Driving a Big Rig Nonstop Across the US – Tales with Tidewater Teddy

For a brief period in early 2022, my wife and I were over-the-road truck drivers. Specifically, we were team truckers. Team truckers are basically tag-team drivers, who drive in shifts, so the truck never stops.

On our very first load, dispatch assigned us a high value load called the “Smokes Load”. It’s called the Smokes Load because it contains packs of cigarettes. Neither one of us smokes, but everyone knows that cigarette cartons are very expensive.

The crazy part about this situation is that dispatch gave us this incredibly high value and challenging load when we hadn’t even hauled any regular loads. We were just baby truckers who could barely crawl, and they wanted us to fly!

Because this load was so high value, our dispatchers gave us a very specific route and very specific instructions to avoid hijacking and robbery. We were taking this load from Virginia to Arizona via the Deep South, and we had to drive over 2300 miles to Phoenix in three days without stopping. They even listed cities and red zones where we couldn’t stop the truck under any circumstance, even to go to the bathroom.

On top of that, one person had to stay with the truck at all times, and we had to send a password to dispatch every time we stopped the truck or started moving again. That’s how high value this load was.

Now, for a solo driver, this route would be an impossible task because truck drivers can only drive up to 11 hours before having to stop to rest for 10 hours. But, as team drivers, we could keep driving day and night. This is both a blessing and curse because we could get more miles, which meant more money, but in exchange, we would sacrifice our personal well-being.

My wife drove from 2am to 2pm, and I drove from 2pm to 2am. So, while one of us drove, the other slept. Or tried to sleep, at least.

As you can imagine, sleeping in a truck that’s moving 24/7 is not ideal. You will feel every single bump in the road, and you won’t get much sleep in states that don’t maintain their roads. Indiana and Louisiana are two examples that come to mind. We always knew we were crossing into Indiana when the truck started violently shaking underneath us.

But, anyways, back to the Smokes load. On Day 1, I was determined to get out out of the huge red zone between Virginia and South Carolina, so I ended up pushing myself to the limit. In the dark of the night, I drove from central Virginia all the way to the border of Georgia.

By doing this, I ran my driving clock down to almost zero and desperately needed to find a place to stop. Unfortunately, truck stops and rest stops rarely have parking past 3pm, so there was absolutely nowhere for me to park that night.

Delirious and exhausted, I had to pull over on the shoulder, so my wife could take over. This was a bad situation for both of us because the shoulder is not a safe place, and there are no bathrooms or showers on the interstate.

Despite this terrible start to Day 2, my wife grabbed the torch and ran. She found a truck stop, where we could use the restroom, and then, she drove us through the craziness of Atlanta, navigating the chaos on I-85 and I-20 during morning rush hour traffic.

From there, she took us through Alabama and into Mississippi. Two states we would probably never visit if we weren’t getting paid to go there.

That afternoon in Mississippi, I took the wheel again, and the stakes were immediately raised. A huge storm cell carrying heavy rain, high winds, and tornadoes appeared in the Magnolia State, and we had to outrun it. Even slight winds can topple a truck, so we were both understandably stressed about the weather reports.

I managed to get ahead of the bulk of the storm, but once the rain caught up, we were moving at a snail’s pace. Luckily, mile by mile, we crawled out of Mississippi and into Louisiana, where the rain finally subsided.

From Louisiana, I pushed into Texas, driving through the night until we reached a Love’s truck stop just past Dallas. I didn’t want to stop on the shoulder again and risk our lives, so I decided to try something else. At night, fuel pumps are often the emptiest places at a truck stop. So I pulled through a fuel pump and stopped in the space in front of it, so my wife and I could switch places.

This was a great idea until another trucker decided to pull up right behind us. Literally, all the other pumps were open, but this trucker decided to use the pump right behind us.

Switching drivers takes about 30 minutes minimum because I have to perform a 15 minute post-trip, and my wife has to perform a 15 minute pre-trip. So, of course, the trucker at the pump was not happy to be stuck behind us for a few extra minutes. But we were running on little sleep, and again, all the pumps were open, so my sympathy can only go so far.

Once we had switched places, my wife kept us moving. She drove us the rest of the way through Texas. We passed through El Paso, where we had been specifically warned not to stop under any circumstance and where we could see Mexico from the truck. Next thing we knew, we were in New Mexico.

In this desert state, it was my turn again. Traversing dusty desert roads and high mountain passes, I finally got us into Phoenix, Arizona.

In less than three days, we had made it 2300 miles, and it only cost us our sanity. We didn’t even get a chance to take a freakin shower.

You’d think that driving all that way with little to no sleep and no shower would automatically warrant a 24 hour break, but that’s not how team trucking works. We had to ask dispatch for a 24 hour rest period, so they wouldn’t send us on another 2000 mile jaunt before we could get a chance to get some well-deserved R&R.

Now, we did try to enjoy Phoenix a bit during our rest period, but it was challenging. After sleeping all night and all morning, we visited the Phoenix Art Museum, but that was at the expense of getting further sleep.

So, if you’re trucking and want to see the country, keep that in mind. Your dispatchers will give you loads that have razor thin delivery windows, and you won’t have much time to stop and smell the roses.

That said, our first real load was pretty exciting. We got to see a great deal of the country from a totally new perspective. We also realized how difficult truckers have it on the open road and developed a brand new appreciation for truck drivers. Life on the road is unique, but it is definitely not easy.

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