Dianne Rowland, wife of Ice Road Trucker Hugh Rowland, was perfectly happy to let her husband disappear into the great white north for a couple of months every year, trucking goods and equipment to and from the mines in the Arctic Circle. Until she saw the first episode of the History Channel's television series that chronicles his journeys. Five minutes into it, she put her foot down and said he wasn't going back. Their three daughters agreed with their mother.
Rowland, a big, burly bear of a man, laughed and reminded her that he'd been doing it safely for the past 30 years. He loves it, and besides, it has provided a good living for them all. In just a few months, he and the other truckers he employs gross about $250,000 -- and that's only in about two months.
During the rest of the year, when he's not battling the elements, Rowland lives in Whitfield, Canada, and has a successful excavation business, for which he also drives heavy equipment. He also spends about a month hunting -- moose, elk, bear and the like; and yes, he does eat what he kills. Just recently he skinned a bear and had a bear barbecue. And there's also the annual family vacation in Aruba -- by the time the thaw begins, usually in March, he is more than ready to exchange white snow and ice for white sand and aquamarine water. Who can blame him?
Danger, danger Hugh Rowland!
The months that he spends on those icy roads are more than just grueling -- they're supremely dangerous. Rowland is accustomed to it, however. He'd been hauling with his dad since he was 15, and then when diamonds were discovered up there, he bought his own rig. As he could manage it, he added to his fleet. "It's not scary for me, even though I'm constantly in big risk situations." he says. "I've seen guys in front of me and behind me fall through the ice."
The hauls begin 1,900 miles from his home, in Yellowknife, Canada -- which is about four hours outside of Vancouver. "I try to pick up a load in Edmonton, Alberta on my way up," he says. Once he loads up in Yellowknife, he drives across hundreds of miles of land and lakes; it takes up to four hours to cross some of the bigger bodies of water.
The deep of winter is the only time the lakes are frozen solid enough to hold the weight of the heavy trucks -- which must keep moving, because the ice will only hold a 100,000 lb. truck when it's in motion. If the truck is still, the ice will only take about 60,000 lbs. of weight. That's why breakdowns can be lethal. Even while you're driving, according to Rowland, you can see and hear the ice cracking in front of you and behind you. It constantly sounds as if you're going down. It constantly sounds terrifying.
"It can be," Rowland says good naturedly. "I've had new guys quit before they make their first stop. They say, 'Get me out of here!' and want to be flown home the second we reach camp." They'll gladly return the $15,000 advance Rowland gives each driver, to take care of their families and financial obligations at home because they'll be on the road for months at a time. "A lot of people want to try when they hear that, but if they say, 'Just let me check with my wife,' I know it's probably not for them."
Nothing flusters him... almost
So Rowland is not afraid to haul heavy loads over thin ice in the worst weather conditions possible, and when he's not doing that, he's taking on bears and other wildlife in the forest. Is there anything that scares this guy?
"I guess I'm afraid of water," he says. "I can't swim, and I sink like a rock. I'll go out in a boat, but I always wear a life jacket." That begs the question: Does he wear a life jacket when he drives his truck over frozen water? After all, there's always the threat of the ice cracking and the truck falling through. "Oh no!" he laughs. "What would be the point? If you go down in a truck you ain't coming back. No one has ever lived through that."
Which brings us right back to a full understanding of why his wife implored him to stop.
Just in case you don't get enough nail-biting tension on the TV series, you can get more information about Rowland from his new book, 'On Thin Ice: Breakdowns, Whiteouts, and Survival on the World's Deadliest Roads,' which he wrote along with Michael Lent.
Related Stories from Examiner.com:
- Fairbank Alaska's Ice Road Bikers -Alaska's Winter Cycling
- Ice Road Truckers 4th Season Of Adventure On History Channel
- The Seven Deadly Sins Of Unemployment, And How To Avoid Them