Coal Miner’s Daughter

Posted February 13, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I recently rode again through the mountains of West Virginia. Each time I do, the rich black hills pull at my heart’s strings. I climbed the highways that cut through the heart of Appalachia. Coal mining towns dot the valleys. Homes, trees, buildings and vehicles are covered in a blanket of black dust from the mines.

A simple folk live in these hills. Bred with black etching the lines in their fingers like ink on a roadmap, most of them are the next generation of miners. In each house on every row between nowhere and the mine, there lives a coal miner’s daughter.  

Decades ago, a country music singer left the mining town in search of another life. Loretta Lynn gave us a glimpse of what life was like for those who mine the black gold. A hard existence from birth to death, but these people don’t complain. They just willingly accept their place in America. Most of them…

I know Miss America, 1993, Leanza Cornett. I watched her grow up. When then Miss Florida was crowned, she was the epitome of clamor and glitz. She was flawless. Breathtakingly drop dead gorgeous. Her personality would make you feel as if you just stepped into the presence of an angel. Precious young lady inside and out.

Looking at her crowned in all her glory, it’s difficult to imagine her humble beginnings. Like Loretta and the women in each of the houses on miner’s row, Leanza is a coal miner’s daughter.

Her father, Dick, decided to take a road less traveled. He escaped the mines, moved to sunshine and fresh air of Florida and opened a sandwich shop. The coal miner’s daughter decided to follow in her father’s footsteps. She believed the world was hers and she seized it.

As I drove through Charleston, I tried to imagine Leanza running through the black ash playing. Did she dream of being Miss America some day? Did she realize there was a place in the world that did not have coal dust? I searched the eyes of those in cars as I wound my way through the mining communities. I saw hundreds of coal miner’s daughters who drive the same black soot roads to the local Walmart where their mothers bought their baby food and diapers. They will marry a coal miner and will give birth to another coal miner’s daughter.

Finally, the gold and black capitol building in Charleston was no longer visible in the rearview mirror. I only had to drive a few miles to the east to feel the solemn quietness that looms over Huntington. I can’t help but wonder which of the protruding hills claimed the lives of the Marshall football team decades ago. After more than forty years, the town seems to still grieves those they lost that rainy night when their plane crashed and burned. Or perhaps they are mourning those who were swallowed up by the mine. Whatever the reason, an inconsolable heart has found a way to beat on, continuing life in spite of tragedy.

I know there is more to the story of West Virginia, far more than I could extract during a drive through the region. There are battles fought and beliefs stood up for by these strong, tough as nails mountain people. Just as there is so much below the surface of these mountains that most of us will never see, there are stories these folks have not told. They would most likely paint a different portrait than me but I cannot deny what I feel as I visit the hills in Appalachian coal country. It is a place like no other on earth, and one I would like to take time in to explore.

But I rolled on as truckers to. And here in West Virginia, men will keep descending deep into the mountain to bring out the black gold. Women will give birth to a coal miner’s daughter who’ll grow up to marry another coal miner. Such is the circle of life in the coal mining town.

The mountains breathe in the coal dust and exhales it into the beauty all its own, where coal miner’s daughters remind us that the heartbeat of America is alive and well in West Virginia.

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Farm Fresh Indeed!

Posted January 31, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I clicked off mile after mile up the familiar I-44. Before I would arrive at our terminal, I just had to make one stop. My fleet manager landed me a load to bring in to put my truck in the shop. Rather than deadheading from Oklahoma, I would now be paid for the miles.

I called ahead to the shipper because my loading appointment was not until five in the afternoon. I would need a place to park my truck for eight hours before I would have enough drive time to get into the terminal. The shipper said they were a farm so parking would be no problem. I could stay as long as I needed to.

Sweet.

I left the modern road behind and climbed the roller coaster hills into the farm country of southern Missouri. Two turns and I arrived at—a FARMHOUSE? Surely, the GPS was incorrect.

Just as I was about to keep going, three men began waving happily at me so I pulled into the driveway. Within seconds Abraham, Isaac and Jacob greeted me as if I was their long lost friend. Unlike the two younger men, Abraham wore a long beard. All three donned leather hats and old fashioned button-down breeches.

I had just stepped back in time!

Abraham told me they would not be able to load me before my appointment because, well, they had not picked the kale yet. He asked me to turn my truck around and I could just stay right there until they were ready to load.

Hours went by but I didn’t notice. I was fascinated by this incredible Mennonite family in Missouri. They were quiet, respectful, and very hard workers. Men, women and children began to arrive in cars. Before long there was an army of workers ready for work in the fields.

