Things I learned while attempting to make chocolate from scratch in my truck

Stories from the Road, Trucking

1. I need a bigger mixing bowl. I’m sure there are worse things to be covered in, but still. Lots of cleaning up to do.
2. Making your own chocolate is actually surprisingly easy to do. The recipe is incredibly simple; 1 part coco powder, 1 part oil, sweeten to taste. You don’t even need a double boiler – although I’m sure that makes it easier.

(I used unrefined coconut oil, but I’m guessing you could use butter or any other oil-based solid stuff, maybe even cream cheese? Also I just realized I forgot to add a pinch of salt. Whoops!).

3. Bitter chocolate is BITTER. Very bitter. It took 12 ounces of liquid sweetener just to get it to taste like dark chocolate.

4. Beware liquid sweeteners. My chocolate was looking beautiful with that liquid silk texture glistening in the sunlight as I stirred….and then I added liquid sweetener and it almost immediately turned into gritty mush. Turns out the liquid sweetener I used contained water.

5. Beware of water. Apparently chocolate does not mix well with any amount of water. It took a little internet research to figure out that this is what ruined the texture of my chocolate, but not that much. (Edit: after some more reading I have learned that chocolate will tolerate liquid as long as you maintain the ratio 1 part liquid to 4 parts chocolate. Haven’t tried it myself – seems easier to just avoid liquids altogether.)

6. Even ugly chocolate tastes good. Although my chocolate didn’t end up with that silky smooth texture I was hoping for, it still tastes just fine. I had to strain out all the water that kept separating from the mix but in the end I had some pretty good tasting chocolate. 

7. The flavor changes over time. When I first put it in the fridge to set, it still tasted pretty intensely tangy and bitter but after sitting overnight it has mellowed considerably. Now it tastes much more like the fudge I was hoping for.

♪ Somewhere on the wrong side of the Rainbow… ♫

Pictures, Trucking

weatherThere’s no place like home [click click]…there’s no place like home [click click]…there’s no place like home [click click]…
Darn. Well, that didn’t work (friggin’ converse shoes…) so here I am in the flattest state of all, and I thought I was off to see the wonderful mechanic of Fontana, in the Emerald truck yard (in my emerald truck!) with my cat To- er, I mean Bowie…but anyways, it looks like I am going to be here for a while; and by here I mean this:

Phone photo0221 

Yeah. I am not moving in this picture. In fact I am still not moving as I write this. I have not moved since last night. I used to say I was a “middle of the road” kinda guy but this is ridiculous. There was a snow rescue crew out here earlier who asked if we wanted to be taken into town, but I and the driver ahead of me declined as it is generally company policy to stay with your load, besides which I have the added problem of a battery that won’t last more than a couple hours with the truck shut off. Now however, it occurs to me that I am low on fuel (I am 4 miles away from my fuel stop) so I won’t be able to idle my truck much longer…I wonder how long it will be before I can move again? To be continued…

6 Driving Habits That Could Save Your Life

Essays, Getting It Done, Trucking

Every day you plop down into the driver seat often with a mocha in one hand and a cell phone in the other with a hundred things running through your mind – none of them driving. You turn the key without even realizing it and merge into 60 mph traffic daydreaming about what you’ll do this weekend or wondering what that girl or guy really thinks about you.

Then it happens. There’s a loud noise that snaps you out of your reverie and suddenly your heart is in your throat as you realize something terrible is about to happen and that this is probably going to REALLY hurt.

If you’ve ever been in an accident or even had a really close call, you know what I’m talking about. The hard reality is that regardless of who is “at fault” in an accident, there is usually something both drivers could have done to avoid it. Tragically, even the person hurt the worst in an accident often could have done something to prevent the crash. It is so easy to forget that people – imperfect, everyday human beings – are behind the wheel of every automobile on the road and those people will make mistakes.

Here are a few tips to keep someone else’s mistake from costing you money, pain, or your life.

1. Pay Attention.
I can’t stress this enough. There are so many things to distract us on the road. Music, cell phones, passengers, stress, food – all these things can take your attention away from that forty ton truck in the lane next to you for just long enough for something really horrible to happen. The solution is to train yourself to focus first on your surroundings and second (if at all) on anything else going on. If it helps ask yourself these 6 questions as you drive:
• What’s going on IN FRONT of me?
• What’s going on LEFT of me?
• What’s going on RIGHT of me?
• What is about to happen ABOVE me?
• What is about to happen BELOW me?
• What is going on BEHIND me?
Being aware of what’s happening in these 6 areas should go a long ways to keeping you safe on the road – in fact most of the tips on this list have to do with those 6 questions.

