Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Back at the wheel

Last time I wrote was just before Christmas...of 2010! Been a while. Time waits for no man. For all those people we met and filmed on our way across the US and back, and all those who followed our trip, you'll be glad to know we're back at work on the documentary. King of the Road is well into editing now. Looking good, too. This morning Jay and I got together with Alex and his son Curtis for bacon and eggs at the Gold Range in Yellowknife. I sat across from Alex who told stories and made sure the rest of us are staying on track. I'm married now, so he can't give me heck anymore about living in sin. But he's still darn sure that he's right and everyone else needs advice. It's mid-summer and been over 30 degrees this week. The heat is pretty tough on those of us built for the cold, and certainly hard on an ice road trucker. So Alex's truck is parked and he's driving his off-season vehicle. It's no golf cart. Similar to the way Alex's laugh is tough to miss, his car turns heads when it rolls down Yellowknife's Franklin Ave. Especially this morning with Alex, Jay and I all crammed into the front seat for a drive through town (who knows what's gone on in the back seat!?). Here's a quick iphone video Jay and I put together of Alex and his "rat rod" Cadillac. Enjoy. And stay in touch to see when the doc comes out.  More soon. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Home sweet home

I write to you from cold, dark Yellowknife. It's dark when you go to work and dark when you come home. Even if you only work bankers hours. But despite the cold and the dark, it is mighty fine to be home.

We got to the Milwaukee airport in the middle of a wild snow storm. I'd guess half of the flights were cancelled, including Jay's first leg to Cleveland, on route to Toronto for his dad's birthday. Alex and I were lucky to get out on our early morning flight to Denver. We connected there to Edmonton. And then made it home to Yellowknife by 10 at night. All the while we were receiving increasingly disturbed updates from Jay about life at the Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee. Eventually Jay caught a flight, a mere 27 and a half hours after arriving at the airport.

Before we left Wisconsin we were hosted graciously in Manitowoc and Two Rivers. Two Rivers is the home of the Red Giant and is now where the beast is resting. Deservedly so after a huge trip. Randy Nickels and Bryan Dax who operated the truck and managed merchandise on the road are also both from Two Rivers and showed us a good time before we set sail for the north. Hanging out at Bryan's favourite place to play pool and chowing down on cheese curds was the first time it sunk in that we were wrapping up the tour. Definitely mixed emotions.

Now that we're home, you'd think that we'd all want a little break from each other. Not so. Jay and I have been texting, emailing and calling frequently since our paths split in Milwaukee. And Alex and I hadn't been home for 24 hours when we got back together to do a radio interview with CBC North's Norbert Poitras. After the interview Alex gave me a ride home and we parked in the alley behind my house to keep yakking.

All of this is to say that it was a great trip. Happy as we all are to be sleeping in our own beds, the adventure of seeing a new place and meeting new people everyday will be missed, big time. During our interview, Norbert asked Alex about being on tour and getting to meet all those fans. Of course there are a few funny stories about obsessive fans (someone wet their pants), but mostly it's a series of incredibly friendly people who offer their homes and their hospitality to make our time on the road, away from home such a good experience. A big thanks to all the people whose paths we crossed in the last 2 months.

Finally, as lots of people have been asking me about the trip, I'm struggling with how to sum it up, how to capture such an epic journey and experience in a few sentences. So I've taken to breaking the trip down by the numbers. Most of these numbers are estimates, none are exaggerations:

57 days on the road (Alex)
52 days on the road (Loren & Jay)
4 loads of laundry (Team total)
25 visits to Denny's
3 home cooked meals (Thank-you: Simone Hardy, Tina Bush, and Barb Carstens)
14000 miles
22,400 kilometres
80 hours of video footage
4000 "stimulus packages" - a tickle Alex delivers to maximize the smile for a photo (estimate based on roughly 100 per event)
3 magazines of Ak-47 ammunition (which was pumped into a New Mexico hillside)
6 surprise visits from Yellowknifers living in different parts of the US
5000+ new fans of Yellowknife and the NWT (who Alex gave a brochure and/or invited over for supper)
24 states
14 lbs gained (3 for Jay, 11 for Loren, Alex unknown)

I could go on. One thing that would be hard to quantify is how much we laughed our heads off. Nearly two months on the road together and you'd figure we would be ready to kill each other. But it didn't work out that way. It was a great time. And if it wasn't for Christmas and our friends and family we've been missing, I think we could have just kept on trucking.

