Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ice Road Truckers: A Modern Day Christmas Story

Last Friday Cody, Caroline and I headed west for Christmas in Kansas. When we pulled out of the driveway – an hour later than hoped and loaded down with BSG sale cattle in tow – we had no idea what lied ahead. Had I known, I would have packed more snacks. Or, any snacks at all. The first thirty minutes into our trek set the tone for the entire adventure. I forgot three gifts in the back compartment of my Edge, so we had to turn around and get those, putting us even further behind. 
11:15 AM: we hit the road – again.

I’m certain that Cody has an app on this phone that directs him to the dirtiest truck stop restrooms in the history of the world and because he’s a curious guy, he likes to experience them. We hit one every 3 hours, or so.  I killed 17 trees making sure no part of Caroline’s body would touch the plastic changing tables at every bathroom we entered. Point of reference: The Pilot in Terre Haute, Indiana has the coldest bathroom I’ve ever been in. Caroline would agree.  She went through two outfits just trying to self-regulate her body temperature.

I don’t remember much of Illinois. It's probably better that way.

Between St. Louis and Columbia, Missouri a freezing rain moved in and completely crippled the interstate system.  Our truck came to a screeching halt, but we didn’t think too much of it because the roads had gotten noticeably slick. Two hours later we were still crawling westbound in stop-and-creep traffic.

By hour 4 Cody was getting quite uncomfortable. First he took off his belt, which was pushing on parts of his body that didn’t need any extra pressure. What made this noteworthy is the fact that he forgot this minor detail each time he got out of the truck. Have you ever seen Cody Sankey jump out of a truck without a belt to hold his pants up? Noteworthy. Secondly, he got a leg cramp so bad I was sure we’d have to amputate, but he couldn’t get out and stretch because we were sitting on pure ice. Then, somewhere in the dark between Wright City and Warrenton, Missouri these simple words cut through the dark, idling truck cab:
“You’re not going to like this, but I need you to dump this cup as soon as it’s full.”
60 oz. and two minutes of gagging later I knew that love truly knows no bounds.

Both directions of I-70 traffic were stopped for several hours.  In fact, we sat in a 7-mile stretch for 8 hours and in park (not moving an inch) for 6 of the 8. We rolled past one man who had fallen asleep behind the wheel, car still running. Cody honked to wake him up as we slowly rolled past him, but we didn’t get the job done. We later saw the guy back up and going; more rested than the rest of us, no doubt. I forget what hour it was when Cody told me that if we sat there much longer he would have to shut off the truck to conserve fuel and I’d have to keep Caroline warm. It was then that I went from frustrated to worried.

It was an eerie feeling driving, or skating, past abandoned semis and cars/trucks that had either fallen victim to the ice and landed in the ditch, or those which had run out of gas from sitting idle in single digit temperatures for eight hours. Those big semi trucks don’t seem so powerful when they’re strung around like rag dolls and piled against guard rails. Once up and going we also saw a lot of cups lining both sides of the interstate. Cody found a bit of peace knowing he wasn’t the only one in such a predicament. I felt empathy towards any co-pilots involved.

We saw only one MoDOT truck during our 8-hour stop, and he kept driving back and forth across the over pass ahead of us. The local country station wasn’t playing music, but rather taking calls from stranded drivers. Cody called in once we “made it through the gauntlet” and told the DJ about the conditions we encountered, how long we’d been sitting, etc. On the air the DJ asked if Cody had a clean joke he’d like to share with the listeners:
Cody was quick to respond: “Do I have a joke? I sure do: MoDOT.”

We were hauling six cows and three calves that had sold two weeks ago at the Bowman Superior Genetics Form to Function sale. One buyer sat at a truck stop in Kingdom City, Missouri from 4:00 PM (when we told him we’d be there) until 1:00 AM (when we actually arrived) waiting on his investments. We unloaded half of the stock in the truck stop parking lot on a sheet of ice, used the restroom, bought coffee then kept on west. Had there been any available hotel rooms there or the next three exits we would have stayed over night. Every room along icy I-70 was already full at 2:00 AM.  Our family has a whole new appreciation for the phrase "No room at the inn" this year. 