2. Keep Your Distance.
Besides lack of attention, underestimating safe following distance has got to be the most common mistake drivers make. The simple rule for keeping a safe distance is this: in an average automobile the minimum safe following distance in ideal conditions is 3-4 seconds. This means when the vehicle ahead of you passes a stationary object (like a road sign, a bridge, or even the dashes painted on the road) it should take at least 3-4 seconds before that object passes you. Remember this is for ideal conditions when your attention is focused on the driving, it’s sunny and clear, and the roads are smooth straight and dry. That 3-4 seconds allows you just barely enough time to see a hazard, recognize that you are in danger, make a split second decision on how to react to the danger, act on that decision, and then finally – likely with screeching tires and smoking brakes – have your vehicle respond to your action. To avoid the screeching tires and smoking breaks, it is prudent to give yourself more than the minimum safe following distance. Here’s a Pro-Tip: in traffic keep your speed slightly slower than the car ahead of you. Cars may cut in front of you, but as they pull away, your safe following distance is automatically restored.

3. Slow Down for Conditions
Notice that I didn’t say “don’t speed.” This is more specific. The speed limit may be 75 mph but that doesn’t mean it’s always safe to go that fast. Obvious conditions that should cause people to slow down are things like rain, snow, ice, traffic, construction, etc. Not so obvious are conditions like blind curves, darkness, fog, fatigue, and many other conditions that can slow your response time or your vehicle’s response time or compromise your visibility. When in doubt, slow down or park.

4. Don’t Change Lanes.
Do you really have to pass that guy? Whenever you change lanes, you are at risk. You are either moving in front of a vehicle, into a space that another vehicle may be headed for, or even into a space that a vehicle you didn’t see is already in. In addition, regardless of whether or not you see the other driver, there’s the chance that they don’t see you (failing to signal your turn only increases that risk). Lane changes also often take your attention away from what is happening ahead of you as you check your blind spots and try to gauge oncoming traffic before you make your move. The bottom line is that lane changes are risky and the less you do it, the safer you will be.

5. Check & Maintain Your Vehicle.
The most dangerous accident I’ve ever been was on a clear dry road in the middle of the day with no other cars in sight. A tire blew causing immediate loss of control and I went careening off the road at 75 mph. Luckily I didn’t collide with anything but it was a close thing; and it could have been avoided by simply checking my tire pressure. Making sure that your wheels, steering and brakes are all in good order, as well as securing any loose parts or items attached to your vehicle is probably the easiest and yet most neglected way of preventing serious accidents on the road. Don’t skip it – the one time you do may be the one time that really mattered.

6. Don’t Take It Personally
The truth is, most of us are completely oblivious to how our driving is affecting the people around us. Driving is a very isolating experience with each driver is in his or her own little bubble so, while what the driver in front of you just did may seem anywhere from discourteous to downright insulting, chances are he or she had no intention of offending you and might even be someone you would enjoy having a beer with were you to meet them in person. There are many factors that can trigger us or make us feel threatened, from the appearance of another drivers’ vehicles to the way the vehicle sounds and moves. The driver, however, is NOT the vehicle. The driver is a person just like you or your spouse or mother or best friend. The vehicle may look and sound like it’s growling at you but it’s not. It can’t. It’s just a machine. Likewise the way someone handles their vehicle is probably not an expression of how they feel about you. Taking someone else’s driving as a personal affront is likely going to cloud your judgement and take your focus away from safely driving your vehicle. If you have trouble controlling your response to other people’s lousy driving, consider anger management counseling. It could save your life or someone else’s.

Driving is dangerous. Most vehicles these days weigh in excess of two tons and frequently operate and speeds in excess of 60 mph, very often in close proximity to other vehicles doing the same. It takes less than a second for something to go horribly wrong and the consequences could be fatal. You may have driven the same stretch of road a million times with out applying any of these tips and never had a problem, but remember this; it’s not the million times that kill you – it’s just that last one.

