Another overnight sensation

I hate overnight trips. Hate them.

Not because there aren’t virtues of traveling in the wee hours (think traffic), but as someone who stays away from stimulants on a regular basis I find it very difficult to go from waking up early each morning to take care of my business to then staying up all day trying to nap and running all night and delivering the next morning.

I delivered a load from Kansas City, Kansas to Elwood, Illinois yesterday morning. I had been to this particular facility before and wasn’t concerned the appointment time was open. Upon arrival I learn they are backed up and while I can drop my trailer there, they have no idea when an open appointment trailer might be unloaded. No big deal, I drop it off, send in the appropriate codes to dispatch then wait for my new orders. This was around 0930.

I was asked via satellite to keep checking to see if they had unloaded my trailer. Heck, they never even touched my trailer while I was there (it wasn’t in a door). I bobtailed a few miles away to a nearby Pilot to take a shower only to find this was one of the few they have without any such facilities. That stinks.

In the afternoon my new dispatcher calls and asks if I will take an overnight trip from Elgin, Illinois back to Kansas City. I turn him down and explain why, reinforcing the conversation we had at HQ a few days before. Dispatcher goes back to his work and I go back to waiting.

Eventually he rings again and asks, pretty please, if I will help them out of a jam and take this overnight load that will be preloaded and ready to roll by 2000 over to KC. I can bobtail there, it will be ready to go and I’d be helping out the team. The freight is overbooked and they could really use the help. This despite the fact I’d been sitting more than six hours since I dropped my previous load — how overbooked could we be?

I did the math. Since the trailer would be ready to go I figured I could roll in at 2000 and be done in KC by 0400, 0500 at the latest. I could stay up until midnight easy, what’s a few more hours… especially since I could grab a catnap or two along the way since the load wasn’t due until 0700.

There are a variety of ways to run this load. I decided to take state highways back to I-88 then west to Davenport then west on I-80 to I-35 south to KC. Been on these highways a million times, no surprises.

The first roadbump was the realization I couldn’t leave Elwood until 1930 hours to satisfy the requirements of a 10-hour break (yes, I’m aware I could have gone for an 8-hour split, but that doesn’t turn out to be important). Dispatch didn’t care if I arrived late in Elgin, so long as the load was delivered on time.

Between my late start and lots of stop-and-go traffic along the way (IL-59… GRRRRR!) I roll in just before 2100. Remember, part of what sold me on this trip was that the trailer would be preloaded and ready to go. It comes as little surprise then to find out the trailer was just starting to be loaded at that point. I get the usual “Check back in 30-45 minutes” dodge from the staff and retreat to my vehicle.

Sleep eludes me at this point and I mentally pace the time away.

By 2215 I’m rolling. I’m upset as well, but at least I’m rolling. Cue a tedious 45 minutes of state highway driving until I get back to I-88 at which point my GPS is showing an arrival time of 0715 in the morning.

Most any reader of this blog knows that I cruise at 60 MPH to save money on fuel. I decide to do something out of character and ratchet it up to 65 while I’m in Illinois and eventually bump it up to 70 in Iowa. Seventy freaking miles per hour, in my rig! The ETA slowly starts marching backwards and I feel a little better about the situation.

Before I make it to Des Moines I have to pull off for a 40-minute power nap. I’m so sleepy I’m out like a light as soon as my head touches the pillow and the unwelcome klaxon of my phone alarm seemingly goes off immediately, though it is 40 minutes later. Groggily I get up, restart my rig and head out down the road.

Now, I know when I’m tired and when I shouldn’t be driving. My body has various autonomic signs that I watch for and over the next few hours they are hollering at me something fierce. I press on, the stupid GPS showing 0745 arrival time in KC and only very slowly winding backwards even while I’m dumping fuel out the exhaust at 70 MPH. I resent Des Moines and its puny 65 MPH speed restrictions… something that never bothers me as I drive normally.

By the time I make it south on I-35 to the Missouri state line my body is in open rebellion. I know I need to pull off but I keep pressing, staying focused on that stupid GPS staring brightly into my eyes as I thunder down the road. My eyelids droop on their own accord and I find my hands moving on their own to rub or scratch my arms, legs, head. I try the normal stupid stuff (cold air, singing along to loud music, flexing my leg muscles to promote a higher heartbeat) but none of them really help.

A few miles before I reach the Missouri welcome center my body finally calls it quits and my head droops down, my eyelids closing. “NO!” I scream inside, realizing how close I am to switching off and driving my rig off the road.

With one last effort I snap back awake, adrenaline providing one last burst of alertness which gets me to the turnoff to the welcome center. I actually had a second thought about heading off the road to take a nap, realizing I would be even later at my delivery. If I skipped fueling in Kearney, Missouri and ran at top speed I might still make it close enough to on time that no one would notice. That on-time delivery is important, especially for this kind of load.

A few minutes later I’m in my bunk with my alarm set for 20 brief minutes of rest which I hope will be enough to restore my constitution for the final leg of the trip.

I did end up fueling at Kearney, which put me further behind, and I arrived at my destination 1.5 hours past the delivery time. A figure less than the delay on the other end, I note.

If you want to know what truck driving can be like, some times, please reread the above. I’m not going to be doing another trip like that again.