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Swift Driving Academy, a student’s experience

2010 February 20

This post is this student’s account of attending the Swift Driving Academy at Lewiston, ID.  It’s taken from emails I sent to friends and family while going through the experience and this account is intended to be a reference for others considering attending this school as well as an accounting of a cool experience.

Prior to attending in the early fall of 2009, I had talked with my Swift recruiter on several occasions, filled out the applications, they did a background check on me, and I had to get my Commercial Driver Instruction Permit.  I picked up the CDL book at the DMV in Bellingham, Washington and started studying.  Swift’s web site also had course content I had to study and exams I had to pass.

After three or four days of studying, I went to the DMV and took three tests; general knowledge, air brakes and combination vehicles and passed all with flying colors.  I also had to pay the $100 driving exam fee in advance and take my receipt with me; the Academy will need this on day one.

Day 0:
Drove to Lewsiton, ID today through a couple of real thick dust storms and dodged hundreds of big tumbleweeds.  I don’t know what they’re called, but you know when you’re driving and there’s a big hill coming up and instead of going up and down, someone was nice enough to blast out a slot in the hill? As I was driving through those, tumbleweeds were falling on me from above.  It was comical.  I gave up dodging them and just made an effort to hit as many as I could; sort of an asteroids game kind of thing.

I found the motel, checked in and I met my roommate Jennifer, seems nice enough.  Apparently, class runs from 5:00am to 4:00pm every day with an hour for lunch, no other breaks.  Saturdays and Sundays as well.  Alrighty then.  Should be fun.  This is an adventure, right?  That’s all for now. I’ll keep you all posted.

Cheers,
Maggie

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Day 1:
The bus picked us up at the hotel at 4:40am and drove us to the Swift Terminal for our first day of training.   As we pulled up to the training center, a couple of people were standing there waiting for us.  I felt like I had just joined the Army or something.  I was looking around for Sergeant Hulka and wondering what was first, the buzz cuts or the physical.

Our classroom instructor is Vicki. Classes will run run from 5:00am to 4:00pm, every day for 18 days.  I mean every day. I think we get the third Sunday off but that’s it.  And we have homework and study every night.  Our first exam is tomorrow morning, jeez.

The first week is classroom, the second week is driving on the range and the third week is over the road driving.  When I arrived yesterday, I approached via the Lewiston grade, a 7% downhill grade over six miles.  Well that ought to be fun in a tractor trailer I thought.  We heard there is also an 18% grade here.

This morning we were 15, by 7:00am we lost two; one of them was my roommate.  Aw, that’s a shame; now I have to be all alone in my motel room for three weeks.  Yeeeee haaaaawwwww!!  One guy has a bad attitude and another keeps nodding off and the instructor has called him on it.  I don’t expect these two to last long.

We were chauffeured to the doctor’s office for our DOT physicals.  I was the second called in.  It went just fine and I passed, yada yada yada.  As I returned to the waiting room, just for grins, I put on a disturbed look and started shaking my head and muttered under my breath, but just loud enough for all hear “my recruiter never told me about that…”.   I sat down and just folded my arms and put my head down.  I snuck a few peeks around the room and saw some bewildered faces.  Then I said out loud “what was that turn your head and cough thing all about?”  Then they were real puzzled.

A little later, some of the guys were talking about the physical and I told them that just before touching me, the Doc looked at me and said – “you don’t have AIDS do you?”  I told them I gave the Doc a puzzled look and said “no”.   I told them he then looked relived and said “oh good, I don’t ever want to get THAT again”.  It was about 10 seconds before that one got a laugh.

4:00 came and back to our lodging we went.   I changed and took my Trikke across the highway to the park with a boat launch.  There’s a paved walking/biking trail that goes along the river for a few miles so I rode that to the end and back.  Good workout.  Got some food and stocked up my fridge.

Gotta go study now.

