With memories of a dog named "Hero" growing fainter with each mile of The Rock he put behind him, Mark Dalton headed for St. John's intent on delivering his load on time and having a trouble-free run ...
With memories of a dog named “Hero” growing fainter with each mile of The Rock he put behind him, Mark Dalton headed for St. John’s intent on delivering his load on time and having a trouble-free run back to Ontario. After dropping his load of auto parts at a warehouse at the edge of the city, Mark stopped off at a fish and chips place on the coast and had lunch while enjoying a spectacular view of the ships heading in and out of the port.
In the distance there were distinct white masses seemingly stuck in the water, like islands. Mark knew these to be icebergs, but he’d never imagined they could be so big. Alone on the waves there was no reference point for the icebergs, but every so often a ship would slide by and Mark was able to get a better sense of how large they really were. Even though the ships and the icebergs were miles apart, the ships were still dwarfed by the bright white monsters.
“Beautiful, aren’t they?” said the lovely young woman who’d been serving Mark.
“They’re so big,” Mark said. “And close.”
She nodded, picking up his empty plate and glass. “They’ve come a lot further south this year, making trouble for everyone.”
“The captains are saying that navigating the icefields is harder than any can remember…and on-shore, well, there’s fog t’icker than some of the soups on the menu.”
Mark laughed at that, but the woman didn’t seem to think it was all that funny.
“They don’t call this ‘The Rock’ for nuthin’,” she said. “The roads in other parts of the country might be straight and level, but here they’re a challenge more than anything. Up, down, left and right…You get some fog rolling in and you’re lucky if you can look away long enough to check your rearview mirror.”
Mark nodded. The highway on his way into St. John’s had been tricky enough, and that had been when the weather had been clear and sunny. Add a bit of fog, and the fact that Mark didn’t know the roads out here all that well, and…
“Then a’course, there’s the moose,” she added.
“Moose?” Mark said.
“You drive a rig?”
“Well, you hit a two-tonne moose and the moose’ll be dead fer sure, but your truck probably won’t make it, and you’ve got a 50/50 chance of coming out of it with your life.”
Mark felt a shiver slide down his spine.
“More coffee?” she asked him, her voice bright and perky.
“Would you like some more coffee?”
“Yeah, I think I would.”
After leaving the coffee shop, Mark called his dispatcher, Bud for another load and was given a reefer load of frozen fish headed for Toronto. So Mark headed north from St. John’s to Pouch Cove where there were several small fisheries located right on the water. When Mark found the processing plant, he was dismayed to learn that there was a tricky drop some 50 feet down to the loading bay. The road was flat and dry enough, but the angle of it was so steep, Mark wasn’t sure he’d be able to make it back up onto the highway.
In the end, it wasn’t the steepness of the access road that was the problem, but rather, the fog that rolled in like a carpet while he was hooking up the reefer to Mother Load. It was white and dense, and so thick he could feel the moisture in it against his skin. Droplets of water even began forming on his jacket and shoes.
“Nice weather,” Mark mentioned to the shipper as they were getting the bill of lading and other paperwork in order.
“I’ve seen worse,” the shipper said. “But not much.”
“Think this fog will last?” asked Mark.
“There’s a saying in the Maritimes…If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”
Mark laughed. “So you think it’ll blow over?”
The shipper shook his head. “Nah. This one’s pretty bad. Might last a day or two, maybe more.”
“And I’m supposed to be in Toronto with this load in…” He looked at the paperwork. “Three days!”
“It’s not so bad…Won’t be any fog once you get off the rock, eh.”
That was little comfort to Mark since he wasn’t sure how he was going to get out of this little cove, never mind across an island whose roads sometimes seemed to be a series of connected pretzels. And, to top it all off he’d be driving through a fog so dense he’d be lucky to see Mother Load’s bull’s head from behind the steering wheel.
But he tried. As long as he could get back onto the Trans-Canada Highway he’d be alright, but just getting there was proving to be an ordeal. Visibility on Highway 20 heading south was virtually zero and Mother Load’s headlights only seemed to make things worse, throwing up an impenetrable white wall into which the road just seemed to vanish. After a mile or so he’d slowed to a crawl and was having trouble keeping up enough speed to make it safely out of some of the deeper dips in the road. If he could be sure he were alone on the road he’d stay the course, but Mark couldn’t help imagining some local kid in a pick-up racing through the fog and slamming into the back of his reefer, or…someone coming toward him that was having trouble staying on their side of the roadway.
Either way would end badly.
Mark decided it’d be best to pull over the first chance he could and wait it out by the side of the road. It might make him late, but what was a few hours when his truck, not to mention his life, hung in the balance?
He decided to call Bud and let him know what was happening.
“Hi Bud, it’s Dalton,” Mark said, deciding to throw Bud a curve by using his last name instead of his first.
“Dalton? Dalton who?”
This time Mark understood Bud’s
“Dalton McStinky, Premier of Ontario…Who do you think it is?”
“Mark? Is that you?”
“Yeah, it’s me. I’m calling from The Rock to let you know I’m shutting down for a while.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“There’s fog here, big time. I can’t see a thing, and I doubt anyone else can either. I’d rather be late than dead.”
Mark was expecting Bud to dismiss his concerns and convince him to keep moving and deliver his load on time, but instead Bud surprised him, agreeing with Mark’s decision and even, strange as it might seem, commending him for it.
“Good call,” Bud said. “That’s a pretty bad stretch of road and I doubt it gets any better in a fog. Besides, there’s nothing worth risking your life, load and truck over…You want me to call Toronto and let them know you’re going to be late?”
Mark considered the offer. It was probably a good idea, but Mark thought it a bit early to throw in the towel. He figured he could wait up to 12 hours, maybe more, before he’d be so far behind he couldn’t make up the time.
“Thanks, but no,” Mark said. “Let’s see how long the fog lasts first.”
“Alright, McStinky,” Bud joked. “Call me in a few hours to let me know you’re alright.”
“Bud, I never knew you cared.”
“Well, I do,” said Bud. “Loads of frozen fish off The Rock aren’t easy to come by.” And then he hung up.
Mark just smiled. “Some things never change.”
Mark found a piece of road with a shoulder that was wide enough for him to park, and pulled off to the side. After shutting down the engine, he checked the reefer’s gen-set, then switched on the cab’s auxiliary heater and the rig’s running lights. The lights weren’t much defense in this fog, but if they warned an oncoming truck of Mother Load’s presence, it could mean the difference between a peaceful nap and tens of thousands of dollars in damages from a collision.
When everything was in order, Mark prepared himself for bed. But before he could move, he noticed something moving out of the corner of his eye.
He turned and saw it clearly.
There were people walking on the highway, three or four of them at least. He couldn’t see much detail through the mist, but he was sure there were three truckers out there, and a female, most likely a wife or girlfriend who’d come along for the ride.
But why were they walking? And where were they going?
Mark put o
n his jacket, grabbed his flashlight and stepped out of his cab.
“Hey there!” he called out, using the flashlight like a knife, trying to cut through the fog. “Come back,” he tried again. “It’s not safe!”
But there was no answer.
Mark wasn’t sure what to do. He knew it wasn’t safe to go out walking on the road when there was so much fog – that was just asking to be run over – and if he went after them he’d be putting himself in just as much peril. Maybe they know what they’re doing, he thought. Know where they’re going. That had to be it. Why else would they be out walking in the fog, here, in the middle of nowhere?
Resigned to the fact that there was little else he could do, Mark climbed back into Mother Load and lay in bed until he drifted off into a light and uneasy sleep.
– Next month’s Truck News will feature Part 2 of In the land of rock and fog.