Sunday, November 30, 2008

Winter Wonderland

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This is the route I've traveled during the past two days.

This morning I informed weekend dispatch that I was in Omaha with full hours to run, which I'm sure made his day. Almost immediately I was sent over to a small local meatpacking plant we haul from to grab a preloaded trailer and take it to tiny Kenosha, Wisconsin. This particular shipper has a very tight lot and finding a spot for my trailer required some creativity and patience. Oh, and a callous disregard for just about everything you learn when you begin backing in a truck.

Our trusty fueling software system informed me that my half tanks were sufficient for the 480ish mile run, which is true. It is also true that I don't like ending up at a consignee very low on fuel, and even more true that I don't like running low during winter. It knew something I didn't, though, since when I scaled it out I didn't have enough spare weight left over to fill my tanks.

I compromised by stopping briefly in Des Moines, Iowa to take on 50 gallons which should be enough to see me out of the Wisconsin / Illinois area before I need to fuel again.

Weather today was a brutal wintery mix. It never quite climbed up past freezing and there were patches of moderate-to-heavy snowfall for most of Iowa and all of Illinois. The wind was coming out of the east for most of my journey, which is damned strange, and the fuel economy was terrible.

On a normal sunny day I would have knocked out 480 miles with no problem. Today, after enduring numerous traffic jams, sketchy roads and annoying drivers I ended at Rochelle, Illinois where I made a second don't-try-this-at-home blindside back into a spot right up front near the building (and more importantly, rest rooms). This consignee takes deliveries from 0500 to 1200 tomorrow and I was hoping to be there overnight and get unloaded first thing. Now it is looking like arriving around 1000 or so which will probably screw up my next run.

Stupid weather.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Butterball Turkey hotline

Years ago on the series West Wing there was an episode which involved the Butterball Turkey hotline. I've never called it (I assume it exists), but at just after midnight this morning my cell phone went off with a call from our night dispatch.

"But I'm on time off!" I protested.

Apparently, the Butterball plant in Carthage, Missouri was shutting down for the weekend but they were willing to stay a bit late if I could bring them an empty trailer for a load planned out on Sunday. My plan was to come back on Sunday but I wasn't about to get up out of bed, drive to my truck, drive my truck an hour down the road, drop off my empty, then bobtail back an hour then drive back to the house because someone at HQ messed things up.

Later in the morning, at a decent hour, I phoned in and spoke with my dispatcher. Mixup, blah blah blah, thought you were coming back today, blah blah blah. Okay, now what?

It turns out we are very short handed (trucked?) in Omaha this weekend so my orders were to deadhead all the way back up there and let dispatch know when I would be available.

Option 1: Stick to my original schedule, leaving early on Sunday morning and arriving in Omaha around noon with about four hours to drive for the rest of the day.

Option 2: Leave mid-afternoon on Saturday, arriving in Omaha that night then having eleven full hours to drive for all of Sunday.

I went back and forth for a while but finally the money side of my brain won out and I got packed up and moved back into the truck. About seven hours later after driving through snow and ice (not the funnest thing when you are hauling an empty trailer) I arrived safely in Omaha, Nebraska and shut down for the night.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Start me up

I made the drop in Lincoln first thing in the morning then headed to Omaha to put my truck in the shop over at the Volvo dealer. My clutch has been steadily worsening in the past few weeks and they put it back to original spec.

The mechanic also managed to leave his remote starter attached to my starter so at some point as I was going down the road later it dropped off. Ooops.

I was assigned the usual Council Bluffs, Iowa to Carthage, Missouri go-home load but before that I had to give away my trailer to another guy going to the same shipper for the same reason. I eventually hooked up with a different trailer, got it cleaned then drove across the river to exchange it with the loaded one. 44,500 gross weight for the cargo, ugh. I was able to scale it, though so I took off heading south.

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Traffic in Kansas City was very busy but I managed to get through eventually. I was going to be an hour or so late on the delivery, but our crack customer service department had phoned ahead and AmeriCold was, um, cool with that. By cool I mean they gave me a door right away then ignored the cargo for two hours, but it is AmeriCold after all.

