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A dream comes true on Canadian ice roads

INUVIK, N.W.T. - One night a few years ago while watching a television documentary in his German home town of Arnsberg, Joachim Hilmerich witnessed the wonder of the ice roads in Northern Canada.


DREAM COME TRUE: Joachim Hilmerich gets some advice from construction worker Toby, before heading out on the ice roads.

DREAM COME TRUE: Joachim Hilmerich gets some advice from construction worker Toby, before heading out on the ice roads.


INUVIK, N.W.T. – One night a few years ago while watching a television documentary in his German home town of Arnsberg, Joachim Hilmerich witnessed the wonder of the ice roads in Northern Canada.

Viewing the story of a truck driver delivering goods to a diamond mine and hearing the driver describe the feeling of hearing the cracking ice under the tires of the big rig, Hilmerich dreamed of one day sharing the same feeling.

“That was the moment when my wish was born to drive a truck myself on an ice road,” explained the German.

Born in 1956, Hilmerich has always had diesel in his blood. Since he was a young boy, Hilmerich has carried a love for cars, trucks and other big machines; and his enthusiasm has not waned over the years.

Hilmerich’s trucking pedigree began with his grandfather who owned a transport business. His father also owned a transport company at the young age of 27 and his brother has become a third generation owner, carrying on the family lineage.

Although Hilmerich steered his professional career in a different direction and works as a revenue officer with the German Ministry of Finance, he could not deny his family calling. Having obtained his truck licence, Hilmerich spends his spare time driving a 40-tonne truck for his brother’s company all across Europe.

In the late months of 2006, a German radio station launched a wish-granting promotion and Hilmerich saw an opportunity to fulfill his dream of driving on an ice road in Canada.

The WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk – West German Broadcasting Corporation) is the largest radio and TV broadcaster in Germany, a public station similar to the CBC. WDR 2 is the main radio program of the WDR and averages about one million listeners per hour.

With the launch of the WDR 2 Winter Wishes campaign, the station was overwhelmed with more than 10,000 e-mail wish requests from its listeners. The only guideline for the wishes was it could not be something that could be bought. Fulfilling the wishes of the station’s listeners took the radio station to Switzerland, Namibia, India, Greenland, the US, Bolivia, the UK and Canada.

Hilmerich was one of eight winners of the Winter Wish campaign and his dream to drive Canada’s longest ice road was about to be realized.

“I was lucky because WDR 2 with its reporter, Fabian Raphael, phoned me and told me that my wish would become true,” said Hilmerich. “At first I couldn’t believe it, but now I have to consider, my wish became true!”

The phone call was no prank and on Dec. 16, Hilmerich along with his 20-year-old son Maurice, and Raphael, boarded a plane to Canada. After 17 hours of flying, the German contingent arrived in Inuvik and the adventure began.

Hosted by Merven Gruben from Grubens Transport – whose crew builds the ice road from Inuvik at the Mackenzie River to Tuktoyaktuk at the Arctic Ocean every year – Hilmerich began his adventure at 9 a.m. on Dec. 18.

After a live radio broadcast back to Germany – where Hilmerich told listeners it was still dark and -30 C, which is unbelievable in the mild German winter – the group headed up the ice road. Hilmerich was amazed there was just half a metre of ice underneath the car and how smooth the road was.

The group travelled up the ice road and stopped for a breathtaking view of the Arctic Ocean before heading on to Tuktoyaktuk.

“For my son and for me the trip was a fantastic adventure. I won’t forget it for the rest of my life,” said Hilmerich. “Canada is a fantastic country with fantastic nature and fantastic people. I met a lot of people in Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk and with some of them I already e-mail again and again. I enjoyed every second staying in Canada and it is a tragedy to be back in Germany.”

The highlight of Hilmerich’s trip came in Tuktoyaktuk, when he was given the opportunity to drive a snowplow on the ice road. He had to build an approach driveway from Tuktoyaktuk to the road. The snowplow was an old truck, which being a truck enthusiast, excited Hilmerich even more.

After only one hour of truck driving, Hilmerich’s dream was complete and they headed back to Inuvik.

“To build the ice road and to drive a truck on the ice road was a great feeling,” said Hilmerich. “It was tingly in my stomach standing on the ice. But it was great for me! I will never forget it!”

Not long after being back in Germany, while watching television again, Hilmerich envisioned a new dream.

“I saw a report about a truck driver who drives his truck nearly every week from Vancouver to Inuvik to supply people with fresh fruits and pineapple,” explained Hilmerich. “He came to the Dempster Highway and at once I wished to drive such a truck for myself, together with the driver of the truck. But I also have to accept that this wish will probably never become true, but I’ll never stop dreaming it!”


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