All the men wore button down breeches and leather hats. The women wore skirts to their ankles, jackets and bonnets. The children were miniature versions of their parents. Each of them waved at me as they pulled in. Their smiles were infectious!

Within moments, the troop entered the fields and began to pick the valuable commodity. The little ones carried the kale in cloth shoulder bags to a washing station just outside the house. The women washed the greens and placed the clean product in boxes. Other children took box after box to a trailer. The young men prepared the boxes onto pallets inside that trailer and slid the pallets by hand to one side of the trailer. No one broke a speed record. It was slow and methodical and yet, strangely effective. I watched in awe at this completely manual process was getting the job done.

About four in the afternoon, Isaac asked me to open the doors of my precooled trailer so they could load. The only modern part of this entire process was a fork life. Interestingly, it never went into the back of my truck. It stayed on the rocky ground of the farm. They had no dock for me to back up to. Getting the machine into my truck was an impossibility.

Loading my truck was a two-man job. One slid a pallet to the edge of the preparation trailer to be picked up by the fork lift. He then jumped out of the trailer, and climbed into mine. The forklift carried the pallets to my truck and lifted them inside. The other worker then slid the pallets by hand to the front of my trailer. This process was repeated fifteen times until all the pallets were loaded. Kale is super light and even a pallet full, it can easily be moved without the use of lifting equipment.

As Abraham prepared the paperwork for me, I marveled that my truck could be loaded by hand in a completely manual process more quickly than most modern shippers can load it with all the best equipment.

Abraham shook my hand and asked if there was any way I would be the one to come back for future loads. I would have loved that but I had a feeling it might not happen. He assured me that I would not be disturbed in their driveway and again told me to stay as long as I wished.

Cars loaded with Mennonite workers disappeared the same way they had arrived, waving and smiling at me like we were BFF’s. My heart soared at this part of America and this family who remains untouched by our ultra-modern, super-techno charged way of life.

I stayed another three hours to get time back then left the Mennonite farm behind, my life enriched by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, their families and a culture that, despite all the modern conveniences available, choose to live a simple lifestyle.

The heartbeat of yesterday’s America is still alive in southern Missouri!

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The Apocalypse, Day 10

Posted January 27, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

The Great Escape!

I awoke early the next morning, well before daylight. I had sent a message to dispatch the night before letting them know that I would not attempt to roll out until I could see the road.

For the second night in a row, even though I slept, I slid down the mountain multiple times each night. In my dreams, I climbed up a hill and at the top was surprised by a solid sheet of ice. I had to way to stop and no way to control the truck. Sometimes I made it. Other times I crashed. Over and over the scene played out in my dreams.

By the time the sun streaked across the eastern sky, I was exhausted yet ready to get out of the snowy north. I removed the chains from my truck and drug them to my passenger floor board. They would stay there until I was feeling well enough to put them away.

I inched through ice for forty miles but road conditions were steadily improving. My shoulder was screaming. My face was swollen and bruised. And I was coughing uncontrollably. But I was heading southeast and I was not about to let anything stop me.

Any time we pass a terminal, they always want us to stop. Today, that was not happening. I blew by the Salt Lake City so fast, I’m sure their heads were spinning. Too bad. I was rolling and still ahead of the storm.

I turned off the interstate south of Provo. Roads were icy but I was able to maneuver them without much problem. After all I’d already gone through, this was a walk in the park. In southern Utah and northern Colorado, crews were out treating the roads ahead of the storm. They were out in greater force than I’d ever seen.

That’s good. And it’s bad.

With that much manpower dedicated to secondary roads, they were expecting a doozy of an ice storm and it was right on my heels. I’d have to stop for ten hours. No way around that, thanks to DOT. It might catch me.

I had twenty minutes left on my clock and was six miles north of Ute Mountain, Colorado, where I planned to stop for the night. And it was well after dark. I was shocked when I was pulled into the weigh station in Cortez, Colorado.

If I see, “please park and bring in your paperwork” one more time…

The guy had to get his quota and I looked like someone who’d give him the least amount of grief. So I spent eleven minutes of my remaining time standing there not driving. When he finally released me, I ran back to my truck and drove the last six miles at break-neck speed… well, at least for a semi fully loaded.

Again, when sleep overtook me, so did the slippery mountain slopes and for the third night, I slid down the mountain all night. But when I awoke in the morning, I discovered I was still ahead of the storm. I inspected my truck while my coffee was brewing as and soon as my clock struck 10 (hours out of service), I rolled.

