Writer Tim Barton was once a truck operator and always a traveler. On April 5, 2004, however, he began a remarkable journey, even for a man accustomed to life on the road. Barton left his Pennsylvania home to travel around the world with commercial truck operators on six continents, in more than 30 countries. So far, his odyssey has taken him through Russia, parts of Eastern Europe, Spain, Scandinavia, Africa and South America. According to Barton, it has been the adventure and challenge of a lifetime.
“Every few days everything changes, the culture, the language, the currency, the weather, the political climate, the food, everything,” he observes. “The language challenges alone have been immense. It has been much more difficult than I imagined, but I have had moments of joy, too, times where I captured a great photograph or suddenly understood something about a place that I did not understand before.”
Barton's trip, called the Nomad World Truck Tour, is being sponsored by Volvo Trucks North America, Inc., Michelin North America, Inc. and Shell Lubricants (Rotella). Other suppliers and partners include Pocket Mail, Trucker Buddy International and The Teaching Company. Barton is also testing equipment from Power Line Vision Systems and Attention Technologies along the route.
From the beginning, Volvo has acted as his travel guide, making arrangements through their worldwide dealer network for Barton to travel with working commercial drivers in their Volvo trucks, along their usual routes, hauling their customary loads. Most of the truck dealers have spoken English; most of the truck drivers have not.
“After about fours months on the road, I've learned to just do my best to intuit meaning from all the available clues, to try to ‘feel’ what people mean when I can't understand a word. Most of the time, it has seemed to work,” Barton says. “Truck drivers everywhere work under pretty much the same conditions. They may make the U.S. equivalent of $50,000 a year in Norway or $10,000 in Argentina, for instance, but they all work very hard for their pay.”
Barton himself is hard at work on a book about his journey, but readers can get a sampling of his stories on the Nomad World Truck tour web site (www.nomadworldtrucktour.com).
“There is a road around the world,” writes Barton. “It is a road in fragments, disunited by oceans, by weather, by disrepair, by war…Nevertheless, the road is there, a ribbon in tatters. Along this road, the truck driver lives and works. He sees only pieces of it, snippets of the ribbon tying the world together with the goods it needs. But drivers also carry their knowledge of the ribbon they ride. And it is this knowledge, when taken together with the knowledge of other drivers in other countries, which will become more important as the world grows smaller.”
This “road around the world” and the people along it are Barton's subject, and he has seen a great many miles already. “What is called pavement in Bolivia would hardly qualify as a farm road in the U.S.,” he writes. “While there are sections of excellent pavement, the Bolivian pothole, called buraca, in Portuguese, will eat an axle in a heartbeat. And there are many buracas.
“Much of the 900 kilometers between Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa is a paved, two-lane, as is the 900 kilometers between Buenos Aires and the Argentine-Paraguayan border at Foz do Iguassu,” Barton notes… “In Morocco, the road from Casablanca to Marrakech is a paved two-lane where bandits in uniform extract money from motorists. Speed traps are everywhere and the police make no pretense of stopping travelers for legitimate reasons. They simply tell you how much to pay. No ticket, no paperwork of any sort…It is not uncommon to barter with your speed cop for a lower payment…
“On the way to Marrakech, I talked with three drivers who had broken down two days before. Why there were three drivers in one truck, I did not comprehend. But there they were in the middle of nowhere and they had managed to tear down the engine. The head was off and the pistons were out. They were waiting for a new piston and rod,” Barton writes. “Two days later, on my way back to Casablanca, they were still there. … I have had to expand my idea of what delay means.”
Tim Barton is back in the United States for a few weeks before heading out again to complete his journey along roads through the United Kingdom, India, Asia and elsewhere. “While the road around the world is discontinuous, it provides a link,” he notes. “Fragile though it may be, it is a link nonetheless.” Traveling that road, Barton is a link, too, between truck operators in the United States and their counterparts all around the globe.