Sunday, July 5, 2015

Money Needed To Get Into Trucking

What strikes me these days are the amount of news stories and articles featuring people who have gotten themselves into crippling debt from student loans and/or credit card loans to pay for living expenses whilst studying. These people graduate with their desired qualifications, but fear that they'll never be able to pay off the potentially $100,000+ in loans.  

Perhaps it is no wonder therefore that Richie and I often get questions asking us how much money is required to get into trucking. It seems as if people would consider trucking as a career option, but the potentially horrific cost of getting into this industry scares the very idea away before it's even had a chance to take hold.

The Lincoln Monument rest area on I-80 in Laramie, WY.  It's the highest elevation on I-80 at 8,640 feet above sea level

So the purpose of today's post is to tell you exactly the absolute minimum amount of money you'll need to get into trucking, should you wish to consider it.

I should just mention that Richie and I are company drivers. We do not own our truck, nor do we lease it. So, this is written from our perspective as company drivers - not from the perspective of an owner or lease operator.

1. Schooling

For company drivers, this is by far the largest expense and one that can put people off. But don't let the initial cost scare you away, as I'll explain.

As anyone can guess, having a normal car license won't get you anywhere. You need a Class A Commercial Driver's License (CDL for short) and that requires attending CDL school.

Because we attended during the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year holidays, the course took longer than normal. Usually it takes about 4 or 5 weeks of full time attendance from Monday - Friday.  

In 2012, we each paid around $3,200 for the school. This covered all of the teaching and final exams, as well as the DOT physical and drug test (with us, a guy came to the school and took care of all of that).

If at all possible, I would recommend doing all you can to save this money and then, if necessary, beg, borrow (but perhaps not steal) from friends and family for the schooling money. Stay away from bank or other official loans. Here's why.

Most companies who hire fresh CDL grads also offer tuition reimbursement. So if you're able to pay out the initial cost, you'll get it back! If the bank paid for your school, the bank will get reimbursed.

The reason I recommend staying away from the bank is because with our own company, if the bank paid for your school, the company will reimburse the bank and that's that. If an individual paid (and can prove it) our company will reimburse each person something crazy like $15,000! It makes no difference what WE paid. This is what they'll pay.

Sound too good to be true? It is...sort of. Here's the caveat - Companies will never ever give you a check for, say, $5,000 and call it a day. Turnover in this industry is so high that any company who did that would probably go bankrupt immediately. Any company that I'm aware of will pay, say, $100 per month until the full sum is paid. If you leave before that, you forfeit any remaining tuition reimbursement as your second company will probably not be reimbursing you.

In our situation, we've been each receiving monthly reimbursements of just over $100 net since we got off the trainer's truck. If and when we reach our 5 year and one month anniversary, we receive a huge lump payment of $7,500 (before taxes) and that will be the end of our reimbursements. Therefore, the grand total of tuition reimbursement by our company will be $15,000 gross for me and $15,000 gross for Richie, even though we only each paid out $3,200 for our schooling.

OK, granted, to get this, we need to stay with our company for at least 5 years and one month. But if we do, we'll have made over a 400% return on our initial schooling investment. However you look at it, a 400% return in 5 years is pretty darn amazing! 

My advice is if you are considering trucking, find out all you can about the tuition reimbursement scheme your prospective companies offer. Ask very specific questions to pin the recruiter down and get as clear a picture as you can.

Total cost: For Richie and me, it was $3,200 each back in 2012. 

2. DMV Tests, Permit, License, Endorsement Fees

This is not a huge cost but it's still something you'll need to pay for. Before any CDL school will allow you behind the wheel of a training truck, you'll need to have your CDL permit. To get this, you need to take a rather long written test at the DMV. This may cost around or under $100.  

Then, when you pass your final tests at school, you'll be grinning ear to ear as you hurry to the DMV to get your actual CDL. You need to pay for that license though. Check with your local DMV for the cost but I don't think it's more than $100.  

It's a good idea also to have your hazmat endorsement before starting with a company. With our company, hazmat endorsed drivers earn substantially more right from day 1 on the trainer's truck. While you're still in school, (and as early as possible) go get fingerprinted (ask at your school as to where to go and procedures to follow) and that will cost under $100. In a couple of weeks or so, you will receive a letter stating that you are cleared to obtain your hazmat endorsement.  You can do this once you've graduated CDL school, but not before.

Study the hazmat chapter in your CDL manual and when you go (with your silly grin of course) to the DMV to get your actual license, you can take the written hazmat test. I believe this is under $50 and it's a short and pretty easy test.

Therefore, for all of these costs, I reckon it's safe to set aside $400 per person.  

3. Living Costs for the First Month or So

Now, this is not a strictly necessary category, but setting aside some money to cover your costs of living during the first couple of weeks or so at your new company (food especially) may really come in handy. 

