Book Review: A Thousand Miles From Nowhere – Graham Coster (Penguin-1996)

Sub-titled ‘Trucking Two Continents’, this is a travel book of sorts but not one that focuses on the culture, architecture, food and customs of foreign countries.  This is a book about long-distance lorry driving, or trucking, where covering the longest distance as quickly as possible is the aim.

In the November 2014 edition of the adult humour magazine Viz, there is a double-page picture entitled ‘What can you spot on the Motorway?’  The reader is invited to study the picture and tick off the things they can spot including ‘A footballer in a black Range Rover doing 130mph on his way to a charity event’ and ‘the start of a coned off section to protect one man using a strimmer 20 miles further up the road’.  One thing to spot is ‘An articulared lorry in the 60th mile of an overtaking manoeuvre past another articulated lorry.’  Funny because of the exaggeration  and because there is some truth in it.

My own attitudes to articulated lorries is coloured by my driving experiences where, quite often, trucks seem to act as a rolling roadblock.  I have rarely though about the benefits trucks bring or how much we all rely on them.  

Part one of the book is called ‘East’ and in it Graham Coster describes his experiences of hitching a ride from the UK to Russia, talking to drivers, listening to Country music and learning the lore of the road.  It’s a very interesting read but, by God, a trucker’s life sounds like absolute purgatory at times.  They can be held up for hours, days even, at border controls, robbed, stung for bribes and freezing their backsides off sleeping in their cabs in Northern Europe.  

The meals that truckers eat are described as gargantuan carbohydrate piles.  I wondered why the meals are so big when they are essentially sitting down all day.

The truckers don’t seem to get time to explore the countries and cities they visit and few seem to have any interest in doing so.  The main interest is to get to their destination, pick up another load before heading home again where the whole things starts again.

I found the thought of living this kind of life depressing, but lots of people like it and for that we should be thankful otherwise the country would grind to a halt.

In part two ‘West’, Coster hitches rides on trucks from the East to West coast of the USA.  Like most things, trucking in the US is bigger, more attractive and more comfortable.  Let’s be honest, American trucks like Kenworths, Peterbilts and Macks have more kudos.  They represent the idealized big-rig reeking of power,muscle and down-to-earth hardwork and honesty.

The journeys are much longer than the ones Coster took in Europe but are much easier to navigate.  Permits may be required for particular states but these are relatively easy to obtain and do not involve the soul-sapping, time chewing controls of Europe.  

The distances driven are just mind-bending; over 500 miles a day is standard and 1000 miles in a day is not uncommon.  I’ve usually had enough of driving after 3 or 4 hours, in which time I could cover 200 miles if I’m lucky.

Coster mentions the trucking moves that have given rise to trucking myths such as Convoy and Smokey and the Bandit.  Reality seems to mirror the fiction in some respects.  Truckers discuss how to avoid the police (Smokey Bears) over their CBs and listen to pathos laden Country tunes.

In the US, Coster conveys some of the meditative state of driving endles miles across vast areas (Texas takes 2 days at least!).

I learnt very little about Europe or the USA from this book but that isn’t the point.  I learnt a lot about truckers.