Tuesday afternoon one of our drivers phones in to say; “Can I have Thursday and Friday off please?” to which the reply was “Yes of course”, as it was for personal reasons. The only bugger being is that Thursday export and reload were already planned and going ahead, what to do??!……All eyes at Kersey Freight turn to me, so I text the wife……naturally she was happy to have me out the house for a couple of days. So I finally get a couple of days back in the driving seat and as a help, to make the office boys day easier we leave the country via the Euro Tunnel. Which is very nice, but it means that I am still yet to ship out of the country via a boat from Douvres….next time! My first trip to Paris was underway.
I’ll be driving K18 KFL, a DAF XF105 SSC with a 460hp engine. My chaperon for the trip will be regular driver of K19 KFL, Mr Graham “Smithy” Smith. We meet in the yard at 0445 Thursday do our daily checks and discuss who’s going in front. It’s decided that Smithy would as I couldn’t find my gate card! We leave at 0500hrs on the dot. K19 is half a click faster than K18 but K19 on this trip is a little heavier so I catch Graham on the hills.
An uneventful trip down to Folkestone, we arrive about 0725 and lucky for us, there is a train at 5 to 8, so we drive straight through and onto the waiting train. Much to Smithy’s disappointment, he was at the front of the train, usually not a problem, but he had spent an hour yesterday washing his truck. The first thing I noticed since my last check in at the tunnel back in 2007, is the distinct lack of staff. Its now an automated check in and there are no staff or train dollies dishing out the tea and pain au chocolates. Cost saving I guess.
For those of you who haven’t driven an artic onto the train before, let me tell you its a good little challenge. Its a tricky manoeuvre to get yourself onto the loading car, do you put one wheel onto the platform the other side then swing back or is it enough to stay on the loading car?? It’s tight believe me. I wont make out its impossible but unless you do get it right first time, you have to do a shunt with all the loading staff watching, the pressure is then on. But I am pleased to say that i’ve still got it! I prefer the wheel just to touch the platform the other side then swing back and Voila! Through the well marked and gauged guide poles and onto the train. The narrowness carries on along the length of the train, so beware of your side skirts or low exhausts. Off the train in Calais and we’re off down the A26, A1 to Paris. Time for some truck spotting, well not til we reach the A1 anyway. The A26 was very quiet, just the odd GB truck heading back to Blighty. Just as Smithy said, it all changed when we reached the A1, loads of trucks and loads worth spotting. Some well known European custom trucks and a few nice unknowns. There something in particular I spotted but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was!
After a few last words from Smithy he carried on to his delivery point and I carried onto mine. Lucky for me I had an easy address to find, just off the A3 at Aulnay Sous Bois. I found the road and the warehouse. The waiting warehouse man waved me in to back straight onto the loading bay. A quick tight reverse, into a wide-ish gate, with an annoying fly like forklift truck buzzing about trying to find every blind spot in my mirrors. I arrived at Midday and by 1220 the team of 3 arrived to start unloading me. Its a 2 hour tip which is quick really as most of our Paris deliveries are usually 3 hours or a bit more. I have a confession to make. For the last 1/4 mile to my delivery point I used a satnav as a backup to my map. I know some of you reading this will be tutting in disgust. What I will say is, our satnavs are the truck specific ones. So it has the dimensions of the truck in and it finds the appropriate route. I have to say I was amazed at the accuracy of the thing. The directions were spot on and the on screen displays are metre perfect…….sorry GW but I was impressed. I still think using a map is the way forward so you have an idea of where you are and whats about, but to use the satnav to guide you to your final destination, i’ve been turned, I think its a good thing. Click on the map to see the good old fashion way of seeing my route.
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With a few of my best French-Chinese pleasantries I leave Aulnay Sous Bois at 1430, heading up to the small town of Hermes, south east of Beauvais. Usually it’s 1 and a 1/4 hour drive, but due to an accident near Parc Asterix, it took me an hour and a half, so I arrive at Hermes at 1600hrs. The journey back up the A1 for a couple of junctions is a busy one, due to traffic and the accident, but still plenty to spot, including some planes at the Charles De Gaul airport, and a very nice T-cab Scania burbling away in the jam. For this journey I decided to try the satnav properly. So I left it on the whole way. I knew which junction to come off the motorway at and which towns to follow across to Hermes but the satnav is actually a reassurance to have, although I did have the women turned off as that is still a step to far!