Your company will pay for your transportation to their main headquarters and will pay for your lodgings during orientation. Our company also provided breakfast, lunch and dinner for the first week, but don't assume that all companies will provide you with 3 meals a day. Check it out beforehand.

I'm not going to dwell on this category as strictly speaking, you do not need this money to get into trucking as a company driver.

Total cost: Depends on how much you have to spare but this is not absolutely necessary to get into trucking.

4. Cost of Truck

Nothing! As company drivers, we don't pay anything for our truck. No monthly payments, no cost of upkeep. Everything associated with the truck is covered by the company.

Total cost: $0

4. Diesel

Have you seen the price of diesel? It's extortionate! I wonder if it's the number 1 profit-eater of owner operators. As company drivers, we do not pay a penny for fuel. Not only that, but we receive points when we fuel which we can use to buy things in the truck stop. We also get free showers for fueling and we personally get free coffee/soda when we fuel 75 gallons or more in a single time (because of the specific rewards card we have).

Total cost: $0

5. Truck insurance, permits and registration fees

Commercial trucks need all sorts of permits, state permits, fuel permits, you name it and trucks need it. We actually have a book full of insurance, registration and various state and fuel permits for the year. Each piece of paper in that book has cost something. For owner operators, this is a hefty expense. For company drivers like us, this is no expense!

Total cost: $0

Well, I think that about covers it. I would say that overall, if you want to become a company driver, you'd be wise to set aside around $4,000 or so per person. If the cost of schooling has gone up, then of course you'll need to set aside more to compensate. 

I'll end by saying that for Richie and me, we made back our initial outlay ridiculously quickly. Within a couple of months, we had made back everything we spent and then some.  

I hope that this post will be of some use to those considering trucking as an option.

Happy Fourth of July Weekend everyone!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

What's My Motivation to Be a Truck Driver?

This week I had a slightly odd but overall, a fairly typical encounter with another truck driver.  It was around 6am and Richie and I were about to switch over so that I could begin my shift.  We were at a Flying J (or was it Pilot..?) and I needed to use the restroom.  As I was walking toward the store, the conversation with this driver went something like this:

Him: Hey, you looking for a partner?

Me: No, I have one.

Him: He must be a lucky guy.

Me: He's my husband.

Him: I've been trying to get my wife to come drive with me.

Me: She's not interested?

Him: Nope.

So this was odd because it seemed that for him, any wife would do - be it me or his actual wife.  However, that aside, he did really want to be doing this job with his wife. She, it seemed, was not having any of it. I wonder now what he said to try to convince her to come on the truck with him.  Whatever it was obviously didn't work.

It got me to thinking: what keeps me here in this truck, relentlessly traversing the great US of A over and over and over again?  What makes me willing to do something that the majority of women wouldn't even consider? After all, there's nothing special about me.  I consider myself a fairly typical female.

At first glance, I thought it could be the money.  We were making more per week team trucking than we were making in a whole month working in the UK.  That's a big incentive.  After all, there are endless stories on the news about people in crippling debt, unable to find a job that pays a livable wage, young people who can't afford to move out of their parents' homes after college.

I also thought it could be the fact that Richie and I were working together, supporting each other and going through everything together.  That's something that not many people get in their jobs.

While it would sound nice and pretty to say that these two things are what keeps me in the job, sadly, they are not.  For me, when I'm going through one of those "get me out of here" moments, there is something that keeps me here and keeps me calm and carrying on.

I think of the future, of what we'll be able to get out of this that, had we returned to normal lives and normal jobs, would never in a million years ever be possible.

Here is why I stay trucking:

1.  If we put in a total of 10-12 years, we'll never ever have to work again.

2.  This means that when we retire, I'll be 48 or 49.  I imagine how many people that age are fully retired, never having to work for "The Man" again if they don't want to.  I don't think there are many at all.

3.  These days, retirement age seems to be at LEAST 65, perhaps even later.  So, by giving 10-12 years of my life to trucking, I am receiving at least 17 years of freedom before I turn 65 that I would have otherwise had to work.  That's a pretty good investment return!

4.  Because we won't need to be working, we'll have the freedom and choice to live anywhere we want.  Most people are limited by job opportunities and are stuck in either cities or in cookie-cutter suburbs.  Not us.

5.  Because of Reason #4, I know that by our late 40's, if we wanted, we could be living in a chateau-style log cabin in the North Georgia mountains.  Endless views of trees and mountains, an outdoor fireplace, verandas on every level.  I imagine us sitting outside on the veranda, watching the sun set over the mountains each evening, sipping a nice Pinot Noir.  This can be our daily reality if I stay in this job for another 9 years.  This is something we would never be able to have if I was not trucking with Richie.

So there you have it.  This is my personal motivation and what keeps me going.

I think if a guy wants to convince his wife/partner to come trucking with him, they need to discuss their own personal dreams and ask this question:

"What could we have if we did team trucking for xx years that would be an impossibility to have otherwise?"