I rolled as fast as I could through the Navajo Nation and only stopped in Grants, New Mexico for fuel. It was 47 degrees. The sun was shining. The wind was blowing 50+ mph and… wait for it… it was SLEETING!!!!! I have no idea how that is even possible but there I was getting pelted by sleet blowing in my face at 50mph.

I fueled as quickly as possible and jumped back on the road. No matter what, I was going to stay ahead of this storm. I was NOT going to spend one more moment navigating an eighty-thousand-pound missile through ice or snow. So I kept rolling. Rolling east. Away from the snow.

By the time I stopped for the night in Sayre, Oklahoma, I was well away from the storm. I had escaped the Apocalypse of 2017.

I burned my lungs from the cold. It will take a while for them to heal. My broken cheek bone is doing well. My shoulder will no doubt pop out of joint again at some inopportune moment somewhere in the future.

But I was not in ice or snow for the first time in ten long, agonizing, life-threatening days. I would not complain.

I want to take this moment to thank each and every person who prayed for me. I could not have made it through without you. You are my rocks… and my heroes. I don’t know where my adventures will take me from here but I know I cannot continue to roll forward on the highways and byways of our great nation without you, your prayers, and your support.

Thank you all! May God return the blessings to you that you are and continue to be to me.

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The Apocalypse, Days 8 & 9

Posted January 25, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Salt Lake City, Utah to Twin Falls, Idaho

I waited for daylight before leaving Winnemucca heading back to Salt Lake City. It was cold and there was a solid sheet of ice on my truck. I’d be foolish to think it would be different on the roads, particularly with evacuations taking place. I figured if I was going to slide, at least I’d see what I’m sliding on.

Just as I came through Battle Mountain and started my climb, the chain law was invoked.

Ice!   

Unfortunately, I could not stop. I had traction and if I stopped, I would risk sliding back down. Or worse, sliding off the side of the mountain. So I kept the pedal to the floor and climbed. When I reached the top and looked at the bottom, I saw trucks and far as I could see coming in the other direction. They were stopped. Hundreds of trucks stopped.

My trailer did not want to stay behind my truck. I was sliding. I figured—hoped and prayed—I could stay ahead of it if I did not do anything but descend the mountain. The road was straight, and there were no cars on the road so I grabbed my steering wheel, kept my foot on the gas to keep the traction coming and descended. By the time I got to the bottom, I was sliding at 70mph. But I made it.

I passed the two-mile-long line of trucks that were stopped on the other side waiting for their turn to get into the chain up area. My lungs were burned from being out in sub-zero temperatures digging my truck out two days before and as a result, my cough was uncontrollable. I lowered my window in hopes it would help.

I looked in my rearview mirror between coughs and saw flashing lights. A snow plow approached in the left lane. As it passed me, it threw up a rock that hit and shattered my windshield. Another rock flew in my window and hit me right in the cheek. Blood burst from my nose but I could not stop. It wasn’t safe in all the ice to stop so I grabbed a paper towel, stuffed it in my nostril and kept on trucking.

Ice covered the roads but at least the last two mountain passes between me and the Utah border did not have the chain law in effect. Driving in ice required my total concentration. At times I felt lightheaded but wasn’t sure if it was because I would forget to breathe, or the loss of blood.

By the time I reached the Utah border, the roads had improved greatly, mainly because they had adequate resources to treat the roads that were not trying to help folks evacuate from the flooded areas of Nevada.

I alerted my team that I had a shattered windshield and they made arrangements for me to get it repaired at the terminal. The next morning they sent a local guy out to my truck. It took him three minutes flat and I was on my way back to Twin Falls, Idaho to pick up a load going to Georgia. Finally I would be out of the ice and snow.

I checked in at the organic potato shipper and discovered I’d have to wait for a while to be loaded. Suddenly, the skies opened up and dumped over five inches of new snow in less than an hour.

It was not in the forecast.

No one predicted it.

No one prepared for it.

I backed into the door in whiteout conditions. I could stay the night but if I did, I’d drive through the storm in the morning. Throughout loading, I checked the road reports. They were all good. So, I decided to roll. I knew if I could make it back to our terminal in Salt Lake City, I’d be ahead of the storm.

I drove through Twin Falls. The roads were good. That was encouraging since they are normally better on the interstates than on secondary roads. Ten miles later I turned east on I-84. Four miles later I was stopped on I-84. A few moments later, traffic started to move. I did not.

I tried.

