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Looking for snowed-in silver linings


Just before this month’s deadline I got sent out on a trip that will form the basis of this column. It was a normal dispatch, nothing out of the ordinary. I was to take a set of pikes out to Calgary, split them and continue onto Langley, B.C. with one of the trailers. I hadn’t been to B.C. for a while and so I was a little apprehensive about running the mountains for the first time in a while when the snow was flying, but it was suck it up buttercup time, so off I went.

It was cold for the first leg of the trip. The wind was howling and that, along with a gross weight of almost 60 tonnes, meant that my fuel mileage was suffering. My rate compensates for this, but still it doesn’t fill me with joy when I watch the fuel gauge dropping like a stone. However this isn’t a huge problem as I can always pull into a truck stop and take on some more fuel. This is not the case with the other liquid that my truck requires to function, the planet-saving diesel exhaust fluid (DEF).

This vital commodity is hard to find at the best of times. Not all truck stops have this in bulk and the jugs are expensive. Not only that, but the irony of the waste they create appears to be lost on the decision makers. Not only the waste, but also the transportation costs. Raw materials and packaging need to be trucked to the manufacturing facility, then it needs to be shipped to the retail outlet. I wonder how many extra truck miles have been created by the need to have this stuff?

The fact that it freezes and is unable to be delivered in bulk is what really drives me crazy. I mean come on, really? You’re going to put a system on a Canadian truck that requires a fluid that freezes at a temperature that most Canadians can only dream about in winter?

One of the truck stop chains has at least tried to alleviate this issue by wrapping the pumps with insulation, however this hasn’t worked as it should. The theory behind it is a good one, but they never researched the complete lack of intelligence of some of the people that will use it, as the insulation has been destroyed and the hoses have not been put away properly leaving them exposed to the cold temperatures, with the end result being pumps frozen solid.

Because this is a regular occurrence in winter time I have already worked out that I will be facing this problem and have started to fill my DEF tank in locations that have an attendant fill the tank – my home terminal being one such place. However that isn’t a 24/7 operation, so sometimes I have no choice but to pay the extortionate prices for the jugs. Spending the extra money annoys me of course, but not as much as the whole situation of using a liquid that freezes in the first place.

So I get to Calgary, split my trailers and park for the night. In the morning there’s a change of plans; I’m still going to Langley, but with a different trailer. This one will not be ready until late afternoon. This is just one of those things – on the surface it would appear to be worse than my prior dispatch, however this is a trailer drop, rather than a live unload, so even though I’ve lost half a day, I will be ahead of myself the next day. Or so I thought.

Then Mother Nature stuck her nose in and things went horribly wrong in a hurry. The roads over the passes were being shut down for Avalanche Control. I could reach Golden, B.C. before my time ran out and by the time I had taken my break they would be closed for the day. Oh well, it’s winter. It happens.

So I spent the day in Golden; I had all the facilities I needed, so it was no real hardship. Then Mother Nature decided to have a little more fun, so she whipped up some wind and threw in some ice rain for good measure. This meant the helicopters that they use to do the Avalanche Control were grounded and so was I, along with all the other trucks that had to shut down.

They had opened the road immediately in front of me, but the town of Revelstoke ahead was full to bursting with trucks that could go no further, so there was nowhere to go, although some trucks left town as they were in a hurry and had a deadline to meet.

I also had a deadline, but it was now impossible to achieve, so my dispatcher was waiting for things to sort themselves out before making a new appointment for my trailer drop. The main factor in this was, it was my call on when it was safe to get moving, not the online weather report’s or even the very good DriveBC app’s.

Speaking to some other drivers this didn’t seem to be universal. Some carriers were constantly asking for updates from their drivers and others were insisting that they get moving as soon as the road opened, even though there was nowhere to go as the road was still closed a little further on. It made me feel very lucky to be working where I do as there was no pressure on me at all. It was my call and that was that – exactly how things should be.

***

A fourth generation trucker and trucking journalist, Mark Lee uses his 25 years of transcontinental trucking in Europe, Asia, North Africa and now North America to provide an alternative view of life on the road.


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