Finally to the Mountains

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Walkabout posts

June 25, Colorado and Utah

The last few days were a jumble of last minute changes in direction, cargo and destination. This all comes about because of Federal regulation that limit drivers “Hours of Service”. These say that a driver must stop after eleven hours of driving and rest for ten hours.  There are also required inspections and breaks that would spread the eleven out, but another rule says that you cannot be “on duty (driving or not) for more than 14 hours a day.  Yet another rule limits driving to 70 hours in eight days.  In order to reset the 70 hours, a rest of 34 hours is required.

One of the effects of these rules is that the solo drivers who pick up multiple portion of cargo in various stops are burning through their “clocks” that refuse to stop while they wait for hours, unpaid and unable to move at distribution centers waiting for cargo. By the time they have their full load, time has run out to the point that they cannot legally complete their trip and so must relinquish their trailer to a team of drivers or a student with instructor as in my case.  Those trucks have two “clocks” that can alternate to keep up more or less continuous travel.  They can bounce back and forth between the coasts and trade their trailer at the other end to other lost souls who – after their own seasons of hurry up and wait – are trapped with a full load and no hope of actually completing their delivery.
Ultimately we were headed back to Los Angeles with a cargo of bread dough for Quiznos.  I drove the leg back though Nebraska from Iowa and in to Colorado. Before Denver, my part must end because the I70 pass through the Rockies is forbidden to driver trainees. That put me on camera duty from the passenger seat.  I will attach some photos.


Above:  The challenge appears in the distance


Above:  The Highway, a river and a railroad (across the river) all share the narrow, steep-sided valley


Above: Approaching a tunnel, high in the Rockies


Above:  In Utah, boulders of hard rock protect what’s directly below them from rain erosion, leaving them perched on “towers”

There are reasons that only seasoned drivers are allowed on these routes.  Those trucks you see cruising along freeways and Interstates become ponderous, lumbering beasts in the mountains. When the climb begins, the truck is flashing along at its governed 62 mph with apparent ease. That air of confidence soon disappears as the slope upward starts. A near 5 percent grade slowly transforms the careening into lumbering. The energy required to lift a load a mere 30 feet up is the same as that required to accelerate it to 30 miles per hour.

The cargo doesn’t like vertical. That apparent ease with which the semis zip along with 40000 pound loads is nowhere to be found when ascending. The truck I am driving has nine forward gears. Although low and first are seldom used, second through seventh are lightly used and eight rules on flat ground. Ascent into a mountain pass is a grim study in downshifting. On upgrades that see cars flying along with ease, loaded trucks may be laboring along in fifth gear at 25 mph, the driver’s foot to the floor, the engine slowly winding down and a quick downshift again and again.
The Approach to Denver from the east is through rolling prairie that finally give way to foothills and then to true mountains.  The only saving grace is the magnificent scenery surrounding the uphill struggle.

The decent of the mountain is the opposite problem.  We had lifted that load of future submarine buns from near sea level to over 10,609 feet. That means we have stored a tremendous amount of energy.

The truck’s mass becomes a liability.  It is only too happy to descend.  Now we can trade 30 feet of altitude for 30 miles per hour of speed.  So, you see that ten thousand feet of altitude would very  become 10,000 miles per hour if nothing is done to stop it.  Of course, a disastrous crash would come long before that.  A descent is energy management at its most dangerous.  Brakes just convert velocity into heat and can only dissipate it at a certain rate.   It is quite easy to make a roaring fire by overheating the brakes.

One way to assist the brakes is called engine braking, starting the decent in a low gear and creeping down.  A more advanced technique involves what are called “Jakes” that release the compressed gas immediately and slows the load even more quickly and efficiently without relying on friction.  The Jakes can fail and that is why we must practice descents using only brakes and  conventional low gear creeping.  It limits descents to very low speeds and backs up traffic, but it can be necessary and must be practiced.  It’s no fun, I can tell you that.  It is quite possible to “smoke” the brakes and be forced to stop and wait for them to cool.  Again, I must emphasize that we did not do this in Colorado on I-70.  It was in Utah and on I-15 in California.

Coming up: Safety sends us to a Casino!

More:    Reluctant Transition       A “Pilgrimage”     Lemonade

Over the Road,



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