Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Things We Miss...

...about trucking. Ben and I spent a good deal of time last night reminiscing. Here's a short list, in no particular order, of what we miss the most from our life on the road:
  • fresh authentic Mexican food (especially in Laredo and Albuquerque)
  • having the entire country in our back pocket at any given time
  • breathtaking vistas
  • going to sleep in the likes of Iowa and waking up in the likes of Wyoming
  • visiting with family and friends on a somewhat regular basis
  • El Gallo Giro, Pollard Flat, Seven Feathers, R's Place, Jubitz
  • the paychecks
  • driving through New England in the fall
  • Boise
  • the cute little Thai restaurant in Kent, WA that we frequented no less than 6 times (totally worth the 2 mile walk!)
  • Colin Cowherd, Dave Ramsey, Lino Rulli
  • coming home to Bend for a few days each month of R&R
  • regular episodes of Ben sleepwalking...that never gets old!
 We wouldn't trade what we have now, but there are certainly times when we miss what we had then. We are so grateful for the experience.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Life We Used to Live

A few weeks ago, our friend Russ passed through Bismarck on a weekend. We met Russ through truck school, back in the day, months before we ever started on the long-haul. He started as an owner-operator (bought his truck for less than $10K!) about a year after school and got set up on some loads throughout the Northwest and down to Arizona. We ran into him twice on the road, once in the Denver area and once in Salt Lake City. It was always nice to see a familiar face!

For the last couple of years, Russ has kept pretty much to the Northwest, but this recent once-in-a-blue-moon load brought him through our neck of the woods. We had a great visit (and gave Ben an excuse to explore more around Bismarck since I'm always working at the Olive Garden during opportune times) and shared many a trucker story. It brought back memories of our time on the road that I had completely forgotten about!

Ben can still recall what we hauled with what load with what trailer from what city to what city and on which route we traveled. I recall not much of that information, instead sharing in the memories of sunrises, sunsets, beautiful landscapes, local food, friendly encounters, and the occasional road-raged driver or bad dock experience. I prefer not to recall our time spent in New Jersey or the east coast of Florida, rather focusing on the adventure lying in wait for where we would go next.

It seems like light-years ago that we lived an "asphalt cowboy" life, but we handed in our keys only five months ago. No longer does our life revolve around truckstops for showers and bathrooms, Denny's for a decent meal, coffee every twelve hours, irregular sleep schedules, home visits once a month or city traffic. Sometimes I think back to those two-and-a-half years spent racking up over 500,000 miles and wonder, "Wow, did we really do all that?" I admit that I haven't missed it much, until yesterday.

We found a buyer for our Dodge Ram pick-up truck, and after the meet-and-greet and agreement to sell, we had to wait a couple of weeks for the couple to have enough money saved for purchasing. We set forth to drive up to Minot (pronounced MY-not), a little over 100 miles north of Bismarck, to make the exchange. Mind you now, this is the first time I've been out of Bismarck at all in the 5 months we've lived here. Ben has traveled around twice (once to Jamestown and once up to "oil country" in the northwest part of the state), but overall, not much. Let me just tell you, North Dakota is beautiful! So, so, beautiful!

Our friend Pat (whose family roots are in rural ND) liked to joke with us when we decided to make the move from Oregon to Bismarck, that is was flatter-than-a-pancake and we'd miss the mountains in no time.Well, we certainly miss the mountains, but Bismarck (and much of the western half of the state) is hardly flat. There is great variation in the landscape and once you break into the "wide open", you can really get a sense for the beauty of the prairie, which is what we experienced yesterday.

It reminded me of Iowa and central California, simultaneously. Iowa with the rolling hills and lush greenery, and California with the wide open space and hills as well. Those were the scenes from my trucker days playing out as we zipped through the green, producing fields. It made me long for the time on the road again, just driving. Just driving and going wherever the load/road would take us. Just driving.

My dad was known to have said, "I've got diesel in my blood Deb, I just need to be on the road." I thought I understood that when I became a trucker. But, I don't' think it really hit me until yesterday, what he meant. Technically I was driving a diesel (gotta love that German Jetta), but my "rig" only had four wheels, not eighteen. I commented to Ben on the way back to Bismarck that my legs just want to shift through the gears on a big rig. That's my body and mind's response to the exposure of the road again. Part of me also wanted to climb into the back to lay down, as I was getting tired on the way home. With life in the truck, that's just what you would do; the sleeper cab is there for a reason!

