It’s been 81 days since truck driver Mike Baker has been home, but says he plans to stay out on the road until scientists give the U.S. the all-clear that the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Baker of Weymouth, Massachusetts, is headed to Georgia with 5,000 cases of Jimmy Dean Breakfast Bowls. He admits it’s been a lonely few months living in his truck, but said he tries not to focus on it too much.
“Prior to COVID-19, I got home about every six weeks, but I’m well past that now,” Baker told FreightWaves. “I live in a 72-inch square space, so imagine putting all of your stuff in a small closet and living there for nearly three months. It becomes isolating after a while.”
However, he said the sacrifice is worth it.
Baker said he’s unwilling to risk his family’s health if he unknowingly has the coronavirus. He and his fiancée, Sandi Pelton, have six children combined and five grandchildren. While Baker misses them every day, it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make to keep them all safe.
Plus, Pelton has a heart condition that puts her in a high-risk category for contracting COVID-19.
“I am just not willing to risk her [Sandi’s] health just so I can go home for a while,” Baker told FreightWaves. “She and I have already had this conversation that I’m not coming home until this is over, and right now, who knows how long that will be. But, if this is what we gotta do, it’s what we gotta do.”
Baker, who has been a truck driver since 2012, is leased on to BLC Transportation of Springfield, Missouri. He hauls refrigerated loads for another Springfield-based trucking company, Prime Inc.
He’s not alone in staying out on the road for months at a time
He said he and other truck drivers are adjusting to self-isolating in their trucks as truck stops, shippers and receivers attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus. While he misses his family, Baker said he doesn’t really talk about his fears or concerns with other truck drivers.
“We don’t really have heart-to-heart conversations out here,” Baker said. “Truck drivers are pretty stubborn so I doubt if anyone would really tell you they weren’t doing good.”
Since the outbreak, Baker, who is deemed essential because he hauls food, admits rates have been down, but that they are slowly picking back up.
“Things haven’t been great, but I feel like it’s not about me right now,” Baker, a retired U.S. Air Force mechanic, said. “Some of us out here are determined to feed America or die trying.”
Baker’s fiancée, Sandi Pelton, who works in finance for State Street Corp., said she worried about his safety out on the road during “normal times,” but that her worries have heightened since the coronavirus pandemic.
“This isolation and the constant threat of potential illness is very scary for all of us, but now in this time of a potentially deadly virus, I worry even more, which I didn’t think was possible,” Pelton told FreightWaves.
She said Baker’s military experience as an Air Force veteran for 26 years, with many of those years overseas in combat zones, may actually help him cope with the loneliness and isolation many truckers are experiencing out on the road.
“I can’t help but believe those [combat] experiences have actually helped him to be able to mentally deal with this unique situation somehow,” Pelton said.
Relatively new to the trucking world, Pelton said that prior to the pandemic, she loved going out in the truck with Baker when possible.
“I’ve worked in finance for 26 years, so trucking is a 180-degree life from mine,” she said. “It’s been an adventure.”
How they met
Pelton said she and Baker were “sweet on each other in high school” but never officially dated. When he left to join the U.S. Air Force after high school, she still had two years left to go.
While both went on to marry other people, Pelton said they reconnected via Facebook 35 years later in 2017 after both were divorced.
“Mike said he was going to be swinging into town to get his license renewed and asked me if I’d like to meet for coffee and catch up on the last 35 years,” Pelton said. “We went out for coffee and filled each other in on our lives and it grew from there. We’ve been together ever since.”
While Pelton said she is grateful she has a job that allows her to work from home during this pandemic, she worries about finances given the volatility of the freight market.
“Isolated here at home, handling our finances, working my own stressful finance career, caring for the house and the challenges of being in lockdown, have been quite a challenge these last several weeks,” she said. “I have health issues that put me in the ‘at-risk’ population so we need to be very careful about exposure. I know Mike worries about me as well.”
Baker said some truck stops are now selling personal protective equipment, including face masks and hand sanitizer, but that they are not cheap.
“A case of masks costs around $50,” Baker said. “I have bandanas in my truck so I use them to cover my face if needed.”