Days 2 & 3:
Drug Screen first thing this day 2 morning.  This took a while.  13 of us in a conference room waiting our turn to pee in a cup.  It was all a very controlled and a serious process however the wait wasn’t.  Each time the next person was called, we all looked at each other and with just our eyes, we tried to signal each other who was ready to go and who wasn’t.   See, some of our bladders were a bit shy don’t ya know.  I was the next to the last person to go (no pun intended).  The poor guy that went last, had just drank 16 cups of water in the last hour and when I left and he was called, the look on his face wasn’t good.

We lost another guy on day 3, apparently he got a big speeding ticket on the way to class and they found it.  He didn’t tell them about it and so he’s gone now.  We’ve been learning about truck systems, pre trip inspections, logs, and Federal Motor Carrier’s regulations, hazmat, etc.   Oh man, there are so many ways to get yourself fined, broke, jailed or fired; to lose your license, injure yourself, get yourself or others dead, and in so many other ways screw yourself.  Why would anyone want to drive a truck?

Finished up day 3 today.  I feel like it’s been three weeks already.  Class starts at 5:00 and goes till 4:00.  I try to get a Trikke ride in, eat something and then it’s studying and homework for five or six hours.

I’m still here.  It’s fun so far and quite interesting.  I have a whole new respect for truck drivers.   There’s a lot to this stuff.  I got my pilot’s license many years ago and I gotta tell ya, I don’t remember that being as complex as this stuff.  The pre-flight inspection doesn’t even take half of the time it takes to run your pre-trip inspection on a truck.  Way more parts and systems to check on a truck.

I’ll keep y’all posted.

Cheers,
Maggie

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Hi Gang,

Got a 100% on my Hazmat exam.  My written exam average is about 93% now.   I’m just trying to keep that above 90% to give myself wiggle room. Anything below 80% is failing.  Those remaining of the senior class (7 out of 15 that started) are all jittery today and are practicing their skills on the range; their respective state DOT exams are tomorrow so we wish them luck. That will be us in a couple of weeks.

We started on the range this morning doing pre-trip inspections of our trucks at 5:00am, in the dark and in 35 degrees.   Not the most pleasant, but hey… we did OK.  Pretty much the whole day, we spent on the range practicing 100’ straight backing, offsets (pulling forward out of one dock straight and then backing it into an adjacent dock), approaches to docks and docking, and coupling and uncoupling the trailer.  It finally warmed up a bit after l lunch.   It was a lot of fun.  I’m absolutely amazed that I (we) was pretty successful at it.   Another day of the same tomorrow.

Next day: Long but awesome day on the range; I’m digging this stuff pretty well.  I think we’re on the verge of losing another guy.  This guy missed the bus this morning and an instructor had to go find him.  We’ll see.  The last two of the senior class are testing for their Idaho CDL this morning.  One passed and the other didn’t.  The girl, the one that passed was all hopped up on adrenalin.  Apparently, she was the one no one thought would make it through the class and she had hard times on the range the first few days. I got to watch her skills test today and each maneuver was perfect.  Good on her.

The group is starting to bond and are working as a team and helping each other.  The first day on the range I had difficulties with the alley docking.  I was coming too far to the right, then the left, then… I didn’t get too stressed about it though ‘cause no one else was getting it either.  My range instructor Ed is pretty awesome and patient.  He kept telling me, “Maggie, lay off that clutch and stop turning so soon”.  He kept telling me and telling me and I still wasn’t doing it; you know, ‘cause I knew better.  “Trust me one time” he said.  Well, on the next approach, I just gave up and said to myself – try it Ed’s way.  So, I let the clutch all the way out, I was moving a little faster than I felt comfortable with but whatever.  I had kicked the trailer around already and I really wanted to make my turn to knock the trailer into the alley, but I waited and waited and it sure didn’t look right, but I waited… then I turned that wheel hard left, all the way, as fast as I possibly could… and dang if that trailer didn’t go right down the middle of the alley.  I was stunned.

I looked at Ed and it turns out he wasn’t even watching, he turned around just as I stopped the trailer bumper on the mark. He looked at me and smiled with the implied I told you so.   So, the next three times I came around I told him to turn around and don’t look.  He did and each one was absolutely perfect; straight in, no pull ups, first time each time.  My classmates  took notice.  At the end of the day some of them were pumping me for information and asking me to explain how I did it.  Cool.