Finally the box was empty and I departed for home. I'm due back on Sunday but I might push that out another day or two.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

East, then north

After a number of hours waiting after I dropped my load in Batesville, the satellite unit beeped with new orders: deadhead to Russellville, Arkansas and take a load from there to Ochelata, Oklahoma. After that, grab a load from nearby Pryor, Oklahoma and take it up to Lincoln, Nebraska.

I ran over to Russellville and fueled up, grabbed the load and hightailed it into Oklahoma. This morning I finished that trip at the Walmart DC in Ochelata then moved over to Pryor for the load up to Nebraska. It was from a Pepsi plant and it was almost 5,000 pounds under my limit. Surprising.

Tonight I'm about an hour away from Lincoln and I have to be there no later than 0500 so its another early-early start for me. In theory, I will have a load tomorrow from Council Bluffs down to Carthage, Missouri for the Thanksgiving weekend time off but we will see.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Backcountry Arkansas

Yesterday's drive down to Batesville, Arkansas included about 250 miles along various windy state highways. About twenty miles from my objective I had to cross a rickety old bridge, one narrow lane each way, over a river that obviously wasn't designed in the day of modern semis. Nothing scraped, though opposing traffic gave plenty of deference to my truck on the way across.

Among the things that a truck driver does not wish to hear when you pull up to a consignee is "Oh, that doesn't look good." The security guard was looking over my paperwork and had to call several places around the large ConAgra plant to find someone who knew what my shipment was and where it was supposed to go. Satisfied, he had me sign in for a badge and gave me directions around the side and back of the plant where I made contact with the receiving folks.

Turns out, the load is about 20 tons of frozen peas. This particular plant makes frozen dinners, mostly of the Banquet variety. I didn't mention to them that I don't care for that particular brand personally.

The workers worked at their standard lugubrious pace, as many warehouse workers do, and the pallets came off one by one. I went inside to wait near the shipping office for the paperwork but this didn't seem to speed up anything. Finally, the paperwork was signed off on and I made myself scarce.

There is a load heading out from this plant up to Rochelle, Illinois that is going on a Hill Bros truck at 0830 this morning (I was unloaded around 0600). I told the workers I very much doubted that would be me, since my original delivery time was between 0400 and 2200 today.

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Fuel could be a concern today as well. There was no fuel solution for this trip, as the first half was in Illinois where we avoid fueling and the remainder was along back roads with none of our fueling stops. I picked up 50 gallons in Troy, Illinois anyway to make sure I had enough to get me here with some reserve. I did it that way because I believed I would be sent over to Russellville, Arkansas for my next load. If I have to run back north again I'll have to go significantly out of route to get back on I-55 to fuel.

226 posts. Halfway there.

This is the 226th post on my Lease Purchase blog, which is the halfway mark to the 452 posts on my old OTRJournal blog. I've been here at Hill Bros for about eight months now and I was at CFI before for 16 months so the pace seems steady. Then again, I wasn't blogging for the first six months or so at CFI. Ah well.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

An Eventful Morning

Imagine you get up on a cold Saturday morning just before Thanksgiving. You own a Subway franchise a few counties away from where you live in Des Moines, Iowa and you have given yourself the task of sweeping up the parking lot this morning. You don warm outerwear and warm up your ride, a 1999 Chevy pickup.

It is still dark out at about 0545 and Interstate 80 is lightly traveled. You putter down the right lane, checking your watch, yawning and trying to keep it together while you travel to your business.

Before you know it your right tires have drifted ever so slightly on to the shoulder where there is packed ice masquerading as snow and in the blink of an eye the back of your truck swings wildly to the right, then back hard to the left forcing the front end off the road to the right. The pickup is now skidding completely and you have no control whatsoever.

Since you have just skidded into the ice alongside the road at first this isn't much of a problem but all too soon your pickup, now angling away from the road almost 90 degrees, catches the first patch of dirt and grass that isn't frozen and your tires start to bite. Worse, this patch of road runs alongside a steep drop-off of about thirty feet into the fields of some farmer below. Your pickup launches off the road and into the field, yet somehow manages to not tumble until the very end where it ends up on the driver's side almost perfectly vertical.

