This is a bit long...but a good read!
This past week I completed a trip down to Georgia to pick up packages for delivery here in Virginia. Every year has its little issues, but this year was a bit different. The way down was smooth as could be, even with the extra anxiety over COVID-19. Most of the way I was worried that a state or federal order would be issued while I was on my way up to Virginia, preventing the distribution of the bees. In my head, I was running through a lot of scenarios of how I would handle this.
Once in Georgia, I dropped the trailer at the apiary, checked the packages out (they were shook that day) and made arrangements for me to hook up and leave by 6:00 AM the next morning. This was really early and I am grateful to the folks at Rossman for working with me. I was a little worried about the weight of the trailer when we hooked it up (see the photo), but it turns out this was just uneven ground – the tongue weight was fine on the truck. This was obvious once I pulled onto the pavement. BUT, when inspecting this we noticed that one of the tires on the trailer was low. Apparently, we ran something over in the yard, so the first stop of the day was refilling the tire (and then monitoring it the rest of the trip, it was a slow leak). These were brand new tires that I had put on the trailer three weeks ago for the trip no less…
Once on the road, it was smooth going, until South Carolina. Along the entire length of I-95, this is the worse section to travel. It is all two lanes, and with all respect to SCDOT, it is really poorly maintained. There are more bumps, potholes, and roadway shoulder collapses than any other state. Also, the trees are not cut back far from the road (many overhang it), which creates a tunnel effect (though it does look pretty).
Traffic northbound was extremely heavy. I texted someone and said “I blame the Canadians,” though I was only half kidding. Every third car was from Ontario, Quebec, and even Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Canadians were fleeing COVID-19 in the US and returning to be home (NPR ran an article about this today).
Anyway, between the poorly maintained road and the traffic, there were multiple major accidents and many slowdowns due to fender benders. I lost hours and hours sitting in traffic in South Carolina. It took nearly 13 hours to travel from Georgia to Emporia, Virginia (a trip that should only take about 9). In Emporia I stop and transfer some bees to another trailer for distribution in Suffolk, VA. This went quickly as I had the trailer loaded in three sections for each major stop.
After this, I fueled and “aired” up and got on the road to Northern Virginia. My wife was supposed to meet me in Richmond to continue the ride, but at this point, things seemed smooth, my friend had done most of the driving (by design) to this point and I felt good. I was irrationally confident…
On the 95 passing Fredericksburg, I tapped the brakes while going down a hill – and the pedal went all the way to the floor! My heart dropped, but the trailer brakes were working fine, and I had about 5% braking power left. With no choice here I dropped down to 50 miles per hour, exited at Exit 130, and crawled around the corner, parking near a Pep Boys. I texted my next drop off that I was going to be late and started making calls for a 24-hour repair crew. I also called my backup (a friend), got his wife, and explained that I was in a bind, can I borrow his truck. Oh, and I’m just north of Fredericksburg. And also, I’m hauling a trailer full of nearly 6 million bees. Want to see how good of a friend you have, make this call… Bill and Ron (two friends – how awesome is that) jumped in the truck and started heading to me.
As they drove, I found a 24 mobile mechanic and had him head my way. I unhooked the trailer and started emptying the truck of my equipment. How much equipment? Well a lot. I have contingency plans and equipment for just about everything – cooling for the bees (when stuck in warm weather traffic), repair kits, roadside safety equipment, etcetera).
Ron and Bill arrived just before the mechanic. We realized that Bill’s truck had a different size ball joint, so we worked on changing the hitches (one was stuck, but I had tools for that!). As we were doing this the mechanics arrived. The consensus was a brake cylinder was busted on the passenger side front, the truck was out of brake fluid, and it could not be repaired there. So, Ron stayed with the truck to get it home and Bill and I got on the road. An hour and a half later, we arrived at my stop in NoVA (at 1:30 in the morning). We unloaded for a half an hour and got back on the road back down to Williamsburg, VA (a little over 3 hours away). According to Google Maps, we got back at 5:42 AM. At this point, I had been awake for over 24 hours, with a few cat naps in between (and yes, Bill drove back).
I set the bees for the night, went to sleep for an hour (kind of) and then got back in the truck for distribution in Williamsburg. This went smooth – people arrived in their assigned window (to promote social distancing) and we were able to hand out all the packages. Truth be told, I was a bit sleep deprived and miscounted the packages at one point, which caused a panic as I was “short by about 100”. I was tired, all the counts were on, including the extras I have as a buffer for issues.
Handing out the packages and chatting with new beekeepers energizes me! And I really like talking to the young kids that people bring with them. Staying six feet apart made this harder this year, but I got by. There are always honey bee stragglers on the outside of cages, and I use these as a teaching tool, explaining drones vs workers, to the kids, who think is is way cool.
All in all, it was an adventure. You never tell the stories about how you drove from Georgia to Virginia and everything was fine and boring. You do tell the stories like this, and after it all worked out, you can do it with a smile, a bit of a laugh, and mentally add a new and improved contingency plan for a total mechanical failure while on the road…