Brandon Slattery rarely stops moving — even when he’s asleep. As a trucker, he spends his upwards of 300 days on the road, crisscrossing the open plains, lush valleys and dense urban jungles of the United States. An average day sees him driving for 11 hours at a time before passing the wheel to his best friend and fellow driver. While they share a cab, the friends rarely sit side by side. When one is driving, the other one is likely sleeping in the cab.
Slattery got his start in 2003, when he turned 21 and could finally apply for commercial training. Already, he was no stranger to the world of long-haul driving. “My great-grandmother owned her own trucking company back in the 70s,” he recalls. “When I was a child I would listen to her stories for hours on end.”
The road, it seems, is in his blood.
We’re driving a 2015 Freightliner Cascadia Evolution. It's equipped with a twin XL-sized mattress on the bottom and a top bunk with a twin mattress. We don't use the top bunk to sleep if the truck is moving. Our quality of sleep varies state to state — it’s all dependent on the road conditions.
I tend to get about 10 hours of sleep, often interrupted by major bumps or sudden slowdowns.
Generally, teams will agree on what shifts they want to work — day or night — but my friend and I take turns. It's not the smartest way, as it requires us to adjust our sleep schedule several times per trip. But we just started a new dedicated route, so we’ll have normal sleep schedules that only change once per week. Each day we’ll usually drive 11 hours apiece and, often, a good 50 to 60 hours per week.
Before we got this new route, we’d be out for a few weeks at a time. It's not so bad for me because I'm not a terribly social person. I only have a few close friends, so I'm pretty used to going long stretches without talking to anyone. It certainly helps that I drive with my best friend.
I personally prefer to drive at night. There tends to be a lot less traffic, though it can be hard to stay alert during the twilight hours.
Staying awake can be challenging at times. I pretty much live on energy drinks. If I feel sleepy though, nothing beats pulling over for a short nap. If there's one thing that has been ingrained into my head since I was a child, it's that there is no load worth more than my life.
Most trucks have a good light-blocking curtain that separates the bunk area from the cab of the truck, so sleeping during the daytime is usually fine.
Truck stops are hit and miss. There are four major truck stops that you'll find throughout the US: Pilot Flying J, Petro, Travel Centers of America, and Loves. [Editor’s note: Pilot merged with Flying J in 2009 and is now known, you guessed it, as Pilot Flying J.] There are variations of those brands in different locations, such as the Petro in Joplin, Missouri — that’s one of the largest stops in the nation, boasting a huge showroom of truck accessories and chrome parts.
If you’ve seen one truck stop, you've seen them all.
The smaller stops can vary widely in quality, cleanliness, service and selection. Safety can be a concern in some of the smaller stops. Not to say that you won't find the odd wanderer in some of the larger locations. But, in my experience, the smaller stops tend to have less security.
It can be stressful to drive on a team if you’re driving with someone you don't know. You have to trust your co-driver with your life as you try to convince your mind to shut off and let you rest. If you aren't used to their driving style, every little bump in the road, slowdown or stop can jolt you awake. After a while, this can take a toll on the mind and the body as fatigue starts to set in. You tend to be irritable, groggy and not a fun person to be around. On the other hand, if you know and trust your co-driver, it can lead to more money, less stress and more fun.
I think a lot of drivers would rather drive solo when given the opportunity. They can sleep better since the truck isn't moving around, they can have more time to exercise, do their laundry or even go to local attractions.
Dealing with the monotony of the road has become much easier with the spread of technology. You have so many choices now with satellite radio, or podcasts or audiobooks. I have monthly subscriptions to Sirius XM and Audible.
Logistically, though, team drivers cover more miles and get better runs. Since they can drive all night and day, they can be relied upon to deliver time-critical loads — the kind that tend to make the company more money.
Traffic is the bane of our job. I especially dislike going anywhere near New York City or its boroughs. Pretty much anywhere in the Northeast is a pain due to the old roads. Many areas are just not equipped to handle truck traffic, but we still need to go there.
I love the road, although it’s nice to get back home. Really makes you appreciate the small things.
There's nothing like using your own shower.