But, that life we used to live is no longer. The life we live now is so full and rich, which probably makes up for the mind's potential to be occupied by the past. I do not regret for a moment the time we spent out there, but I do not regret either the time we got off the road and have since spent in "normalcy" of life. I've mentioned before, but I can't help but reiterate, Bismarck has blessed us more than we ever thought possible. This is the life we are so privileged to live now: life in Christ in communion daily with a beautifully faithful community, in a landscape that breeds wonder and awe of creation, and doing the work of the Lord in the North Dakota vineyard. The good Lord is molding us ever carefully with His hands, challenging us to grow outside of ourselves and embrace the sufferings along with the blessings.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Roads Less Traveled

I noted in my post called "Settled" that we realized soon after moving here to Bismarck that it was the longest we have been in one place in two and a half years. As I was driving home from daily Mass the other day, I happened to look down at the odometer on our Jetta, and the fuel tank mileage read something like 245.3 miles. Add that to the 64 miles we've driven on the Dodge Ram, and our total mileage in about a month's time has equaled what we would sometimes drive in a single stretch while in the semi!

We recently began using Progressive Insurance's Snapshot Discount devices, in effort to reduce our premiums by safe driving. At any time of day, we can log in and view the tracking the device is taking in; there have been days when we haven't driven either vehicle (Ben is able to work/study from home if he doesn't want to go into the office), or when we have, it's been less than 10 miles (usually just going to Mass or to the office!). The Olive Garden is just a mile away from our apartment, so not much is going on with the pick-up truck.

It just struck me how little we thought sometimes of all the mileage we undertook in the semi, and after all that driving, how little we drive now. I guess it is partly influenced by our current income reduction and not being able to afford to go anywhere but Mass or work!

All in all, it is pleasant to have this be our new routine of life, one that is not dictated by dispatch, interstates and truck stops. We like life at home, and that's all right with us!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Settled

It has been a great month in life off the road for the Martinek Family; we have officially been out of the truck for a month, and it is glorious! It took a little bit of time for me to really know that "I'm not getting back in the semi", as our routine has been just that for the past two and a half years: drive for a month. Have 4-6 days off. Get back in the truck. Do it again. I think that moving from Bend to Bismarck has helped this factor, as Bismarck is an entirely new environment that wasn't "tainted" by our previous schedule.

Adjusting to this new way of life has been so wonderful it is hard to put into words, but I like words and I like to blog, so you're going to witness my attempts to describe the transition.

We realized about a week and a half after we moved in that that was the longest we had ever stayed in one place since we've been truckers. Our prior record would have been 7 days at Christmas in Bend, but before that, I think we had a max of 5 full days off in one city. It's really nice to be stationary, we've discovered!

Once settled, at first, going to the grocery store wasn't a "what can I buy that I will use up in just a few days time?" kind of trip. We purchased a chest freezer for bulk items and meal storage (I love love love this thing!), so once we got our Sam's Club membership (someday I will describe my hate/like relationship with Mr. Sam Walton and his enterprise...but as Bismarck doesn't have a Costco, Sam's has to do), we loaded up on bulk meat and reduced sale items from the meat department. Buying food in bulk just makes so much more sense economically! It just wasn't something we were able to do while living on asphalt. We've broken down the costs of several meals we've made in the last few weeks, and it comes down to usually $4 or less for Andy, Ben and myself. I can actually meal plan too, which has been so fun to do! And, I love to cook/bake, so being able to really spend time in the kitchen has been great. Speaking of the kitchen, we *finally* opened up our Cuisinart Food Processor and have started using our KitchenAid mixer and oh, what more could a girl ask for? Oh yes--a bread machine, ice cream machine, coffee grinder, cast iron. I've got those too. I have way too much fun in my kitchen!

My health has improved in a way I was hopeful for but wasn't expecting; I feel SO much better not being jostled around in a truck 24/7. I'm continuing with my vitamin and supplement intake, as well as avoiding wheat/gluten (finally found the perfect GF pizza dough recipe!), and am able to move around on a regular basis with just walking and running errands (we've got a great walking path, aka "Bismarck Trails" just a half mile from our apartment). My last period only caused me to get sick once and I generally felt better over-all during that time. I'm very pleased with that aspect of this life change.

The work that we had lined up to do when we arrived was here waiting for Ben, but the position I was hopeful for was not going to be open for at least another month, maybe more. But fear not! Bismarck has a ridiculous amount of job opportunities for entry level or advanced in many lines of work. Because of the oil field boom in the northwest part of the state, there has been a vacuum of workers leaving Bismarck to work the same job for at least twice (sometimes 3x more!) the amount of pay near the oil fields (you can make $15/hr working McDonald's drive-thru, or $20-25/hr for washing out trailers). Once we really saw what was available, and once we really realized how much we loved being out of a semi, we decided to look elsewhere.