Perhaps you're a young couple in your mid 20's.  Team drive for 10 years and retire.  You'll be young enough to start a family and never have to work.  How many parents get to do that?   How cool would it be to finish lunch on a Tuesday afternoon, put down your fork and declare "Hey, let's go camping for the rest of the week!"

For us, every week that we're here driving this truck gets us that bit closer to Financial Freedom.  It's not about becoming monetarily wealthy.  It's about being able to wake up one day, any day, and instead of saying "I have to do this..." it's being able to say "Hey, let's do this!"

Team trucking is giving us at least 17 extra years of "Hey, let's do this!" days.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Day In the Life of a Team Trucker

Richie tells me that I'm an anthropologist at heart.  I love Googling different professions, hoping for a post about a "Day In the Life of..." for any given job.  I'm absolutely fascinated with the most minute of details and am always grateful to those who post such accounts.

As my way of giving back to my fellow anthropologists (or for the merely curious of you), I'm going to give a blow-by-blow account of a given day in my life.  From wake up to bedtime.  A little note of caution - this is going to be a long post but I want to make it as accurate as possible.

When I have snippets of free time, I like doing sketches like this one.

So without further ado, I'll choose Friday, June 19 2015 as it's pretty fresh in my mind and it was also a full shift for me.  Just for the record, we started this trip in Hagerstown, MD and are headed to Troutdale, OR.  This is day 2 of the journey.

My alarm went off at 5:30am.  I immediately open the curtain and ask Richie, who's driving, how he's doing.  This morning, he's pretty tired so I get up.  Sometimes (OK, lots of times) I ask for an extra 15-20 minutes or so of sleep time but today I don't.  

So I begin my morning routine.  We are in eastern Nebraska on I-80 heading west and Richie is going to stop at a TA at exit 305 so we can switch over.  I therefore have about 30 minutes before I need to take over. I quickly get dressed and put into our RoadPro stove 2 hotdogs.  Those are for Richie so he doesn't go to bed hungry.  They will be done by the time his shift is over.

I then take our other RoadPro stove and get my lunch prepared.  It's always the same - chicken and vegetable curry.  The evening before, I take a piece of foil and put in onions, green peppers, broccoli and halved cherry tomatoes and wrap it up.  Then in the morning I unwrap the foil packet and put it into the stove.  I take our Bucket 'O Condiments and add to my vegetables olive oil, jarred garlic, curry powder, salt, pepper and hot sauce.  I put the 12-V plug within easy reach of the driver.

Next, I take a plastic disposable cup and proceed to brush my teeth.  I find it SO much easier to brush my teeth on the truck than in a truck stop or rest area.  As so many places now try to conserve water, one often has to wave one's hands frantically under the faucet to get water to come out.  If and when it does, it could just be a mere trickle, making it extremely annoying to brush one's teeth.

I fill the cup less than 1/4 full with water and proceed to brush my teeth.  Here's the trick to truck teeth brushing - instead of spitting, THEN rinsing, rinse (using the water in the cup and thumb to get the bristles clean) and THEN spit.  I take an extra swig of water and then put the cup contents into a big waste jug that we keep and dispose of the cup.

Next I put my hair up, either into a bun or ponytail and clean my face using my current face wipe of choice - Ponds.  It's a bit of a coarser cloth which is great for exfoliating!  I then put on my Olay moisturiser and eye cream.  Finally, I apply perfume (today was Versace's Crystal Noir) which never fails to elicit a comment from Richie, usually along the lines of  "Nice smells!"

Next is breakfast - that's pretty easy.  Usually a bar of some sort.  Today is an Atkins granola bar.  I put that above the driver's head in a netted enclosure where it's within easy reach.

Last, but most certainly not least, I get my coffee ready.  For some baffling reason which I don't dare question, Richie has taken it upon himself to fill a thermos with coffee during his shift and wash my cup.  This is baffling indeed because I'm the only one who drinks coffee!  I grab the thermos and fill my cup and add cream (yup, the proper heavy duty cream!).  Now here's the sort of embarrassing part - during this ritual, I have a coffee song that I sing.  Um...let's just leave it at that, shall we?

Whew, OK chores are done, I'm ready to drive! (Hey, didn't I warn you that this would be long?)

At the TA, I do all of the changing duty stuff on the computer.  Richie does the post trip inspection and cleans the millions of bugs that have committed mass suicide on the windshield.  I, meanwhile, go inside to buy 2 bottles of washer fluid from the extremely uncommunicative clerk at the TA.  I put in both bottles.

I get my glasses on, get my sunglasses within reach and get my audio book ready to go.  (BTW: I'm obsessed with audio books and couldn't imagine doing this job without them.  I never listen to music when I'm driving, just books.)

I adjust my mirrors and get going.  Richie has his bowl of 2 hot dogs and is munching away and talking about the book he's been listening to.  Actually, he's been talking about it ever since I woke up!

