Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dedicated, Part Three

Dedication to fighting for a good cause: our friends AJ and Sarah live just north of Seattle, and have been married just a few months longer than Ben and I. I met AJ through a mutual friend from college; AJ had moved out to Washington from the Midwest around the same time I had moved to Oregon, and we both worked for our respective dioceses. Because of that common thread, our friend Tom introduced us. We've kept in touch since then, and have been happy to support them and try to see them when we have extra time in their area.

On Halloween of 2009, AJ was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The next six months he went through weekly chemotherapy, and as he braved through the treatments he began training for—and then completed, just two months after his last treatment—a 70 mile LIVESTRONG cycling ride, celebrating his victory over cancer, as well as his first Father's Day (their daughter was born in August, 2010).

Many of you have heard of Lance Armstrong and the LIVESTRONG foundation he started to support those who have been affected by cancer and to continually research a cure. Did you know that 28 million worldwide have been impacted by cancer?

Three and a half years ago, I myself was affected by melanoma, the most aggressive type of skin cancer. Once this cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, my dermatologist called it a “most certain death sentence.” Thankfully, my little cancerous spot was only in the form of a small tumor (or mole) on my leg, and all the cancer was removed with a minor surgery that excised the spot itself and the skin surrounding the mole. Since then, I have had to get yearly screenings, and take every precautionary measure to protect myself from the potential of getting it again, like wearing sunblock (spf 100), covering my skin as much as possible from sun exposure, taking vitamin D supplements, and in general, avoiding the sun (for those of you who know me well, I've done this since college anyway!).

AJ and Sarah have shared their story of cancer on their blog, West Coast Steins, and now AJ has begun a new blog, I Ride For, to chronicle his cycling training and his efforts to raise $12,000 for LIVESTRONG research and community support. For his first ride, the LIVESTRONG Seattle Challenge, he raised over $3000. Upping the ante for his next big ride, LIVESTRONG Austin (Lance Armstrong's hometown), he is asking for your support and prayers. Would you consider making a small donation (forgo your Starbucks for a day) or a larger sum, to help him reach his goal?

Click here to make a contribution for a movement that has helped so many affected by cancer, and in turn, your intentions will be prayed for during AJ's training. He has signed up for several rides between now and the big race in October (hopefully including a small LIVESTRONG race in our beautiful city of residence: Bend, OR in July), and you can follow those rides on I Ride For as well.

Make a donation in memory of a loved one who lived with cancer, or in honor of someone battling it right now. Your prayers and financial support are greatly appreciated, not only by the Steinbrecher family, but by all impacted by cancer.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dedicated, Part Two

Our dedication to finishing our “debt snowball”: Ben and I are both dedicated to finishing our goal of paying off all of our debt (just the student loans left!), but that hole is big and our shovel seems so small. Paying off our credit cards was a great feeling, but almost anti-climactic, knowing that we have so much more to go yet.

We are also starting to really feel the wear of trucking on our minds, bodies and spirits. It is safe to say that the honeymoon period of trucking is over (at least it lasted 18 months). Life on the road has certainly been an adventure for us, but we are ready to begin the next chapter in the book of our lives—a chapter of life off the road.

But—we are dedicated.

Having this time on the road and not in a “regular” job has also been beneficial for our masters degrees. I took my comprehensive exams last April to finish my degree in theology, and Ben continues to work on his philosophy thesis. Time on the road gives him the availability to just think and philosophize and then when we get on our hometime, he puts his mind to keyboard and pounds out his edits and conceptualizes his thesis more and more. Finishing the degrees was also a huge goal we wanted to accomplish by being on the road, and that we are still dedicated to.

We are still dedicated to the task of driver recruiting as well. If we continue to recruit successfully, every little bit will help us with our debt. At our rate, we figure we'll be at this trucking endeavor for about another year. Then—and we really look forward to then—we can start looking at our options off the road. Getting rid of the debt is a big key to that though; not having monthly debt payments opens up the work/salary possibilities.

Please keep us in your prayers—that we may persevere and accomplish the tasks at hand, all while staying safe on the road! Thanks!

