Trucking In English

Carolyn Steele



Part 1: From Wannabe to Almost-am


It was slick, slippery and dark. We were hauling the maximum allowable load, 80,000 lbs gross. The snowploughs had been by clearing surface drifts but snowploughs leave icy droppings. As they passed they mashed the remaining mess of snow, oil and gravel down into a solid layer of scariness.

The road east from Marathon, Ontario was windy, bendy and hilly as well as icy. I bravely managed about 80 kph on the straight runs, a lot less on the hills and bends. I slowed to an irritating crawl on the downhill grades with bends at the bottom. We’d been warned in school, trucks can end up in trouble on slippery hills with bends at the bottom. Apparently they can end up in lakes and/or ravines as well as the vaguer sorts of trouble. Overtly I was being responsible but truthfully I was being pathetic. No, what I was being was terrified.

Other trucks with presumably more experienced and less wimpy drivers flew past us when and where they could. This wasn’t frequent. I switched off the CB, not really wanting to hear what everybody thought of my speed, my mother or my physical attributes. After a couple of hours we were stopped by yet another police cordon… another road closure.
A day’s worth of Highway 17 traffic was neatly corralled into the nearest truck stop. Should you wish to consult a map with a magnifying glass you may spot Wawa, Ontario, somewhere north of Lake Superior. It has a truck stop. That is all. As we drank tolerable coffee and ate tolerable chips we heard the gossip, a truck had ‘parked in the ditch’ in front of us. Behind us the road that had held us up all night—having been closed by the police due to snowdrifts and whiteouts—was closed again, a seventeen truck pile-up with fires and people killed. All of a sudden I didn’t mind being the sort of cowardly rookie who drives slowly on ice. Not dying seemed to be sufficient achievement, careful wimps might live to drive this awful road again.

The offending truck was winched out of the ditch eventually and we all trooped off in a grumpy conga line of tired and late freight. I waited for the back of the line, who needs more abuse? The road remained slick. It snowed. The whiteouts came and went with every turn into the wind. In brief moments when the visibility cleared, you could see waves on the lake flash-frozen into little grey mountains.

It took all day and most of the night to round the rest of Lake Superior and emerge from the dreaded weather system that is a Lake Effect Winter Storm. We were exhausted, anxious, and late. But we emerged, which is more than some did.

Trucking In English Description:

Almost Ice Road Truckers, except for the tulip bulbs… “So here’s the plan. I’m going to train to drive a truck and go long-haul. I can get paid and maybe write a book at the same time. What do you reckon?”

“Go for it Mum, how bad can it be?”

This is the tale of what happens when a middle-aged mum from England decides to actually drive 18-wheelers across North America instead of just dreaming about it. From early training (when it becomes apparent that negotiating 18 wheels and 13 gears involves slightly more than just learning how to climb in) this rookie overcomes self-doubt, infuriating companions and inconsiderate weather to become a real trucker.

She learns how to hit a moose correctly and how to be hijacked. She is almost arrested in Baltimore Docks and survives a terrifying winter tour of The Rockies. Nothing goes well, but that’s why there’s a book. Trucking in English began as a blog from the cab and became a popular podcast before taking book form. It is part of Carolyn’s ‘Armchair Emigration’ series.

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