By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/21/2020
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 262
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Monday, November 4, 2002

I am lying alone in a pool of tub-warm water in the middle of the Oregon woods. A few feet away, an ice-cold river rushes by but it doesn't affect the warmth coming up from the Earth and enveloping me. The scent of pine and spicy autumn leaves permeates each breath, and the sky above is so velvety black it looks like it should have a likeness of Elvis painted on it. But, no Elvis; there are, instead, ten thousand stars, brilliant in their intensity, glittering like diamonds on the velvet.

How I got here, and why, actually goes back a couple of days.

I was in the Portland OC (Operating Center), chatting with another driver I had just met, named Tim. Tim was one of those rarities, a driver who'd been with Schneider for more than a year. Somehow, hot springs came into the conversation—maybe because I'd just been to Banff—and Tim mentioned an undeveloped, natural series of hot springs on a side road in Oregon. It sounded like a nice but useless piece of information, until he added that this side road is popular with truckers, and that they often park in the large parking lot adjacent to the springs and take a quick soak before continuing on their way. Moreover, the route was actually a mile and a half shorter than covering the same distance on I-5.

So, that very evening, I visited the springs on my way to Sacramento with the peat moss I was bringing from Canada. I got there at 2:30 am and soaked for an hour or so before returning to my cab for the night. In the morning, I talked myself into another quick soak. This time, even though it was early, there were several other bathers, all men. It turned out that two of them were a gay couple from Portland; the third guy was also from Portland and also gay. Jokingly, I asked if this was "Gay Day" at the springs or did straight people even know about it? But, just then, a young man and woman appeared at the foot of the path. "See!" the woman said to her companion, "Everybody else is naked!"

It's an unwritten rule that natural hot springs are enjoyed in the buff. Bathing suits are a poor idea, anyway; America is one of the few countries in the world where the law requires one to cover oneself with clothing before jumping in the water. It's another legacy of our wretched Puritan heritage. While no one at a hot springs would be presumptuous enough to insist that you take off your clothes, you'd better not insist they keep theirs on! It's a live-and-let-live culture that seeks these springs out and frequents them.

So, the woman and her boyfriend shucked off their clothes, too, and soon we were all engaged in conversation about the conserving of our national hot springs and how every year, more of them are "tamed", a process in which all or most of their true value is lost.

Anyway, I eventually got my load down to Sacramento and then, the next day, picked up my next. It was scheduled to go back up to Washington state, so I looked forward to a return visit.

The load I was picking up, was supposed to be in Washington the next morning. This would have been close, but possible—assuming everything went smoothly. Of course, nothing did. I was supposed to show up at the shipper's with an empty trailer taken from the Sacramento drop yard. However, the trailer I was supposed to take wasn't there—and, in fact, there were no empty trailers in the yard at all. So I sent a message on the Qualcomm, and after the inevitable delay of over a half-hour, I was sent to a Sears to pick up another trailer…

…Except, the trailer I wanted wasn't there, either. They had another Schneider trailer, but had quite finished unloading it, yet. I sent another message, and received permission to use this other trailer as soon as it was empty. It soon was, and I left with it; but it was already too late for me to possibly make the 8 am delivery time in Everett, WA. The biggest hurdle was that I had already used enough hours, that I didn't have enough left for the drive. I would have to take an extra DOT break, two total, before getting to Everett. That meant a delivery over eight hours late.

I notified Customer Support of all this, via Qualcomm, and headed to Stockton with the empty and to pick up the load. That took an hour; I then headed back up north up I-5. By this time, I feared I wouldn't even have enough hours to make the springs. The idea of having to sleep at a noisy truck stop when the springs were just a little ways farther really rankled. I'd certainly be able to sleep better if I could make the springs! As I passed Sacramento, having driven from there to Stockton, I suddenly remembered I had forgotten to log myself as going on-duty-not-driving while I uncoupled the empty trailer and coupled to the loaded one. Now, two hours after having left Sacramento, I was still in Sacramento. If I were to log those two hours as off-duty, I would have enough to make the springs. So, that's what I did.

Note to the Department of Transportation: This is a work of fiction. When driving, I always fastidiously log exactly what I have done, and where, and when. I would never fib on my logs!

