Story by Gabriella G.
After about three weeks of OTR driving training with Schneider in Indianapolis, Indiana, I was finally waiting for my first delivery assignment. I just got a new mattress for my truck from the shop when the assignment came up on the Qualcomm. The location was AZ, and I quickly thought “Oh, that’s Arkansas, that shouldn’t be too far. Great!”, but then I saw that the trip was estimated to be over 2,000 miles.
I took a closer look and realized that it was Phoenix, AZ. That’s Arizona, not Arkansas. My first thought: “I’m going where now?” Indiana all the way to Arkansas? For my first OTR truck driving trip?! I almost had a heart attack!
Being from Europe, I didn’t really know the abbreviations for the states when I first started driving. I had been in the US for a while, but I still was not the best with maps and navigation. My daughter’s a great navigator, but she wasn’t there because she was still back in New York, and new drivers can’t have guest passengers until after six months of driving anyways.
80,000 Pounds and a Ton of Nerves
Whether it was Arkansas or Arizona, I was really excited for my first delivery. But I was nervous too. I wanted to make sure I did everything right and got to where I needed to go without getting lost. I knew if I needed help I could contact either my DBL (Driver’s Business Leader) or my former instructors, so I called my instructor, a bit concerned about the distance. He gave me a quick pep talk about OTR truck driving, so, with newfound confidence, I did my pre-trip, picked up the load, and started rolling west early next morning.
The load was pretty heavy, almost to the maximum of 80,000 pounds. I’ll admit that I most certainly didn’t expect this kind of an assignment for my very first real day on the job, but it was a great opportunity! And at least the weather was cooperative throughout.
I drove about 11 hours the first day until the evening (about 450 miles) and stopped somewhere in Missouri. (That’s MO, for the state abbreviations.) I was dead tired after that first day, and I fell asleep quickly.
OTR Truck Driving Without the Radio
The next day, I got up around 5 or 6 a.m., got some more coffee, did my pre-trip, and continued towards my destination. So I was just driving and driving, changing radio stations, drinking coffee and eventually I reached New Mexico. The radio eventually went away, and there was nothing to be seen for miles but the open road. Losing the radio in New Mexico wasn’t a big deal, but that portion of the trip was a chore with nothing interesting to hear.
Because I wasn’t familiar with where I could fuel up, I stopped at the gas station every time the gauge went below 1/2, just to be safe. I wasn’t proficient with the Qualcomm search functions yet, and I really didn’t want to mess up the navigation by pressing a wrong button. While at the gas station, I asked a driver inside when the radio stations would come back, as it was pretty boring driving in silence. He said it’d be another few hours or so. I eventually learned to appreciate the silence though because the views were beautiful. I had never seen a desert, let alone rock formations like I did on my very first trip.
After driving the truck all day on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, somewhere in Arizona, I called my DBL, to let her know I was not going to be able to make it on time. I didn’t want to be late for my first delivery, but I had a good reason.
When my DBL asked me why I couldn’t make it on time, I told her that I had a team truck but they couldn’t find me a partner so I ended up driving alone. I thought my DBL would have known about this, but she replied “Oh, new drivers aren’t supposed to be sent that far.” I knew it seemed weird that I was sent from Indiana to Arizona! She told me to stand by and changed the appointment time.
Always Know Your Route
I got there the next day, but I had one more obstacle to overcome. Jill (the GPS voice) sent me to the old truck entrance gate at the company. The gate was closed, but I couldn’t see that from the main road. I was now faced with a closed gate on a tiny road with cars parked on each side. There was no way I could turn around.
I asked an employee who I saw walking towards to building to please help me so I can turn around safely, either inside or by backing up to the main road. He replied that he got up at 5 A.M. and that he was in a rush and couldn’t help. I thought, “Great… I’ll have to back up all by myself to be able to get to the right entrance.”
Schneider National has a cute acronym, “G.O.A.L.”, which stands for “Get Out And Look,” and that’s just what I did about a dozen times, every three feet or so as I was backing up. I also made sure to pull the air horn completely as I was nearing the main road so that even if someone did not see me, they could hear me.
After much getting out and looking, I was finally able to turn around and go to the correct gate. I had to wait about two hours before they even began unloading me, and then unloading took another two or three hours. My first load was a huge accomplishment!
My Second Delivery
Before I could celebrate, I had another load to deliver to California, and I had to pick up the load nearby.
I left the next morning. I expected this journey to be much easier: a lighter load, closer destination, and a drop-and-hook instead of a live unload. The hills and winding roads in the West were actually a bit scary.
The roads there were really narrow, and the first time I passed an oncoming truck, I thought we weren’t going to be able to fit next to each other. With experience, I realized that the truck really isn’t as big as it looks. I initially thought I wasn’t going to be able to fit anywhere, but that really wasn’t the case.
Another thing I learned is that going really far isn’t much different from going somewhere close. In time, I dropped my second load in California and scored another success. I passed through some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen on my first trip, but I was too nervous to enjoy it too much the first time, being by myself and all.
Completed My First TWO Deliveries
When I got back to Indianapolis, all of my instructors were waiting for me and cheering as I got back to the fuel island. They all gave me high-fives, hugged me, and congratulated me on my first two weeks of solo driving. I didn’t really have any regrets, as thankfully I didn’t make any major mistakes. Having done this relatively difficult delivery for my very first time, I was so much more confident on the next one, which was only 700 miles. I fell in love with driving even more than I already was before.