Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Ride in the ‘Spirit’ an eye-opening experience

Soon after I accepted the position of staff writer at Land Line Magazine, several of my co-workers at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association asked me if I had ever ridden in a big rig. My first reaction was to say that I hadn’t.
However, as I thought about it a little longer I recalled a trip to Europe I had made not long after graduating from college. A friend of mine and I were in a small country called Slovenia. After spending the day in the city of Ljubljana, we needed a ride back to the town where we were staying. Young and bulletproof, we stuck our thumbs in the air.

Seemingly in no time at all, a trucker came along and stopped. We couldn’t communicate much verbally, but we could understand each other enough to tell him our destination and for us to know he was giving us permission to hop aboard. 
About 10 minutes or so down the highway, the truck came to a stop. With a single look from the driver, we knew it was time to get out. If I recall correctly, a little old man in a car eventually took us the rest of the way.

While it was a neat experience, the memory of riding in that truck had faded a little.

Fast-forward 15 years, and I’m the newest member of Land Line. Hired in November 2015, I’m trying to learn as much about the trucking industry as I possibly can. Luckily, I have great resources like Editor-in-Chief Sandi Soendker, Managing Editor Jami Jones, and Associate Editor and longtime friend Greg Grisolano to lead me in the right direction.

But even with all of their great advice, nothing can substitute for experiencing something firsthand.

That’s where Jon Osburn comes in. The skipper of the “Spirit” graciously agreed to let me tag along for my first real trip in a tractor-trailer. We left the OOIDA office in Grain Valley, Mo., Monday morning in order to set up for and attend the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky.

The bird’s-eye-view gave me a new experience as we traveled more than seven hours along the highway. It provided me an opportunity to see the Arch in St. Louis in a whole new way, and it allowed me to look down on cars below and see the drivers talking or texting with their phones.

More important though, the trip allowed me to see a professional truck driver at work.

Jon showed me the importance of defensive driving, and I could see how he was always anticipating what the drivers around him were going to do next. I was able to witness the extra time it takes a trucker to update his logbooks at every stop, wait in line for diesel, and find a place to park. It let me appreciate the complete silliness of split speed limits for trucks.

It takes patience, skill and the right demeanor to be a trucker. As someone who admittedly avoids having to parallel park if at all possible, I find Jon’s ability to easily maneuver the 18-wheeler in reverse definitely worthy of respect by all.

Maybe more than anything else, the trip made clear to me that much of the world has it wrong when it comes to big trucks. While many read the headlines about another semi involved in an accident, they fail to understand what true professional truck drivers like Jon do every day. As many of the cars along the highway sped and darted in and out of lanes, Jon and other truckers were constantly avoiding potential accidents.

Often, trucks like the “Spirit” are the safest vehicles on the road.

The trip gave me an extra level of respect for what truck drivers do. Hopefully, the experience will help me have a little more awareness as I share the highway with trucks every day.

I’m looking forward to my next ride.