Today was back in the classroom to finish out our required classroom hours.  Thankfully, ‘cause it was 22 degrees out most of the morning.  Most of the day was in the defensive driving course.   Hmmm, I wonder if there’s an offensive course; that’s the one for me.

I’ll be on the road toward the end of this coming week, so if you’re traveling near western Idaho or eastern Washington, beware.  Be very aware.

Cheers,
Maggie

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OK, this update is for the last few days. I’ve been here, what, two months now? Seems that way anyway.   It’s hard to keep them all straight, but here goes.

Day X: We’re getting more range time in the trucks andworking on the pre trip inspection.   The instructors are having a tough time getting us the hours we need ‘cause well, we haven’t lost as many people from our group that they are used to by now. Apparently, by now, we should have lost almost half of our group.  We’re still at 12 out of 15. Oh well.

Today was the first day of shifting.  It’s not just double clutching.   There is that, but there’s more to it.  See, in a car, a standard transmission has a synchronizer that makes it easy to up shift and down shift.  The 8 speed (+ low and reverse makes 10) transmission in the trucks have no synchronizer. I’m the synchronizer apparently.  Starting in 1st, you shift to 2nd pretty quick, at a certain RPM and/or speed.  Clutch-neutral-clutch-gear.  That’s the double clutching.  There’s a rhythm to it.  And it only goes into each gear at specific RPMs and specific speeds, so you may have wait for RPM to come down or you may have to rev it up to match it before it will go into gear.   This is especially true when down shifting.  Get this.  To down shift, say from 6th to 5th, you clutch in (at 1000 RPM specifically) – put it in neutral – clutch out – rev up the RPM to 1400 – clutch in – slip it into 5th – keep throttle up and let the clutch out.  This is so not a car.

Oh yeah, there’s a splitter on the gear shift.  The 1, 2, 3, 4 gears are similar to most cars (the H pattern), then to get to 5th and up, the splitter has to be flipped up and the same positions are used for 5 – 8 gears.  Now get this, we’re already in gear 6 by the time we hit 20 MPH.   Wowzers, my legs, feet and hands were busy busy.  But after a while, you start to get the hang of it. It’s just that since this was the first time on the road, I’m also having to make sure I make wide turns, check my gobs of mirrors all the time, plan ahead for turns, cancel my turn signals, etc.  Oh yeah, the turn signal does not cancel itself after a turn like in a car.  My instructor had to tell me to cancel my signal about the first 15 times.

The instructors told us that everything we learned about driving a car… just throw it out the window.  They weren’t kidding.  Anyway, it was a fun day.

Next Day:  Cold, Oh so cold. Started off at 22 degrees this morning.  Grueling day on the range.  Gotta get those range hours in ya know.  My group of three, Cory, Damien and myself, started off pre-tripping our instructor’s (Vicki) truck.  Then she told us all to hop in and Cory got the driver’s seat.  We went out on the road.  Not just the roads in and around the terminal, but out on the roads.  We headed out some highway and along the Snake River and into Washington.  You should have seen the look on Cory’s face when we were told what to do.  The look on his face then inspired concerned looks on our faces, since we were sitting helpless in the back and were just along for the ride and all.   Well, he nutted up, and we puckered up, and off we went. We drove though a canyon for about an hour or so.   Then I told Vicki that, in the future, she might want to offer the students a potty break before hijacking us for a surprise road trip.  So, we found a small pull out park that had an outhouse.  When I got back to the truck, Damien was in the driver’s seat for the drive back.  Punishment for having to go perhaps? Vicki says it was the luck of the draw.   I dunno.  When we got back to the terminal, I got to drive the roads there for my turn. Oh well.