As I proceeded northward, a message came in from someone named Ray in Customer Support. "We know it's not your fault you can't deliver on time," the message said. "We are trying to find someone to pick the load up from you and continue it when you take your break. Please let me know where and when you plan to take your break, so we can plan a rendezvous."

By the way, when I report these messages, I interpret them for you, the reader. The original is terse and filled with extreme abbreviations. "Your", for example, is shortened to "UR". "On time delivery" is actually "OTD". Learning these abbreviations is actually covered in training.

The Qualcomm is too complicated to operate while driving. You aren't supposed to, anyway; but I suppose everyone tries. If there's no traffic and the road is straight, I might be able to compose a short message and send it, while driving. But, really, I even have trouble reading the messages while driving. So, I had to find a turnout and pull over to reply—which, of course, cost me a couple of minutes of driving.

"I expect to take my DOT break at McCredie Springs on Oregon State Road 58 at midnight," I replied. (Actually, the message read, "BRK SPRNGS OR SR 58 24:00". But Ray knew what I meant.)

After a few hours, Ray reported that he had found someone to pick up the load. I called on my cell phone and left detailed instructions for where Jack, the driver Ray had found, could meet me. I expected to arrive about midnight, and Jack couldn't be there until 3 am; so I said I'd be in one of the pools waiting for him.

Those directions are: Oregon state road 58, about 10 miles east of Oakridge. Just past mile marker 45, pull into first parking area on the south side of road. The trail to the springs starts at the east side of the parking area. Follow for about 50 yards, taking either path where it forks. Look for the steam.

So, that's where I am. I have the place to myself. The air is crisp but the water is warm enough to make the cool air feel really good. Floating weightless in the warm liquid is like being in the womb. My old friends, the Pleiades, are directly overhead when I get in the pool but work their way with astonishing rapidity to the west as I drift.

Then, I start to wonder if Jack will be able to find the pool. Will he be able to walk the path safely with a flashlight? We've never met, and I have no idea if he's ever hiked at night in his life. Will he even be able to find the parking area? Can my truck, darkened and backed up against a tree (to protect the high-value load) even be seen from the road? I've been listening to every passing truck, waiting to hear that one has stopped, and, finally, I realize I'd better go back to mine.

So I do. I start the engine idling so I can safely run the headlights. Surrounded by thickly-branched pine trees, the engine's roar is muffled to a purr that can hardly be heard outside the parking area. With more than an hour yet to wait, I dry off, crawl into my bunk, and fall asleep.

I am awakened by a pounding on my door. I flip on the interior light switch and hop out of my bunk, still in my gym shorts. I pull my jacket on and jump outside into the cold, black night. It's 3:38 am.

Jack has arrived, and he is big. Not any taller than me, but he weighs at least 400 pounds. I can't imagine how he gets behind the wheel. I'm sure his tractor needs its own ZIP code when he does.

"You must be Jack," I greet, palm outstretched. "I'm Paul." We shake hands, my fingers unable to get a good grasp on his chubby ones.

"Sorry I'm late," he says. "It took me longer to get here than I thought."

I shrug, unseen in the night. "Always does," I comment. He has pulled up next to me, and we each complete the uncoupling of our respective trailers; move the tractors ahead, and swap places, then get out to re-couple to the opposite trailers. While connecting the air and electric lines, I call over, "Are you gonna have time to see the hot springs?"

"Oh, Lordie, no," he moans. "I've been driving for twenty hours straight. I gotta get this load up to Everett soonest and then crash."

I can only hope he means that figuratively. "Twenty hours?" I asked, amazed. "How can you do it?"

I can see him grimace in the glow of the trailer's yellow warning lights. "You don't want to see my logbook," he said.

"No," I counter, shaking my head. "I mean, how can you do it? How can you stay awake to drive so long?"

"Donuts," he says. "Donuts and coffee. Can't you tell?" he adds, arms outstretched, indicating his size.

"A 45-minute soak in hot springs is like two hours of sleep," I offer. "Might help."

"No, thanks," he calls while raising his trailer's landing gear. "I don't hike. I don't jog. I don't walk. I never even get out of my truck except to couple and uncouple. I just drive."

"Why?" I blurt.

"That's the way to make the money, my friend. We get paid by the mile. Haven't you figured that out, yet?"

