Last Wednesday, Joe Sears, a big rig driver from Sydney, N.S., set off on six-week trip that will take him across the country — and into the heart of the provinces hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis.
“I’m driving into the unknown,” he said in an interview as he drove through Fredericton. “I can’t even imagine because they’re much more hard hit than the East Coast.”
Sears loaded up everything he needs to survive: two barbecues, food, water, vitamins, gloves and toilet paper.
But as he drives through a pandemic that’s causing anxiety across the country, he plans to sleep in his cab because “hotels scare me at this point.”
On the 5,600-kilometre drive to his destination, Kamloops, B.C., to move furniture, he’ll need clean truck stops with showers — he’ll settle for a tidy washroom — and restaurants for a good sit-down meal. He can drive 13 hours at a time.
These essential services are increasingly hard to find for truckers, who are transporting vital shipments including food, hand sanitizers and masks. Truck stops are reducing hours or are closed altogether because of the virus that has infected more than 1,000 people in Canada.
Even going to a drive-thru is impossible when your rig is too big, and walk-up isn’t allowed.
“Truck drivers are the heartbeat of Canada, North America,” said Sears, as he called on governments to address the hardships experienced by drivers.
He said the provinces should follow California’s move to declare truck stops an essential service during the COVID-19 crisis.
“If we can’t do our job properly then, boy, there’s going to be one heck of a mess in this country,” he said.
The rigs will be needed as the country hunkers down for the long haul in its pandemic battle. That’s driving a social media campaign #thankatrucker for the “extraordinary job” they’re providing during the crisis, according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance.
Groups such as the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association are posting on social media where truckers can go for services such as showers, laundry facilities and take-out food.
One of those spots is the Glenholme Loop Petro Pass just off the Trans-Canada Highway, not far from Truro, N.S. It’s been going the extra mile by offering truckers free meals, showers and a place to park.
“I am begging other businesses out there that have closed to please reconsider even opening designated hours like I am doing with a limited menu,” someone wrote on truck stop’s Facebook page.
“We can not survive this pandemic without our truck drivers, that is for certain.”
That’s Suzanne Cascanette’s concern. The Halifax woman is a customs broker who helps to clear trucks crossing from the U.S. into Canada.
She’s hearing about the plight of some truckers who are sacrificing precious family time because they’re afraid they’ve caught COVID-19.
“They’re not coming home even because they feel that possibly they could bring something home. So they’re staying in a hotel to protect their family,” she said.
Cascanette is also a member of the Facebook group, Caremongering-Hfx. She’s calling on group members to put together care packages of food, clean socks and other items. She’s hoping diesel stations will allow her to leave them for any trucker or delivery driver who wants one.
“This way I feel I can be supportive,” said Cascanette.
She has one message. “Thank you, truckers, it’s as simple as —let’s keep on trucking.”
For Sears, who says many truck drivers aren’t accustomed to receiving acts of kindness, the public gestures are comforting on his long, lonely drive.
“Unheard of and amazing, just absolutely amazing,” he said. “That’s magical for us.”
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