Professional big-rig trucker Todd McCann reveals what life is like on the open road, with just his rig and his wife, affectionately nicknamed “The Evil Overlord”.
I’ve been thinking about my health more lately. I’m guessing that it’s got something to do with the fact that my father-in-law recently died twice during a fairly routine operation. Thanks to a couple of jolts of electricity, he’s still around to torment me. Guess I didn’t pay the doctors enough.
I recently read where a doctor told a trucker that the average life expectancy of a truck driver after he retires is seven months. Seven months? Gee, I’m hoping he’s speaking of truckers that spend their entire careers behind the wheel and finally give it up when they’re 70. I don’t really know. What I do know is that it’s reeeeeally freakin’ hard to be healthy and drive a truck.
The job itself isn’t exactly a sweat-inducing full body workout that produces glistening six-pack abs. Cripes, we sit behind a windshield all day and stare at the road. Go hang out at a truck stop for a while if you want to see the consequences of driving a truck for a living: Drivers who are stooped over due to bad backs, drivers who limp, and drivers with enormous front butts are just a few of the maladies.
That’s not even mentioning some of the more common unseen side effects, such as hemorrhoids. Thank God that can’t be detected by passers-by. A beer gut hanging out from underneath a too short tee-shirt is enough for this kid. Now that I think of it, maybe it’s the ol’ hems that’s causing all the limping. Eeeww.
As with most health issues, it all boils down to those two things that make people unhealthy: diet and exercise. Or should I say, lack of.
Try this. Go into a truck stop restaurant sometime and look at a menu. Not exactly healthy fare, is it? Sure there is usually a limited selection of healthy options, but you know the old saying: “Man cannot live by grilled chicken breast alone.” Well, it’s something like that anyway. Even if you could stomach the same food every day, it’s expensive to eat in the truck stops.
Another reason it’s so hard to eat healthy as a truck driver is time. Granted, solo drivers have to shut down for 10 hours after driving for 11, so time isn’t as much of a deterrent as it is for team drivers. The Evil Overlord and I can vouch for this. As a team operation, the truck can pretty much be moving 24/7 without breaking any laws. You know this and your bosses are well aware of it, too. Therefore, tight schedules often dictate how much time you have to eat properly.
After a three-year break from trucking, The Evil Overlord has been back in the truck with me for a little over a year now. Before she quit, we seemed to have plenty of time to eat right, even though we didn’t always choose to do so. Because we didn’t eat healthy most of the time, we both gained weight.
When she finally decided to crack down on the eating habits, she went on a special diet which required her to do some light cooking and meal preparation. Back then, she always had time to do what was necessary, and as a result she lost over 40 pounds. To her chagrin, I dropped down to my ideal weight too, but much quicker than her.
Times have changed. I don’t know if it’s the poor economy that’s affecting the contracts between carriers and their customers or what, but extra time is something we rarely have now. Nearly every load we run has very little extra time on it. Lack of time leads to bad food choices. If you don’t have time to prepare your own meals in the truck, it’s doubtful that there’s time to eat from the healthy section of the truck stop menu either.
They don’t call it fast food for nothing. Yes, I know that fast food joints have a healthy menu too, but let’s be honest. Who goes into Jack-in-the-Crack and orders a salad? Yes, we should, and we sometimes do, but more often than not, the smell of burgers and chili fries gets the best of you.
So you can see that it is possible to eat a somewhat healthy diet, even if you don’t have much time. You just have to want it really bad. Now on to the second half of the problem: exercise.
The arguments that apply to diet are also good for exercise. A solo driver has mandatory down time, so all they need is a handful of willpower. They have time to walk, jog, run, jump rope, or even lift weights. As a solo driver, I managed to lift weights two or three times a week. The key is making sure you have access to a shower afterward. That is, unless you don’t mind whiffing your own B.O.
Even better, I figured out a way to work out inside the cab of my truck. Every time I tried to do my workout outside of the truck, I always had a slew of drivers come up and interrupt me. Any excuse to stop the pain was good enough for me, so to stick with it I devised a way to do it inside the cab. Plus, there’s air conditioning in there.
Now that I’m part of a team operation again, my workouts have come to a screeching halt and what appeared to be pectoral muscles peeking through have turned into mini man boobs again. No thanks, Kramer. I don’t need a “Bro” yet, but I’ll keep your digits handy, just in case.
In the beginning, The Evil Overlord and I did try to walk for some exercise. Even back then, there wasn’t enough time to cook and exercise. Cooking won out and 40 pounds less flab seems to indicate that we made the right choice. Exercise nowadays? Utterly impossible with our time restraints. Sure, every now and then we might have a slow day with some extra time, but the only thing inconsistent exercise brings is unnecessary pain in places you didn’t even know existed. Sorry, but that ain’t happening.
So it all translates to this. If you’re going to drive a truck for a living and want to refrain from developing a fourth chin, you need to have two things: a willpower of steel and a set of tolerant taste buds.
I’m thinking that a bip to the back of the head now and then from someone who cares about your health more than you do might help too.