This past July I was doing my regular gig, a rounder from our terminal in southwestern Ontario up to Winnipeg and back.
It was my first week back after two weeks of vacation and the first leg went off without a hitch.
It was good to be back in the saddle again cruising through Northern Ontario on a beautiful weekend.
That Monday morning I hooked on to my wagon heading down to the Twin Cities from Winnipeg and my first break was in Fargo to grab a cup of coffee.
I got back on the road now heading east into Minnesota on I-94 and that’s when the “tinkling” sound started.
Had I picked up some debris off the highway, which might be stuck to my grille or front axle? I played with the throttle a little; definitely not engine-related.
No vibration through the steering wheel, no play in the steers, no pulling to the left or right.
Tapped the brakes.
Nope, the sound remained constant.
Adjusted my mirrors to check all my drives.
Nope – besides I’d just done a walk-around a few minutes before and all was good.
I opened my windows all the way and couldn’t hear anything unusual over the howl of the wind, but as soon as I closed the windows there it was again.
Damn, it sounded like it was coming from behind the dash.
So I started banging on the dashboard as if I could beat the sound out of it.
That tinkling, whistling, rattling sound was still there and it was driving me nuts.
Enough was enough.
Next exit, I was ready to hit the shoulder of the off-ramp and pop the hood to see what was up.
That’s when I felt the breeze on my arm and it hit me.
I’d left the top bunk windows in the sleeper open. I started laughing at myself.
Coming south on I-29 into Fargo I had had a tailwind all the way so there was no whistle from the windows, but as soon as I started heading east on I-94 after grabbing my coffee, that tailwind was now a crosswind so the tinkling, rattling and whistling began.
And I was hearing it through the dash because the Cascadia I drive has vents for the upper bunk right in front of the bunk window.
It was like listening to your parents’ conversation in the kitchen through the heating duct in your bedroom when you were a kid.
If truck drivers share anything in common, it is the fact that we are all in tune with our ride in a way that normal people think is somewhere between eccentric and downright weird.
As soon as we hear something out of the ordinary, smell something out of the ordinary, feel something out of the ordinary, or see something out of the ordinary, it sets us on high alert and we have to have an answer to put our minds at rest.
It’s this attention to detail that separates us from other drivers on the road.
It’s a quality that extends outside of the cab.
It’s that whisper of wet, salted pavement at night that suddenly goes quiet and you know you’re now on black ice even though the appearance of the pavement hasn’t changed.
It’s driving on that winding mountain road on a foggy late winter morning and noticing that the snow on your shoulder is freshly plowed but the other shoulder isn’t, so you know that grader or plow is just ahead of you working the shoulder even before you see it.
It’s seeing the crosswind at the tree break before it hits you, or preparing for the ice on that shaded corner before you reach it.
It’s knowing there are two more deer about to follow that first one out of the bush.
That’s trucking, isn’t it?
To be always prepared for the unexpected and play it out in your mind ahead of time even though you may have been down that road a thousand times.
Finally, a shout-out to the officers working out of the OPP detachment in Wawa, Ont.
I go through there every week and on the Saturday prior to Christmas last year I was stopped at their RIDE check where I was recognized from my picture that appears next to this column.
As we chatted, the officer asked me to remind everyone to turn on their headlights day or night.
Well, wouldn’t you know I pulled up to another RIDE check in Wawa this past July and that same officer said with a smile, “There are still a lot of drivers running around up here with no lights on.”
One of the tenets of defensive driving is: Make sure they see you.
So let’s all show our emergency responders some respect and turn on those headlights.
Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his ‘Over the Road’ blog at http://truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.