Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Ice! is also a great book by Tristan Jones, a maverick, mad cap skipper and raconteur.

It was a dark, starless night. I was running a heavy load of paper through the surreal landscape. Like a modern day Sisyphus, I slogged along, pushing the truck up each mountain and having it roll, sometimes fly, down the other side.

A heavy load is good for traction and to fight the wind, but careening downhill in the snow and ice, it can be a liability; especially on the curves. During the day or in traffic, you can judge the road surface by watching the spray coming off other vehicles. No spray means: Ice! At 2:00 in the morning, other traffic is rare. I'm trying to judge by the glare.

The moonscape of the mountains at night can inspire its own panic. Like a fog bound pilot, it is sometimes difficult to tell if I am going uphill or down. Mistaking down for up, the engine bogs down and speed is lost. Mistaking up for down is insidious. Gradually, almost imperceptively, my speed creeps up. Suddenly, I realize I am flying down Snow Shoe Mountain! If I hit the brakes to hard, the trailer will come right around and all hell will break loose. I pull my foot off the accelerator, swallow the dry taste of panic, and white-knuckle glide downward. The engine brake helps to slow me down safely, but in its own time.

There's a slow truck ahead of me. He passed me a while ago. Suddenly, he has slowed way down. I follow his lead. I'm not close enough to see his spray. Turning on my four way flashers for extra light, there is no spray under my trailer! ICE!

I follow this guy for 20 miles. We are creeping up the mountains and taking it even slower down the other side. This is my first winter in a semi. It is easy to assume that everyone else out here knows better. But after four or five other trucks have passed us and disappeared into the mountains ahead, I decide that the road has gotten better but this guy has just lost his nerve. I need to get on through to me delivery in Michigan. My preplan for the next trip is Michigan to Pennsylvania; right back through all this crap. I might as well figure out how to make some time; safely. I pass him and soon can't even see the glow of his lights behind me.

I've made it as far as I can legally and pull the night. Actually, the sun is almost up, but it'll be night for me when I pull the curtains closed in the sleeper.

Later that day, morning for me, it has begun to rain in Pennsylvania. I hear on the CB the blizzard continues to rage in Ohio. I log up and get moving. Two hours down the road, my wiper motor gives out. The wipers start sweeping way wide on the windshield as if possessed. They stop a minute later splayed out to each edge, blades pointing skyward like a Pentecostal Church Lady in full tantric prayer.

Being lucky, rather than good, the very next exit has a TA Truckstop with a shop. However, it is late Saturday afternoon and they don't stock my wiper motor. Nevertheless, with a half hour to spare, they find one at a Kenworth Dealer. Without the weather it is a five hour round trip to the dealer. The dealer is closing but leaves the motor in their mailbox.

I went into the truckstop for a reuben sandwich. I mill around the shop for a few hours. The food makes me sleepy. I walk into the garage where the truck is waiting. Waving to the mechanic, I tell him I'm going to take a nap and crawl into my truck.

Several hours later, I wake to a strange alarm. The curtains are drawn, it is dark. Just then, the beeping stops and I hear the door of the truck slam shut. The alarm was the ignition being turned on but not turned over. The mechanic had just tested the new, installed, wiper motor. Not thinking it would take so long, I had slept in my clothes. It is after midnight.

I hate to repeat myself, but, as you know, I'd rather be lucky than good. It took so long to get to the Kenworth dealer and back, and then install the motor, that I've had a 10 hour break and have a full legal day, night actually, ahead of me. Not only that but driving through Ohio I've missed most of the blizzard. There are big rigs all over in the ditch but the plows have been out and the blinding snow is done.

The delivery goes fine in Michigan but it has been the whole day. I backtrack to a truckstop I saw and draw the curtains again. Tomorrow, I'll pick up about 2:00 am. Life on the Road.

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