I was on solid ice and was spinning. Finally, I got moving again and a hundred yards later we stopped. Again. Almost three hours later, several police officers walked up the interstate. They stopped at each truck and had a brief conversation with the driver. When they got to me, the very nice young highway patrol officer asked the question I’d been dreading.

“Ma’am, do you have chains?”

“Yes sir, I do.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to put them on.”

“Well how about I head into that truck stop right there and shut down?” I pointed at the place less than ¼ mile up the road.

“You can’t get there without chains.”

“Why is that?”

“There is six inches of black ice on the road between you and that exit. No way to get there without chains. Just stay right where you are and put your chains on.”

I hopped out of my truck and grabbed my first eighty-four pound set of chains. The weight of the chains falling to the ground popped my shoulder right out of joint. The state trooper heard the pop. Or maybe shriek of pain. Either way he ran to my side.

“You’re going to have to help me.”

“I’ll call rescue.”

“No! You have to help me put my shoulder back in joint so I can put my chains on.”

“Ma’am I can’t do that.”

“You can and you will!!!! I’m getting my truck off this mountain TONIGHT!!”

Reluctantly the police officer helped me get my shoulder back in joint and I slowly got my chains installed on my truck. I had to wait for my turn to climb the ice hill. They were only letting one truck at a time attempt the climb.

I sat and watched trucks attempt the climb and slide back down multiple times. And I pushed back regrets that I’d left the safety of my shipper to attempt to drive. When at long last my turn came, I turned to the left, placing the entire left side of my truck in the median. I had no trouble climbing at all because there was no black ice on the median. As I exited to the truck stop, I glanced back in my rearview mirror and saw every truck behind me following in my tracks.

It just made sense.

I pulled into a jam-packed truck stop. I knew I was arriving late to the party but God always takes care of me.

Always.

I pulled into the parking area and the second parking space was empty. I backed my truck in and shut down, not bothering to remove the chains. That would be for another day when conditions were better and my shoulder had calmed down.

I slid through the ice and snow in the parking lot and into the restaurant to order a large helping of comfort food. I figured after the day I’d had, I’d earned it. I did not feel the least bit guilty as I devoured my grilled cheese sandwich and French fries.

I slept but all night I dreamed of sliding down the mountain. Over and over, I slid. I crashed. But I slept. I suppose after the last several days, that was the most I could hope for so I chose to take it without complaint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Apocalypse, Days 5, 6 and 7

Posted January 25, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Twin Falls, Idaho to Caldwell, Idaho, to Ogden, Utah to Winnemucca, Nevada

I rose at three in the morning, brewed a hot pot of coffee, grabbed hammers and a shovel and pulled back my curtain. The snow had risen overnight to just below my windows. I put the driver window down and dug out enough space to open my door. I stepped out and lost my footing, falling into an eight-foot snowbank.

I figured that was as good a place as any to start my dig out. I dug through minus 20 degree temperatures until I finally could find my truck and trailer. About an hour into the dig, I began hacking and coughing uncontrollably. I’m not one to catch colds. Never had the flu and my last cold was in 1986. Something was wrong but I knew I could not get any help until I dug my truck out and could drive.

I attached my LED light to my head and crawled under the trailer. I had a thousand pounds of ice underneath. I grabbed my hammer and began chipping away. By 7am, my truck was relatively clear of snow and ice and it was daylight had begun to creep in. I decided to roll.

Two hours later I was pulled into the Boise, Idaho weigh station. There was so much ice on the entrance ramp, even at a crawl, my truck slid into a snow bank. That’s embarrassing anywhere it happens but a weigh station filled with DOT officers is definitely NOT the place to do that. I spun my truck out of the snow bank and stopped on the scales.

“Park your truck and bring in your paperwork.”

After all my digging, I was still overweight? I did as I was told and filed in line behind the seven other drivers who had also been called in. The officer was looking at a lot of things on his computer screen. He finally looked up and said who is the (my company name) driver?

“I am,” I said, expecting the worst.

He reached out to take my paperwork and after a brief inspection, he said I could go. Apparently, he had bigger (or at least heavier) fish to fry. I grabbed my paperwork and ran out of the station. Twice I’d been overweight and twice I’d been granted mercy. Thank you God!

The roads were very icy in spots and snowy in others. Road reports confirmed I would not be able to go into Oregon and into the high Rockies. I’d have to stop in Caldwell, Idaho, twenty miles from the border until the roads cleared up. My fleet manager called me and I told him that. He agreed that was far enough and I’d hold up another day short of the Blue Mountains.

