Tuesday, September 28, 2010

'Ice Road' Melting

Normally, I'm glued to the drivers and the perilous conditions they drive through on the mighty Dalton Highway in Alaska.  But this week, I was completely transfixed by the folks who work hard to keep the Dalton up and running and make sure it's safe (as safe as an iced-over road with steep drop-offs can be anyway).  Whether it was the people dishing out the violations to perennial violator Hugh and a newcomer to the citation game or the Alaska DOT worker known as "K Bear" who had one of the scariest jobs I've seen (and that's saying a lot for a road that has an avalanche crew) -- this week was all about the behind-the-scenes people who keep everything running so that important supplies can get to the North Slope.  The theme of the week was melting ice, and as we learned in this one, the simple act of snow and ice turning into water isn't just a welcoming sign of impending spring.


Melting ice also means a slushy, slippery road which led to even more dangerous conditions than we're used to seeing on the Dalton.  It meant a couple of spin outs for rookie Ray (which led to some friendly ripping from fellow driver Greg) and some indecisive moments for Lisa.  She came across Jack on the haul road and decided to ride along with him for a little while.  As they approached a series of steeper inclines, she asked Jack whether or not he was going to stop to chain up (the melting roads = more slipping, ergo, chains might be required in places where they aren't normally).  He left it up to her and while she was deciding, they got a message over the radio that other drivers were chaining up for the second incline because other trucks had spun out.  Apparently, one had caught the ditch and was turned over on the side of the road.  Lisa decided to play it safe.

Meanwhile, Jack was hauling a highly flammable load of jet fuel.  This caused him to take even more precaution than usual, but it also made him a target for the DOT inspection officers.  He got pulled over along the Dalton and had to turn over his log book, medical card and his little orange hazmat book.  He had no problem with the first two, but the last one was nowhere to be found.  He hadn't grabbed a copy of the book that tells drivers what to do with a flammable substance in case of an emergency.  So Jack Jessee, the Dalton Ace, got a citation.  The other driver caught in the DOT's crosshairs was not a surprise.  Hugh "The Polar Bear" Rowland had to stop at the scales just outside the Carlile lot for an inspection.  His log book showed that he had gotten from Prudhoe to Fairbanks in 10 hours which would mean he traveled an average of 60 mph -- 10 mph above the speed limit.  Hugh insisted he wasn't speeding, but the officer gave him a list of violations anyway.  But in a surprising turn, he was able to go with just a warning.  He breathed a huge sigh of relief.

One of the bridges on the Dalton crosses the Dietrich River.  There's nothing unusual about it except when the melting season begins.  The water below the ice starts to rise above it as overflow.  This process causes damming and an obstacle like a low bridge makes for a perfect damming spot.  The problem is, water is an extremely powerful force, so at some point that dammed-up water is going to burst through the ice (especially as more and more of the ice becomes water) and take the bridge out.  So, DOT worker K Bear had to get some equipment down there to start digging out the ice blocking the water flow under the bridge.  First, he tried the heavy equipment, but the arm of the machine kept hitting the bridge.  So, he brought in some steam power to start breaking up the ice.  Then, he added a Bobcat with a drill on the front of it.  The drill started breaking up the ice in larger chunks and that's when K Bear warned his crew that they needed to start getting off the ice.  Soon, the Bobcat would break through to the water on the other side of the bridge and that water would start gushing through to the other side.  As the Bobcat drilled through the last few chunks, I held my breath.  How could the driver possible get the Bobcat off the ice before the water he was releasing began running through?  He couldn't, but he was able to get out of the way before it swept him and his machine away.  As with everything on this show, it was intense!

The season finale of Ice Road Truckers airs next Sunday on History followed by the season premiere of Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads. To catch up on this season, click on over to History.com where you'll also get more information, trucker bios, and an IRT app for your iPhone.

9 comments:

Free Movies Online said...

Ice melting create a lot of problem for drivers. Shot taken is really good.I saw some videos which show the real danger.Alaska, Himalaya both region are deadly.

Free Movies said...

Drivers lives in these type of condition is always really in trouble.Alaska region & in hilly areas that very difficult. Many thing they have to kept eye on.God bless them,

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comment grossir said...

très impressionnant !!

sarah lee said...

I was absolutely transfixed by the folks who work hard to keep the Dalton up and running and make sure it's safe.


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