Even though it's only about 5:30am central time, it's already beginning to get light.  After Richie gets to bed and closes the curtain, I put my book on and drive along, sipping my coffee.  I decide to stop at the rest area about 100 miles away to pee.  I have to plan these things out or I may find myself absolutely desperate and that is never EVER good!

I have another pee stop at the rest area just before exit 59 in Sidney.  By now, my coffee is finished and I have switched to bottled water.  Next time I stop will be at the TA in Cheyenne, WY to fuel.  Just as I take the exit, I plug in the stove so my vegetables can cook.  They'll take a little over an hour to be done the way I like them.

At the TA, I fuel and clean the windshield, side windows and mirrors.  Then I see my trainer!  It's the third time in 2 and a half years I've seen him in various parts of the country.  I run up to him, hug him and we chat for a few minutes.  When I return to the truck to start pumping the DEF (diesel exhaust fluid), I find that too much time has gone by and the pump has gone off.  Oh matter.

Ready to go, I hop back in the truck but can't move because the truck ahead of me hasn't moved. After about 10 minutes of waiting, I try to find this driver but the queue in the TA is so long that I give up.  My trainer then offers to spot me so that I can reverse onto the road, which I thought was extremely kind of him.  He even stopped traffic for me!

As I accelerate back onto I-80, I'm feeling all warm and fuzzy to have seen my trainer again.  I'm then extra pleased because I have been given the green light on my PrePass transponder which means I don't have to enter Wyoming's Port of Entry and spend an extra 5 minutes getting out and showing my papers.  Woo hoo!

I was going to stop for lunch at a truck parking area but decided instead to go the extra distance to the rest area with the Lincoln monument, just before the descent into Laramie.  By the time I stop for lunch, it's about 13:00 and I've driven close to 400 miles.  I add a splash of water to the stove, add strips of cooked chicken and a splash of cream and stir.  I unplug the stove and hop into bed for a 15 minute nap while everything in the stove gets to a good temperature.

After I eat, I clean my spoon and bowl with baby wipes and put everything away.

I get going again, still listening to my audio book. Early afternoons are usually the hardest for me because is is one of those natural lulls in the day.  Because of the peeing situation, I'm only able to have one cup of coffee per day so afternoons are strictly water.  This afternoon, though, I'm actually feeling pretty good and wakeful.  Also, the weather is fantastic which is a minor miracle when driving across Wyoming!

Just before I reach Rawlins (around exit 200), Richie wakes up.  It's about 15:30 eastern time (the time we personally go by).  I turn my audio book off so that we can chat.  He begins preparing his breakfast - a 3-egg omelet.  He's a bit sad because he wanted a cheddar cheese omelet but we forgot to buy the cheese the last time we were in Walmart.

I tell Richie I'll probably get to the Little America truck stop (exit 68) arriving just a minute or so after 18:00 EST.

I make another pee stop at a truck parking area (yes, we have ways to pee in the truck!).  With about a half hour left of my shift, Richie gets his dinner ready in the RoadPro stove - the same vegetable and chicken curry that I eat for lunch.

If you've ever been through Wyoming going west bound, you'll not fail to notice the gazillion or so billboards for Little America. As we passed the one with the huge ice cream cone (for 75 cents no less!), Richie decided that we needed to get an ice cream cone when we switched over.  I, of course, was not one to argue that very sensible plan!

I arrived at Little America bang on 18:00 and the parking lot was pretty empty so I easily found a spot.  I did the post trip inspection and switched drivers on the computer while Richie went in to get the ice cream.  It had been over a year since we had ice cream from Little America so I wasn't expecting much but the cones were super yummy!  You really can't beat them, considering they only cost 75 cents each!

Now my shift has officially ended.  I managed to drive just shy of 650 miles for the day.  My eyes are feeling a little tired which is to be expected for me after an almost-full shift.  However, having sat all day, one must now do some moving!  Richie and I do our respective exercises - he jogs on the spot and I march on the spot.  I always wear my heart rate monitor when marching and after 30 minutes, I manage to burn anywhere between 200-250 calories.

After we are back in the truck, Richie got underway,   As today is not a shower day, I use baby wipes to clean and apply some summery-smelling body lotion and get my clothes ready for the next day. Then, I made myself a caesar salad of mixed greens, parmesan shavings, smoked salmon and caesar dressing.  I take my multivitamins and fish oil capsules (which I should have done at lunch but forgot).

Before bed, I get my vegetables ready to go for the next day.  I make sure Richie knows where he needs to be fueling (Boise).

We chat until about 20:15 and I say goodnight, close the curtain, brush my teeth (see morning chores) and get to bed.  Normally, I'd look at a news website for about 15 minutes or so on the iphone, but we're in Utah by now and don't get any internet connection so I can't tonight.

And that's my day done!  I understand that in normal life, one wouldn't give an account of the bathroom breaks taken.  But I thought that given the nature and circumstances of this job, it was quite necessary.

