Montreal

'I can't stay home, I'm a trucker': Life on the road during COVID-19

Truckers are still driving across Canada and the U.S., ensuring the supply chain doesn't break down, but strictly avoiding all contact on those long hauls means "no food, no bathroom, no shower."

Strictly avoiding all contact hauling loads through the U.S. and back means 'no food, no bathroom, no shower'

Steven Kastrantas says doing the long hauls to and from the U.S. is especially lonely when you can't get out of your truck for fear of contamination: 'I've started to think in extremes.' (Submitted by Steven Kastrantas)

Truck drivers are still hauling loads across Canada and the U.S., but with strict measures in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, life is far from normal.

Steven Kastrantas has been driving a truck for the past 14 years, and he's never experienced anything like what he's going through now.

"It's not easy. It's not easy," he said.

"All we have to do in the truck is talk on the phone or think, and I've started to think in extremes."

Saint-Eustache is home for Kastrantas, but he's more often on the road. This week, he travelled to Tennessee and back, loaded with paper.

For the drivers still hauling loads through the hard-hit U.S., there is no stopping for a restaurant meal or a washroom break.

Max De Kiewit says nobody at the border has ever asked him if he's feeling sick. (Submitted by Max De Kiewit)

"No food, no bathroom, no shower," Kastrantas says.

"I've got a little barbecue that I can plug into my truck, so I can cook outside."

Kastrantas also bought a portable toilet, essentially a children's potty, that he keeps in the cab of the truck.

Another trucker, Max De Kiewit, just drove a load of auto parts to Laredo, Texas, coming back to Canada laden with pharmaceuticals. He's heading back out, this time to Huntsville, Ala., on Sunday. 

"The problem right now is all the restaurants are closed, so it's hard to get food," he said.

"You can't take a truck through the drive-thru. But more and more, restaurants will take your order and take it out to you."

Jeremy Dyckson, who lives in Moose Jaw, Sask., hauls food and cleaning products across Canada, including to Montreal.

He says in Canada, the truck stops are mainly open, but some fast-food places have closed their counter service, and the trucks are too big for the drive-thru lane.

Often, if you walk up to the drive-thru, as he witnessed at a service area near Montreal, you won't be served, he says.

"Trucker after trucker was walking back empty-handed, and I felt so sorry for them," Dyckson said

Jeremy Dyckson chats via Whats App from the truck cab at a stop in Pembroke, Ont. (CBC)

One thing he notices — the roads are free and clear.

"There's no traffic!" he said. "I can drive in and out of Toronto in 20 minutes, which usually takes me two hours."

Missing family

Kastrantas says as a trucker, he's often away from his kids, but with the pandemic, it's even worse.

"I'm separated, so I have two kids that I haven't seen in almost three weeks," he said.

Kastrantas also has a girlfriend who he doesn't live with, and he hasn't seen her, either.

"It's very hard on them."

On Facebook, truck drivers are adding the banner 'I can't stay home, I'm a trucker' to their profile pictures.

Dyckson says he does go home to his family, but he is cautious on the road and interacts directly with no one.

"If I get sick, I'll have to go home and self-isolate, because I don't want to get my family sick," he said.

Normal work procedures have changed, too. Instead of interacting with people when unloading, drivers stay in their trucks and exchange paperwork through the window.

Like many of his fellow truckers, Steven Kastrantas updated his Facebook profile picture to highlight his work. (Submitted by Steven Kastrantas)

Border crossings

As an essential service, truck drivers continue to cross back and forth over the Canadian and American border.

Kastrantas says how well that goes depends on which border crossing he uses.

Two weeks ago, in Windsor, Ont., the border agent didn't even take his passport, he said, just asking him his birth date and where he was headed.

"When you go to the States, they ask you where you're heading, what the load is and if you've gone overseas in the last 30 days," said Kastrantas.

"In Canada, they just ask, 'How're you doing?' and hand you a paper explaining quarantine rules."

De Kiewit says nobody asks if he's feeling sick when he crosses the border.

"They ask you where you've been, what are you hauling, and have a good day."

Kastrantas says his job is more important than ever, even if he sometimes gets scared.

"I have to be strong, I'll get through it, and I want to keep going because people have got to eat."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Leavitt

Journalist

Sarah Leavitt is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

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