Next Day: And then we were 11.  We arrived at the school today to find out that one of the guys had dropped out.  It was a shock to all of us because he seemed so into it and he was doing so well.   He did just decided this wasn’t for him.   Oh well.  More road time today.  For some reason, I really sucked the first 20 minutes or so.  Then I just stopped, took a couple of deep breaths and back to it.  Did OK after that.  We have our pre-trip inspection exam at 0500 tomorrow and I’m pretty stressed out about that, I’m not ready.  At 0900, we have our skills test; I think I’m ready for that.  These are academy tests, not the state tests, thank goodness.  But, still pretty important.  We don’t even get to the state tests unless we get through the academy tests.

Next day:  Studied quite a bit last night and got up at 3:30 this morning to give me an extra half hour to review my pre-trip.  Tests started at 05:00 as promised.  I opted to go first, just so I could get it out of the way.  And, much to my surprise, I did fine.   There’s the In Cab and Air Brakes check portion of the pre-trip and the external portion.  On the state exam, if you miss anything on the Air Brakes portion you fail the whole test and do not even get to take the skills or road tests.  I did the In Cab and the Air Brakes checks and didn’t miss anything; phew.   Then came the external test.  This includes several items in the engine compartment, suspension system, actual brakes, tires, area, coupling area, rear suspension and tandems, trailer, etc.   It’s a five page single spaced script.  Got though it and only missed three items, I’m allowed 12, so…

Spent time on the range today and Vicki asked my team how our range hours were building up and we all had more than average so she asked us if we wanted to go out on the road.  “Yes please” said I exuberantly.  I got the driver’s seat this time and down the highway I headed.  Up a couple of hills and down the other sides.   I got a special treat though, city streets.  A reward perhaps for not whining about getting the short end of the stick last time?  So many things to keep track of.  You have to keep an eye out for all signs, but especially any relating to trucks, like those marking truck routes through or around towns .  It seems, there’s a lot of roads and road systems you really don’t want to be on cause you’ll get stuck.  Imagine that.  You have to pay attention the grade of the road and if it slants you to the right a bit, better check if your trailer is gonna hit those telephone poles right at the road’s edge.  I saw some views and perspectives that were quite unsettling from my windshield and mirrors.

You really have to plan ahead, a lot.  Which lanes to be in, can I navigate that bridge up ahead, is that turn going to be too tight, do I have enough room to cross that railroad track and not leave my hind end on the tracks, having to hug the right edge of the road so that my trailer doesn’t offtrack into the opposing traffic’s lane, or vice versa, remembering that speed limit signs are for cars and having to convert and react accordingly.  And of course, shifting shifting shifting.  So that was a neat experience.   My instructor is pretty good.   I don’t know how she does it.  She sits there calmly and just tells me what to do and most of it, I do.  Some I don’t, ‘cause I’m messing up, freaking out, trying to calm down and tune in.  But all in all, I did OK for my first little outing.  I just can’t believe they’d turn me lose in a big rig out on the roads like that.  What are they thinking?

So, it was a big day; passed all my tests (some didn’t theirs) and hit the road.  Tonight, I have a small respite, so I’m catching up on emails and other stuff. I’ve gone through nearly a whole bottle of ibuprofen so far.  And oh my poor hands. Bent, cracked, cut, bruised, chunks of flesh missing from knuckles, etc.  It hurts.  It hurts so good.

Cheers,
Maggie

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Hug the outside edge, stay in your lane, don’t shift on the rail road tracks, watch your RPM, what did that last sign say?, is that bridge high enough, are you really going to go down that hill in this gear?, get your foot off the throttle, shallow the clutch, tap tap, get it in gear, stop taking it out of gear, don’t turn yet, not yet, not yet, now, now, now turn hard, did you see that sign?, curbage, don’t cross the yellow line, slow it down, speed up, don’t encroach on other traffic lanes, never mind those cars get out there, you’re over revving…

The first couple days of driving were fun, then the real work started. I’ve been driving around in the city and out in the country side now and holy cow, there’s so much to process.   Signs, signs, everywhere a sign.  There are so many truck related signs out there that I’ve never paid attention to before.  Bridge clearances, truck routes, grades, speeds, curves, etc.  If you don’t see them, you can wind up in a world of hurt.