It turns out I was minding my business about a quarter mile behind this pickup this morning and dimly saw the vehicle violently whip off the road to the right. I had enough distance to brake safely and come to a stop where he went airborne and saw the pickup on its side about thirty feet below and seventy or eighty feet off the roadway. A quick call to 911 and I fumbled some new D-cell batteries into my good flashlight and I set off to see if anyone survived.

It took a while to make it safely through the tall, icy grass and down the slope to where the wreck lay. Eventually, I made it around to the top of the pickup (the bottom was facing the road) and saw that the lone occupant was standing on his driver's window, conscious and alert. We talked through his windshield (miraculously unbroken, as was every other window on his pickup, though both mirrors were toast) briefly then he popped open the now-vertical passenger door and boosted himself out. He gave his truck a once-over then followed me up to my truck, which had the virtue of being warm and dry.

Turns out, Jody was off that morning to neaten up the parking lot of his franchise as I described above. We chatted for a while until the state troopers arrived (they were busy, as it turns out) then I bid farewell and rejoined the traffic flow.

Believe it or not, there wasn't a scratch on him.

A few hundred miles later, I arrived at the Tyson plant in Ottawa, Illinois. I dropped my full trailer there, shuttled an empty down the street to the Petsmart DC then bobtailed in towards Chicago to our drop yard for a load of chicken heading down to Batesville, Arkansas for 0400 Monday morning.

Tonight I find myself at the Pilot truck stop in Bloomington, Illinois. I had some fast food from Wendy's, a shower, then on impulse I bought a couple Mega Millions tickets. Karma can be a strange thing.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Its Friday already

I really haven't had much to report since my last post.

This morning I finished the trip out to California, delivering in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It was 12 degrees when I got up and fueled, and didn't quite make it up to freezing all day long.

The satellite unit went off after a few hours and I headed south to pick up a Tyson load from Sioux City, Nebraska heading to Ottawa, Illinois tomorrow. A double first for that plant: the load was ready about five hours early and it wasn't loaded so heavy as to put me over the limit. Can't get better than that.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Crack: Its Not So Bad

A crack in my windshield, I mean.

I heard a PING! sound a few days ago and didn't notice anything at the time but this morning I was glancing around as I was scratching and noticed a small crack over on the passenger side. First one in almost six months on the road. When I started driving I went through three windshields in the first three months so this is an improvement.

After some consultation with my dispatcher yesterday I agreed to a preplan from Carson, California running out to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for Friday. The timing is a bit tight but three days of good running will get me into the right neighborhood.

Today I managed to get to Flagstaff, Arizona before shutting down. I had another hour or so on my clock to run but I pooped out.

The fuel schedule for this run assumed I would be taking this light (about 15,000 pound) load over the Rockies in Utah and Wyoming. Oh hell no, I said. I'm going back the way I came out to California.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The path to California

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That is the route I traveled out to California the past three days. This morning I drove to Winslow, Arizona to fuel then a few miles away to the local Super Wal-Mart to top off my other supplies. Then onward to Arizona where I got the truck washed, then on to the Los Angeles area to await my delivery in the morning.

I saw a detachment of army or marine engineers in a convoy out in the California desert this afternoon. Probably having to do with Fort Irwin.

I also managed not to hit anything today, so that is one in the bank. Got to start somewhere.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Oh deer

Well, I've finally struck a non-flying animal with my truck.

This morning I was driving along a lonely stretch of state highway, almost to the Texas / New Mexico border when a deer bolted from the undergrowth alongside the road. I had enough time to hit the brakes hard enough to take some velocity off but not risk skidding and swerved somewhat to try to give the creature a chance to get out of the way. Nothing doing, as it plowed directly into the middle of my bumper as we met.

