By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 1/17/2018
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 863
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

I had run out of time. Literally. A truck driver is only allowed to work 70 hours a week, and I had used up my 70 hours. So, even though it meant my load couldn't make it on time, the consignee would just have to live with an altered schedule.

I suppose if it was really urgent, like a donor's heart in ice or the newest Brittney Spears single, Schneider would have found someone to pick the load up and get it there on time. But it wouldn't have been me. I had run out of time.

Fortunately, I had a little advance notice. The last time I "ran out", I was south of Portland and I was simply stuck where I was. This time, however, I had two hours' left. Two hours to go anywhere from a starting point of Calgary, Alberta—preferably in the direction of California, where the load was headed.

I couldn't believe my good luck. The answer was…Banff!

Banff is a resort town deep in the Canadian Rockies. In the summer people hike; in the winter, they ski. And all year long, they soak in the hot springs.

Hot springs are terrific at any time, and the ones at Banff are particularly nice (for developed springs, in any case). I knew, because I had come here once before, in 1995. Of course, then I had a rental car, not an 18-wheeler with a heavy load.

Banff, the town, is located within Banff, the national park. The park itself is easily worth the price of admission—or would be, if there were an admission. You do have to pay an entrance fee if you want to go backpacking but you do not to simply drive through the park.

In late October, the air was frigid and clear. There were plenty of hills to climb and descend, but not much traffic so that wasn't a problem. The mountains, in this least-eroded section of the Rockies, are jagged and severe, wearing their white winter scarves while still revealing the granite undergarments. Lakes appear out of nowhere, with frozen surfaces covered with snow, and rivers gurgle out from beneath the ice rimming their shores, looking as cold as anything you'll ever see this side of Nancy Reagan.

This far north, this time of year, sunset comes early and it was already beginning to get dark when I arrived in the town of Banff. There are two turnoffs from Canadian Highway 1 and, if you're in a big rig, I recommend the westernmost of the two. The town is primarily a tourist trap that will remind you of an icy Key West but don't let that discourage you. Drive through carefully—the street is narrow, but you can make it. When you cross the little stone bridge, make a buttonhook turn left and then turn right at the sign for the hot springs.

I didn't, at first. I remembered the road up to the springs as being narrow and steep, and wasn't confident there was room for a truck anyway. So what did I do? Wind up on a narrow street where there wasn't enough room for the truck. Fortunately there was a bus turnaround, and I was able to navigate it. But I got to talking to a bellhop at one of the hotels, and he assured me I'd have no problem. So, up I went.

The road was narrow, and it was steep; but it wasn't too narrow or steep and the parking lot at the top had plenty of room for me to turn around and even position the truck for spending the night.

I then strolled up the last hill to the springs building, paid my $5.50 Canadian (a $1 for the locker), and soaked for four hours until they closed the place. I then slept in the cab where I most enjoy it: In the quiet of a mountaintop.

Thursday, October 31, 2002

In the morning, before driving away I went in for another soak and had a light lunch in the Café. (It was really breakfast, but they didn't have any breakfast food.) Driving down the hill was no problem. It was pretty tight getting back on the bridge, but I made another buttonhook turn and a guy driving a tourist bus gave me a "thumbs up" sign in admiration of the wonderful turn I had just made. I really appreciated it; sometimes the most frustrating part about driving truck is not having an audience when you've just performed splendidly. I smiled for hours over that thumbs up, until I almost turned the trailer on its side.

Before that happened, though, I had to leave Banff National Park.

That meant driving west on Hwy 1 until it intersected with Hwy 93. Canadian Highway 93 becomes US Hwy 93 when it crossed the border. That's the very same road that, eventually, terminates in Wickenburg, AZ, just about an hour northeast of Phoenix. So I felt a bit of a connection to home just driving on it.

The breathtaking scenery continued to surround me on all sides; every turn revealed some new panorama. It can be frustrating in a truck; it takes so much effort to stop the thing that a lot of photos don't get snapped. Some places, though, the scenes were too fabulous to rely on memory and I managed to stop for a moment, anyway. This was partly due to the fact that Canada has thoughtfully provided many turnouts along their park highways, and partly because there was little traffic.

After a few hours, I passed the sign saying "You Are Leaving Banff National Park". Almost immediately, another sign announced I was welcome in British Columbia; following that was another sign welcoming me to Kootenay National Park.

