#25 Driving a moving truck

Posted by Megan on October 24th, 2011

Get 'er done!

There is a reason I drive a Honda Civic coupe. It is the smallest car I can safely pilot without fear of being squashed by a semi truck. I spent a summer as a camp counselor carting around moody teenagers in a 15-passenger van. The route was through dangerous mountain roads near Big Bear Lake, California. I never got used to the narrow, windy roads. It was nothing short of traumatizing. It seemed like nearly every week I had a near death experience, either a near-miss driving the van off a cliff or being bickered to death by teenage woes.

I’ve been tentative about driving large vehicles ever since. Even my dad’s Jeep Cherokee seems like a giant death machine. If I’m going to be responsible for piloting a piece of machinery that could very easily cause death and destruction – I’m going to choose the smallest, easy to handle car to limit the amount of damage I could do.

This weekend, everything changed, as I manned a U-Haul driving more than 200 miles throughout the metro for approximately nine hours. I’m happy to report that I did not hit a single thing – not even a curb!

My company, Allina Hospitals & Clinics, is partnering with the non-profit organization Free Bikes 4 Kidz (FB4K) to collect used bikes, refurbish them, then redistribute the bikes to kids in need.

For the past two months I’ve been in charge of promoting a mass drop-off event that occurred Saturday. The public could drop off new or used bikes at 51 Allina sites throughout the state during a five-hour period. To communicate the event, we placed full page ads in our major newspapers and did radio spots to inform the public.

We ran full page ads in the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press to promote the drop off events. Apparently someone must still read the paper because we got a hell of a lot of bikes!

We expected to see about 1,000 bikes. One of the biggest logistical challenges of this project was to get all 1,000 bikes back to several warehouses. Hours of meticulously detailed preparation went into creating a plan to arrange pick ups at all 51 sites. Fifteen trucks were scheduled to complete the pick up during a three hour span.

We got 4,000 bikes.

Some may see this as a problem, but our team saw it as an unexpected blessing wrapped in an opportunity. One of the event coordinators, Aimee, called me at about 3:10 p.m. to inform me that we were entering “plan B on steroids.” I was manning a volunteer shift in St. Michael at the time. St. Michael is outside the city and about an hour from where I live. She asked me if I could rent a truck, load the bikes from the St. Michael site, bring them back to the warehouse, then wait to be dispatched to another site. I was instantly scared. My instincts were to call my husband or fake a seizure.  But Aimee was certain I could do it and Aimee is a pretty awesome judge of capabilities, so I was reassured I was fully able to man the van. If Aimee had seen my driving record, she may have thought differently.
 

My ride for the evening.

 
Before I knew it, I was standing in a local rental shop with keys to a very large, very intimidating truck. The St. Michael team of volunteers and I stacked, wedged and crammed more than 70 bikes into my truck. I’d like to mention that we were all women and we managed to expertly pack the truck filling nearly every gap with a tire, handle bars or banana seat.

The St. Michael super women and I crammed more than 70 bikes into the truck.

The warehouse was about 45 minutes away. It required me to take several highways, merging at least a dozen times in fairly steady traffic. A grapefruit-sized pit in my stomach festered for the first leg. I was hyper-cautious, staying firmly in the right lane, with my hands planted on ten and two. The adrenaline was pumping when I arrived at the warehouse where a group of volunteers helped me unload the tangled mess of cargo. Ten other Allina employees also rented trucks, creating a make-shift fleet of misfits combing the metro area for donated bikes.

Next it was off to Edina. Thankfully I knew the route, which helped put me at ease. I  realized that when you’re driving a U-Haul, people get out of your way in a hurry. All you have to do is put on your blinker, wait five seconds and there will be a semi-truck sized hole for you to move into. I can’t decide if this is due to Minnesota drivers being uncannily nice, or the fact that fellow drivers could sense I was not to be trusted. Either way, once I figured that out, I was the king of the road – things got exponentially easier.

Lets get these suckers back to homebase!

 

Another drop off site filled two temporary garage spaces in under four hours.

 

More than 100 bikes were donated at the Eagan site.

 

Aspen Medical Group Highland was one of the largest drop sites. Thankfully all the bikes had already been picked up by the time I got there around 1 a.m.

After dropping off my second load of bikes at the warehouse, it was past 10 p.m. I was then sent to Woodbury to load part of their stack of more than 120 bikes. (for reference, we planned for about 25 bikes here). I called in backup and Brad met me there to help with the loading process. I was getting tired by this point. I had been volunteering for more than 13 hours, I was hungry and losing focus on the end goal. In true Brad style (not to be confused with Brad Steil) he gave me a hug that renewed my energy, restored my focus, and recharged my love

Since when is a cloth seat a selling point?

meter.

I left Woodbury near midnight, but there were a few drop-off locations that somehow slipped off the radar, so we weren’t sure if those bikes had been picked up or not. I was sent to my old neighborhood of St.  Paul on the way back to ensure there were no bikes left there. I know that area like the back of my hand, so locating the clinic was no problem. Thankfully all the bikes had been picked up.

I was the second to last truck when I arrived back at the warehouse at 1:30 a.m.. I was greeted with cheers and high fives. The last truck arrived just as mine was emptied and the diehard crew that had been working since 8:30 a.m. was finally finished. Seeing all the bikes together was astonishing.

It was just the boost I needed to conjure the energy to return my truck in St. Michael and return home. All-in-all I drove 200 miles on every major freeway in the Twin Cities. I transported several hundred bikes and earned several bruises and strained muscles. I arrived home at 3 a.m., tired, sore and hungry but also giddy with happiness for what I contributed. Not only will needy kids get a fun gift for the holidays, they’ll also learn to value fitness and get outdoors and enjoy nature. It’s a cause I feel passionate about and I’m proud to have conquered a fear in the process of supporting FB4K.

For more information, or to learn how you can donate a bike or volunteer to help fix and clean bikes, visit FB4K.com.

At 2 a.m. more than 3,500 bikes filled a warehouse that sat empty only 12 hours before.

  • © 2011 Megan Steil