And then there’s the crazy drivers in their cars.  Darting in an out of traffic, cutting in front of you, cruising in your blind spots, tailgating, pulling out in front of you.  Guys, if you do this sort of thing, stop it, I’m gonna.  You’ve got 80,000 pounds barreling down on you, don’t pull out in front of him, just wait.  These rigs don’t exactly stop very quickly and they can’t maneuver very well either.  When you do that, trucks have to slow down.  When they have to slow down they lose momentum and it’s a big effort to get back up to speed.  Yeah, it’s a hassle for the trucker, but It’s also a bummer for the cars unfortunate enough to be stuck behind the truck.  If you pull out and the trucker doesn’t have time to down shift and has to just brake hard to slow or get stopped, the driver then has to find a gear which is not as easy as in a car because he has to match RPMs, and he has to start all over working his way up through the gears to get back to speed.  It’s also bad for the truck to slow or stop without using the gears.  So, give ‘em a break, so to speak.

Last week, we had a couple of days of shifting practice on local streets, then came the test.  I was doing OK, a bit rough and jerky, especially in the lower gears.  Trying to process all the stimulus coming at me and trying to adhere to all the special rules like don’t shift during a turn or on railroad tracks and various others.  Then my instructor told me I just blew through a stop sign.  Huh?  I didn’t even see it.   I said “that would be an automatic fail on my state test wouldn’t it?”  She said “yeah, and it’s an automatic fail on this test too”.   Oh man.  I asked if I should continue, and she said yeah.  Of course it was miserable since I was angry about the sign.  I started racking up points, which isn’t good.  At the end, not considering the sign, I would have passed, but just barely.  So, I had to lick my wounds and accept it and just deal.  When I left the school that night, I drove the route that I failed and sure enough, there’s the sign, right out in plain view.  How in the world could I have missed that?

I do get to retake the test and I was bummed about that, I just hate having to redo something or go backwards.   On my last road driving day (day before yesterday) though, something clicked.  Uphill up shifting and down shifting was my nemesis, but I got it.  Everything smoothed right out.  I love it when that happens.   That just made my day.  I’m no longer worried about that shifting test, I’m pretty confident about it and I’m feeling good about that.

At the beginning of this class, when I saw how much we had to learn and when I realized how many skills we would have to develop, I figured there was no way we could get it all done before taking the state test.   I’m starting to feel better about that too.  The school’s standards are higher than the state test, so I’m getting more confident every day and I think we might just make it by end of this week.   I think I test on Friday in Pasco, WA.

Yesterday was another day on the range where I and a few others completed our minimum required hours for range and so we got to play around a bit by hauling around and backing a converter dolly, which is a wheeled gizmo that goes on the back of a trailer, which allows another semi trailer to be hooked to it.  We also slid the tandems back all the way and drove around and practiced backing that.  (The tandems are the rear wheels on a trailer, which can be moved forward or rearward on the trailer to change the weight distribution of the load.)  The tandem position changes the whole handling characteristics of the trailer.

And we also slid the fifth wheel and learned how to chain up the tires.  Now that’s a chore and it’s probably the thing that most truckers despise the most.   Oh well.

Today is  Sunday and our day off.   I slept in today to about 5:30 and it felt great.   I guess I’ll do laundry, maybe take a nap this afternoon, run some errands, we’ll see.  I just got something the other day.  You know how when you get a joke finally after a few days, or you suddenly realize why something is called what it is?   I’m in Lewiston, ID right now. Across the river is Clarkston, WA.   I’ve been here two weeks now and I just realized these towns are named after the explorers Lewis and Clark.  We’re right on the Lewis and Clark trail, duh.  I just thought that was funny.

Next week is all road week and state test on Friday.  So, Yeehawwww.  And just in case any of you are concerned that I may be turned lose on the roads in a big rig after just three weeks training, well, I would be concerned too.  But, the real training begins after I get my CDL, if I get my CDL.  Just a reminder, I get hooked up with a mentor/trainer driver in his or her rig for six weeks to get more experience and learn new skills.