Saturday, January 8, 2011


I have three separate entries that all deal with dedication. The first: our new I-5 dedicated route. The second: our dedication to finishing our “debt snowball”. The third: dedication to fighting for a good cause. Because I plan to write at a decent length for all three, check back in a couple days for the second and third entries.

Our new I-5 dedicated route: a few months ago, one of our company's fleet managers contacted us to see if we would be interested in running the I-5 throughout Washington, Oregon and California, hauling mostly FedEx loads from the Los Angeles area to Portland and Seattle, and then hauling whatever freight (mostly huge rolls of paper for newsprint) back down south to Los Angeles. That way, it would be easier for dispatch to get us home to Oregon for our scheduled hometime. At the time, however, we were completely turned off to the idea; we enjoy traveling across the country, leaving the option open of visiting with many family members and friends that we have sprinkled throughout the nation. Add to that the idea of driving the same old stretch of highway day in and day out (and at only 55mph through California and Oregon, 60mph though Washington), we were not exactly interested.

Fast forward to the week after Christmas: this week, appropriately the last of the year, I suppose, was comprised of the reign of Murphy. We picked up our load just outside of Cincinnati, headed for Salt Lake City. We stopped by Ben's parent's house in western Indiana (they live right off of the interstate we were traveling on) to pick up a pair of running shoes we had accidentally left after their Christmas get-together. There is a large gravel parking lot near their house that we parked the rig in; however, because of the Christmas snowfall, there were several inches on the ground and while it was hard-packed and a dry snow, leading us to believe we would be fine to get out, you can guess what happened. An hour and a half after realizing we were stuck, we finally freed the truck and were back on our way west.

The rest of our route was uneventful until we reached Wyoming. There was a huge nasty winter storm setting in across Utah and Wyoming, with upwards of 14 inches of snow expected in some areas. To spare you all the details, here are the highlights: the snow was falling, the wind was blowing, and the temperature was falling. Our truck and trailer slid three times on the road (enough to send me into near hysteria—I was terribly upset at the images running through my mind of jack-knifing or turning over in the shoulder/median), so we stopped at the nearest truckstop to chain up our tractor and trailer tires. Three busted chains later, a slow pumping fuel pump and very little sleep, we called it a night. The next day we eventually delivered the load after more careful maneuvering of the winter roads. We were set up on a re-power (i.e. we finished up a load for another driver) and encountered more snow-covered roads while delivering. Our next load brought us from Salt Lake City to Portland, which involved more snow-covered roads, closed sections of the interstate, and more loads of stress.

This lead us to open up the discussion of driving the I-5 dedicated. There is only one section of road in northern California/southern Oregon that gets enough snow to require chains. And, from our experience driving this stretch, the temperatures are very mild, it doesn't snow that often, and when it does, the roads are cleared regularly. Knowing this sparked even more conversation about the possibility.

We also have many favorite places to stop along this 1200 mile stretch between the three states. Our friends AJ and Sarah (more about them in installment three of “Dedicated”) live in the Seattle area, two of the best truckstops in the country are in Portland and Canyonville, Oregon, many of our favorite spots to run outside are in California, and the landscape is very enjoyable to drive through: pine trees and mountain vistas from Redding, CA all the way to Seattle!

This route has very little surprises to it, which, coupled with the predictable dispatch, consistent miles and mild weather throughout, made it an easy decision to make. One phone call back to the I-5 dedicated fleet manager later, and we were set! We've only been on the route for a week so far, and I'm sure we're going to get tired of it eventually, but for right now, it just feels nice to know what's coming and to be in familiar territory all the time!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A New Year: A New Incentive

As you may (or may not) be aware, many trucking companies look for ways to decrease fuel expenses, and two of the primary ways are through idling and accurate/efficient routing. With a company as large as ours, with as many trucks as there are, reduction of just one hour per day per truck in idling would save the company hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars each quarter. That's a lot of savings!

