Back home again this weekend, for a short stay before I head back out later tonight. I was so far away that I didn't get home until yesterday. If I could have made it Friday, I'd have had a little more time, but things didn't work out that way for me.
I sat in the truckstop in Fort Worth until Wednesday morning, then got assigned a load that picked up a little more than 100 miles south, in Temple, Texas. I had been to the place before, some six years earlier, but had long forgotten which exit to take, so I had to get the directions again. Once I hopped off the interstate down there, I remembered where the place was and had no trouble finding it. Found that they've changed their entrance and the procedures are a bit different as well, but those are minor things, which caused no problems.
I dropped my empty and was hooked to my loaded box in short order. Going back north, I took the Dallas/35E fork in the highway this time, so I could hop on I-20 and head east, toward my destination in Louisiana. I learned that everything is bigger in Texas, including construction zones. Seemed like the one I went through was at least 50 miles long! I couldn't get a shot of the Big 'D' skyline, because the only reasonably close-up view of it is right in the middle of the 35E/I-20 interchange. Traffic was too hairy to risk a shot and the maze of ramps blocked most of the view anyway, so I didn't even attempt it. By the time I was on 20 and had changed directions, Dallas was in my rear-view mirror.
I played tag with some crazy Tex-Mex dude in a little six-wheeled delivery truck for a few miles, then lost him when I-635 split off and he went that way. He seemed to be enjoying our little "contest" as much as I was. Neither of us really got a clear advantage, so I put it down as a draw. When I attempted to bury him in traffic, using my larger size to block any attempts to cross over in front of me, he wormed his way out of it neatly. I didn't let him get me bottlenecked the same way at all. He was a little faster than me, but slower cars kept getting in his way, so he was never able to get that far ahead of me. We waved and smiled at each other as we parted company for good. Harmless thing, really, and a way to have a little fun and break the boredom of driving up for a few minutes.
At the eastern edge of Texas, the vast plains begin to give way to pine tree forests and the wetlands of Louisiana swamp country. A few miles out of Shreveport, after going around in a circle for ten minutes to correct a wrong turn I made, which had me headed north, instead of south, I was headed down I-49. Through Alexandria and on into Lafayette, where the real swamp and Cajun country starts. By the way, that's pronounced "Lah-fie-yet" with the authentic accent. Sort of like "Baa-tone-Roozh" (Baton Rouge). It's always fascinating to hear those Cajun voices on the CB down there. And there's a lot of them, as you might imagine.
The Wally-Mart DC (Distribution Center) where I was headed will take you at any time on the proper delivery date, as long as you're dropping and hooking, so I didn't have to stop and kill time until my pre-set delivery appointment rolled around. That was nice, for a change. I was in and out of there within a half-hour. There was no load right away, so I holed up in a nearby truckstop in Hammond and started my break. Load came through around nightfall, and I would load at a paper mill, back the way I'd already come, north of Baton Rouge.
Plenty of time for a break first, but I got little sleep at all. Just wasn't sleepy. I'd gotten my "nap out," so to speak, the previous two days, so I was in total Bug-Eye Mode that night. Wide awake and unable to move until my ten hours were up, around midnight, or thereabout. Well, I'd have all kinds of hours available, at least. And I could get all the way home Friday. Barely. By the skin of my teeth -- by stretching the hours in my logbook as tight as a drum. But that's okay; a driver's hours are made out of rubber anyway. No problem with stretching them. Only newbie drivers think that they're made of iron, and most of them learn the truth quickly enough.
Meanwhile, it had turned cold as whiz outside. Old Man Winter had come to pay his respects to the Southeast on Thursday morning. It had been 17 degrees in Shreveport at 7A.M. and it was on its way down into the upper 20's again where I was. Very cold indeed, for the Deep South. I heard later that it was only 45 degrees that morning in Key West, Florida -- a new record low for that area and colder than it had gotten there since 1896. Global Warming? Ha! Not quite!! I think all this early snow, ice, and frigid air are Mother Nature's way of telling Mr. Gore and his pals that they're full of crap!
My conventional dry van trailer had turned into a reefer by the time I got to the paper mill and backed up to a utility dock, to clean it out. Only difference was that my box was missing the refrigeration unit on the front and the fuel tank underneath it. Other than that, it was just as cold inside that thing as any reefer can get, or at least that's the way it felt, at 2 A.M. Friday morning. I swept it out, shiveringly (if that's a word).
The brake shoes on my loaded box were frozen to the drums, but I managed to push and pull on the air supply knob a half-dozen times and rock the box back and forth until they finally broke loose with a clunking noise. The 43,000 pound weight of the load helped a lot. You learn fast that you don't set the trailer brake in below-freezing weather, when you're going to be parked for a longer period of time, especially when there's snow or ice on the pavement. Water freezes into ice and ice tends to bond brake shoes to brake drums and the damned thing won't move with the brakes locked up. Of course, it can't be helped when the trailer is dropped, so that's something that you just have to deal with all the time. I have had to beat the living crap out of the drums a few times with my trusty hammer, in order to "encourage" the shoes to release ("mechanical intimidation" is more like it, actually). Fortunately, it didn't require that sort of direct action on this occasion.
I got rolling, fueled up, and headed to the house. I got into Alabama before I crapped out. The lack of sleep was getting to me, big time, by then, and I saw that I wasn't going to make it home on Friday. It's just not worth the risk, when you're that tired and drowsy. It makes you a menace on the road, both to yourself and to everyone else who shares the road with you. So, I pulled into a rest area about 60 miles west of Birmingham and hit the bunk. Had no problem sleeping this time.
I rolled in here yesterday morning and will roll on to Cincinnati tonight. Another week closer to spring and the return of motorcycling weather!! Can't wait, but meantime, I'm doing a little customizing work on Miss Velvet, installing the custom handgrips I got her for Christmas. I'll get some pics of them when they're both installed.