It’s that time of year when sober Snowbirds are thinking about the return drive home, and other forward-thinking RV’ers are excitedly planning long summer trips to new destinations.
In either case, you may be planning for some long days behind the wheel. Fatigue can set in unexpectedly with awful results. That momentary lapse of concentration when the mind is distracted, can subsequently lead to an inability to correct the unsavory direction your rig has taken.
Driving is Work
Ask any trucker about his glamorously easy occupation, and you’ll be faced with the kind of expression that asks if you’re off your medication, followed by a glance of the room in search of your custodial social worker.
While driving, your mind is constantly monitoring the GPS, speed, weather, and dash gauges while attempting to predict the probable behavior of traffic in front of you. While much of this may occur almost subconsciously, the mental awareness and continual eye movement will wear you out. Especially as darkness falls and your eyes and body strain with the additional focus and tension, that reduced vision creates. Driving all day to reach your waypoint, especially driving longer than planned because of poor weather or traffic is tempting but very ill advised.
Here are my suggestions accumulated over 100,000 km behind the wheel and the occasional inadvertent lane change.
Work in Shifts
If you have another driver on board take turns. They don’t have to be equal shifts if someone isn’t comfortable behind the wheel. Give the less inclined driver the shorter shifts (even just a half hour) on the easier, straighter stretches of road. You don’t even have to nap off-shift, the mental break from driving will be rejuvenating.
Stop often and before you get tired. Most tips say every two hours. I stop at scenic viewpoints even if I’ve only been driving 30 minutes. The next stimulating rest stop might be a couple hours away. Get your blood flowing by walking. I do pushups, deep knee bends or jumping jacks. You won’t look like a lunatic. People will know right away why you’re doing it and it may spur them on to do the same. You could save a life!
Those health nuts telling you to eat small meals all day are right. My grandmother would make my favourite meal when I came to visit. Ribs and spicy sausage surrounded by dumplings and sauerkraut seasoned with bacon. I would fill my belly and then lay down on the couch and sleep, while my girlfriend chatted with my grandmother. Big delicious greasy meals will knock you out faster than an MMA fighter in the octagon. I drive with single serving size foods like snack bars and fruit, especially grapes.
Avoid Late Nights
There’s less to see, and more eyestrain. Mental fatigue is the silent killer here. I’ve actually fallen asleep with my eyes open attempting to stay awake – not healthy. If I am planning to drive a long day, I start early before the sun comes up and finish before it goes down, with some leeway to reach my destination should traffic or weather hold me up. Having a back-up (sooner) destination at the end of the day is the mark of a seasoned hauler.
The Little Tricks
No, pumping caffeine and energy drinks into you is not a safe solution. The temporary boost in awareness is ‘temporary’. Then your body/mind crashes to lower than when you started. The same goes for rolling the window down, turning the radio up, sucking on menthol/eucalyptus candies, swallowing caffeine pills, splashing water on your face and eyelids, pinching or slapping yourself, talking/singing, … did I miss any? I’ve tried them all in my younger days, which has resulted in near death experiences. I recognize that I am one of the lucky ones.
When you are tired, you are tired. Be smart, plan contingencies, rest, and enjoy the journey.
Have any tips of your own? Feel Free to share them in the comments section below!