A night to remember

Posted By Dennis Sova: I was always interested in the big rigs, so when a chance to retire early from my lifetime career came up, I took the gold watch, got my class 1 and hit the road. On 2021-09-10 16:28:42

It was late afternoon, and I was
about to depart on the nightly trip to
Seattle. Out in the yard I ran into one
of the city drivers I knew, and being
a new driver, I always had plenty of
questions. He pointed out a couple of
drivers who had just arrived to start
work. “Those guys do the Sicamous
switch,” he said with a mixture of awe
and “you won’t catch me doing it” in
his voice.

“The all-time record for doing that
run is two years,” he added ominously.
I knew that I wasn’t going
anywhere but Seattle for a while
and filed the information for future
reference. About a year later, having
graduated to winter trips to Alberta,
the highway dispatcher called me at
home. “Can you do a Sicamous switch
for us tonight - one of the guys needs
the night off.”

It was the middle of winter, and
the forecast was for snow in the
mountains. I showed up at 5 PM as
requested, slightly apprehensive.
Although no longer than a trip to
Calgary mileage-wise, it involved
two rush hours, two ascents of the
“Highway Through Hell,” in the
wintertime, and the driving was almost
entirely in darkness.

I fought my way through the
evening rush hour in the pouring rain.
The traffic petered out past Chilliwack,
but the temperature gauge showed a
steady drop. The rain turned to wet
snow as I started up the Coquihalla,
and the chain-up sign was flashing at
Box Canyon

The difference between chaining
up in a driving school parking lot and
a dark sloping roadside in a snowstorm
is simply amazing! I was soaked and
freezing by the time I had the jewelry
in place but made the summit without
problems – those chains really do
work!

Once over the top, everyone
stopped to unchain. I was relieved that
everything was still nicely in place
and got to work under the trailer as a
passing truck went out of its way to
shower me with slush. The snowstorm
was really hitting its stride now, with
flakes the size of toonies obliterating
the highway. I got in behind a couple
of foolhardy souls as we passed the
long line of slow traffic in the righthand lane. At 60 km/h, I felt that I was
pushing my luck, and by now, it was
obvious that I was going to be quite
late.

Fortunately the snow let up near
Merritt, and I arrived in Sicamous in
one piece but well past the midnight
target. The Calgary guy was pacing
in front of his rig like a caged tiger.
He was not interested in my weather
report and, although we’d never met,
informed me that I was a disgrace to
the profession. Heck, I already knew
that! Like the kids say, whatever...

We quickly swapped the trailers
and happily parted company. By the
time I got back to Salmon Arm, I
was starting to feel a little tired and
consoled myself with the thought that
with the streets completely deserted I
just might hit all the darn traffic lights
green for a change. A lone figure
appeared at the next intersection, and
of course, the law-abiding insomniac
felt obliged to push the button - it just
wasn’t my night!

Just past Merritt the skies cleared,
and concerned about black ice, I
slowed down. This did not make the
two trucks following me very happy.
Having spent my callow youth going
skiing at every opportunity, I had a
healthy respect for the white stuff.
Entering the blind right-hand curve
near Comstock Road, several people
appeared, frantically waving their
arms at us to slow down. A southbound
truck, travelling a little too fast, had
crashed through the concrete divider
and was now laying on its side and
in pieces in the northbound lanes as
well as the adjacent hillside. The road
was so icy that the good Samaritans
had difficulty walking on it. That sure
woke me up!

Fortunately, the highway crews
had caught up with the plowing and
the sanding near the summit, and there was only the morning rush hour in the
valley to contend with.

I arrived at the terminal back in
Delta on autopilot. The dispatcher
took one look at me and said, “just put
it in door three, and you can go home
to bed.”

He might as well have asked me to
stand on one foot and touch the tip of
my nose with my forefinger. I’m sure
the building shook as I missed the door
the first couple of times.

My great aunt, who was a bit of
a macabre armchair philosopher,
once told me: “One can get used to
anything, even a noose around their
neck,” and she was right! I was asked
to do this run again several times and
managed to return on time and in a
reasonably coherent state. However,
the weather was never as bad, my
Calgary counterparts were much more
amiable, and my mind and body knew
what to expect. But four times a week
like the regular drivers? You wouldn’t
catch me doing it!

A couple of years later, my wife
and I were on vacation and staying the
night at a B&B in a small medieval
town on the Czech-Austrian border.
At breakfast the next morning, we
were joined by a large family from
Singapore. They spoke no English,
so we all nodded and smiled. The
proprietor brought our bratwurst and
eggs, and when he asked about my
occupation, I proudly showed him the
pictures on my phone. He then moved
on to our neighbours’ table, switching
effortlessly to French. All eyes were
on us, and I heard the words “camion”
and “Canada”. Suddenly, the whole
family stood up and, clapping their
hands, chanted, “ice road trucker, ice
road trucker!”

Well, not quite, but I shamelessly
took a bow anyway, perhaps
subconsciously remembering my first
Sicamous switch. In this business, you
take appreciation wherever you can
get it!



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