In Short: Tough work.
I have been driving professionally for over 50 years, all in heavy equipment, mainly over-the-road big rigs from driving solo or part of a team driving with my wife. I have driven 4 to 5 million miles, putting in 60-70 hours per week. And it has been an incredible experience and lifestyle.
Over the years, there have been many improvements to the trucks. They went from hot and rough-riding with two transmissions that I had to shift constantly, to today’s wonderfully smooth-riding trucks with comfortable sleeper cabs and automated transmissions.
Even though the trucks have improved, the one constant has definitely been the many terrible roads. It doesn’t matter how smooth-riding a rig can be; if the roads are awful, then it’s a bumpy drive all the way.
I have seen the most impressive sights many dream about. The most gorgeous sunsets and sunrises imaginable, in all parts of the country. There are such unique and spectacular sceneries the U.S. and Canada have to offer. From the east coast to the west coast, and everything in between. From the flat deserts, the prairie lushness in summer, to the western mountains, and the challenges of getting a heavy truck up and over them safely.
The weather is enough to make some people cringe at times; I have experienced some of the nastiest storms and taken the big rig through killer winter blizzards. But I have also been fortunate enough to experience the most perfect weather, with the sun shining above, allowing me to take in the views the road has to offer.
The roads also vary from time to time. First, I can be driving down a wide-open deserted road. Next time, I’m stuck in a traffic jam that boggles the imagination, especially when trying to maneuver 75 feet of tractor-trailer through them.
Driving through a traffic jam is sometimes like playing dodge ball, maneuvering in and out of traffic to avoid cars. Sometimes you meet the nicest and most respectable car drivers, but other times, you meet the ones that like to cut you off and think an 80,000 lb truck can stop on a dime. That can be a rude awakening.
Two qualities a great truck driver must have: parking skills and patience. Parking skills, because trying to deliver in big cities while maneuvering around traffic is an art form. You are sometimes trying to put a 53-foot trailer into a space designed for half that length. Patience because there are days you have to wait 4-10 hours (unpaid) to load or unload.
Drivers need to deal with shippers, receivers, and heavy traffic. It’s also essential to have good intuition to figure out what other people on the road will do before doing it. I am constantly trying to avoid some of the dangerous stunts some car drivers pull around big rigs.
However, getting out of the city and back onto the open road is sheer joy, and I have my freedom again.
And like any job, there are both pros and cons to driving. Sometimes I get bored seeing the same interstate over and over again. It can also be frustrating driving past places I so desperately want to explore but cannot because the load must be delivered on time, and like clockwork, the next one is waiting for me. But all of that is offset by my passion for driving and safely getting across the country once again.
This is a lifestyle, and to me, the pros far outweigh the cons, and it is for a good reason that I am still doing it!
Mat DeWitt has been driving heavy trucks for over 50 years, running all 49 continental U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces.
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