Hope you enjoyed a day in my life.  If you found it mind-numbingly boring, I at least hope it lulled you into a nice sleep!

What's the Deal With Orientation?

OK, it's been ages and ages since I've posted but I'm back!  For this post, I'm going to talk mainly to both current CDL students and to those thinking about getting into trucking.  

When Richie and I were in CDL school, we were encouraged to apply to as many trucking companies as possible to give us the best chance of receiving letters of prehire. Those prehire letters meant that we had passed their initial background checks and, provided we obtained our CDLs at the end of the course, we would be invited to attend a company's orientation. 

In our school, most students believed that if you were invited to orientation, you were as good as hired. 

So it was a little baffling when, after us both passing our final tests and feeling quite on top of the world, the office manager advised us as she prepared our papers "Don't wait too long to find another orientation if this orientation doesn't work out. You don't want to have to do a refresher course."

Well, why was she being so pessimistic? Of course our orientation was going to work out! They were paying for our bus tickets to the company. They were housing and feeding us for free. They were going to tell us all about the company.  Companies just don't do that if they're not going to welcome you to the "family"!

After experiencing our first (and only) orientation, I can safely say that "Yes, they do." 

This is something that CDL schools need to hammer home to their students because not being absolutely clear as to what orientation is causes much confusion, misunderstanding and potential bitter disappointment.

First, I'm going to tell you what orientation isn't. It isn't a guaranteed job. You aren't going there as an employee. It isn't a "welcome to your new family" party. 

Here's what it is. It's a really, really long job interview. It's a weeding out process. Until the moment you receive your employee ID, it's a constant asking yourself "Is today the day I'm going to be sent home?"

If you are a CDL student reading this and I have burst your bubble, I'm sorry. I really am! I remember how exciting it was to receive those prehire letters and treat them as if they were job offers. 

But knowing the reality is so much more beneficial in the long run and while you may not exactly be thanking me now, you will when you're in orientation.

I'm going to tell you about our orientation, but first, a bit about us. Both Richie and I passed our final exams at CDL school on the same day and on the first try.  During school, we used any free time to also study for our hazmat endorsement so we could take that test as soon as we got our CDLs. 

We both have clean records in all areas, have consistent employment histories and were 100% honest with everything about ourselves. We were a ready-made husband and wife team. In short, we were a company's ideal candidates.

And yet, on the day of the orientation driving tests, we came within an inch of being sent back home on the bus. 

Richie had his driving test in the morning. The examiner gave an instruction that was unclear to Richie. He therefore wasn't able to set himself up properly for a turn and as a result, the trailer went over the curb a little. Instant fail! 

Luckily, the company gives people two chances to pass the driving test. If you fail the second time however, no matter what, you're out of there. 

I passed my test first time but that meant nothing if Richie didn't pass his test the second time. Thankfully, he did pass his second test and we were able to stay, but we came so close to being weeded out! 

Throughout orientation, we'd see faces one day and they'd be gone the next. We saw people sent home for all sorts of reasons: getting caught for not being honest about a criminal history, about their driving or employment histories. One person who was in orientation as an experienced driver was sent home because he couldn't pass the backing test that experienced drivers have to pass. People were also sent home because they were seen in Logan's Roadhouse restaurant drinking beer during orientation and there's a zero tolerance alcohol and drug policy.

There are a number of tests that we absolutely had to pass or be sent home: the background checks (including employment history, driving record and criminal record), the physical, drug test, agility test and driving test. 

I remember on the Thursday (day 4), we were all in the recruitment office to receive our employee IDs (very exciting). A woman was called in and she excitedly went, assuming she'd be receiving her ID. A few minutes later we heard her crying. She wasn't being given her ID - she was being sent home!

We learned that during orientation, a team of people work all day carefully researching all of our backgrounds. If we have lied or misled or omitted anything, it is their job to find out. 

We also witnessed some behaviors from people during orientation that, had they understood that orientation was nothing more than a huge job interview, would definitely not have done. These included:

* Sleeping or playing on their phones while someone was speaking.

* Showing up late to scheduled events.

* Using foul language.

* Mumbling or speaking incoherently when asked a question. 

I hope I've provided some insight into the reality of orientation. If you understand and accept it for what it is, it's possible to even enjoy it!

Monday, March 30, 2015

That Dirty 8-Letter Word -Part 3 of 3

I considered the possibility of leaving the job. Goodbye early retirement (we were planning to be retired by the time I'm 48 - i.e. 9 and a half more years). Goodbye nice weekly paychecks! Goodbye to the easiest job I've ever had! Goodbye free  accommodation!  But I'd have my health, right? After all, if I didn't have my health, what good is early retirement if I couldn't enjoy it fully? Some things are just more important than money and you can't put a price on your health.

Yes, it was making more and more sense. I was left with no choice. We would have to leave this job and get off the...