Ben was offered a position to work for a non-profit Christian financial advising firm; this is something he has been interested in learning more about and pursuing even before we got focused on paying off all of our debt. An inquiry conversation with an agent at this organization led to a more-in-depth interview and then offer. The process to get on board has been a little long and tedious, but it is something that Ben is very excited about and I know he will do very well with it. It is a line of work that suits his determination and drive and ability to achieve.

I have applied for a recently-posted position that is open for the Director of Religious Education for the Cathedral Parish here in town. The search committee and selection process/interviews are slated to take place this month, so I am excited about the possibility of really diving in to parish life and catechesis. In the meantime, I just completed my training week of being a server at the Olive Garden. I love hospitality and serving and making sure people's needs are taken care of, so this is a great fit for the time being. Plus, the tips to be expected are well worth wearing men's oxford shirts and now knowing how to tie a half-windsor around my neck.

As far as other opportunities, while not the most glamorous of positions, the Bismarck Airport/TSA is hiring for Transportation Security Officers (aka the people who check the x-ray images, go through your carry-0n bag and possibly do a pat-down). The pay scale and benefits offered are very agreeable, so that is another paid position I am applying for. Ultimately, if it is not in God's plan for me to work directly with parish religious education, our plan is for me to just work as much as possible for the highest pay so we can continue paying off our debt as well as prepare for parenthood (no announcements yet, folks).

I'll use that as a segue to other opportunities in ministry; the parishes here have so much to offer for getting involved. Whether you want to be a sub on the lector list, a trained EMHC, a member of the choir, active in the young adult group (or young at heart, for those over 40), a volunteer catechist, a couple presenter for engaged couples, etc., the opportunities are endless there too. The parish is very prayerful, very involved and very welcoming. Families here go generations back though, so we're anticipating being "outsiders" for a while. That part reminds me a lot of good ol' Mercer County, Ohio. If your family didn't settle in the area in the mid-to-late 1800's, your roots aren't very deep. Around Bismarck, while Germans were a prominent group to settle, they are the "Germans from Russia", and we've learned not to confuse the two.

Oh, right, back to the segue...one of the opportunities for ministry is to become a certified NFP practitioner. This is something that I have wanted to do since Ben and I learned the method (Creighton Model) 4 years ago. Presently, the Bismarck area has couples on a waiting list to learn Creighton because the 3-4 women practitioners that are already teaching are overbooked with clients and cannot reach all of the interested parties. It is such a needed ministry, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to pursue certification. It's a 13-month program with two separate week-long educational/training immersions in Omaha, NE. The diocese and parishes are great sources of support for this invested endeavor, which is a great blessing! Please pray for all couples seeking out NFP for their marriages, and for the practitioners teaching them the truths about their bodies.

I mentioned Andy's name above; my younger brother Andy is living with us! Our plan (before we knew what our plan was) was for him to move in with us in Bend, find work and start school. Then our plans changed to Bismarck, so he stayed in Bend for the duration of our last month out on the road, then moved with us to "The Bis" (I just think it's fun to call Bismarck that! Ha!). In less than a week of us living here, he landed two jobs in the restaurants (Ruby Tuesday and Paradiso Mexican Restaurant), so he has been very busy between them. It has been really nice having him here with us, as it is giving him opportunity outside of Mercer County. There is a Catholic University of Mary south of town that he plans to start attending in the fall, to make the most of his GI Bill and get a degree under his belt.

Bismarck seems to be a great fit for all of us so far; we feel very blessed and fortunate to be here. We miss life back in Bend and all of our friends/family there, but things just really do seem to fit. Making friends has been a great adventure too--I don't think I've ever met friendlier people than in this town! That makes it pretty easy at church; attending the young adult Bible Timeline event introduced us to Adina, who then invited us to dinner one night to meet her husband and another couple they're friends with. And, small world: Adina's husband is cousins with someone Ben went to seminary with. Oh, and--the associate pastor at our parish is also someone Ben went to seminary with (they were a few years apart and in different studies though). I love the connections.