Another tight loading bay with those annoyingly tight guide poles on the floor, is it really necessary? really??. I was loaded and sealed with 22 tons of liquid that was to be kept at +2′c. My first ever job with a fridge. Leaving Hermes at 1700hrs, I headed up towards Beauvais, through some golf ball sized hail, the big DAF pulls well when loaded at just under 40 tons. Onto the A16 for a few more miles, I decide to stop at the Hardivillers services at J16 on the A16. I pull my card out at 1745, exactly 13 hours after I started. I park near the bottom of services away from the other trucks. The fridge motor cuts in every 8-10 mins as it was still 23′c until about 9pm when I finally called it a night. I’d showered and had a microwave curry, so I went to bed wondering if i’d be kept awake all night by the sticky weather and the fridge blaring away 2 foot from my pillow. I was disturbed by neither. The fridge woke me just once in the night, but the cool of the roof top cooler’s breeze sent me straight back off to sleep. A tough life for you truckers these days init!?
My first night out on the continent in anger for 5 years and it was made very pleasant by the DAF’s comfort.
Up at 0315 Friday and on the road by 0345. No need to be quite that early, I could have had another hour in bed, but I wanted to get on with it. The A16 in the early morning is a brilliant road and desserted of traffic. This was the scene for most of the way upto Boulogne, where the traffic picked up a bit.
I was told about the hills up the A16 and I wasn’t disappointed. The DAF held its own up hill and down dale although the auto box does let it down, so I left it in manual for the duration up to Calais. A few hills are real killers and at 1 point we were down to 9th gear, but the DAF coped well. The hills were good fun as it made me have to drive the truck for real, using the gears and exhaust brake in turn, all in all it was a pleasure. Well that is apart from that bloody great big viaduct at Boulogne! I’m not one for heights, and as you swoop round onto it, there isn’t much warning of just quite how high up you are! Into Calais to fill up with Diesel. I’d just like to add I didn’t use the satnav at all on the Friday. A quick call from Smithy confirmed he was in the area so we met up in the port for the 0800 sailing to Dover on DFDS Deal Seaways. I checked in and was directed into the heart beat magnet check. Nothing found, although there were plenty of immigrants pouring out of one eastern European truck. An hour to kill waiting in the lanes at Calais, so it was time for some serious spotting. A few good spots, but they’ll be another blog on the spotting. Into the boat, a half decent breakfast it was just a pity the fried eggs were only just lukewarm. It wasn’t til I had started tucking in that Smithy appeared and told me about the microwave to reheat your meal. Next time.
A glorious morning for sailing, although the wind nearly had me off the top deck. On arriving in Dover (My first ship into Dover with a truck) we came off the boat and I followed out another Kersey Freight trailer and then Smithy appeared alongside, coming down the upper ramp. A Kersey Freight Convoy through the dock. We decide to come back up the M20, so as you leave the dock you stay in the left lane and it takes you round under Jubilee Way and up a new slip road straight onto the main road along Dover seafront. I have to say it was far to easy to leave the dock. No officials any where, just follow the other trucks, no Customs to be seen, no Passport control, no Police and happily no VOSA.
Back up the M20, M25, M11, A11 and drop into Haverhill. I arrive at 1300hrs for a 1500hrs booking. I was tipped and on my way back to the yard, 30 minutes before my booking time. A quick cross country driver back to Hadleigh via Sudbury and that was that.
All in all it was a pleasure to have a couple of days back on the road. I know it all when to plan and I had no real hold ups or problems, but it was really an easy couple of days apart from the early starts. But as we all know its the only time to travel! I look forward to August when I will be doing a full week’s driving hopefully with a couple of trips to Paris. Just a quick thanks to Mr Graham Smith (see below) for being an excellent chaperon. Sorry it’s been a long blog but I had a lot to say and I thoroughly enjoyed my little trip………..although French radio is still crap!