"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Don't Call Me a 'Woman Driver'!

On the road again…How many of us women deserve a set of trucker wings from all the hauling, towing and hair-raising treks we've managed behind the wheel?  

I earned my license when I was a sophomore.  Since then I’ve driven a moving van down from British Colombia and towed motorcycles on curving mountain roads. My most harrowing (and accidental) venture was driving our diesel pickup up the Road to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park, Montana. It was early morning with black ice in the shadows and one very scared husband hanging out the passenger window. 

I’m proof that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

The other day I was cruising along on the interstate, driving our Dodge Ram 2500 (for you non-rednecks, this is a 3/4 –ton diesel that I have to boost myself into with a pull-up bar.) It has a six –speed manual transmission with a stiff clutch, both of which will put on muscle. Our particular make and model has a reputation for being the noisiest truck on the road. I won’t dispute the claim. It’s loud enough that old ladies glare at us from the crosswalk.  

On top of that I was hauling a toy hauler travel trailer loaded with furniture (with the pickup loaded to the top of the camper) I had a set of extended side-view mirrors, but you know those signs on the back of semi’s? “If you can’t see my mirrors, then I can’t see you”? Trust me, all true.

So I’m easing my way down the freeway with only my brakes (this time, real trailer brakes, thank you,) and six gears between me and the car in front of me. And it’s raining. And it’s Memorial Day weekend and all of California is on the road celebrating the 20-cent drop in gas prices.

And it hits me—I’m fearless.

I learned to drive in my father’s 5-ton hay truck, when I was thirteen. He took me out to the cab, showed me how to operate the clutch and we did a couple of test runs around the yard before we headed out to the field. Then to my horror, he hooked the truck up to this cumbersome side hay loader and directed me toward the nearest bale of alfalfa hay.

Years later my brother told me that I popped the clutch and my father fell off into the field from several rows up, but he climbed back on and said nothing so I wouldn’t get discouraged.

So back to Memorial Day weekend. Driving a rig in a highway lane that is only inches wider than the truck is a full-time job. Somewhere around Weed, California, my husband cautioned me that with our 10,000 pound payload, it would take a city block to come to a complete stop, before he turned over and fell asleep.

I managed the next ten hours by myself. I managed the rain, and the cars and the slower-moving semi’s. I pulled into gas stations (twice) and refilled, and remembered to swing wide so the trailer cleared the rear gas pump.

Driving consciously is a high form of living in the moment. The heightened sense of danger creates an appreciation for the harmony of the road. As the hours pass and I fight the hypnotic lull that threatens to pull me into a trance, I use my senses to stay connected.

The dance of fast cars, slow cars, slower trucks and uphill rigs on steep mountainous grades is poetic. Especially when accompanied by the ballads of Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton on my CD player. I unroll the window to smell the rice fields and the smoke of the burning piles. I savor the scent of the mountains and the smell of downdrafts from the fields we pass.

I notice that the south-bound lane of I-5 is patched and bumpy, worn out by the weight of the semi’s. There is a temptation to drive faster than the law allows, to use the fast lane like the cars and damn the consequences. At night the glare of tail lights plays havoc on my distance judgment. I find myself counting “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two” after passing a slow tractor-trailer rig because it’s hard to judge distance with headlights in mirrors. The moment of decision, when to pull back in, is an adrenaline rush—an instant consequence for my decision

What struck me was how much I enjoyed the process--all ten hours. But that night I slept GOOD!

The next time I drove my car I found myself attending to the road with fresh eyes. The DMV is right—driving is a privilege. So is living on the edge. One of these days I plan to haul something live. (Tow a horse trailer or some cattle to market.) And take my new motorcycle out on a country road.

How about you?  Want to share your driving or other adventures in the fast lane?