It should also be said that the team on the ground, touring, was only a fraction of the team that put the trip together and kept it on the rails as we hurtled across America and back. Alex's son and manager, Curtis, was the backbone of the operation. A second wave of thanks should be aimed at his wife Jen, who makes Curtis' commitment to the project possible. As well, Carl Carstens, who operates Rockwood Products, was kindly referred to as "the mythic hustler in the sky." Having never met the guy it was impressive how he (and his team: Cheri and Lindsay) could utilize his network of trucker connections and know-how to sort out any wrinkles in our trip. Jillian and James at Anderson PR and Aditi Shaw and others at Wiley were also great. Kelly Hilliker was the behind the scenes guy for the Red Giant team. And finally Louise, Erika and Raegan, who put up with Alex, Jay and I being out on the road for nearly two months. That's a huge level of support to make such a cool experience possible. Big thanks to our ladies. And a big thanks to all of the people above.

This will be my last entry about the trip, but keep an eye on to see what's going on with the movie project and what Alex is up to. After Christmas we'll get back to work on all this and keep you updated.

Thanks very much for reading. I hope you've enjoyed it. Have a merry Christmas, gang.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center

Looking out the window in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where several inches of snow have fallen in the last 3 hours. At 7pm local time, the Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center was activated. This does not bode well for our flight home tomorrow.

We've spent most of the last two days at Maritime Ford in Manitowoc. Having the tour finale at the dealership was part of the deal for giving us a Ford Escape to use as a chase vehicle. I piloted that vehicle for the better part of our 14 thousand mile drive. The car became our home on the road, a giant suitcase, and a back-handed aromatherapy chamber. The main thing is that it devoured the miles, didn't put up a fight, and kept us safe all along. Solid.

To say thanks to Maritime Ford and to get people excited about the tour's wrap up in Manitowoc, we made them a wee promotional video when we were in Santa Monica, California. On a night like tonight, it's a nice treat to watch this video and remember that only a few weeks ago we were basking in the California sun. Now, we're getting pounded by a Great Lakes blizzard.

Here's the video, edited in the backseat of a moving Ford Escape by Jay Bulckaert. Hope it's good for a laugh and a little California dreaming. As for this Great Lakes storm, I'm telling myself that it's a good thing that we're not heading straight back to Yellowknife's minus 45. A fellow needs a dose of Wisconsin to bridge the gap between LA and Yellowknife. If you're in California, enjoy the weather. If you're in Yellowknife, stay warm. And if you're in Wisconsin, stay off the roads (unless you drive the snow-plough at the airport). More soon.

Nearing the end

It's with mixed emotions that I realize we're very close to the end of the tour. But as far as endings go, Wisconsin has been spectacular.

Our second to last event was in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Terry Biddle and his wife Linda organized a huge truck convoy to escort Alex, the team, and the Red Giant into town. Like so many great things, the convoy and the whole Eau Claire event came together at the last minute. No less than 50+ trucks gathered out on the highway to drive together for the last 7 miles to the event. Strength in numbers and also a testimony to how well-loved and looked after Alex is in this part of the world.

The sherrif and local police escorted the convoy down highway 12 to Chippewa Valley Technical College. I only saw one person honk impatiently. The rest of the people we saw had parked along the side of the street and were out in the cold to wave, hoot and holler to welcome Alex. Very nice.

Once we were there, hundreds, maybe a thousand, people lined up to meet Alex, get an autograph, and take a picture. The whole thing culminated in a speech where Alex talked about how dangerous his job is compared to people who drive truck on America's highways. His basic message is that ice road truckers battle the elements and drive in a unique environment, but that people risk just as much, if not more, when they drive on American roads. That gives him, he says, the opportunity to go on TV and represent all the men and women who work hard as drivers, and show others what it's all about.

I guess the whole thing -Alex's respect for truckers and their admiration for him - is so strong in Wisconsin that it's making this last leg of the trip especially memorable. The convoy was a great demonstration of that. My impression of trucking-life is that it's complicated. It's cut-throat competitive and at the same time, truckers are part of a big professional family. It's lonely and at the same time, truckers look after each other and chat away on CB radios.