Cheers,
Maggie

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Mon:
The new students showed up yesterday, one of them is my original roommate Jennifer.  Had a great day off yesterday.  Slept in, took a Trikke ride, did some shopping and laundry, watched a movie, took a nap.

Had a great day of driving today; it’s getting easier to keep track of everything and I’m making progress each day so that’s neat.  At the end of the day, I had to retake my shifting test and I passed quite easily with a nearly perfect score, so that’s a load off.

Went for a Trikke ride after class today and rode about a half hour and got another flat.  That’s three in as many weeks.  So, I had a nice long walk back to the car.  The weather is quite pleasant; fall colors are peaking.

Tue:
Today, Cory and I were with Bob, another instructor, because Vicki is teaching in the classroom today with the new class.   That meant we were also with Bob’s students Caleb and Ryan; they’re also from Washington and are pretty good guys so we got along well.  Corey and I tried to be a little respectful, since it was their truck and all, you know.  Until they got a little bit cocky, then the gloves were off.  Ryan drove first and Bob’s route took us way out in the middle of nowhere and up a couple of hills, then to, no kidding, “Oh Shit Hill” .  I came down this hill a couple of days ago, and I remember at the crest coming from the other direction and saying exactly that, when I peered over the drop.   It was just like being at the top of a roller coaster cresting that first big drop, only I could see three states.  I made it down OK, very slowly, but OK.

So back to the story.  I don’t know if this is true, we were told that no student (not just in our class, but in previous classes as well) had yet, apparently, made it up that hill without stopping, so Ryan got it in his head he would be the first.  These are trucks, so you can’t just gun it because you only have a certain speed range for each gear and you certainly would not make it in 8th gear.  So, he approached the hill in 6th and when he started to lose momentum, he down shifted to 5th, not an easy task.  See, when the RPM drops to 1200 (200 higher than on the flat), You have to tap the clutch and take it to neutral, then rev up only 200 RPM (200 less than on the flat), which is hard to do, then clutch and slip it into gear. And you have to do that in about one second.   If you miss the gear, your RPMs drop off so rapidly (cause you’re on the hill), you’ll have to try and find a lower gear.  By the time, you find the gear you want, the RPMs have dropped even further and now you need a lower gear.   It’s catch up and it’s vicious.  Before you know it, the truck is stopped about three seconds after you started to down shift.  It’s timing and only catching 200 RPM and no more.

So, Ryan caught 5th OK and floored it and kept going, but still lost RPM steadily and he made the decision to down shift again to fourth, a little more complex because you have to drop the splitter before you do it and 4th is the farthest away from 5th. It was close but he did it. And he made it to the top of the hill.  Unbelievable.  Bob, the instructor was stunned.  When we got back to the terminal and switched drivers.  Not to be outdone, Caleb figured he’d like to try that same route and so off we went.

As we approached the hill, I’m watching Caleb and he was focused, he has tuned everything else out and lo and behold, he did it too.  Oh c’mon.  So, when we got back to switch drivers again, Caleb and Ryan were feeling pretty good about everything and looked at Corey and me wondering if we’d try it.  Stupid me, I blurted out, “sure, we’ll try it”.  Oh, Corey gave me the stink eye.  Anyway, off we went with Corey at the wheel.  Unfortunately, just before the approach to the hill, we got stuck behind road sweepers.  I have no idea why sweepers were sweeping this section of remote road and all they were doing anyway was kicking up dust and making it worse.  Anyway, he couldn’t get up enough speed for a proper approach and had to down shift early and missed the gear and could not find a recovery gear and came to sudden stop on the hill.  Dang.   Oh well.  He got us going up again, just very slow and we came back to the terminal.   Then it was my turn.

I had a good approach, and as I used up all the available kinetic energy, I pondered how best to tap that potential energy to make it to the top without stopping.  I visualized the moves in my head and made it to 5th just fine.  Then came the tough one, 4th.  I visualized again and tried to get that bugger into 4th, but missed it, OH NO…  The guys in the back started their smart ass retorts, but I didn’t give up though and managed to recover into 3rd and took it all the way to the top.  Ah, the recovery.   Anyway, Caleb and Ryan seemed impressed and I got cheers and that felt pretty good.   Catching the recovery was an even more difficult task than getting it right the first time, I think.

