There and Back Again – A TriBike Tale – The adventure behind the wheel Part 3

With the bikes returned from Switzerland packed into a myriad of trucks and ready to be returned, I got behind the wheel with my fellow drivers and began the task of returning 534 bikes. My route was the Midwest. I would be looping Indianapolis, three shops in Chicago, dropping the Minnesota and Wisconsin bikes off to a feeder truck in Milwaukee, and then hitting Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Overall I had to drop off about 65 bikes and pick up close to 90.

The logistics of this seems simple, but I can assure you – nothing goes as planned. The trip was scheduled as a three-day drive but ended up taking almost five. One of the biggest challenges I ran into involved the pickup. Customers are notified of their pick up day, but sometimes forget to double-check the partner shop’s hours., and run into challenges if the shop is closed.

My biggest education in this job was the road. We may not be commercial drivers, but the size of the trucks means we need to adhere to all Department of Transport regulations for commercial drivers. This means keeping a log, pulling into weigh stations, and maintaining legal hours of driving, breaks, and off duty time. I also got to experience truck stops from the other entrance. In my youth, I drove a limo and also a newspaper truck, but this was a whole new ballgame.

We can drive 11 hours in a day, but when that shift ends, you have to take 10 hours off. I recommend sleeping. We also need to take a half-hour break before working 8 hours straight. I recommend eating.

Living on the road creates an interesting set of challenges. The things I discovered that most significantly impacted my overall well being were the quality of my hotel, my hygiene, my diet, and my ability to maintain some workout routine. A lot of those challenges are solved by selecting the right hotel.

Most TBT drivers are athletic. A lot of us race. The work itself requires significant physical

This is me, James Mango.

requirements.  Personally I find that my mental well being is negatively impacted if I am not exercising. But eating well and exercising takes planning and effort on the road, and can be very challenging to sustain.

I have come to look for several things when picking a hotel:

  • A fitness center
  • Guest laundry
  • A grocery store (preferably an Aldi’s) within walking distance
  • A restaurant

You may not need all or any of these on a given night, but a hotel that has them shows an effort to cater to the functional guest. If a hotel has most of the above mentioned four things, your room is a lot less likely to smell like cigarettes and sex.

A full day for me would include: a banana, treadmill run, shower, continental breakfast, making a salad for the day’s break, driving (with stops, snacks, gas), lunch break, driving again, picking that night’s hotel, stop for any groceries, check-in, start laundry if needed, hit restaurant for a beer and possibly food, put clothes in dryer, video chat with family, fold clothes and pass out.

The odds of that entire agenda being accomplished are very small. Every day on the road, you have to shuffle what can or will need to be done. You don’t need to do laundry every day. You don’t need to shop every day. And some days you drive till midnight and need to do all of that in the morning. Adaptability is the key to success. No trip goes as planned.

My first stop led to a 9 pm meet up in a hotel parking lot two days after I was supposed to get the bike of a Kona customer who missed his drop off. I have learned the art of picking a good parking lot. Meeting other drivers to exchange bikes at the crack of dawn in Milwaukee or at sunset in Toledo absolutely happened.

There are feeder routes that meet up with the larger trucks to minimize miles and stops. In Milwaukee and Detroit, I met drivers with sprinter vans who would shuttle the bikes to Minnesota and Canada. In a couple of cases, they also took or picked up bikes that I couldn’t deliver because the shops were closed.

The other big factor of living on the road is family. I have a wife and children, and believe it or not, we all really like each other, which means being gone for long periods of time is a challenge. I learned the importance of speakerphone chats while driving and video chats at bedtime. (My bedtime, honestly, because they all stay up later than me.)

With my drop off and pick up schedule complete, I headed back to Asheville. It wasn’t until I was back that I realized I was only 1 of 6 drivers that had been doing the same thing in different parts of the country. There were three major IRONMAN® races in the Eastern US that upcoming weekend: Maryland, Chattanooga, and the 70.3® in Augusta.  We had all also collected the bikes for Kona and Barcelona, which needed to be packed up and shipped.

So, as we all unloaded, we separated our bikes into their eventual race destinations. We then spent a day loading all of the trucks with those bikes. Not only the bikes but with all of the supplies to manage the events themselves: bike racks, fencing, tents, tables, tools, chairs, coolers…. you get the idea.

With the trucks all loaded up, I headed in for a night’s rest before heading to Augusta with Jordy to work the IRONMAN® 70.3® there. It was a short drive, so we were able to leave Thursday afternoon and make it there in plenty of time to get dinner and a good night’s sleep. Our work started the next day.