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Day Five: Shifting Exercises

December 13, 1999

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One week into truck driver training: My head is chock full of new information, I have experienced tentative driving time behind the wheel of the Bordentown Driver Training School's conventional Peterbilt, discovered my backing skills aren't too bad, and here's the big one: I can double clutch...not with poise or polish, but it works. The rest will come later.
The respect I have held for truckers over the years has only increased a thousandfold. Trucking ain't for dummies. I knew this going in but didn't fully understand just how truck driving demands everything you've got - mental sharpness, strength, brain-to-body coordination, extraordinary knowledge, and the discipline to pull it all together.
Friday classes concentrated on tankers and hazardous materials as well as a review of the rest of the week's material. Baffles, bulkheads, and surge, not to mention Explosives A and B.
Before breaking for lunch, we were handed tests on the morning's lessons. I took mine to the restaurant and alternated answering the questions with inhaling sandwich and fries.
Mid-way into the afternoon classmate James and I were ushered to the driving simulator for shifting exercises. I went first.

In my head I knew the shifting pattern; it is the same as the Ford Explorer I used to drive. But the coordination here eluded me. After a half hour of grinding gears, I yielded the machine to James. No problems. He shifted up and down the nine gear pattern with little trouble, occasionally missing a gear but recovering to continue on.
I couldn't even get started. What was he doing that I wasn't? My confidence was pretty low at that point, which was about the time Jim Bennett, the BDTS director strolled in. "How's it going, Bette?"
"Not so hot," I replied, mustering a wan smile, "but I'll get it...one of these days."
Then it was my turn again. Clutch in, neutral, clutch out, shift. Yeah, right.
Grind gears. Brake. Start again. I felt like apologizing to my instructor but instead I followed his prompting to relax and let the stick "float."
We kept at it.
Then I was up in third gear, fourth, button down, fifth. Onward to the top. Wow. Now I had to gear the other way: Down. Took the better part of an hour of repeated tries before I caught that rhythm.
Elated, but mentally and physically exhausted, I shuffled back into the classroom and finished the day with more review of material for Monday's state exam.

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