Running in Circles

Stories from the Road, Trucking
Rewind to two days ago.
Monday.
On my way from Salem, OR to deliver a load to the northernmost region of Idaho, I get my next load assignment. It is a pre-loaded trailer to be picked up in Oregon 10:00am that very morning and delivered to Sacramento by 7:00am Wednesday. A little difficult to do since I will be delivering my current load at 4:00pm that afternoon in Northern Idaho and unable to get back to Oregon Tuesday morning. “No problem” my dispatcher says, “just do the best you can.”
Ok, so no problem. I deliver my Idaho load, go as far as I can, and then go to bed.
Tuesday.
The next day, I get up and head to the shipper. Upon arriving I am told that my load is not ready and that they will be loading my currently empty trailer. I am told to wait in my truck until they call me to assign me a dock to be loaded at.
Ok. Fair enough. So I wait. For several hours. Finally I am assigned a dock and loading commences – and continues for several more hours. By the time they are finished and finally give me the appropriate paperwork, I have been there for about six hours. My dispatcher realizes this and instructs me again to do the best I can and there is some talk of relaying the load to another truck to at least get it there on the same day it was due. So, ok. No problemo. Can do.
As I am getting ready to leave however, I notice that my tail lights are out on one side. Okey dokey. Not a problem, I have a spare in my side-box. Except that its not compatable with this particular trailer.
Ok – not a problem – there’s a truck stop less than a block away that will surely have a compatable tail light. Or not.
Ok, so now the Over-The-Road assistance department (OTR for short) gets called in and apprised of my situation. Is there a repair shop nearby? Um, well no not exactly since Portland is over 100 miles out-of-route, so what we need is a for a mobile mechanic to come out. To fix a tail light.
By the time this is all done and Im ready to roll again its been 8 hours since I got there. This is actually works out well because of an infrequently used exception in the federal hours of service rules but thats a little complex so I’ll skip it. So anyways, I get rolling and manage to get a couple hundred miles south before going to bed, confident that I have indeed done my best.
Wednesday.
Oh did you think this story was over? Nope. Got up wednesday morning to find a few urgent sounding messages on my Qualcomm (on-board trucker computer thingy).
This next part is going to require a little explanation. You know potato chips that come in plastic bags? Ok, so you know that, besides potato chips, there’s a bunch of air sealed inside those bags, right? Right. So what happens when you take said bag of chips up in an airplane or even up into the mountains? Less atmospheric pressure, the air inside the bag expands, and POP! Your sealed bag of potato chips is no longer sealed.
Well, it turns out that I was hauling about 10,000 lbs of potato chips and/or other assorted snacks similarly sealed baggies. And since the manufacturers of these goodies know about this relationship between altitude and potato chip bags, they have given instructions to someone at my trucking companies home office regarding which routes any trucks carrying their product should take – i.e. no routes involving mountain passes.
This being done they saw no need to include this info on any of their paperwork or have anyone mention this fact to drivers picking up these loads.
It must be said at this point that the information was actually passed along in a round about sort of way so that it made it into the load notes at the very bottom of the somewhat lengthy dispatch form that gets sent to dispatchers and drivers when the load is assigned. In this case however, two dispatchers and one driver (me) failed to scan all the way to the bottom and read through these notes. The result was that my dispatcher gave me a route (which I dutifully followed) straight south towards the beautiful heights of Northern California which include such breath taking vistas as Mount Shasta and other peaks. Only on Wednesday morning, the morning after I had proceded 200 plus miles down this route did she catch the mistake. Thus the urgent Wednesday morning messages.
The upshot was that I had to turn around and retrace my path 200 plus miles back up the road in order to avoid any potato chip bag popping mountain passes.
Then, once we both started looking more closely at the details of this load, some other things came to light, namely the destination. The dispatch info said this load was destined for Sacramento. The paperwork in my hand said Colton. These are not the same place. Not even close. Well, ok same state, but California is kind of a big state. Anyways this was about the time they said I should just take it to the yard in Salem and drop it for another truck to relay. Then they changed their minds becausr the next load they wanted me to pickup was in Portland and bound for Washington and there wasnt time for me to go all the way to Salem and then back up to Portland, so to speed things along they said just swap loads in Portland.
At this point I should express how grateful I am that I am a driver and not in the planning and logistics department.
Anyhow, the new load wasn’t in Portland when I got there. It was still in Salem. So after informing my dispatcher that thus load too was now beyond my powers to deliver on time, I was instructed to head to Salem and again, do my best. Of coarse once here in Salem there was some confusing discussion about breaks and hours of service – again not something I am going to even try to explain here – which ultimately resulted in me calling it a day and resolving to continue doing my best tomorrow. Meanwhile I feel very satisfied that despite all the twists and turns, I’ve done a good days work. I did make some good mileage, even if it was sort of in the wrong direction, and I communicated pretty well with my dispatcher. I think we make a good team. So all in all I’m having a good time. I’m very happy with my job. It’s nice to work for an employer who, when all is said and done, asks only that I stay safe, stay legal, and as for the rest, do the best that I can; and you know what? I always do.