My immediate concern was that no one else get involved with the accident but thankfully the one vehicle in sight was a truck behind me with enough distance that it wasn't a concern. I felt a muted "thump", then noticed the deer ricocheting away and to the right, on its left side with its feet splayed out towards me. My momentum carried me past the impact site forty or fifty feet but I saw the deer get back up from where it was bumped off to the side of the road and bolt away. Thankfully it didn't manage to roll under the truck and get squished.

I'm guessing it wasn't hurt seriously, but if anyone bags it this winter and sees the imprint of my license plate on its haunch I would appreciate partial credit.

I pulled over to the meager shoulder and waited until it was safe to get out and assess the damage. Surprisingly, there wasn't a scratch on my truck and I popped the hood to make sure nothing was leaking, the fan shroud wasn't damaged, etc. The damage appears to have been limited to the bumps and bruises visited upon the critter.

Anyway, I finished my driving day in Gallup, New Mexico with a full day's drive ahead of me to the lovely hell-blasted Los Angeles area for tomorrow. We'll see what the smoke situation is up close.

Friday, November 14, 2008

"So, how's that load to California coming?"

I occasionally rattle my dispatcher's cage asking when I can get another load out to California. One thing I really, really miss about CFI were the mix of short and long loads. Longer loads put me more in control of the timing, my schedule, when I can take breaks and the like whereas shorter loads put the dispatcher and planner more in charge of my day.

Lo and behold, the satellite unit beeped and I got a trip from nearby Lincoln, Nebraska to Mira Loma, California (a suburb of Los Angeles). I was told to grab an empty van -- always a sign of a heavy load in my future -- but it turns out the only empties we had were for other parts of the Hill Bros organization and couldn't go on the trip. Thus, the orders came for me to just bobtail there and grab the pre-loaded trailer. No problemo.

Turns out this is a load of corn products coming from an Archer Daniels Midlandson facility and going to Nabisco. Almost all raw material loads that I've seen have been designed to use up all available weight the trailer can take, and this was no exception. Fortunately, van trailers are lighter than reefers so my overall weight wasn't too bad. The trailer is a very old one, however, with spring suspension instead of air bags. This makes the ride up front a lot bouncier and takes just a smidge of pleasure out of this nice long run. But oh well.

I boogied down the road and eventually came to rest in Dodge City, Kansas. The wind was pretty fierce today and my fuel economy suffered.

I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that I missed one of the most incredible sunsets EVER. There was a thick layer of clouds stretching from horizon to horizon with a small band of blue sky to the extreme west. When the sun set behind the horizon, the last rays were bouncing up against the underside of the cloud layer and since red is the longest color wavelength (in visible light) it looked like the sky was afire. Plus, there were lots of cloud wisps and pockets of rain coming down that almost looked like flames dancing up to reach the clouds. I took the first exit I could but before I was parked and able to grab my camera the show was over.

Sucks to be me sometimes.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Back to Omaha

Today's trip included a stretch of several hundred miles of the Badlands in South Dakota. Interesting place... unfortunately I was a bit too busy driving to take pictures of the scenery. Suffice it to say that the population was sparse and the road narrow and curvy.

After 400 miles I was at Lexington, Nebraska and traded my empty trailer for a full one heading to Chicago. Since it had to be there sooner than I could legally drive my dispatcher arranged a t-call in Omaha. I had just enough time to make it there before running out of hours for the day and another driver soon had the paperwork and trailer and left to run the load the rest of the way overnight.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Putt putt putt

These were the sounds my engine was making at various times today. See, yesterday I had stopped off at our Omaha HQ to get a PM taken care of (new oil and fuel filters, various things greased, etc). I requested a 1630 time at the shop and a message came back saying that was my appointment time.

I rolled in around 1545 and took my trailer through the Safety Lane then off to the parking lot to drop. Upon speaking with the shop folks, I find out there are four or five other trucks in front of mine with PMs due so it will be a while. Finally, around 2130 or so I get a knock on my cab door to tell me its my turn but by that point I was so tired I had to turn them down and get enough rest to handle the rest of the trip in the morning. By morning I mean I had to be up and running at 0330 hours, which I did.

