Ice road woes (and whoas)

I was driving back to Red Deer from Calgary the other day and got a speeding ticket in a blinding snowstorm. The cop told me there is a law in Alberta that states that speed limits are reduced to 80 km/h when winds exceed 70 km/h. I told him, in no uncertain terms, that I’d never heard of such bull excrement and that if he ever gets up on the Dempster Highway I’d drag race him in Hurricane Alley where the wind blows semi-trailers over like paper cups. When he got back in his car, I blew my nose with his ticket. They can come find me if they want their money.

I guess not everybody grew up in the North where driving in whiteout conditions is second nature. If you’ve ever driven the Dempster Highway or the Ice Road to Tuk, you’ll get my drift.

Speaking of drifts, as a teenager, my parents had a country food outlet called Allen’s Country Food Outlet. We sold reindeer meat and Arctic char. We had to drive to Tuktoyaktuk where we’d load up our F250 flat deck with frozen reindeer carcasses and spin around and head home before the Saturday Night Request Show started.
One time me and my sister Judy were driving back from Tuk with a load of reindeer meat. It was a six-hour round trip and soon after we left Tuk, she got tired and told me to drive. Being 15, I didn’t have a license, but I’d learned how to drive stick shift that fall, though I was still getting used to the gears. I was grinding them gears like they were made of rubber and Judy was snapping in and out of sleep, yelling at me to quit grinding. A big west wind had brewed up that afternoon and the snowdrifts were starting to pile up on the ice road. Judy must have been pretty tired because I was hitting those snow drifts like Steve McQueen and she didn’t even wake up. I was actually aiming for them to see the snow fly over the hood. Hey, I was 15.

As the wind increased, the snow was flying over the wind rows and making it difficult to see the road. By then it had grown dark. I had to slow down to 50 miles an hour to see where the road was. At the mouth of the Mackenzie River, where it empties into the Beaufort Sea, and where the winds are strongest, the wind rows had been blown clean, so there was nothing to differentiate the ice from the ice road. At that exact spot, I hit a little pressure ridge (google it) and did about eight donuts, gripping the wheel and slamming on the brakes. When it was all said and done, I had no idea which way I was facing, or where the road was. Judy didn’t even wake and I didn’t want her to wake up anyway cause she would have chewed me out for going so fast.

I was driving in circles trying to find the ice road. After half an hour, I hit the bank of the river. So I turned around and headed the other way. Anyway, it took me another hour of driving around on the bare sea ice to find truck tracks, which I deduced was the ice road. I followed it and I saw lights ahead. I thought I was facing south and the lights were from the Gulf Oil camp at Swimming Point. But when I got closer, I realized I’d driven back to Tuk. So I turned around and headed the other way. Just then Judy woke up. When she realized we were still on the sea ice, she asked me how come we’re still close to Tuk. I told her I fell asleep. She looked at me like she didn’t believe me. I let out a fake yawn and turned the radio on. To my luck, I got the Saturday Night Request Show out of CHAK Inuvik.
“At least we can listen to the request show” Judy said and went back to sleep. Whew! That was a close one. Keep this under your hat please.

[box type=”warning”] This piece was submitted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic; current travel and quarantine guidelines should be strictly adhered to. [/box]

A Tuk load of memories


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