And being settled, apartment-wise: we scored a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment on the third floor of a recently built apartment complex (Ben and Andy will never forget moving all that stuff up two flights of stairs). It is set up in a way that feels much more like a home than an apartment; it has a kind of a ranch-like floorplan. The only disappointment we have is that the entryway/dining-room area is a really awkward space that doesn't lend itself well to having a dining table, so we have to keep that in storage in the garage. Yep, that's right; we have a 2-car garage! And a laundry room (that's in the apartment though, not the garage). It is so nice to have those extra spaces and to be able to use them well!

The weather so far has been fantastic too; we have it on good authority though that a winter this mild hasn't happened in over 75 years, so technically it's not a good one to cut our teeth on. We had a few pending blizzards that didn't end up producing, and we've also had 50 degree gorgeous sunny days.

Do you have any settled questions? Curious what it's like in Bismarck? Just ask and I'll answer to the best of my ability!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Missing You Missing Me

That title is a knock off from a country song (by Shenendoah) with a verse,

"Well there ain't no place that I'd rather be, next to you sittin' next to me."

That's true too.

Jessica, to answer your question, I think we're both going to miss each other A LOT when we're living a "normal" life in a home that doesn't move and we don't have to put our coats on to go to the bathroom (anybody catch the movie reference?). I know this because when we're home in Bend for just a couple of days each month and we're both out running separate errands, even of it's for just a few hours, when we come home or meet back up, this is what happens;

"Hi! How are you?! I missed you!"

"What have you been up to? What's new? Did anything happen?"

"Let's go for a walk together."

I kid you not. We are blessed with a great relationship, great communication, and we genuinely love spending time together (in a completely healthy, non-enmeshed bad-attachment sort of way).

:o)

So, time will tell how it will be when we're living in Bismarck. We both feel it will probably take a week or two to adjust, not only to our surroundings, but also to not seeing each other as often. Ben will be working 12 hour days while I'll *hopefully* just have 40/week. Weekends will be our "catch-up" time aside from a few hours in the evenings.

It will definitely be a transition!


And I think that there is actually a song called "Missing You Missing Me" by Don Williams. It may or may not be the real inspiration for the title, but I don't know the melody for it. Shenendoah's song is an "oldie" favorite played on Prime Country that I know quite well!


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chain-Up Follow-Up

This is what chains can do to your tires:




These still have great tread (they were new in October), but the chains certainly can tear right into the rubber!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chaining Up: What It Looks Like

The Pacific Northwest has been battered with storms in the last week or so, causing horrible driving conditions and power outages, but also beautiful landscapes at which to look.

Wednesday morning last week, we picked up a load in Albany, OR that was going to the Pittsburgh, PA area. All that morning (and through many of the following days), the storm set itself in along the valley, the mountains, the river. We had planned to just sit tight on the load and take our time, as we had 5+ days to deliver it.

Once we made it to Portland though, there was enough of a clearing in the storm for us to make it all the way to Pendleton (200 miles away) in the daylight, so we took advantage of the opportunity! We are glad we did, because the next day that stretch of road was awful!

About 15 miles shy of Pendleton, the temperature was dropping to below freezing and you could tell the roads were starting to ice up. We parked it for the night at a truck stop at the bottom of Cabbage Hill, a six-mile 6% grade (down if westbound, up if eastbound). We weren't willing to attempt tackling it in the dark with temps dropping. Hoping it would be clear enough in the morning without needing chains, park it that night, we did.

The next morning forced it upon us though--even though the roads were just wet and not freezing at all, to legally drive up the Hill we needed chains. Thankfully, it was just for 10 miles, then we could take them off.

So, for those of you readers who are "easterners", and have never had to, nor will ever need to, this is what chaining up looks like:

First, you pull out the chains. We have super-singles on our drive tires and duals on our trailer tires, so we have to carry both sizes of chains.




Then you have to straighten them out so there aren't any kinks. This way, they sit nice and snug on the tire and you have less risk of busting the chain.







The chains above are for super-singles; the one below is for a dual.




You have to set the chain up right so the link edge is facing out (so no sharp edges potentially puncture the tire), and the cam-locks (the round, half-moon looking piece) on the outside. They wouldn't do much good on the inside because then you couldn't tighten them!




Then, both Ben and I take part of the chain, each of us holding about a third of the way in from the ends, and place it on top of the tire. We "snug" it around the tire, making sure no kinks worked their way in.




We do this on all the tires we're chaining up (in this case, just the front drives and the front duals, four tires total), and then I roll the tractor and trailer in reverse so we can complete the process: linking up and tightening.




First you hook up the links on the inside, then tighten everything up on the outside; this is done easiest by just turning the cam-locks. Thankfully, our chains were snug enough and tight enough that we didn't need to "bungee" them any tighter (using bungee cords to batten down any slack in the chains that isn't taken up by the cam-locks).