Once I stopped I had several conversations with my former trainer and great friend, Dave. We talked about the road conditions and he said he heard terror in my voice. He thought it was the mountains. It wasn’t the hills, no matter how big. It was the ice that covered the roads. And yes, I was terrified.

He suggested I call my fleet manager in the morning and let him know. Overnight, I made the decision to not carry the load any farther. I’d been fighting vertigo for two days but interestingly, the second I made that decision, it went away and I have not suffered from it since.

In the morning, I called my fleet manager and waited thirty minutes to get him on the phone. It was worth the wait. I told him the road conditions had not improved and I did not have the skill level to run through the high mountain switchbacks on ice. Thankfully, he did not give me a hard time at all. He completely understood and said he would get right on a plan to get me out from under that load.

About an hour later, he’d worked out a deal to run back to Boise and switch loads with a different company that contracts with us to haul our freight. This driver from Washington would take my chicken over the mountains to Washington and I would take his onions back to Ogden, Utah to deliver the next morning. Hallujah! I was headed back in the right direction!

I spent the night on a block of ice in Ogden and was ready to greet the company workers when they arrived in the darkness the next morning to unload my truck. They could not get the onions off my truck fast enough.

I could not stop coughing. I contacted the weekend dispatcher and told them I was sick and needed to get a load heading south. Moments later they sent me a load going to St. Paul, Minnesota. I told them again that I needed to head south. So they sent me a load going to Seattle. Either their geographical prowess was not good or they were trying my patience.

I refused that load as well. Finally, they sent me a load to pick up at our terminal in Salt Lake City that delivered in Union City, California. San Francisco.

I give up.

I took the load, drove to the terminal, grabbed the trailer and off I went. I drove 350 miles to the west and suddenly got a message that I-80 westbound was closed because they were evacuating Reno and Sparks, Nevada. The Truckee River was flooded.

The road conditions had deteriorated as well so I stopped for the night in Winnemucca, Nevada. All resources were being sent to the flood sight so all roads except interstates and evacuation routes were not being treated in any way. There was no way to get to Union City, California except to drive the 350 miles back to Salt Lake City and run south to Las Angeles and back up to San Francisco.

I checked the weather once more before going to bed and realized an ice storm was headed right for us. Things were going to be treacherous in the morning. I contacted the night dispatcher and told them I had no choice but to return the load to the Salt Lake terminal and they would have to put someone else on it to run the southerly route. They agreed.

Tomorrow promised to be agonizing and dangerous. An hour after I shut down, the rain started and the temperature began its descent into the wintry abyss. I knew sleep would not come so I did not even try.

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The Apacalypse, Days 3 and 4

Posted January 23, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Springville, Utah to Twin Falls, Idaho

When I awoke, night still blanketed the horizon just outside Provo. The mountains in the distance were covered in a blanket of virgin white snow. Mother Nature had also left the gift of two feet of snow on my truck during the night. I have to say the mountain looked better than my truck.

I slipped and slid into the truck stop and began asking truckers about road conditions. Most of them—including dozens of seasoned drivers—had not ventured out yet. Fear in the eyes of those who had confirmed what I already knew in my heart… roads were bad.

Because I had crept along the day before, I was even more behind schedule so my fleet manager began looking for a team to take it the rest of the way to Washington. I was fifty miles from my Salt Lake City terminal. Surely, I’d be able to get the load that far.

Reports were two feet of snow on Interstate 15 and the plows had stopped trying to keep up. They would resume at four. So I walked back to my truck and waited. And waited. At six I went back into the truck stop and asked questions again. Roads were still bad and now there were seventeen reported accidents between where I was and Salt Lake City. There was a two mile back up just to get onto the interstate at my exit.

I passed the time shoveling the snow off my truck. When I felt that rush hour had passed, I pulled out. At the corner, cars were getting stuck in the snow. I swung left and headed up the hill toward the entrance to the interstate. The traffic suddenly stopped. On ice. I slowed down and tried desperately to not come to a stop. I could not afford to slide backwards into a car.

The light finally changed and traffic moved before I had to stop. Cars were slipping in the ice and snow. Trucks and larger vehicles tossed the frozen slush into windshields, blinding drivers. Traffic was stop and go. Mostly, stop and wait for emergency vehicles to pick their way through the sea of stopped cars to ones that had been involved in accidents.

I crept toward the exit I would need to take to go to the terminal. The excitement I’d felt at the possibility of having another truck take this load farther into the frozen tundra broke through the ice when my fleet manager told me to keep rolling. No team nearby. He would try to find a team farther up the road.