Where did that voice come from?!

"Listen, I don't want to leave trucking. I want to give ourselves that chance at early retirement. I don't want to go back into an office with cliques and office politics.  I can make this job work! There must be a way and I'm going to find it! I can be a healthy truck driver! We're staying right here!
             I'm. Not. Leaving."

Well! The decision was made, wasn't it? I now had to find a way in which movement and exercise became a daily thing, not just an "if I can be bothered" thing.  I had to find it and find it fast!

As this post is going to be really long as it is, I'm going to skip the part describing how I found what I did. Instead, I'll jump right into telling you what I found and how this has forever changed the way I now approach exercise.

I bought a heart rate monitor!

"OK..." you're probably thinking, "What's the big deal?"

First, for those who aren't quite sure what  a heart rate monitor is, I'll explain a bit. It consists of a strap that goes around your chest and has electrodes that sensor your heart beat. The piece in the middle measures your heart rate as beats per minute (bpm).

The readings are then sent to this watch which displays the readings.

Along with displaying heart rate, the watch can, as well as tell time of course, record exercise sessions and calories burnt. Before you use the watch for the very first time, you need to input data such as your age, gender, height and weight. Therefore, the calories burnt are specifically meant for you and no one else.

My heart rate monitor is made by Polar  and costs around $50 from Amazon. Don't worry though, there are loads of watch colors to choose from, not just pink!

Now, I'm going to explain how to use it but I am only going to give you a very general, non-specific overview. If you want more information, the internet will give you way more than anyone can handle and I personally find it all overwhelming! But my explanations below will give you an understanding of how the monitor can be used and it's a very good place to start. This is what I'm using at any rate.

1. Figure out your general maximum heart rate. To do this, take the number 220 and subtract your age. Mine would be 220-39 (my age) = 181 bpm. That is my general maximum heart rate.

2. Now determine your exercise zones. Here they are:

Zone 1- The Healthy Heart Zone. This is done at 50%-60% of your maximum heart rate and moving in this zone has loads of health benefits.  My target heart rate would be 91 bpm - 107 bpm.

Zone 2- Fat Burning Zone. The target heart rate for this zone is 60%-70% of your maximum heart rate. In this zone, fat is the primary fuel burned. My target zone is 107 bpm - 127 bpm.

Zone 3- Aerobic Zone. This is 70% -80% of your maximum heart rate. This zone increases cardiovascular fitness. My target zone here is 127 bpm - 145 bpm.

Zone 4- Anaerobic Zone. This is where the muscles start to burn and strengthen and you really start to sweat. This is 80%-90% of your maximum heart rate. My target zone is 145 bpm - 163 bpm.

There you are in a nutshell.

You may recall in Part 1 that I promised you something spectacular and I seriously doubt that you've read this far and thought that I have indeed delivered. I've simply given you a gadget recommendation and some nice numbers. But bear with me! From here on in, the amazing, life changing stuff begins!


Like a whole lot of people, I have always equated "exercise" and "unpleasantness" together. As far as I was concerned, "exercise" WAS a dirty word! When I did it, my body hurt, my lungs hurt, and all I could think about was when this torture session would end.

So, when I strapped on the heart rate monitor, I told myself that I would try to at least maintain a heart rate in Zone 1 (50%-60%). Do you know what I had to do? I had to stand up and sort of shuffle my feet about. That's it! That was the Healthy Heart Zone!

I then began lightly marching in place and slowly, my heart rate began creeping up: 110, 117, 121, 127. Suddenly, without even realizing it, I was on the brink of Zones 2 and 3! And what's more is that it didn't even feel like I was exercising. That first day, 40 minutes flew by, 280 calories said goodbye and I was over the moon.

First thing I learned was just how little I had to do to keep my body and mind healthy. I simply had to do it for a length of time and it was proving to be really pleasant and easy. I'd put on music and march away.

Pretty great huh? Well hang on, it only gets better from here.

One day I tried incorporating push ups and squats with my marching. The push ups were simply my feet on the ground and hands on the bed in plank position - extremely modified in other words.

After 10 push ups which were pretty hard and which I only moved my arms a tiny bit, I stood back up and checked my heart rate - 151bpm! It had been around 125. Then after letting my heart rate go back down, I did 10 squats (which I always find hard). Again, checking the heart rate, I saw that it was 153 bpm! I also found that I did not wish to do push ups or squats at that point in time as they were unpleasant.

This was very interesting indeed! I then decided to do an experiment. I wanted to see how long it would take doing nothing but marching (no jogging, running or jumping) to get my heart rate from about 125 bpm to 163 bpm (90% of my maximum).

Can you guess how long it took? I was able to do it (by really lifting up my knees towards the end) and it took a total of 13 minutes.

This, dear friends, is the spectacular stuff I have promised you all along! This has forever changed the way I exercise and is the reason I have been able to keep it up every day since. No more excuses for me.

