Tears and fears: Life behind the wheel for New Brunswick's truckers

Life on the road as a long-haul trucker is not what it used to be, as COVID-19 precautions place more and more restrictions on the facilities truckers rely on.

Some restaurants are limiting their hours, or only offering take out. Some truck stops and rest areas have shut down their facilities and closed their lounges.

For Jason Briscoe, a long-haul trucker from the Moncton area, it's frustrating. 

"It's getting hard for us to get food, some places are shutting down their showers," he said.

"It's a necessity. We're living away from home. We need food, we need a place to sleep, we need bathrooms."

Jason Briscoe/Submitted

Recently, Briscoe claimed a customer refused to let him inside to use the bathroom after he dropped off a delivery. 

And while he does have food packed in his truck, not having the ability to take a break from his cab and sit down at a restaurant is a small thing he didn't think he'd miss this much.

"It's hard as it is... being away from family. when you get businesses and people starting to do stuff like this it makes it that much more difficult."

'I've had my breakdowns'

Recent restrictions have some drivers feeling uneasy about travelling into the U.S. at all. 

Brenda Ramsay, a trucker from Natoaganeg, the Eel Ground First Nation, said she's noticed a lack of self-isolation and physical distancing in the U.S. when she goes down for deliveries, something that makes her very nervous.

"Right now, I'm still allowed to go through, but that risk factor once I go through… I'm feeling great today, will I be feeling great later?" she told Information Morning Moncton on Friday. 

Ramsay — like many truck drivers — is taking precautions. She's wearing gloves, sanitizing frequently, and wearing masks.

Joe Sears

Ramsay has been keeping her distance from family and friends back home because of all her travel into the U.S., where cases of COVID-19 have surpassed China's peak. 

"I've had my breakdowns, and tears behind the wheel. I have had ups and downs, because I have family out east and I'm worried about them. I personally don't want to go into my local area, because I'm afraid. It only takes one," 

"It's extremely stressful." 

Brenda Ramsay/Submitted

Thankfully, Ramsay has company in her cab. Her 90lb poodle, Liam, rides with her on her hauls.

"He's three years old and he loves the truck," she said.

#ThankATrucker

Jean-Marc Picard with the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association is doing everything he can to support truckers, and keep them up to date with new information around COVID-19.

"It's unfortunate that we're in this situation. These women and men need to look after themselves," he said.

While truckers don't have to self-isolate for 14 days after returning home, Picard said many are struggling with a lack of human contact, even on their days off.

"There's not much open, there's not much to do, so they're probably going to stay home… until they get back out on the road again," said Picard.

Submitted photo

The Association has been trying to boost morale however they can. 

"Every month we launch a driver of the month...But yesterday we put out that all drivers in Atlantic Canada were the driver of the month," said Picard. 

The APTA has also launched a social media campaign called #thankatrucker, and are urging people to spread kind words online.

Trucking companies are taking care of their own too, and many are sending drivers out with kits full of food, water and sanitizer. 

Finding the positives

Despite the struggles, Ramsay and Briscoe are finding silver linings.

In Sussex, Briscoe was treated to a homemade meal at a truck stop, cooked by a local community group.

His employer, S.A.T. Inc is also compensating drivers per mile. It has also increased service at terminals: providing meals, offering showers, and sanitizing trucks.

For Ramsay, staying connected on social media keeps her going.

Just the other day, she saw the #thankatrucker campaign in action as she was driving home through New Brunswick.

Brenda Ramsay/Submitted

"There was a big sign on the side of the road…and it said 'We love truckers,' or something like that. We ran down to the sign to get a picture," she said.

"It was so nice to see that truckers were being thanked."