I'm a confident driver. You might even label me aggressive. I grew up driving Alberta country roads, can handle snow, ice, gravel and roads with no lines on them. I've also been driving a truck and trailer since I was 18. My parents did not believe anyone younger had sufficient driving experience to manage a live load. I began hauling with my mom riding shotgun to local horse shows. With time I was hauling to gymkhana and shows alone. Soon I was hauling hours to get to the rodeos and roping's I was competing in. I learned how to navigate a section with a loaded trailer full of cowboy's horses (and a truck full of often intoxicated cowboys) to get closer to the cattle we needed to check.
When I moved to Consort I learned how to manage hauling my horses through an isolated and sometimes hostile environment. I remember once after doing grand entry for a ProRodeo a couple of hours away the wind came up. (Out there when the wind came up - it came UP!) Across the rolling prairie I could see the wall of dirt off the fields headed towards me. Knowing I quickly would see nothing I began to slow and pull onto the shoulder of the highway. As the wind rocked and buffeted the truck and trailer I could hear steel screeching. When the dirt storm moved past I notice the wind had peeled the rock guard off the front of the trailer. Once on my midnight trek home from roping (I used to travel 140km each way to practice roping.) I split a herd of deer in two as they settled on the highway in front of me. While not one of those natural drivers who can park and maneuver a trailer in tight spaces I am competent and comfortable with a loaded trailer.
Yesterday I made attempt number two at Fort St. John. My brother who works up there had just flown back from his vacation would follow me in his car up north. We pulled out of the yard at around 8:30. We reached our destination around 5:00. For the vast majority of the drive it was lovely. It was sunny, and the highway was dry and clear. The final four hours involved driving into a head wind which is always lovely for fuel economy, and there was something wrong with my trailer brakes because they kept grabbing on the rough road. Also lovely for fuel economy. Once we reached Dawson Creek my brother and his wife hopped in with me. We would go the remainder of the distance together. This last hour and half stretch is the stretch that had me scared. It involved a serious hill/mountain over a metal bridge and then into the bush on secondary roads.
I had turned off my trailer breaks because they weren't working well. Baby (my 3/4 ton Chev diesel) is equipped with an engine break and this is what I planned to use. Easing off the pedal we passed the signs telling people we were entering a chains and winter tire mandatory area. We passed the signs and pull out where the semis were required to check their breaks before continuing on. As the road began to drop and twist out beneath us I began to tap and release my breaks to keep the rig from gaining momentum. It took a few minutes for Baby to figure out that we were doing some serious work, but she quickly kicked in the engine break and slowed the truck to a crawl. With the engine roaring we crept down, down, down and past the final hair pin turn. Next we began the incline up the long, long, long metal bridge. With the truck and trailer shimmying I tried to keep a steady hand on the wheel and a steady pressure on the pedal. Huffing out a breath I looked over at my wide eyed brother and said "See why I was scared?"
Steadying myself we began to work our way off the beaten path. We had 30km of back roads to reach the ranch where Whiskey was moving to. As we cleared the city of Fort St. John, I realized the dry clear roads had come to an end. Keeping my pace slow but steady I began navigating the chunks and sheets of ice. Reminding myself to breath we forged on. And then it happened, as we began an incline the truck hit ice and the hind end shifted. My brother chanting "Easy, easy, don't break, don't break." I managed to keep the truck (and trailer) under control and on the road. At this point if I had been alone I would have been crying. Pulling into the middle of the road (secondary highway), I tried to keep my tires on the rough sanded looking part, and crawled up the hill. And then it got really, really scary.
My next road was their gravel road. This road was white and shiny with rained on snow. It was a skating rink. Popping my truck into 4x4, I began easing my way down it. Chanting "scared, scared, scared" I slowly, carefully made my way the 5 km to their driveway. We did the entire 5k doing 30 km/h. As I eyeballed the driveway and wondered if we'd make it up it, Jay looked and me and said "giver" we'd made it this far. By this time daylight was quickly fading into black and I was eager to beat a hasty retreat.
Settling Whiskey in, we went into the house to do the paperwork. She couldn't remember how much we had agreed on and I was oh so tempted to up the price. Restraining myself I stayed honest. Tempted though. Very, very tempted. (Does this make me bad?) She was very impressed with Whiskey (as most people are who meet her) and kept muttering what a nice horse she was. Paperwork done, we began to head back to civilization. Thrilled at the prospect of driving back over the scary roads I took some deep breaths, patted Baby, asked her to be good, and pulled out. It felt surreal to leave Whiskey behind. I'm not sure it's really set in that she's not coming back. Ridiculous I know. I know she'll be cared for and loved. I know she'll have some really, really nice babies.
We made it through the roads from the devil and headed to the next town where my brother is currently living (working a job). But the fun wasn't done. I still had to park the truck and trailer in his apartment parking lot, which as many things are in Northern BC, was on an incline and icy. Parked and safely in his apartment I shook with exhaustion. After a short visit, I took an Advil and crashed. An adrenalin hangover if you will. You know how they say you should do something that scares you every day? Well I say HOGWASH!!!! I hate that feeling. I don't care that everything worked out in the end.
The golden lining was the time spent with family. Due to decisions he's made in the past my relationship with my brother is shaky and somewhat fractured. We've only begun to carefully rebuild a relationship. His support meant the world to me. I tear up when I think how he made sure I didn't have to do this alone. He knew how stressed I was about doing it. I think the whole reason Whiskey was destined to go north and I was destined to drive it once he was back in town was for us to have the chance to spend time together. I took the opportunity to visit with his wife and get to know her better, and I think that all of us have a deeper understanding of each other. It was a great building block and I feel more connected with my brother.
That being said, I've reached my quota for risky and scary behavior the last couple of days...
Now off to spend time with my needy and active dogs.