Later in the day, Bob had us going on all sorts of crazy tight turns and in residential areas and weird loops, just impossible maneuvers and the guys, Ryan and Caleb, were making some of them, they had to go up on curbs, and back up a little or encroach other lanes or whatever.  Then it was my turn. I’m proud to say, I didn’t catch one curb or encroach a lane and I never had to back up.  So, that was pretty cool.   Ryan and Caleb, pulled me aside later and gave me an atta girl.

It was a good day.

Wed:
Another road day, up and down the Lewiston grade, through weigh stations, some city driving, a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll.  Getting better all the time and starting to feel confident that we’ll do OK on the state test.  The instructors tell us that on the state test there won’t be any tight turns that come close to the ones we’re used to now and there won’t be any hills, so there’s that.

Tomorrow morning is some more road time and then our Academy road evaluation.  Gotta pass that before taking the state test.

Cheers,
Maggie

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Thur:
Had a nice early 2.5 hour drive in the dark and then some lab time and sweated the Academy road test which came in the afternoon. Feeling jittery, I took the wheel just after lunch and headed off with Vicki.  Just a short distance from the terminal I noticed my speed coming up just above 50 and I was still in a 45 zone. Dang.  Vicki called me on it just as I let it fall off a bit. She said that was definitely an automatic fail on the state test, it only takes three mph over the limit.  Luckily, for the Academy test, I didn’t leave it up there long enough.   Phew…

I continued on for the hour long road test which took me through town, some rural driving, up hills, down hills, tight turns, etc.  I was really trying to work on mirror checks, especially the right mirror, since she had dinged me on it before, and of course I tried to keep all the other rules and tasks in mind.  Got back to the terminal, parked it and anxiously awaited my fate.  I passed, holy cow.   I was first to test, so I had the rest of afternoon off essentially.  Rather than sit around and do nothing, I checked in with Ed who was running the range on the new class’s first day on the range.   He asked if I would take the offset station and spot the students and coach them and make sure nothing bad happened.  I said sure and started working with them.  Oh, these newbies, they don’t know anything from anything. I remember the old days and my first days at the academy those many months ago… Oh wait, whatever.  Anyway I had fun and took good care of them, they did well, and they were quite thankful which surprised me.  That felt good too.

So, I’m all done with the academy testing and I’m all set for the state test tomorrow in Pasco, WA.  There are several things that can be an automatic fail and the day would end suddenly.  Must avoid those things.  Those things bad.  So, I’m studying tonight.  Corey and I are with Caleb and Ryan in Bob’s truck for the trip to Pasco.  The truck leaves the school at 4:30, so I must be up at 3:00 and to the school by 4:00 at the latest to pre-trip.  Oh boy.

Fri (state test day):
Up, showered, dressed and to the school a little before 4:00. We got all our paperwork in order, pre-tripped the truck and I took the wheel.  I started racking up points right out of the chute, if I had been testing.   Forgot to signal a turn and something else silly.   Great start huh?  Headed out on hwy 12 west and into Washington.  I realized I was hauling my first load; human cargo.  Hmmm.  We arrived in Pasco at 7:30 and the state tester was waiting for us.   We drew straws for the testing order and I got third.  It was cold and rainy and a mighty wind blew through Pasco I tell ya.  Ryan was up first and he passed his pre-trip test.  Then it was Caleb’s turn and he passed his as well.  Then I came through it with flying colors, besting all who came before me.  Then Corey did his and dog gone it, he bested me by three points.  Oh well.  We all made it through the first phase which took about 2.5 hours.  Just FYI, the pre-trip has 183 items to cover and we’re only allowed to miss 12.

Next was the range skills test.  We were all sweating every step of every phase.  We all wanted us all to pass everything.  We were so dreading the trip back to Lewiston, if any of us had failed.  That would be a miserable trip.  We all passed the skills test OK, me, just barely.   I used all of my available points, but hey, that works.

