I thought the mountain snow would be the exciting part of the evening.
Yesterday, I stayed over in a motel in Bend, Oregon. Upon my return to work, I was told to take two empty trailers to our Salem yard. After perusing the weather and road condition websites, I notified dispatch that I did not feel safe pulling two. I headed out with one trailer.
The difficulty with empty trailers stems from gravity not sucking them down to the road very well. They don't have very good traction to move forward and when braking, they can and will slide easily.
Snow packed and small, the mountain roads were no match for the locked differential and solo trailer, the truck beat the hill into submission in a hurry. My only issue stemmed from reduced visibility that comes along with blowing snow. I had not been down that particular road since October of 99 (back then, though, it wasn't snowing, and I was in a gas tanker).
My apprehensions with unknown routes has been addressed fairly well by a little GPS unit that runs through my cell phone/pda. The little 3-d moving map on the screen lets me know what the road is going to do ahead (which direction and how tight of a turn). It also tries to tell me where to turn (this works best if I've browsed it's routing ahead of time and know where it differs from the trucking route).
Anyway, about 40 miles up and over and through the snow. Then to the rain. Much rain. About five or ten miles from Salem, as the road ahead rose up and over a hill with a gentle right hand turn, I saw police lights up ahead a bit. A car was running along in front of me as we topped the hill.
At first, it looked to be a normal traffic stop, with the patrol car on the white fog line. I had long since taken my foot off of the throttle and was covering the brake, and now I also moved over to the left lane to go by the incident slowly. As I went down below forty or so, I simultaneously noted that the car was staying in the right lane and was slowing even more than I. I kept track of the car while trying to see what was going on with the cop.
I didn't see another vehicle in front of the cruiser, but then, visibility was very limited. Debris was coming into my view; it later turned out to be exploded fiberglass insulation or something like that. As the chunks took shape in the right lane, the car in the right lane decided to stop. The only problem was that they changed lanes to the left first. Stopped car directly in front of my direction of travel; very close in. Nice.
It happened in seconds (or less). I tapped the brakes, and the tell-tale feel of a sliding trailer (kind of a shudder accompanied by unusually poor slowing) caused me to check the mirror as I took my foot off of the brake. Yep, the trailer was going sideways and I was going to hit the car unless...
You can almost always steer around something easier than you can stop a semi... especially an empty one. To the left was a sharp drop to the median ditch. To my right, debris in the right lane and the police car on the shoulder. I did not see the officer so I chose that way. I think I missed the car by about a foot at about 30 miles an hour.
As I went to the inside, I saw the police officer waving like the top half of fevered jumping jacks. Screw the brakes, I turn back to the left and then to the right and coast to a stop on the shoulder.
In the end, nothing of note happened save for my wishing for convenient toilet paper and alleviating my need for caffeine for the next 5 hours. I still don't understand why his police car was on the shoulder with those blinding disco lights while the officer was standing 50 feet or so in front of his cruiser in the right hand lane.
That took quite a lot of text to describe, but the event only lasted about five seconds. Funny, my brain was thinking about each phase in the decision tree for quite a few minutes inside those few seconds.
I thank God that I am not one to take my hands off and scream. Also, that no one got hurt.
Hours, days, weeks, months of boredom; punctuated by short bursts of life or death decisions. Those that say this is easy are nuts (although, I've said that very thing). So be it.