For 370 miles – from St. Louis to Council Grove, Kansas – Cody didn’t exceed 50 mph., nor did he take the truck out of 4 wheel drive. I did my best to keep Caroline fed, changed and entertained in the backseat. I’ll admit I broke many rules in terms of keeping her buckled in, but she stayed warm, dry and fed and at the end of the day(s) that’s all we cared about. I learned how to change a diaper in a single-seat space and how to feed a baby while sitting amongst truck drivers in a well-lit Pilot fuel pump line. Motherhood has a way of tearing you down and then truly empowering you in the next moment.

CJ praying outside a Topeka truck stop that we make 
it to the 6N Ranch in time for Christmas

We left our house at 11:00 AM Friday and should have been to the ranch by 9:00 PM that evening.
Instead we arrived at 11:00 the next morning: Almost 24 hours to the minute. To top it all off, Cody went to unload the remaining Shorthorns (sold to Colorado) and the trailer door was pure ice and frozen shut. He had to unload the cows and calves out the side door. That’s just the luck of Cody Sankey, Ice Road Trucker.

I rolled out of the truck with spit up in my hair, my fingers webbed due to the amount of formula caked onto them, my leggings so stretched out that the crotch was between my knees, and a restless baby in my arms.  Cody was in serious need of a stiff drink and stretch, but he settled for a shower and a nap before the Laflin Christmas began in two short hours.

We had three really nice Christmases, were gifted far too much and spent hours watching Caroline and cousin Bayler interact. It was such wonderful family time. But in no time we were heading east again.

The trip home was much more uneventful, thank goodness.
Although we did stop mid-Missouri for fuel and another dirty Pilot truck stop bathroom experience:

I had just lined the changing table with 40 paper towels and laid Caroline down when another mom came in with yoga pants, a thigh gap and her two young kids.  She looked at Caroline sprawled out on the plastic table, then instructed her kids, “Do not touch anything in the bathroom. Keep your hands off everything.”

As she led her Baby Gap models into the handicap stall, I turned and looked down at CJ, batting her tiny hand against the wall, and began to feel like Grand Champion Dirty Mom of Missouri. Meanwhile, thigh gap continued to instruct her kids to keep their hands off everything. In an effort to make more room at my workstation, I wrapped up the dirty diaper and threw it approximately 8 feet across the restroom to the trash can. If you know my athletic history (it’s brief), you won’t be surprised to know that I missed the trash can, the diaper ricocheted off the side and rolled into Thigh Gap’s stall.

I didn’t know what to say other than, “I’m sorry about that! I never was much of a basketball player.”
No response.
Shortly after, she and her kids emerged from the stall, she scrubbed their hands and they left without a word of encouragement or disdain. If I had a Snickers bar in that moment I would have gladly given it to her.

In the meantime Cody had come into the travel center to get caffeine. I took Caroline out to get her loaded up and heard water running? I quickly learned that the diesel pump had dispensed 17 gallons over what our tank actually holds because the pump didn’t shut off automatically when full. That was a $39.00 travel lesson learned the hard way.

The best news: We’re home. We’re safe. We were able to catch up on conversations that we hadn’t had in a while and I was given the opportunity to sit next to Caroline Jean and study her for hours on end, uninterrupted. How many other moms get that chance, especially during this busy holiday season? God doesn't always give us what we want, but rather what we need

Speaking of needs. 

Does anyone have a chiropractor recommendation in east central Indiana? 36 hours of sitting in a crew cab has really taken a toll on this old mom. I've considered doing yoga stretches but I haven't been able to touch my toes in 24 years. 

Merry Christmas from the Sankey family

1 comment:

  1. Lindsey, your stories always make me laugh!! I am glad you made it there and back safe and sound...and what a wonderful chance to spend uninterrupted time with your little family, minus the whole cup dumping thing, lol!! Have a very Merry Christmas :)