over the berm and up onto the main road — called Easy Street — and he strips the chains and we are on our way (finally) to the pickup, about an hour behind schedule.
We cross a narrow bridge, a burned out warehouse, and what we both remark on as a cute little market. Next time we hope to stop.
The forklift is ready for us and we are loaded with pallets of pears in record time. I take Hatch on romp in the empty yard of an apple warehouse, apple boxes, which I have never seen before, stacked several stories tall, each stenciled with a city (perhaps county) name and year. Hatch runs, pisses, lays his ears against his head and rockets across the snow.
His happiness makes me buoyant.
I'm a journalist on the road, covering the life of an over the road trucker in the U.S. Follow my adventure on Instagram @forthetruckofit.