Gary Shade was driving north along Interstate 5 to Grants Pass early one morning, dreading his workday ahead as a stockbroker at Smith Barney, when he glanced at a man in a white 18-wheeler alongside him.
"Look at that guy," Shade said to himself. "No one is calling him or telling him what to do and how to do it."
At that moment, a light came on for Shade.
The 67-year-old Medford resident had been in financial services for 20 years as a stockbroker, financial counselor at Asante Health System, loan officer for Rogue Federal Credit Union, and trust officer for a larger bank.
But it wasn't his fit.
Within a couple of months, Shade enrolled in the truck-driving program at Rogue Community College and earned his commercial license.
"I went to work for Gordon Trucking, and I was a driver for about six months," he said. "But I was finding there was a real disadvantage to it."
He was missing his wife, Barbara, 60, and his 3-year-old shih tzu, Oliver.
"I would go out every 14 days, and then I only had two days off," he said.
It wasn't his fit.
He returned to the financial realm for several years, but something still wasn't right. Then a friend introduced him to a man who was in the expediting trucking business.
"I thought for sure an expediter was a bounty hunter," Shade joked.
But expediting was just the escape that Shade needed.
"This trucking business is designed for couples," he said. "They want team drivers who are highly qualified and highly motivated."
Unlike other long-haul truck drivers, expediters drive straight through, working in teams to deliver their goods as quickly as possible.
In 2008, Barbara quit her job as an office manager and took classes at Rogue Community College to get her commercial driver's license, too.
After a month, the two became contractors hired by Panther Expedited Services.
The Shades drive a sleeper cab with refrigerator, sink, microwave, table that converts to a bed, and cabinets for storing their clothes and food. One drives while the other sleeps.
"My favorite part has been seeing family on the East Coast whom we thought we'd never see again," Barbara said. "We've gotten to see this country like nobody else has seen it."
They've traveled about 600,000 miles in five years across North America and Canada, Gary said, transporting everything from chemicals to cadavers for a Nevada medical school.
"We've worked a lot with the military and hauled classified materials, ammunition, weapons and secret stuff that I don't really know," he said.
There's also a whole new level of security involved with expedited truck drivers.
"We are a very specialized industry with specialized qualifications like Hazmat credentials and secret security clearances from the Department of Defense," he said.
At 2 o'clock in the morning during one haul in Arkansas, Shade pulled the big rig off the Interstate 30 because it was time to switch drivers.
There were two gas stations to his right. One had a lane for truckers and another for four-wheelers.
He glanced in the back of the rig where his wife was sound asleep with Oliver cuddled in her arms.
The trucker lane was full, so he parked the rig in the dirt lot behind the station, even though there was a sign that read, "NO PARKING."
"I ran in and when I returned, I saw a white pickup truck parked perpendicular to the rig with the lights shining on the side of the truck, illuminating our explosives placards," he said.
The nature of the scene was alarming, and Shade felt that his wife, dog and truck were in danger.
After a bit of a panic attack and mild confrontation, Shade discovered the man was from the local sheriff's department and was enforcing the NO PARKING sign.
But the couple can't be too careful, considering what they're hauling is sometimes classified material.
"We have a satellite dish on the top of the truck so Panther and the Department of Defense can track us," he said. "We also have a panic button on our keys and in the truck, so if things go wrong, the SWAT team will come to our rescue."
Fear is just one of the many challenges that comes with hauling materials across such far distances.
"You don't get enough sleep, so learning to drive professionally and safely while suffering from fatigue is a challenge," he said. "People also don't understand the commitment and dedication a job like this takes."
In the midst of the challenges, though, the Shades are successfully running their own business, ASAP Expedite, and net $100,000 a year contracting with Panther.
"I'm feeling financially successful and successful in my life," he said. "Every day is a new day, and each day ends up being a new story."
Barbara said she's seen a change in her husband since he became a truck driver.
"I admire his determination, tenacity and his great ability to be a leader," she said. "He's so much happier. He's just always looking forward to the next trip."
Shade wrote a book, titled "The Hotshot Chronicles" (www.hotshotchronicles.com), that tells of his and Barbara's trials and tribulations as truck drivers. "A bad day truckin' is better than a good day at the office," he says in the book.
Shade said he will never forget that epiphany he had experienced when driving to work.
"When you have job transitions that extreme, it's an outside reflection of what the person is feeling on the inside," he said.
Reach Mail Tribune intern Amanda Barker at firstname.lastname@example.org.