The parks are adjacent because Canadian scientists have come to realize that wildlife needs contiguous habitats in order to develop healthy, sustainable populations. "From Yellowstone to Yukon" is a phrase they use. The animals range that far, anyway; but presently they have to do it by encroaching on human habitations, which is good neither for the animals nor the humans. Canada is doing its best to link its parks to provide this corridor; the U.S., on the other hand, under the command of the current administration, is busily granting variances to pretty much any corporation that asks; and only a miracle will save Alaska from renewed oil pipelining in areas that include the calving grounds of some endangered species.

Understanding that the interconnected web of all life is fragile, and that destroying it will destroy us with it, is a complex concept that may be beyond our current President to understand. Certainly the Canadians don't think he can. Recently, I was told, reporters from a Canadian TV show told President Bush that their Prime Minister Poutine was behind Bush all the way in Bush's "War on Terrorism". The President smiled and said that showed what an intelligent and able leader Prime Minister Poutine was. This whole thing was aired on Canadian TV. Everyone in the country with a TV saw it. The joke, course, was that the Canadian Prime Minister is named Chretien, not Poutine. Poutine is the name of a soggy french fries and gravy dish that is served up here, unless you know not to ask for it.

As another example of the web of life, a sign at a roadside turnout explained the red patches of forest I could see here and there. This forest consisted mostly of lodgepole pines. The red patches were dead trees, killed by infestations of the mountain pine beetle, which lays its young in the bark of living trees. When they hatch, the hungry larvae make short work of the trees, killing them.

Now, this is the sort of thing that typically sends Americans into a frenzy. Down with the mountain pine beetle! Not one more tree should die needlessly! But, the sign continued, it's the life of the forest that matters, not of the trees that make it up. When a stand of lodgepoles falls, thanks to the beetles, it creates a whole new sub-ecosystem where fungi and many other small creatures, insects as well as mammals, thrive; and then, the open patch allows new growth to find a place to exist. In this way, the whole forest remains healthy and vibrant. Forests don't need people to thrive, but people need the forests.

Again, the early twilight fell, weaving beams of sunlight between lodgepole branches and distant, jagged mountaintops.

It wasn't yet full dark when I got to an intersection that, in may opinion, wasn't properly marked. The Canadians understand forests but they have a way to go on signage. As it turns out, Hwy 93 veered left where it joined Hwy 95. The only signs were for Hwy 95, however; so I kept going straight.

This brought me past a residential neighborhood, and then looking down a steep hill at a dead end to the road. Fortunately, I thought, there was a turnaround. It was a loop, fairly tight, around a hillock. I entered the loop and tried to follow it around as loosely as I dared, given that a cliff dropped away just past the tire ruts.

The next thing I knew, the trailer had caught on the hillock and was canted at a crazy angle behind me.

I stopped, praying the trailer wouldn't continue to fall over. Filled, as it was, with peat moss, I knew it was heavy and probably top-heavy, to boot. But the trailer held. My only hope was to back up. But the trailer was now stuck on the hill and I couldn't get enough traction in the dirt to move.

Breathing as deeply as if I were out there pushing on the thing, I tried flipping on the power divider switch. This is like putting on the four wheel drive, forcing both pairs of drive wheels to push, instead of just one pair. That gave me enough traction, and I got the trailer safely off the hillock, none the worse for wear.

Of course, I still had to get out of the loop, back on the road the way I had come, and heading south on Hwy 93. But that was just a matter of doing a lot of careful backing up, a lot of get-out-and-look, and some more prayer.

I got through US Customs without effort, and decided I had enough time to make Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, before I ran out of driving hours for the day. Just after passing through Bonner's Ferry, I saw enough emergency flashers ahead to see something was wrong. I pulled over. A car heading the other way, and pulling a small U-Haul, had apparently jackknifed and was lying on its side in a ditch. 911 had been called but had not yet arrived. I helped pull the driver out of his car; fortunately, he'd been wearing his seat belt and didn't seem to be injured, not even by the air bag, which had neglected to inflate. Once I was sure everything would be all right, I continued south. It did strike me as interesting, that on the way north, I had come upon a car fire; and on the way south, another car accident. In neither case had anyone been injured, just inconvenienced. Again, it seemed like a message to me from the Universe since I was among the first on the scene each time; again, I couldn't figure out what the message meant.