Idling one's truck for just one hour uses one gallon of fuel. For the company to heat/cool all of its trucks simultaneously for one hour, the company spends roughly $30,000 in fuel.

Many states have passed anti-idling laws, permitting truckers to idle for a maximum of 5 minutes (or 3 minutes, if you're in the wretched state of New Jersey). This is, of course, being done for emission purposes. However, by our estimation, 75% of truckers still idle their trucks, even in states where you could be fined thousands of dollars for doing so.

It's not hard to understand why a trucker would want to idle: non-truckers are not asked to turn off their heater or electricity when they're not in their homes. Being on the road, the truck is our home. But it comes down to common sense--there is no reason a trucker needs to idle his/her truck when the temperatures are between 40-70. Above 70, yes: if it gets too hot in the truck, the trucker cannot get adequate rest and therefore will not be able to perform to his/her duties in full capacity when his/her shift to drive comes up. Below 40, yes: for the same reasons.

The idling laws, however, are ridiculous in a sense that they are not enforced. We truckers have all been informed of them, however we have never seen an officer write a ticket to a trucker for having his truck on. We've seen some crazy instances of idling though--truckers idling their rigs between the temperatures of 40-70, or idling their truck with their windows open, or idling their truck and then leaving it idle as they head inside a truck stop for a bite to eat or a shower. Can you say wasteful?

Ben and I, since the beginning of this adventure of life on the road, have been very conscious of our idling practices. Thankfully, by being a team operation, most of our time on the road is spent as just that: on the road, moving loads from city to city. Keeping moving is one great way to keep idling costs down. But--when we are shut-down for a period of time due to poor weather or we are working on a restart of hours, we try to idle as little as possible. With our former company, CRST, unless the temperature dropped below 20 degrees, we didn't turn the truck on for the heater warmth. And generally, unless the heat outside was 75 degrees or above, we didn't turn the truck on for air conditioning cool.

Many of our present company's trucks are equipped with bunk heaters; these pull fuel directly out of your fuel tank through a pump and burns it through an ignitor. Both the pump and a fan are operated by the truck battery. Using the bunk heater continuously for 10 hours uses up only one gallon of fuel yet provides more than enough heat--enough that we often don't even need our blankets!

To the incentive portion of this post: our company is sponsoring a contest, if you will, to entice drivers to reduce their idling time. For the first quarter of 2011, the top 150 trucks with a bunk heater and the top 150 trucks without a bunk heater who have the lowest percentage of idle time will be entered into a drawing to win cash prizes, and the top prize winner will receive a company truck with 300,000-400,000 miles on it (most trucks are good at least to a million miles, sometimes more), and be enrolled in the lease-option program of the company. Typically this program entails that the driver/leaser pays the truck payment, upwards of $500/week, but can make an average of 89 cents per mile (of course, this 89cpm has to cover a range of expenses a company driver is not responsible for, like fuel, maintenance, permits, etc.). However, with the perks of this contest, the grand-prize-winner will get the truck and the company will pay the truck payment! That means that the driver/leaser has *only* to pay fuel, maintenance, permits, etc. costs. Considering that fuel and truck payments are your largest cost in owning your own truck, this is a significant savings! Furthermore, if you complete the lease-option program for two years after receiving the truck, the company will hand you the title for free. That is a whole lotta moolah to be made! Even if one were not to truck any longer after the two year lease-option program, reselling the truck could bring between $25-50,000.

Can you say "incentive"??? While Ben and I are not interested in trucking any longer than we have to to pay off our debt, the grand prize option sure is enticing! If the winner of that grand prize opts out of the truck option, they can instead receive $5000 cash. More money is certainly to be made with the lease-option, but it's nice that the $5000 is also offered.

We have lots of heavy blankets in our truck (and we like to cuddle for warmth anyhow ;-) )and plan to continue keeping our idling down, and hopefully in early April we'll find that we're in the top 150 drivers for the lowest idling percentage!

Present location: Santa Nella, CA (sitting out a winter storm that closed down a 40 mile section of the Grapevine)
Miles this week: 3700
Fun loads as of late: giant rolls of paper for newsprint