Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My Unexpected Adventure: Day 1

The journey of a thousand miles - or in this case, 1,240 - may begin with a single step, but around here you better add a couple dozen lickety split in order to make it from bed to bathroom in time when you get up. After that there's letting the dog out, making coffee, letting him back in, getting him his Milk Bone, catching up on news and weather, grabbing a shower, getting dressed, packing the lunch cooler and water jug, loading all the pockets with the items necessary for a day of work, and then walking out to the car to really start the journey. In other words, just another ordinary Monday. No inkling of what was to come. And no planning for it either.

By 9:30 I'd finished my first run and was sitting in the midway area (St. Paul, midway between the two downtowns, the 2nd being Minneapolis) waiting for work when dispatch asked my if I wanted to run out to some little town in Wisconsin for a 1:00 PM pick coming back to Inver Grove. I thought it might be a bit early for such a jaunt, until I looked at a map and saw how far east it was. Definitely time to boogie.

There is one relevant piece of info I've neglected to this point: the weather. We'd been missed by the  snow that was still hitting the southwest corner of the state. Our weekend had been all rain, and it quit and started drying well before temperatures dropped to freezing. Roads were fine, no car doors iced shut, no scraping to see out windows. I even admired how clean and pretty my car looked after its free wash. However, as soon as I headed out past Hudson, that storm I'd been ignoring made itself impossible to ignore. Roads were bad and getting worse further east.  I stopped at the Baldwin exit for a quick pit stop, an added jolt of caffeine to help make up for the time change, and a little info from fellow drivers heading the opposite direction about what was ahead. And what the heck: Mondays tend to be lottery ticket buying days, so I thought I'd grab one here.

Before heading out again, I texted dispatch on road conditions and alerted them to the idea that the pickup might not be as timely as we'd want. Just after I passed the first Menomonie exit, they told me the run had cancelled. Turn around time. No explanation. Not my unexpected adventure. Now that's a lot of deadheading for no money, but our company makes sure we get paid on out of town runs for distance driven up to the time of cancelation. Hey, it was a nice drive and I didn't have to get out and stand around and handle a bunch of heavy stuff. No problem. Just no big paycheck.

About the time I was getting back to Hudson, Dispatch called. Would I be interested in a Brooklyn Park run going to Minot, ND? Heck, yeah. Menomonie to Brooklyn Park is a huge deadhead, but this is my kind of run!

Woo hooo! Road Trip!!!

By the way, where is Minot? Should I head up 94 to Fargo where I could pick up a state map? Dispatch checked it out, said that was the best, and I should stay on 94 to Jamestown (again I didn't know where that is, but that to-be-purchased map would answer my questions), pick up 52 and head north.

Sounded simple enough. My mental image from his description was maybe 50 miles due north or so. What did I know? He went on to say that it was a seven hour trip. Cool! So I can dump it about suppertime, turn around and maybe walk back in the door before Paul left for work the next day, factoring in a couple short naps on the way back. Of course, I do a route on Tuesdays, and I suggested to dispatch that they might want to plan on needing somebody else taking over for that day. I wasn't sure I'd get enough sleep to be out on the road again by 11:00 AM, what I'd need to start on time. He'd already planned on that, and added that the price of the run reflected the cost of an overnight stay in a motel.

Motel? Me? What kind of a wimp needs a motel? A couple snooze stops on the way back, and I'm good. Right? Besides, no toiletries, no PJs, no clean undies, not even a comb. Oh, and no meds. So, no motel.

I got the box loaded at noon. Knowing now what I do about the cost of the run, I wondered why they didn't just have it flown up? Faster and cheaper that way. The likely answer was given me as I was loading it. It was a piece of medical equipment heading up to the hospital in Minot, and couldn't be tipped. As it was relatively tall and skinny, meaning center of gravity somewhat high, it needed to be braced against sudden stops as well. No way anybody but the original driver would be able to ensure those instructions got carried out.

After getting gas, having 200 miles on the tank already for the day, I headed out. I'd gotten a different lottery ticket, amusing myself that this would be the day I'd buy lottery tickets in 3 different states.

Seven hours? Sure. Uh huh. Minot, I found out upon getting my North Dakota map, is way up in the northwest part of the state. 52 doesn't head north out of Jamestown, at least not for more than the first 40 of the 160 miles or so before it angles northwest to Minot. Or I could stay on freeway and four-lane highway, if I wanted to add 40 miles to the trip. So figure 500 or 540 total trip miles. Sure  you can do it in seven hours. If you never stop, don't eat, don't drink, don't pee, don't need to stretch your legs, and ignore all the speed limits. (We all can drive like that for seven hours, can't we?) And if your magical vehicle can last that long on a single tank of gas.

Oh yeah, and if the roads are dry. Part of the preparation I never thought to do that morning was to check North Dakota weather. After all, Fargo is as far as I've gotten inside the state for work. Who needs that kind of info? When I stopped at the information center for my map, I chatted with the fellow behind the counter about driving distances versus speeds for the two options for roads to take from Jamestown. He mentioned that roads were mostly dry, with a few slushy patches. He figured either route would take about the same time to drive.

So while heading west, I dithered. Dispatch said take 52. 94 and 83 looked faster but forty miles was beginning to seem like a heck of a long way extra. I chatted with Steve about it, and he looked it up on his laptop, voting for faster but longer. Once I had gotten full realization of the actual distances involved, I was starting to question the sanity of my drive home the same night, not to mention the enormity of the task, adding more pressure to the trip and my choice. I finally decided with Steve that longer but better roads were the way to go.

I'm not sure it mattered, ultimately. I found out after reaching Minot that 83 had, well, not been closed exactly, but warnings were out for no travel being advised from Coleharbor to Minot. I could have told them that. I heard that 52 was equally bad. Whatever might have been slush at 4:00 in the afternoon was ice after dark. Bumpy, thick, solid ice. Some places showed darker where tires had worn it down in ruts, but the blowing snow was making up for it. There were about 40 miles of solid ice under the snow, and the rest of the trip was just intermittent ice under snow. Meaning, you would get a break with clear pavement for a bit, never knowing whether that bit was just till the reach of your headlights before you were back to ice again. Even the semis were down to doing 40 mph. There were few pullouts since the roads mostly bypassed the towns that the map claimed were along the route, and no shoulders safe for a break.

I was glad of an earlier decision to get caffeine again with my 3rd tank of gas. I didn't need drowsiness to add to the task. I'd planned on eating the supper I packed that morning about 7:00 pm, but by then I couldn't spare the attention from driving, and stress kept me from noticing whether I was even hungry. I did manage one pullout about half an hour from the drop - I thought - to call the person waiting to meet me to get the equipment. It turned out to take longer, mostly because he gave terrible directions and east and west were absolutely meaningless in the dark after all the turning and backtracking needed to find the right door. There was a cell number to connect with him but he left the phone home with his wife when he headed out after getting my call. Finally, at 10:00, it was dropped!

Before I let him go, I had one more question: "Where are the motels in this town?"

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