He asked me to stop in Twin Falls, Idaho. Surely, he’d find someone by then. So onward I slid. The roads improved slightly between Salt Lake City and the Idaho border but as soon as I crossed the state line, conditions deteriorated quickly. I flipped on my four-wheel-drive and slowly picked my way between black ice, two feet of slush and steep drop offs on the rolling hills.

The landscape disappeared as I drove the last forty miles in a white out. Again. The weigh station in Burley, Idaho was open despite the conditions and all trucks are called into that station. When I rolled across the scales, I got the electronic message to park and bring in my paperwork. That’s never a good sign. I grabbed my stuff and headed inside. The officer checked my declared weight on my paperwork and concluded that I was overweight because my truck had collected ice from the road. But overweight is overweight, no matter what the reason and I was busted. I stood there in silence waiting for him to write my ticket, realizing I would be several hundred dollars out of pocket because of the ice I’d grown to HATE.

Surprisingly, he let me go with the warning that I would be ticketed in Boise if the problem was not corrected before then. I scooped up all my paperwork and headed out the door, grateful that I’d just been extended mercy. Unless there was an unexpected spring thaw overnight, I figured I was just prolonging the agony. But I was still grateful all the same.

The next day conditions were so bad, the roads closed in the westbound direction. Eight feet of snow dumped on and around my truck, effectively burying it. A few trucks were coming through the fuel isle, getting stuck, having to get help to get out. One truck got stuck right in front of me, so I dug myself out of my own igloo and trudged through the snow to help him. The driver behind him became impatient and tried to pass him. He got stuck as well.

A fourth driver walked up and we all worked together to get the trucks unstuck. It was fifteen below and snowing. We all stopped installing chains and looked up as another driver approached. His question would have been comical if we hadn’t been frozen.

“Do you think you could move your trucks somewhere else to put your chains on? You’re blocking the exit, and we need to get out.” He spoke with a very thick accent, which seemed to anger the driver who was laying on the frozen snow. But the four of us who’d been up to our elbows in snow and ice for the better part of an hour all successfully resisted the urge to kill the guy. And, when we suggested he lend us a hand, he excused himself and ran back to the comfort of his nice, warm un-stuck truck. Apparently he’d never heard that we’re all in this together and we should help each other.

The two trucks finally grabbed some traction and away they went. I returned to my igloo and tried not to think of the HUGE job I would face in the morning digging my seventy- three foot long truck out of six feet of snow before I could move an inch. I had no idea how things could possibly get worse but I would soon find out.

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The Apocalypse, Day 2

Posted January 19, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Moriarty, New Mexico to Springville, Utah

 

The day started at two in the morning. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t sleeping anyway. High winds had rocked my truck for hours. Each time I mustered the courage to peak outside the curtain, snow and sleet swirled and pummeled my metal cocoon.

The roads were clear so I rolled out through the darkness. After an hour of rolling hills, I turned north in Gallup and made my way north. Four hours later the morning hinted to the east as I cut a path through the remoteness of the Navajo Nation. Wild ponies ran along the horizon on both sides of the road, their manes blowing as free as their spirits. Not as many as the last time I came through. Perhaps they don’t care for the snow either.

I stopped at Ute Mountain for a break and was met by frigid air the second I stepped outside. The gigantic rock was shrouded in snow and the early morning sky cast a blue hue onto the freshly fallen snow. I could almost hear the cries of the Native ancestors calling down from the summit, telling stories of the days of long ago.

I always hate to leave the mountain but I reluctantly climbed back into my truck and continued my trek to the northwest.  Ice covered the road in patches and I was grateful I could now see the road. I could navigate around the dangerous areas without losing much time.

I sliced through the southwest corner of Colorado without much incident. But just on cue, Utah skies opened up and snowed down quarter sized flakes. Lots of them. Within moments, I could not see where the road pavement began or ended. No other cars were out. I could not follow in their tracks. I followed my GPS lines to alert me curves were coming up and crept along. At least I was making forward progress, something any snail would be proud of.

I crossed I-70 and headed toward Moab. The two-lane windy road was steep in some parts… the places where I needed the roads to be clear. But ice in turns and at the bottom of hills seemed to be my lot and I chose to endure it with dignity.

By the time I passed the coal mine north of Moab, I inched along in whiteout conditions. I tried to decide if I was better or worse off now that there were significantly more travelers out on the road. The canyons haunted me, a constant reminder that one wrong move and I would be swallowed up by the unforgiving landscape in southern Utah.