Huh?  But what does this 13 minutes mean exactly?

Remember the push ups and squats and how unpleasant I found them? Recall that in the time it took to do them (about 15 seconds), my heart rate rose by 26 and 28 bpm respectively.

When I took 13 minutes to raise my heart rate 38 bpm to 163, I was shocked by how I felt. Sweaty, breathing harder, but FINE! I felt no unpleasantness, no burning lungs or muscles. I found that the slower I increased my heart rate, I would naturally find myself at that higher heart rate with no unpleasantness whatsoever. I was giving myself time to get used to the increase by allowing my body and muscles to sufficiently warm up.

Now, I would like you to go back to Part 2 and reread all of the exercises I tried. Can you see what they all have in common? They go from nothing to everything in an extremely short space of time - mere seconds. Imagine starting from standing to then jumping rope intensely. Well, no wonder I found it akin to torture! I was probably increasing my heart rate by over 40 bpm in a matter of seconds!

This was a revelation for me. I had been torturing myself for my whole life without even realizing I was doing it. I thought "Oh well, that's just how exercise is" without ever believing that it could be different.

Sometimes I keep my heart rate in a lower zone and sometimes I'll dip my toe into a higher zone but the beauty is that now, my exercises are just that - MY exercises! I'm only going by how my body feels and by my own heart rate. I'm no longer doing the exercises that other people say I "should"do. I'm now enjoying what I do.

I think it would make a nice ending if I gave you a list of the benefits I've been experiencing since using my heart rate monitor and exercising every day:

Weight loss

No more muscle cramping from lack of use

I feel so much better about myself.

I have lots more energy.

I don't crave junk foods.

I don't spend mental energy making excuses.

My stress and anxiety levels have gone down .

The swelling in my ankles has disappeared.

I'm burning about 2,000 calories per week.

I have lots more energy.

I feel really healthy now and believe that it is 100% possible to be a happy, healthy trucker!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

That Dirty 8-Letter Word - Part 2 of 3

Let's travel back in time to 2013, when I first started the job. Fresh faced and eager, I was optimistic that I would start a jogging regime, using truck stop lots and going up and down the sidewalks of rest areas. Nothing would stop me. Come rain or shine, I would be out there pounding the pavement!

Only, that never seemed to happen. Not only did I not go out in rain, I just never went out. Truck stops were loud, dangerous places. Once, when Richie jogged around a Flying J lot, a wise guy trucker leaned out of his window and yelled"RUN FORREST!"

Rest areas were too busy and I'd be stared at too much. I'd need another plan.

"Anyone fancy a jog out here?"

Next, I tried jumping rope. It can be done close to the truck and is therefore pretty inconspicuous. Perfect! I'll channel my 8-year old self.  Let's go! I'll be super fit in no time.


Um, OK, help, I can't breathe. My lungs are on fire. My legs are burning. Am I dying? Is this what death feels like? Is the jump rope supposed to end up wrapped around my neck like this?

(Sorry! I just added that last sentence for  dramatic effect.)

So my 8- year old self didn't remember jumping rope being this...excruciating. How could I keep something up that felt like a fate worse than death?

Next, we obtained a mini stepper. We could use it in or out of the truck! I found it really painful on my calves though and could not do it quickly like Richie could. This period became the Making Excuses Phase as to why I simply couldn't exercise today. For some bizarre reason, looking at the stepper made me crave McDonalds. Go figure!

Moving a bit forward in time, the stepper broke and good riddance too!  Now the real exercise can begin: calisthenics, weights and jogging and sprinting in place. I could do most of this inside the truck.

However, I could go outside too to do those exercises that require more space - like push ups, mountain climbers and burpees. (you know those exercises they made you do in gym class where you squat down, jump into push up position, jump back into a squat and then jump into the air?)

Push ups first. Well, I got down but I don't think I'm supposed to end up sprawled on my belly with no hope of pushing myself up.

Mountain climbers now. Burning lungs, shirt's riding up, people are starting to stare - not nice! Next!

Burpees? Oh, who am I kidding?  I think I deserve some pizza after all that hard work.

I had a little more success with jogging in place in the truck and doing exercises like squats and lunges. I would do interval training: sprint for 20 seconds with 40 seconds marching.

Sometimes I'd do a routine 4 times a week, sometimes 1 or 2 or not at all. I never looked forward to exercise and in fact had an active dislike of it! It was a chore, I was unmotivated and judged myself as lazy because I never wanted to exercise, though in the back of my mind I knew I should do it. But it'd just be so much easier if I wasn't living on a truck! Why did I have to struggle so much when normal people had sidewalks, parks and gyms at their disposal? Why, if I had these things too, I'd be set! But no, I'm stuck in a truck. Doesn't anyone understand just how hard it is?

Guess what? We have now arrived at the end of 2014, pretty much up to the present day. Pretty much, but not quite!