By 0430 hours my engine was sputtering due to the fuel filters slowly clogging up. I had originally intended to run the last leg of the trip at 65 MPH to give myself about 45 minutes extra time to get to the destination but I just couldn't get the fuel to flow that fast. So, I puttered along at 60 instead but still had problem climbing some hills. Thankfully, most of South Dakota is relatively flat.

I was very worried about arriving late and informed my dispatcher... but then I ran across a sign that said I was entering the Mountain Time Zone so I gained an hour and it wasn't a problem. Wish I had known that when I started the trip (our system doesn't keep track of such niceties).

Anyhow, the parking lot of the PetSmart in Rapid City, South Dakota is challenging but I eventually got that sorted out. Finished up there and drove a couple miles to the local Bosselman Pilot and had them take care of the PM. Such is the life.

Tomorrow I run back south to Lexington, Nebraska and the Tyson plant I picked up at last week. About 400 miles deadhead; always nice.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Boo, Hiss on the Ottawa, Illinois Wal-Mart

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the night at the Wal-Mart in Ottawa, Illinois, just down the street from the PetSmart DC I go to frequently. This morning I got up, stretched and scratched (as mandated by laws governing all truck drivers) then went inside to get some veggies, frozen foods and other odds and ends. I get back to my truck and some employee type has taped a message to my door telling me I'm persona non grata now and my truck needs to vanish soon or be towed. There are normally six to ten trucks parked at the far end of this lot, well out of the way of "regular" customers but apparently we're the bad guys.

Thanks a pantload, Ottawa Wal-Mart management. Ptui!

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Post Plan

When I get a load sent to me before my current load has delivered, I call it a Pre Plan. Logically, then, when I have delivered a load and there is no plan and I have to wait for hours and hours and hours for it to arrive, I dub it a Post Plan.

This morning I dropped off some 40,000 pounds of cow hearts (yes, you read that correctly) at the underground storage place in Valmeyer, Illinois. Then I sat around and waited. I cleaned the truck a bit. I fed my pie hole. I even had so much time I went through a box of various cables and sorted them into different types. I'm told there are six different USB connectors widely used in computers. I have at least five of them on the ends of various cables. No joke.

I pestered my dispatcher and by mid-afternoon he gave me my new mission: deadhead up to Ottawa, Illinois and grab a PetSmart load heading to Rapid City, South Dakota for an unusual 1300 delivery appointment on Wednesday.

The deadhead was uneventful and tonight I sit in the parking lot of the local super Wal-Mart. Tomorrow morning I will grab some groceries then head a few blocks away to the distribution center and exchange my empty trailer for the one with the load.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Middle Of Nowhere

Nowhere being Valmeyer, Illinois, to be precise:

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This morning the orders came across the satellite unit: grab a trailer of frozen meat from Cargil and move it to an underground facility in Valmeyer, Illinois.

The trip itself was pretty easy, but the last 15 miles or so along a twisty two-lane road at night was fun. Apparently, this place is an abandoned quarry converted into cold storage, like the places I've been to frequently in Independence, Missouri and Carthage, Missouri. Should be fun delivering inside a new cave system.

Just for the sake of trying something new, here is an overhead satellite image of the large parking lot at this site:

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There is a locked gate at the base of the hill near the building at the left side of the map. That's where I'm parked tonight.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What if you pulled a load and were't paid for it?

Curiouser and curiouser. As it turns out, this load of salt I brought up to Omaha yesterday has two stops: Omaha and Grand Island. Now, when the broker who "owns" the load set it up it was to deliver first in Grand Island at 0400 Monday morning, then offload the rest in Omaha at 0830. It turns out that somewhere along the way the actual loads were reversed, with the Omaha pallets in the back of the trailer.

I wasn't really aware of all of this, as my orders were to pick up the load and bring it to our Omaha HQ then drop it off. Once I got the paperwork I started getting suspicious, since it shows the load going first to Grand Island which is about 130 miles to the west of Omaha. There was some back-and-forth with the weekend dispatch crew while I was en route, but eventually it was settled that I would drop off in Omaha. I was told that if we don't deliver the load as it was originally set up then we won't get paid for it. I still get paid for pulling it, though.