My DOT clock clicked off much faster than I could click off miles and unfortunately, there were far too many miles left at the end of my allowable drive time, forcing me to shut down for the night. I slid around in the truck stop parking lot on a solid sheet of ice and backed into a spot I would be able to pull straight out of to the exit when the morning came.

I’d been eating out of plastic bags for a couple of days and desperately needed a good meal. Cracker Barrel was just a half mile away over two feet of snow, one busy and slippery intersection and another hundred yards of icy slush. So I braved it and hiked over to grab some real grub. I almost did not mind falling twice in the snow.

I’d made it through white out conditions and was feeling especially proud of myself. Maybe I really could handle this winter driving in the northwest. With a full belly and a grateful heart that I was safe and secure, somewhere during a movie I can no longer remember the name of, I drifted off into sleep and put the period at the end of a very long and stressful day of snow driving.  

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The Apocalypse, Day One

Posted January 11, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Day One

Cherokee, Oklahoma to Moriarty, New Mexico

(This is part one of a ten-day trucking trip through the worst winter conditions I’d ever faced. Be sure to come back for the other nine days!)

It was supposed to be an easy trip. Pick up a preloaded trailer of chicken and run it up to Grandview, Washington. Between storms. I’d be in and out before the next one hit with thousands in my pocket and several days with 2016 disappearing further into my rearview mirror.

All hopes of the new year exploding on my scene were dashed at 2am. No fireworks. No Aud Lang Syne. Instead, the new year crepted in as freezing fog, its long fingers entangling me while it engulfed my truck like tomb. Little did I know it was only a prelude of things to come.

I inched along and made my way west. After all, I did have a delivery appointment, not to mention a very short window to grab a load and escape the storm. The fog turned to rain… then sleet. I had to assume the icy mix was covering the road the same way it was slathering my windshield.

I passed car after car that had spun out into the median or onto the side of the road. Some had overturned. Trucks were rolled over onto their sides or tops, their trailers oozing precious cargo.

It’s unnerving to drive through was resembles a war zone, especially under the cover of darkness.  I couldn’t help but wonder about those drivers, their families and whether they made it home to them in one piece, despite the metal carnage that sculpted the story on the highway.

The sun finally rose. The fog lifted. Oklahoma disappeared into Texas and the Lonestar State eventually yielded to the painted desert of New Mexico. I puttered along barely making it up hills. I was within a few pounds of being overweight. If I took on more than twenty five gallons of fuel at a time, I could not legally drive on any road in America. So I stopped often to get my little bit of petro, a very time consuming task.

By the time I stopped for the day in Moriarty, New Mexico, I was already exhausted and behind schedule. Tomorrow I would start up into the lower Rockies and I knew I would not make good time at all. There was nothing I could do, so I got ready for bed and settled down for the night.

Suddenly, I received an alarm. My refrigerated unit (Reefer) on my trailer had shut down. The chicken was going to melt. I got dressed and jammed my bare feet into my boots. Quickly lacing them, I grabbed a flashlight and bolted out of the truck, hardly noticing that it had begun to snow. For the next thirty minutes, I troubleshot. I ran through scenario after scenario. My heart sank when I finally discovered the cause of the problem. When the chicken plant loaded and sealed the trailer, they had not hooked one of the doors. It was my responsibility to check that and I had just missed it during my inspection.

Fortunately, the alarm was overridden remotely by computer and we got the refrigerator running again. My company decided to not unseal the trailer in order to close the door because the load was intact even with the door slightly ajar at the top. But, I would be paying about $30 a day in fuel just to keep it running this way. It was a very costly mistake on my part. One doesn’t make that mistake very often. 

Two hours later, my head hit the pillow again, though rest would not come. My mind vacillated between the open door I’d bundled, and the fact that I was behind schedule, and closer to not being able to get back out of Washington.

I prayed and somewhere in the darkness my troubled soul yielded to the Sandman.

(Be sure to  come back to see part 2 of the Apocalypse.)

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The Road Less Traveled

Posted December 29, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

You have followed me for the last three years that I’ve taken the road less traveled, first on the Road to Freedom bicycle tour, then from behind the wheel of a BIG rig. Many of you have wondered how I can do it. Most of you ask why I do what I do. So, as we get ready to put the period at the end of 2016 and open a new chapter, I thought it would be a good time to tell you.

I’m not normal. Never have been. I’m a tomboy, don’t like girly things and conformity makes me feel like I’m in prison. I worked for decades in Corporate America with big companies like Merrill Lynch and AT&T. I had the house, the sports car and—at least according to most people—I was very successful.