That Sudden Change of Plans

Staying Happy, Stories from the Road, Trucking

Driving along the idyllic US Highway 95, across a several hundred mile stretch of empty wilderness that goes from Idaho, through Oregon, and down into Nevada, I noticed my “check engine” light come on. Not too alarmed, I checked my gauges. Everything normal, engine sounds fine, feels fine, and smells fine. I continue driving but a moment later the check engine light is joined by the “engine protect” light. Somewhat concerned I double check my temperature gauge. Normal. Hmmm. Must be low on fluid. Should have checked that last stop. Maybe I should –
Now the engine light starts flashing. I have time enough to think aloud, “uh – that’s not good.”
Suddenly the engine turns off. The dash console lights up like a Christmas tree, and I lose power steering. Just coasting now. There’s no shoulder to pull off onto, the road drops off steeply into a ditch. I turn the ignition on and off try to restart the engine, and it finally fires up again. I am looking around for any place to get off the road now. I see a spot but the whole thing happens again before I can get there. Luckily I am able to coast and using all my strength to turn the wheel (now unassisted by power steering) I manage to get off the road.
Under the hood, I find that the coolant is indeed low, and I soon discover why. Alerted by flecks of coolant on the fan and elsewhere in the engine, I look for and soon find a steady dribble of coolant leaking from the radiator. Time to call in the bad news.
After alerting my company’s over-the-road breakdown department, I put all the water I can find on the truck into the coolant reservoir and continue driving. I keep hoping to find a fuel station or some place that will have more water, but all I find is an abandoned looking gas station with a closed sign in the window. A few miles later the engine stops again.
So here I sit. Luckily there is at least phone reception here (can’t imagine how or why this is so) and I am able to communicate my plight to the OTR department. Help is on the way in the form of 2 gallons of water from the nearest service station. After that, the goal is to make it 1.5 hours further to Winemucca, NV for repairs. Meanwhile the load I am carrying is getting less and less likely to be delivered on time.

Unexpected set backs like this happen occasionally on the road. One minute you’re driving along knowing exactly what to expect for the next few days and the next minute your plans have been changed for the next week. It takes some flexibility to roll with these punches, especially if the change in plans is precipitated from something you yourself did. In that case it takes not only flexibility, but some kindness, compassion, and even forgiveness.
I don’t know about you, but I often find it is easier to forgive other people’s mistakes than it is to forgive my own. The pain that comes with realizing I could have done something to prevent the present crisis is deep, personal and hard to forgive and usually leads to self loathing, rage, and depression. No amount of internal dialogue or positive self talk ever seems able to untie this snarled knot of guilt and betrayal that reveals itself every time I make a serious mistake. Not long ago, however, I found a way to cut the knot without bothering to untie it. The key is to address the feeling of rage itself, not the imagined reasons behind it. I found that, though rage is not something easily dismissed, it can be postponed – postponed long enough, in fact, for the conditions which caused the rage to change. When I postponed my rage I found that, before I knew it, the initial problem was either dealt with or no longer relevant and my rage evaporated.
The reason for postponing rage was fairly simple – it clouds judgement and can easily make a bad situation worse. This, I found, was not good enough reason to dismiss my rage – I felt fully justified in being angry – but was reason enough to put it off until the situation was dealt with and there was no risk of me making things worse. The result was that as the situation resolved itself, so did my rage.
At some point I hope to learn a kindness toward myself that does not feel anger at painful mistakes, but in some ways I think reacting to pain with anger is natural so I don’t really know if there is a way to erase it completely. At any rate, postponing anger allows me a bit more flexibility in my life when I am confronted with unexpected changes, and perhaps this method may help you as well. Whatever lies in store on your personal road, enjoy the ride and never lose hope; because change is just around the bend.

