Patience is a virtue
Here's a little story from earlier in 2019. Fall was in full swing and she was making no secrets about her affection for her friends winter and the wind. It left some of us truck drivers stranded for two days.
It wasn't the first time this happened to me. But it did tell me something about what it means to be a truck driver here in Atlantic Canada.
And not for the first time, frankly. I've been here before, not just the location but also the situation. The location is a stone's throw from the Confederation Bridge. The situation is of course linked to that beautiful bridge, but it's not as nice: restrictions.
As a result of strong winds, the bridge is closed to any vehicle other than passenger cars. I have been parked here in cold, snowy, gusty Borden Carleton for more than 48 hours, waiting for the restrictions to be lifted.
Let's race through a few thousand miles
But how did I get here? Let's race through a few thousand miles. It is a Thursday night and I'm back in our yard in Saint Stephen after a vacation to my home country Holland. It was good to be there, but it is even better to be back home here in Canada.
I hook on to a trailer in our yard, drive to Stellarton, NS, unload the next morning, then pick up a load in Cape Breton bound for Tennessee. A good trip in all. However, stateside, along I-81 in Pennsylvania, things suddenly become more challenging when a brutal snow squall hits.
Safely parked on an on-ramp as I-81 was briefly closed for recovery work to proceed.
Nobody is immune to having an accident
In the snow squall's aftermath, I pass at least a dozen trucks that have skidded off the road or that have otherwise spun out or jackknifed. I am glad I am hauling a heavy load because weight means grip and traction. Also, my truck feels steady, which is not to say one should become complacent in winter conditions - ever. Nobody is immune to having an accident.
But my truck feels solid and at ease under these circumstances. That's a good thing to experience. These are my first miles with this particular truck and I am happy she proves a steady ship.
Interestingly, during the descent into the Harrisburg area, the temperature shoots up, the snow vanishes and I continue on towards Tennessee under much more favorable conditions. Once empty in eastern Tennessee two days later, a reload awaits me in Virginia with one drop in Montreal and another in Borden Carleton, PEI.
Again, a good trip in all. I follow I-81 back up north - no snow this time around - all the way to Watertown NY, the Thousand Islands and the border at Lansdowne, Ontario. From here Montreal is not far, but the delivery turns out to be interesting.
I had checked the address out on Google Maps so as to not run into any surprises. It is after all on the island of Montreal. Thinking I had figured it all out, to my surprise, the two loading docks appear to be at the back of the building facing a busy road, instead of the quiet road at the front.
This means I now have those loading docks on my right. And with all that traffic I decide that I am not going to back into my blind side. It's safest to turn the truck around first, which I can do by backing into a parking lot to then back into my assigned door.
This double backing maneuver causes some degree of local traffic upheaval and once at the door, the truck is still half in the road with all the backed up traffic having to swerve around it. I can't help it, I didn't design and build this place. And also, trucks and the island of Montreal are not your typical match made in heaven anyway.
Backed to my door in Montreal with the truck still partly in the road.
Luckily I get out of the city - which I otherwise really like - before the evening rush hour, and I decide to stop at the Irving at exit 145 for a little while for fuel and a hot meal. Once back on the road I am able to make it all the way to Perth Andover, NB, where I fuel again, to wake up the next morning to another round of snow news.
Travel not recommended
This time it is the Trans-Canada Highway 2 here in New Brunswick. 'Travel is not recommend' between Woodstock and Fredericton. I decide to wait for two more hours to get my full ten hours in. But with the situation unchanged, I decide to hit the road. I can always pull over at Murray's or the Shell in Woodstock.
But once there, I decide to keep going and yes, the road does get pretty bad right beyond the Shell. Lots of snow. I spot a wrecker sitting at the bottom of the Meductic hill, but I am heavy so I have no problem making it up the hill. I can't however go very fast. There is just too much snow and ice on the road.
Taking it easy is the name of the game here. From Fredericton onward the plow crews have gotten the road clean and at some point there simply was never that much snowfall anyway. It's business as usual for the rest of the trip.
The bridge looms while approaching her on the New Brunswick side.
Prince Edward Island
I arrive at my receiver in Borden, PEI, around 4 pm, well ahead of the scheduled appointment time of 11 am the next morning. So here I am, on the island, where I will find myself stuck for the next two and a half days. If only the guy had unloaded me right then and there... I would have been off the island before the restrictions would have come into force.
But things don't go that way. I unload in the morning and once empty, I can't go back to New Brunswick. I drive over to the little Esso/Tim Hortons instead and decide to wait it all out from there. At least there are some amenities there.
The whole day the wind keeps blowing and nothing changes to the restrictions status of the bridge. I talk to my dispatch and they understand. My pick-up in Pokemouche goes to another driver and I sit and wait, reading some magazines, catching up on sleep, taking it easy.
The cab rocks in the wind. Snow, either fresh from the skies or kicked up from the ground blows past the truck at high velocity. I run the engine for some time to keep the batteries charged and as darkness falls I decide I might as well go to sleep. The outlook on the PEI Bridge app does not look good.
The Volvo keeps me comfortable and warm while arctic winds blow in from the Northumberland Straight.
A carton of good things
A lull in the wind forecast the next day does not lead to a lifting of the restrictions. So we're still stuck in Borden throughout the course of that day. But there is a little surprise.
The Connors Transfer driver who is parked in front of me, walks up to my truck with a huge carton full of donuts and other good things from the Tim Hortons. I don't know who paid for this, whether it was him or a customer at Tim Hortons or the manager; fact is, this gesture of kindness makes us all feel good.
We are not being forgotten out here.
I go to bed that night after a second day of being held hostage by the wind, both tired of the wait yet also feeling relaxed and at ease - there is no point getting upset about these things. However, there is a chance the restrictions will be lifted the next morning, or even during the course of the night.
As it turns out, they got lifted at around 2 am, I find out when I wake up at 5 am. I decide to start the truck, go on 'on duty', do my pre-trip inspection and get out of here after completing more than a full reset.
Patience and respect are virtues
Back on the mainland and headed towards Moncton, I can't help but think about those two days on the island. It is a place I love. Also, I was warm and comfortable throughout the more than two days of being stuck there. Furthermore, it's not as if I never want to go back to PEI now; on the contrary.
But ironically, despite there being an actual bridge, it is still very much an island. And with that, very much a place the weather can make sure you get stuck there for some time. I like that kind of irony.
Yet it also tells you in no uncertain terms that being a truck driver here in Atlantic Canada means that you have to know your place. Fall and winter, and even spring are no joke here. Patience and respect for what the weather gods throw at us here, are virtues. Being a truck driver in this part of the world is a humbling experience. It is also a privilege and I wouldn't ever want to go back to being a truck driver in Europe.