Weekends can be a bit... hit-and-miss as far as loads go, so I wasn't entirely surprised that I had the rest of the day off. Not much of a day, given that it was freezing and windy, but I got a shower, restocked the food supply and played for a while on the computer.

"Glad I ain't you, bro"

This was the pithy comment a homeless guy wandering around in the middle of the street made to me as I was sitting in Chicago last week with my busted trailer.


Last night I found myself outside the Morton's Salt plant in Hutchinson, Kansas waiting to pick up a load another driver was unable to handle due to weight. My Volvo isn't a light truck by any means, but I was dispatched to nearby Lyons, Kansas to grab an empty van trailer there to use for the load. The 44,349 pounds of salt and the pallets they rested on still left me 2,500 pounds below the limit, though my fuel tanks were nearly empty.

My orders are to take the load up to Omaha and drop it. The load itself doesn't deliver until Monday.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Overnight runs suck

After an interesting delivery yesterday in Kearney, Nebraska, I was sent to nearby Lexington, Nebraska (home of my favorite super Wal-Mart -- great truck parking!) to a Tyson plant. My load was supposed to be ready by 1830 but they were having problems and I didn't roll out the gate until after 2100. It was due this morning in Emporia, Kansas, a drive of about 360 miles.

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The departure delay took my estimated arrival time from between midnight and 0100 to something more like 0400. This is the difference between stretching a few more hours past my regular bedtime to the pain-in-the-ass tired overnight trips I love to hate.

The weather wasn't cooperating, either. Strong gusts of arctic air and snow flurries punctuated the first half of the drive, eventually devolving to just cold weather. I had to pull over to take three or four power naps as I tired out since I don't use caffeine, nicotine or other stimulants.

Some poor schmoo must have peed in someone's cornflakes, as the weigh station between Nebraska and Kansas along a state highway was manned at 0200 or so when I drove by. Poor guy.

Delivered early this morning and sent an admonition in to my dispatcher: "This driver is exhausted, grumpy and sleepy. Do not disturb until 1200."

Thursday, November 6, 2008


It turns out swinging trailer doors, sliding tandems and getting a washout at a meat packing plant when it is freezing and the winds are blowing with gale force while gagging from the stench really isn't very pleasant. More later. Perhaps.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

10.5 and 15 Freaking Signatures

So, I made it home the day after my last post and came back this morning. My dispatcher got me a kinda lame load out of Carthage heading to Nebraska that loaded mid afternoon and delivers tomorrow afternoon. Tried to get it tcalled in Kansas City or Omaha but that wasn't happening, so I'm stuck with it.

I loaded in a different area of the cave system in Carthage that I've been to before and the paperwork was formidable. Fifteen pages of bills for the load and I had to sign every single one, and put the date on four or five as well. Turns out, it is a government load of food products going to some outfit or other and the requirements are strict.

The weather was warm and very windy as I left, with a 20-30 MPH tailwind. On the way up to Kansas City I was getting 10.5 MPG, which eventually dropped to 8.6 on the hills north of town. Spending tonight in Nebraska City, Iowa then heading over to Nebraska in the morning.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Can't quite make it home

How did yesterday's late and delayed loading screw me today, you might be wondering.

See, if I had been assigned the load in time to arrive on time at the shipper I would have been loaded in less than two hours or else they would have had to pay detention. Coupled with arriving at least an hour earlier, I would have had three extra hours to run after I was loaded which would have let me avoid the masses escaping Chicago around 5 PM on a Halloween Friday. Those extra three hours down the road would have helped today getting to Omaha, then on down to Carthage, Missouri with my usual Americold load. I would have had just enough time to finish that trip and get home today, Saturday instead of sitting tonight in the last rest area north of Kansas City until the morning.

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In short, I've lost most of a day off because of something that happened yesterday.

On the plus side, I am taking off until Wednesday the 5th of November for some long-overdue home time. I've been through the house occasionally for short 34-hour breaks and a few days here and there but nothing this long since I started my lease this June.