Monday, July 13, 2009

Stranded in Coldfoot

I literally watch this show on edge: my stomach's in knots, my jaw's clenched, and my foot shakes off nervous energy. And this week the show decided to up the ante even further. As if ice, steep passes, high altitudes, severe weather and a variety of road hazards weren't enough to get my heart racing, this week the Dalton added ice fog (a.k.a. "white death"), huge snow drifts, and super-slick ice that left truckers without brakes leading to a host of deadly dangers including jackknifing and sliding off the edge. Oh, and Hugh was also hauling 18,000 pounds of toxic waste. That'll give a man extra pause about driving recklessly on the Dalton. Most of the increased dangers this week could be chalked up to the impending winter storm that promised to choke Atigun Pass and make driving on the flat sections almost impossible. Hugh and his lead truck (Carlyle Safety Instructor Phil) made it to Atigun, but got caught waiting for a less fortunate driver to get his truck towed after turning sideways on the Pass. So, what do you do when you're stuck in -20 degree weather? Have a cook-out! Phil (or as Hugh calls him, "Phil-Billy"), planned ahead and brought caribou, veggies and a small grill to prepare them on. I have to admit, it was pretty awesome.

Meanwhile, Alex and his safety instructor Jack were trailing Hugh and Phil so they didn't reach Atigun until dark. To make matters worse, Jack got frustrated with Alex's lack of "chaining up" experience and left him to finish the process himself and then cross Atigun alone. This was toward the end and by this time, my nerves were a bit frayed. I know he made it across safely, but the details are a bit sketchy. He said a prayer and then took it nice and slow until he reached safety at Coldfoot (the Dalton's midway point). And then there's George and Tim and their harrowing trek through the flats with snow drifts that resembled snow mounds. These "drifts" were all over the road as the wind from the storm whipped more and snow into their lane. You could hear and see the stuff hitting the side of Tim's truck! It was intense!

My girl Lisa tackled her third oversized load of the season, but she only made it to Coldfoot because the storm shut down Atigun Pass before she had a chance to go through it. She, like most of the trucking fleet, was grounded in Coldfoot until the storm passed. Before she got there, though, there were a few tense moments. As any driver knows, our worst enemy is the other drivers on the road. They're unpredictable, distracted, and no one (and I mean no one) drives as well as we do. The Dalton is no exception. Lisa feared that the southbound traffic would brake as they approached her, causing their trailer to jackknife and plow right into her. Then, she lost her brakes for "The Rollercoaster," which, thanks to some awesome camera angles, put me right into the driver's seat with her. It was scary, but she made it safely to the bottom (full speed ahead). It was just another day 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 show info, driver bios, and an IRT app for your iPhone.

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