A fellow trucker who was parked next to us must have thought we were pretty green at the whole thing, because he helped us out quite a bit, but refused us to assist him in chaining up his rig. The language barrier prevented much conversation, but help is a universal communication, and we were grateful! He had a very handy cam-lock turning tool that allowed better grip and turning from our standard tool. Thanks for the help, driver!




I've got no photos of the take-off part of chaining, but it takes all of 5 minutes to do. We just unlock and loosen all of our connections, roll the truck and trailer forward or backward, and pull the chains away! That's the easy part!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Candid Questions?

We are less than two weeks out from turning in the keys, and so, dear readers, do you have any candid questions about life on the road that we haven't yet touched upon? Is there something you'd like to know about the transportation industry, our driving habits, favorite places to go, etc?

Let us know and we'll blog about it in the next two weeks!

Look forward to a post in the next day or two (once we get a good wifi signal and some downtime) about the process of chaining up for winter weather--we just had to perform this task yesterday to legally drive up a long grade near Pendleton, OR.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pressing Pause

I've talked about the bottom-line reason for us to be living this life out on the road: to pay off our debt from credit cards and student loans. To date, we have paid off around $100,000 in debt. We still have three student loans to go, but we are very pleased with our progress thus far!

As part of the next phase of life we are working toward, we are "pressing pause" on our debt snowball. I had mentioned in A Different Diagnosis that we need to get off the road as soon as possible. In order to do that, we need some savings to fund the transfer of what comes next. So, all of the mileage that has paid us starting in December through now, and through our next few weeks on the road, all of those miles are going straight to savings. We are preparing for early-to-mid February as our departure from the truck.

We have things lined up for us to move to Bismarck, North Dakota. Bismarck you say? Yes, Bismarck. As in it's-really-cold-and-no-one-lives-in-North-Dakota Bismarck. If you've paid any attention to the news lately of oil fields (projected 15-20 year boom) and low unemployment (current rate of 3.5%, in the last 20 years it has been less than 5%) in the state, then you understand part of our reasoning. We've done extensive research, applied for jobs (just waiting for a break in the weather for the ground to thaw to start work), secured an apartment and are ready for the move. We plan to stay located in Bismarck, though the oil fields are in the northwest corner of the state (and solo drivers can earn $100,000/year!), as our plan is to achieve conception as soon as possible. As there is not much more than oil in the northwest of ND, we want to be close to amenities to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.

There is a very small, very slight chance that we will "scrap the plan" of moving to Bismarck and stay in Bend. The possibility of work there is slim, but we are staying open to that. We love Bend and would love to stay, but when we started making these plans, there was a lot of instability in what could come there. So, we will see what happens! But, as for now, our plan is to head east to Bismarck!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Coast to Coast

The first load we were sent on after leaving Bend from Christmas break was to drop our trailer in Toledo, OR. The most direct route to get there is not truck friendly, therefore not truck approved. We had to drive over the snowy Santiam Pass to the coast in Lincoln City, and down Route 101 from there, before turning a few miles inland to drop our trailer. Driving along the Oregon Coast, especially in a truck, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we knew it! We took many (awful) pictures while driving along the ocean.



Yes, the road is that close to the water. And the view is breathtaking!

After dropping off the trailer, dispatch did not have another load set up for us yet, so we bobtailed back into Newport, parked our rig, and walked down to the overlook for the surf. It was pitch black, so we couldn't see much, but the thunderous noise of the ocean certainly could be heard. It was intense and moving!

Dispatch still hadn't gotten a load for us, so we decided to grab a bite to eat at the Chowder Bowl restaurant. Ben had the token clam chowder, while I had two of the best fish tacos I've ever had! (for those of you who think that is really odd, fish tacos are very common--and very good--in the Northwest)

We spent the night in the truck, on the side of the road in Newport, listening to the ocean and then the pitter-patter of rain in the middle of the night. Dispatch finally got a load for us in the morning, but not until after we went down on the beach.


It was cold!


I was enjoying the shadows of the sunrise, and thought back to this post last spring. The night before that incident happened, we were on Dania Beach near Ft. Lauderdale, catching the sunset rays and playing with the shadows there.


So now, even though it's backwards, we have sunset on the east coast and sunrise on the west. These may just be two of my favorite pictures from the last two and a half years of life on the road.



Today is January 12. Two years ago, Haiti endured that horrific earthquake that challenged an already-challenged country. Please remember them in your prayers!