There was just one problem. I was horribly unhappy. Depressed even. I felt I had no purpose and generally hated life. I also felt like I was terminally ill. Each and every day I literally felt like I was dying.

As it turns out, I’m not cut out to be like most people. Putting me in a business suit and sitting me in an office all day is like putting a hamster on a wheel. Know what’s funny? I was good at it. Really good! But I learned the hard way you can be good at a lot of things you are never meant to do.

I have a doctorate degree in clinical counseling. I have been very well respected in my field on a national level and yet, I drive a truck. Sounds like a horrible lack of ambition and a waste of talent, right? At least that’s what former friends and colleagues told me.

But I came to realize my lot in life is to take the road less traveled. Not have a home with kids, two dogs and a white picket fence. No, I’m destined to experience hooking to a trailer in  negative 23 degree weather and 40 mph winds at 2am in Nebraska. I feel it in every ounce of my being. The piercing, cutting blade of cold that slices through you. And my job is to tell you about it so you can experience it without getting frostbite.

My place in this world is on that road less traveled and bring the stories back to you. My purpose is to experience the sunset in the painted desert in New Mexico and tell you it really does exist by painting the portrait for you with words. It is to tell you about a lone wolf on the Navajo Nation that felt it needed to protect me from wild animals and to bring the Nation’s wild ponies to your back yard.

For many of you, the only way you will experience the Mojave Desert is through my words. You will only meet Kevin the war veteran by reading my blog. You wouldn’t know December 22nd was two minutes longer than the day before. You would have no idea that our country is filled with great Americans who are the fabric upon which our nation is built.

No, I won’t be attending any fancy parties all gussied up or spending the day at the mall. You won’t find me in a cubicle or mahogany office in a high-rise business complex. If you’re looking for me, you’ll have to come down the road less traveled. It’s where I belong. That’s my white picket fence. 

I took some time off from blogging for several reasons. All the while, the Heartbeat of America has continued to beat and I have many, many stories to tell you. I will resume the blog in the new year.

Thank you for following my journey and for appreciating that I have taken the road less traveled.

From my road to your house, I wish you a very happy new year. May you be exactly where you were destined to be, doing what God created you to do.

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They Call Her Coach

Posted August 9, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

In an unexpected place somewhere in the rolling hills of southwest Tennessee, there is a coach. She stands in the shadow of the late great Pat Summit. Unlike the former coach of the lady Tennessee Volunteers basketball legacy, this local coach goes mostly unnoticed. She’s up before the sun and many times returns home after darkness descends. Teacher by day, she takes on the challenge of helping failing high school students in a poor county pass who are otherwise in danger of failing out.

After the long and demanding day, while other educators are going home, this teacher jumps into her car and drives across the county to another school, transforming into a coach along the way. Working tirelessly, she molds and shapes local girls into skilled athletes who might just capture the attention of college coaches.

Many of these young girls lack the upbringing that would propel them to success. More days than not, this coach runs through the drive thru and brings them the only meal they have for the day. If they don’t have equipment, she buys it with her own money as well.

She convinces these girls they are winners when everything in their individual world screams they are worthless losers and will never amount to anything. She teaches them teamwork, integrity, and the value of doing what’s right.

On game day, no matter what the score is when the clock winds down, these girls are winners. Thanks to a lady who has lived her entire life in this county, they now have life skills they never would have developed had she not taken the time to instill them within these underprivileged girls.

Many of her players have gone on to play college ball on scholarships that purchased their tickets out of poverty and into a successful life. She coaches in a no nonsense, earn your own way, all or nothing style. Girls have to earn their spot on the team by intense hard work. Once they are on the team, they have to work even harder to keep their spot.

Some don’t agree with coach’s style. They say she’s too strict. Her friends call her crazy for giving up her time and hard earned pennies on a teacher’s salary to ensure the success of these young athletes. But where the ball meets the court, girls are the only ones who matter. And at the end of tiring workouts or a hard fought game, know what they call her? They call her Coach.

When the last basket is made and the balls are put back into the closet, this unsung hero quietly retreats back into the shadows while a few girls from poor families walk a little taller. Armed with more than dribbling skills, they approach life armed with a new wisdom, a greater understanding of what possibilities await them if they will continue practicing the skills Coach taught them.

You won’t find this coach on ESPN. Or on the cover of Sports Illustrated. You’ll find her off the beaten path on the backroads of rural Tennessee doing what has earned her the right to be called Coach.

My hat’s off to you. May God grant you wisdom and endurance to continue to mold future women of America into successes, one dribble at a time.

 

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