Adventure of the Haunted Copper Mine

Pictures, Travel, Trucking

hauntedmine

This is by far the spookiest place I have ever visited in my travels, and definitely the spookiest place I have  ever had to spend the night. At the end of a long winding dirt road that lead me far from the beaten path in the back hills of Montana, I arrived at my assigned destination. To say the place is “remote” would be a drastic understatement. It was the dead of night when I arrived, and only the stars and a waning moon lit the cluster of abandoned and dilapidated buildings that must have been the original copper mine. The buildings look very old. The one pictured above was the largest of the buildings and happened to be the one I parked next to. I managed to get that shot using a 15 second exposure and then lightening it up a bit more in Photoshop. Even as I type this I can hear the wind howl softly and the building next to me creak, whine, and moan as if shifting in its sleep. I hope it doesn’t wake up. Out of sight of any town, with no cell phone or internet reception, with not even the faint glimmer of a city or highway on the horizon, I think it’s safe to say I am thoroughly spooked, and those who know me well know I don’t believe in spooks of any kind. Fortunately there is another Interstate truck here to keep me company and make me feel that I am at least not alone. It should be an interesting night. I can’t wait until morning.

Thus Far Shall Ye Go And No Further

Trucking

After getting a little bit of a late start  this morning (having slept in a little) I reached the several mountain passes that interstate 5 winds through as it crosses the border between Oregon and California. Just before the boarder I found myself on slippery ice and snow and had to slow down quite a bit. I was actually surprised that chains were not required and was considering putting them on regardless when conditions improved as quickly as they had deteriorated. Not long after the border however, and just before the final mountain pass between me and the much easier terrain that begins just north of Redding and continues south all the way until the Grapevine, I came upon a road closure. The last pass was closed, due to snow and ice no doubt, and I was obliged to stop for the night. I’m not sure when the road closed so it’s hard to say whether an earlier start would  have helped, but most likely it would have. Temperatures tend to drop at night, and with the low visibility and poor conditions, road closures (at least in this area) seem more common after dark – unlike Wyoming where winter road closures can come at any time day or night and can even last for days at a time. With any luck, I’ll be back on the road early tomorrow – with a rather more daunting days drive ahead. I am expected in Los Angeles at 10 am day after tomorrow. Wish me luck!

34 Hours Turns into 64 Hours

Trucking

Sometimes you just can’t know what’s going to happen. For the last week my assignments have come in before I was even finished with the one I was working on. This is ideal because it allows me to plan ahead and figure out how to make the best use of my hours. I was driving so many miles and burning up so many hours that I was about to run out so, in order to make the most efficient use of my available hours I opted to take 34 hour reset upon my arrival to W. Sacramento (allowing me to show a full 70 hours available instead of a dozen or less for my next assignment). This seemed to be a good idea, and I got up bright and early this morning ready to roll. No assignment came until 1:30pm and the load doesn’t pick up until tomorrow at 2:00pm. Bleh. So I sit around half of yesterday, all of today, and half of tomorrow waiting to roll. At least it’s not too cold.

And I’m Off!!!

Stories from the Road, Trucking

Garland, TX here I come! This is kind of a rush load with a lot of security restrictions on it, but I may try to see if I can stop briefly somewhere close to my Aunt & Uncle’s house in Phoenix, AZ. We’ll have to see. Otherwise, this is just exactly the kind of run I’ve been wanting. Long, straight, flat, and warm!

100 Loads

Trucking

So…uh…I’m still in Fontana. The good news, I guess, is that the temporary loss of my cell phone did not affect my departure date whatsoever. The bad news is that my company is currently 100 loads short of having a load for me. I’m not sure if that is nationwide or just here in Fontana, but either way it looks like I’ll be here for a while. So stop in! Say hello! Meet my cat! It is kinda nice to have a sort of mandatory respite to let me catch up on all the little stuff that piles up and becomes overwhelming. But not too much respite. I need to work too. Oh well. At least I am stuck in sunny Southern California. I swear this gorgeous weather is making me soft.