Monday, June 29, 2009

'Ice Road' Hazards

I thought of Ice Road Truckers often on Friday night as I made my way to see my family in the blinding rain and pitch black along the highway. As the rain came down in sheets and the lightening struck all around me casting its bright light right into my dark-adjusted eyes further blinding me, I thought about Jack and Lisa and Hugh and Alex and how they manage to do much worse in a big rig hauling tens of thousands of pounds over ICE, and I kept telling myself that by comparison, my trek was easy. Unfortunately, my neck and leg muscles didn't get the message! So suffice it to say, I have an even deeper appreciation for the work they and many other truck drivers on The Dalton do for those treacherous three months. This week, stick shifts, brakes, and moose proved to be the biggest obstacles. Anyone who has learned to drive a stick shift knows that once you're stopped, shifting correctly to get going again is one of the hardest techniques to master. Now, imagine trying to complete this task while climbing a mountain with only a small guard rail separating you from hundreds of feet down steep ledges. Oh yeah, also add a little ice and you get Alex's shifting miscue. Thankfully, he was able to get his stopped truck moving again without sliding down the incline and soaring over the edge to sudden death (this would be overly dramatic if it weren't true).

Meanwhile, Lisa made a dangerous newbie mistake. This is only her second season on The Dalton and this week's episode marked her first drive through fresh, thick snow. When an oversized load (heading northbound to her southbound) came barreling toward her, she was supposed to yield right-of-way by pulling off the road. Two problems: the fresh snow made finding the closest pull off impossible and she suddenly had no brakes. She pumped and pumped, but the truck wasn't stopping. Finally, the truck came to a stop just short of the oversized rig. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't seriously worried and sitting on the edge of my couch. Apparently, she should have been pumping her brakes from time to time while driving in order to melt the snow that accumulates around the brakes. Tough time to learn that lesson!

Later in the hour, we learned that even the most experienced drivers are no match for one Dalton hazard: Moose! Jack owes the fact that he didn't hit the moose that darted out in front of him to his pilot car driver who radioed to let him know that a moose was standing just off to the side of the road. I've had this fear of hitting a moose ever since I was a child. I have family in Vermont, and they would always tell me tales about moose that come out of nowhere and stretch across the entire road making it virtually impossible to miss with your car and often times leading to death for both the moose and the driver. I don't live with moose, but whenever I go to Vermont, I'm on extra alert. So now, we can add moose to the growing list of things on The Dalton that can kill you. And speaking of that, the driver that wrecked his rig this week was lucky to walk away from that crash. A sobering reminder of how much is at stake on The Dalton.

Ice Road Truckers airs Sunday nights on History Channel. To catch up on this season, click on over to where you'll also get more information, trucker bios, and an IRT app for your iPhone.

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