"But," I ponder, "if you never get out of your truck, how do you spend all that money?"

"Savin' it for retirement," he says, laboriously hauling his bulk back into the cab of his truck. I don't offer my thought that, if he continues to overeat and drive himself to exhaustion, the chances of his making it to retirement are pretty slim.

All work and no play…

In the morning, after sleeping soundly in the pine-scented woods for a good eight hours, I check the Qualcomm and learn that my new load, transferred from Jack, isn't due at its destination until 10:30 tonight, and it's only two-and-a-half hours from my present location. There's no need for me to be in a hurry. I wander on down to the springs with my camera.

There are several springs in the series, which have been gathered into three pools on my side of the river, and one on the far side. As one approaches, at least in November, the steam, dappled by sunlight filtering through the trees, is the first thing one sees.

The pools were assembled, God only knows how many years or centuries ago, from river rocks. The largest pool has interior dividers, also made of rows of rocks, to create three sections. The hottest, of course, is closest to the source; the coolest (still warm but suitable for little kids) is farthest out. Because the hot water pours into the pool, the surface water is hottest—almost scalding near the source—with the water just beneath much cooler.

A smaller pool lies just to the east of the largest pool. The water seeps into it from the bottom, so the temperature is evenly distributed—a nice, warm pool just the temperature you might set for a pleasant bath.

The third pool is at the edge of the river, itself. The water is much cooler, since the river water mixes with it; and I am told it is inaccessible in the spring when the river runs much higher. I never made it across the river to the pool on the other side; the water was far too cold for wading. There is supposed to be another trail, a longer one, that allows access to the far pool without having to wade.

From any of the pools, the sounds of road traffic are the only intrusion into the pristine solitude of the place.

After awhile, some other folks come by. A few are campers; two were businessmen who arrived separately. An elderly Russian couple arrives wearing the garb of their homeland; they look like they just popped out of one of those Swiss cuckoo clocks with the little peasants marching around inside. They immerse themselves into one end of the pool, wearing all their clothes. The woman's dress balloons beneath her, making it look like she's sitting on a giant pink jellyfish. I am told by one of the businessmen, that there is a village nearby, settled entirely by Russians who have retained the culture of their homeland. They speak Russian amongst themselves; some haven't learned English at all. They come to the springs regularly, he says; once he came and found twenty of them huddled together, their pink and purple skirts ballooning around them.

I ask the businessman how he manages to get to the pool in the early afternoon. "I make the time," he says, simply. "Twice a week. It keeps me sane."

There are two groups of campers. One consists of three twenty-something, self-identified "bisexuals embarking on spiritual self-discovery" with their straight, but also spiritually-minded, friend. The other is made up of four hunters. I anticipate a conflict, but there is none.

One of the hunters, biting into a venison sandwich, may have attempted to start one. "Good venison," he brags. One of the bisexuals asks if he killed it himself. "Damn right, I did!" he says. "Hope that doesn't offend you," he adds.

"Not at all. I eat meat," the kid, a slim blonde with a goatee, says. His name is Daniel, and he wants to be a priest…or a minister…or a rabbi. He hasn't decided, yet. He is studying alchemy and suspects he had a lifetime in the Middle Ages. "Everybody has to die. Better to live a happy, free life like a deer or an elk, and die cleanly and quickly, than to live in a pasture you can't leave, and be killed with everyone you know in a spate of terror at a slaughterhouse."

"Here, kid, have some wine!" the hunter offers.

Another man, there by himself, has a longish slab of wood he is carving. He wets the wood in the water, then carves with a pocketknife. By now, the slab displays a pod of whales swimming among clouds and stars. It is an incredibly beautiful carving, and it's what the guy does for a living.

We talk about global conspiracies, the creation of Homo Sapiens by the aliens who founded Sumer, the bacteria level in the adjacent river (where I've already taken a few handfuls of drink), and sundry other topics. The hours drift slowly by. I finally leave when there's barely enough light to see the trail, still with several hours to get my load to its destination on time.

And, as I drive away towards Eugene, I wonder about Jack. Did he make it to Everett on time? Did he ever get any sleep? Or was he still, all these hours later, driving, trying to get a few more cents to add to his retirement fund?

I can only pray I never wake up one day intent on making money to the exclusion of living my life. All work and no play…well, you know.