In 2020, the coronavirus changed our lives! It was a year that redefined our purpose in our careers especially. Deciding between succumbing to the surmounting pressure of the woes of the pandemic, or proving our valor amidst obstacles, became an ever-present battle. Despite the chaos, many of us leaped fearlessly into the transportation industry and haven’t looked back since!
In November 2020, I decided to begin my trucking career. Knowing a major requirement to enter the industry was obtaining my CDL license, the decision was not an easy one. After a compelling consultation with a local trucking school here in Georgia, I was convinced…trucking was the passion I wanted to pursue. I initiated my one-month training in December, and I was on the road by January.
The course was divided into four weeklong sessions. In the first week, classroom instruction on the general concept of trucking commenced. At week-end, I was able to go to the DMV and take the CDL permit assessment. By the second week, we braced the cold winter weather, and lowered ourselves under the trucks to learn about the mechanical makeup of their parts. We learned how to perform pre-trip, post-trip, and in-cab inspections. During week three, I practiced different maneuvers with the tractor trailer – alley dock, offset, and straight-line backing. Finally, we made it to the fourth week, and I was able to begin road trips in the neighborhood around the school. At the end of week four, my accumulated skills were put to the test, and I passed! I graduated the program and acquired my CDL license.
It was the perfect ending to a chaotic 2020 and beginning of 2021. The school offered immediate job placement with a partnering company upon program completion. I enrolled with a company, completed my orientation, and was afforded the benefit of 100% tuition reimbursement through payroll credits.
Within 24 hours of completing my orientation, I was informed of a team driving assignment and prepared to meet my leader. The following morning, January 6th, I packed a few essentials to prepare for my next 6 weeks on the road. COVID made me a little uneasy to share such tight quarters with a stranger for that long but meeting him quickly placed me at ease. I assured him I was COVID-free despite his belief that all Atlanta residents frequent the club scene.
Once we covered the basic road training expectations, I took the driver seat as my lead guided from the passenger side. I bobtailed around the terminal yard to locate my assigned trailer, and from there, we hit the road to Charlotte for our first assignment. A few days later, we found ourselves traversing the West Coast making runs to Texas, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, California, and Oregon. Seeing the mountains and canyons was initially terrifying. I can recall one night taking Interstate 70 out of Utah, headed to Denver, Colorado, descending the tallest mountain in the region – standing 10,000 feet above sea level. My lead, resting peacefully in the comfort of the sleeper, gave me strict instructions to not disturb him while he slept. So, I braved my way through my first experience of mountainous descension and trekked courageously onward. This experience taught me the value of remaining calm because navigating these varied terrains can be difficult and down-right scary. Especially, when traveling through states like New Mexico, Nebraska, and Wyoming where wind speeds sometimes exceed 55 miles per hour.
Beginning this trucking journey in the middle of winter meant cold temperatures, messy roads, and sometimes snow. Although we made runs in the midwestern states of Iowa, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, and Missouri, the heaviest snowfall I experienced was in California. We were making our way to Oregon and the snow was so heavy the state troopers implemented roadblocks and the use of chains on our tires if we were to proceed. Since we did not have chains available, we stayed off the roads until it was safe to continue. Now familiar with the various obstacles the different regions bring, I feel I’m better prepared for the ventures ahead.
Apart from dealing with the inclement weather and unpredictable landscapes, one of the most difficult parts of the training was backing up. Mastering this maneuver is an essential component of the role of a trucker. Whether at a truck stop, taking a rest break, or delivering a load, backing up will be a necessary skill to hone. Hauling loads in an 53ft trailer while frequenting different warehouses, distribution centers, and stores will require lots of patience and focus. The most difficult part of this training for me was backing into narrow spaces while my leader attempted to direct my steering. There was a major communication barrier, and it required a tough conversation to get it quickly resolved. His approach was to tell me how to back the truck up as opposed to allowing me to try first. If I requested assistance, he could offer it then. Initially, he didn’t take well to my concerns. His response was suggesting I return to the terminal and request a new leader. Once I was able to assure him that my issue was not him, but simply not being allowed to effectively apply my training without the added confusion of his guidance, we achieved a better understanding.
Our team driving journey lasted seven weeks before my lead returned me to the terminal on February 21st. The following morning, I tested out of training and was awarded a completion certificate and a 2019 Kenworth truck. It was only 24 hours before I hit the road to the western states for the next three months. During that time, I traveled over thirty states covering more than 40,000 miles, averaging 550 miles per day. It was both challenging and exciting! Not only was I living my dream of seeing the world and experiencing new places, but I was getting paid to do it.
Like my team driving routes, my first three months were spent back in and around the west coast. The mountains and canyons were a lot different from the green landscapes of Georgia that I’d grown accustomed to. They were so beautiful. I would pull over at times just to take in the scenery and capture photos. I distinctly remember my time traveling along I-70 in Colorado and witnessing the ice melting from the top of the mountains flowing like a fountain into a stream of water at the base. Sometimes the water would even run alongside the winding roads. It was magnificent to see the intricate design of how the roads contoured the mountain terrain with various curves and tunnels carving their way through. Like Colorado, Boulder City, NV shared similar astonishing landscapes with humongous boulders and rich red topography. They were both amazing places to see and that I’d like to return to for a vacation very soon.
Of all the places I traveled, Ohio proved to be the most shocking experience yet. I’ve visited some of the coldest countries in the world – Norway, Sweden, Denmark – but the cold I experienced in Ohio was harsh! In mild comparison, Wisconsin and Michigan were still very cold although winter had passed. It was then I decided being closer to home was a more compelling desire, as was seeing my daughter whom I’d been away from for months. As luck would have it, an account opened in the nick of time hauling routes between Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. I’m now able to drive five days a week and spend my 34-hour reset at home.
As relieved as I was to be home, the possibility of going back over the road presented itself sooner than I expected. It was 6:00a.m. on the morning of October 18th, when I headed out to my terminal in Lithia Springs, GA. As I prepared to begin my pre-trip inspection, I received a message on my tablet to return my truck to the school. Confused, I immediately contacted my fleet manager and inquired as to what was going on. He informed me my truck mileage reached a high of 350,000 miles and was due for replacement. As I made it to the office and handed over my keys, I informed the team member that I preferred a Freightliner Cascadia. He assured me I would be happy with my alternate. Obtaining my vehicle sheet from the file, he handed me the piece of paper with my assigned vehicle number and directed me to the lower lot to retrieve my truck. To my pleasant surprise, awaiting me was a 2022 Freightliner Cascadia, with only 27,000 miles. I was beyond excited! Two weeks later I was offered a position to be an over-the-road team leader, training newly employed drivers. I haven’t decided if I’m prepared to accept the role and share my personal space again.
So, if you’ve wondered where 5starpullup has been, now you’ve joined the journey with me. With plans of acquiring a local run very soon, I will have more time to bring you more great content. I appreciate each of you for staying the course with me and I look forward to sharing more of my story with you soon!