Around the beginning of December, I suddenly had a pretty big realization and so many things came to make sense in my head. I am doing one of the most sedentary jobs on the planet and there are days where I may not get more than two minutes of movement. For more days than I care to admit, walking to and from the truck stop or rest area became all of the movement I would give my body that day.

Now, the human body is meant to move. Its very design by nature is made for movement. Yet, here I was depriving my body of its basic human need. I wouldn't treat a pet dog the way I had been treating myself. To do so would surely have constituted animal cruelty. I was thoroughly ashamed of myself and suddenly, my amusing excuses no longer seemed funny in the slightest.

One thing became crystal clear for me. First of all, I decided that I no longer had the right to continue making excuses and deprive my body of basic movement.

I had a choice - get off the truck and return to normal life or stay on the truck, stop making excuses and actually find something that works. After all, no one was forcing me to live on this truck! I was no prisoner or victim. So why was I acting and thinking like one?

If I decided to stay, I would have to accept the following:

1. This job is unnaturally sedentary.
2. To compensate for the nature of the job, to keep my body and mind stable and healthy, I would have to move every single day. No excuses.

So, here was the deal: being here on the truck would no be longer a right but a privilege. If I was not willing to pay the price for this privilege, Richie and I would have to get off the truck for good and find something else to do.

See you in Part 3 where I let you know the choices I made.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

That Dirty 8-Letter Word - Part 1 of 3

Dare I say it? OK, I'll whisper it.


Oh, why not, I'll just shout it.


It's that dreaded thing we're all told we should do but how often have you seen a truck driver exercising at a truck stop? (in my 2 years, the answer would be 3 times - all men.) In the Covenant terminal in Chattanooga, they provide a fantastic gym for staff and drivers but I reckon that 95% of its users are office staff.

Why is that? We're doing one of the most sedentary jobs in the world. We're told by governments and the Jillian Michaels of the world to exercise moderately for 30 minutes, 5 times per week. There's even a whole system of resistance bands and various hoo-ha's that can be used on the truck. Why is it that we drivers don't fight tooth and nail for use of the treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes when we're in Chattanooga, preferring instead to vary our routines down?

Yes, I put myself in this category too! Don't think I'm doing that whole 'holier than thou' thing! But I can see that there's a problem and one that's definitely worth addressing and addressing properly and realistically! After all, I want me and you and everyone, truckers and non-truckers alike to feel happy in ourselves, and feel as if WE'RE in control of our lives rather than our lives being in control of us.

"Me being sedentary with the best of 'em!"

When I don't exercise, I feel the following effects:

Weight gain

Increased lethargy. The less I move, the less I want to move.

Fatigue. At the end of my shift, all I want to do is sleep.

Increased anxiety and generally low moods.

Increase in appetite and cravings for fatty, sugary, unhealthy comfort foods

Muscle cramping (from deterioration due to lack of use)

Low self esteem

Increased sense of boredom, decreased sense of purpose in life.

Constant underlying worries about my health, especially given the fact that heart disease is the number one cause of death for truckers

My hair and skin feel yucky.

By now you must be thinking "Thanks Karen, you sure know how to bring on the doom and gloom!"

How about I make it up to you by amusing you with some of my excuses as to why I can't exercise today. You may even recognize a few of these classics.

I would but I'm so hungry!

I've just driven 600 miles. I'm so tired!

Don't feel like it today. I'll do it tomorrow.

I don't enjoy exercising. It's too hard!

No one else is doing it.

I don't know what exercises to do that I could keep up.

And who can forget this next gem:

I'd do it if...
1. I wasn't living on a $%@&$# truck!
2. There were sidewalks to walk/jog on.
3.  I could go to the park
4. I could have a shower right after so I'm not so dirty
5. I had time
6. I was fitter

You know what I find to be just a little irritating? When super fit people who have probably never been on a truck, let alone have ever even done the job, proclaim themselves to be authorities over us and proceed to tell us what we should all be doing.

"You should be exercising moderately for 30 minutes at least 5 times per week! Come on, how hard can that be?"

Yeah, buddy, YOU try living with someone in a truck, driving 6,000 miles per week and see how you go!

I'm wrapping this up now, but I don't want to end this post on a downer and have you go away feeling hopeless and dejected after reading this so here's what I promise you for the next post in Part 2:

We're going to take a journey together where I share all of my struggles with exercise. We'll start in 2013 when we started the job and end with the present day.

You'll learn that I'm no authority on anything, especially exercise. You'll learn that I'm a million miles away from being any sort of fitness guru.

What I do have, however, is my experience living on the truck and a desire to share the few things I've discovered over time here. Therefore, Part 3 is the "light at the end of the tunnel" where I give hope to all of us (me included!) by showing in detail that exercise in the trucking world does not have to be an excruciating uphill battle any more.

At the end of Part 3, 'exercise' will no longer be that dirty 8-letter word! I promise!

See you in Part 2!