Road test.   Lot’s of automatic fail opportunities here.   Part way into my road test, I had a flash back to two minutes before.   I felt the heat rise in my face and I know I was just beet red. I looked at the tester and asked if I had run that stop sign about four blocks back… She looked at me and said “no. If that had happened I would have stopped the test right away”.  Oh man, I nearly freaked out, as I also flashed back to my shifting test which I failed because I ran a stop sign.  During this road test, I had come to an intersection at which I was to go right.   It had a stop sign but the intersection had a right curve lane with a yield sign and the stop sign was to my left as I entered the curve.  Four blocks later, I started wondering if that stop sign was for me and well… What a relief.

I continued on and we made our way though the rest of the route and back to the test center.  As I shut down the engine and took a couple of deep breaths and twiddled my fingers, the tester looked up from her clip board and grinned at me and said “you have a CDL”.   I felt all the stress just slip away from my all.  What a great feeling.  It was done, it was over, no more studying, no more exams, no more getting up at 4:00am… Oh what a relief it is.  La dee freaking daaaaa . It was a grand slam, we all passed.  After our initial high fives, mutual congrats, and celebrations, we came down hard.  It was indeed a miserable drive back because it was cold and rainy and windy and long.  Instructor Bob did the whole drive back himself which we all appreciated.

Caleb had taken the bus here from Longview, WA and his bus trip homde would be 24 hours via Idaho and Oregon.  He was shaking his head and I told him I’d be happy to run him home if liked and he perked right up.  So, we’ll head out in the morning around 8:00 or so for the 5 – 6 hour drive to Longview and then I’ll start making my way north toward the top of the State.  Not sure if I’ll get all the way home or not, I may stop somewhere for the night, we’ll see.

Well, it’s been a wild ride, an intensive three weeks, a great experience, and I made new friends.  Thanks for reading and for your encouraging words, support and prayers.

Ta ta for now.

Cheers,
Maggie

—————————————————————–
Hi Gang.

So, in the morning, Caleb and I go to the DMV in Clarkston, WA, just across the river, with our paperwork and got our newly minted commercial driver’s licenses.   I get to go home for a week and relax and spend some time with friends.   Orientation at Swift Transport in Sumner, WA starts on November 3 for two days. A fter that I’ll be assigned to a mentor and it’s out on the road for six weeks to continue my training, at which time, I’ll probably be told to forget everything I learned at school, now it’s time to learn the right way to do things in the real world.  If I get through that OK, I’ll be assigned my own truck and then I’m turned loose on the highways and byways of America.

Thanks again for your support, I really appreciate it and thanks for letting me share the experience with you. Jan, as before, thanks for getting my mail and stuff and taking care of things, you’re such an awesome friend.

I PASSED, I PASSED, I PASSED, YEEEEEEEHAAAAAAWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Cheers,
Maggie

My hat’s off to the instructors of Swift’s Lewiston Academy, great job guys. Vicki, our classroom instructor and my team’s truck instructor, calm, cool, collected and she put up with my crap. Ed, range instructor and truck instructor, patient and encouraging. Bob, the wild man; will challenge you if you’re up to it, awesome. And Laury, classroom and and truck instructor, always there for you but won’t let you get away with anything. And I can’t forget to mention Danny, who keeps the place running and coordinated our physicals, did our drug screens, ran all our paperwork, investigated us, etc. Always able to answer our questions, after her four diet pepsi’s in the morning of course. Cheers guys.

You can read the next installment, The Road Training here.

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  1. 2012 December 27
    William Neumiller permalink

    Maggie, Hello and Congrats on your success. It has been a wonderful adventure following you on your experiences. I have been planning for several months and researching all companies and wondering which one to choose. Swift has been a favorable choice and after reading your adventure, it sounds more like the best choice for me. Thanks for the insight.

    I am now wondering how your life is and how you are doing on the road? I know you picked a wonderful time of the year to continue your driving. I look forward to hearing from you and to see how you are doing now and what your perspective is regarding Swift and life on the road?

    Again, Thanks for the adventure, Bill

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