I have a way different perspective on trucking than I did before this trip. I notice truck brands, I notice how many trucks are out on the road, I see truck-stops differently, and I appreciate how important what truckers do is for the rest of us. And during something like the convoy into Eau Claire, I feel welcomed into an interesting world that I barely knew existed two months ago.

We're not done yet, but we're close. Stepping back into my real life at home is going to be a welcome transition. Sleeping in my own bed and having supper every night with my lady will be such a nice change. But there's a lot about this tour and about life on the road that I'm going to miss. I'd sure like to get back to Eau Claire as soon as possible.

I'll blog again before we sign-off on the tour. That's all for now.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

The story checks out. Sort of.

Hello from America's beer and cheese capital: Wisconsin (burp). Excuse me.

Over the course of our 13,000 mile drive Alex has regaled us with stories from his nearly six decades of marching to the beat of his own drum. The stories - some in the book, some "in the next book" - are wild. The tales get so wild, and there are so many of them that a guy gets to wondering: could these all be true?

Alex often claims that his book is the "first and only time a trucker has told the truth." I can testify that the timelines of his stories have all checked out. It has seemed as though he's a straight shooter when it comes to the historical record. Until we pulled into Minnesota.

We had a visit from an old Yellowknifer, Robb Olexin, who has relocated to Minnesota for his work. He stopped in to surprise Alex with a visit. Robb and Alex used to play broomball against each other. The most interesting thing about Robb's visit is that it gave us a chance to scrutinize Alex's version of history.

Alex had told us a story about cuffing a guy who wouldn't stop chirping at him during a broomball game. Turns out the guy who got cuffed was Robb Olexin. According to Alex's version, he was on his way to the penalty box for something else when Robb got in his face and wouldn't stop yapping. A stiff backhand was delivered and Robb made a lot less noise. A totally believable sequence of events.

I decided to interview Robb and asked about the incident. His memory (slightly weakened by the concussion he likely had), was different than Alex's. Robb claims he took a face-off against Alex and before he knew what was going on, Alex had drilled him. Dazed, he says, he reeled towards Alex petitioning for an explanation and possibly an apology. Robb says it was the second crack of Alex's big hand on his jaw that turned the lights out. Also a totally believable sequence of events.

Thinking I had Alex on the ropes and that I could say "hey, there's a hole in your story!" I asked him how the two stories could be so different. "Simple," he said, "Robbie and I tangled a bunch of times." I asked Robb. The story checks out.

Despite the old rivalry it was awesome to have a chance to meet Robb and see him heckle Alex, yet again, about being a bit slow out there on the broomball ice.

We're getting close to the end of the tour here. Enjoying every last minute of it. I'll post again before we're done.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Sunday best

Aloha from Maple Grove, Minnesota. This place is great. We drove through Wisconsin to get here. This whole region seems to be Alex's home away from home.

The other relief about being here is that we finally made it to church. Yesterday was our 7th Sunday together since we got out on the road in October. And on each Sunday, while we are hustling from one event to the next, Alex reminds us that we should be in church. To be honest it's not a regular part of my weekly routine at home either. That is also something Alex has set out to work on. Since the beginning of the trip he's been telling people, "Loren is Roman Catholic, but he's wandered a bit and we're going to straighten him out." Not sure if this trip has straightened me out or made me more bent and crooked than ever. But Alex's spiritual concern is welcome.

His faith is definitely a defining characteristic of who he is and it supports much of his success as a celebrity. Several times a day Alex connects with a fan who says thanks for Alex's regular, public displays of his faith on television. If fans are created by their finding something about a celebrity to relate to or connect with, Alex has made a lot of fans by being prayerful and admitting he's flawed and that he needs to forgive and be forgiven.

One of the frequent comments from Alex's faith based fans is that they just don't see religion practiced in popular television very often. I can see where they're coming from. It's an interesting decision made by the History Channel, which airs Ice Road Truckers, to include Alex's faith as part of his character. Whenever people express their gratitude for that to Alex, he also encourages them to thank History Channel.

I'm not sure if it's a religious axiom, but I've always been told "what goes around, comes around." That is definitely the case with Alex's religious practice. The fans that are grateful to him often bear gifts: they pray for Alex, they share prayer books and ultimately, they share a very personal part of their life. From where I sit it makes the fan-celebrity relationship much different. It is not superficial or hysterical. It is personal and heartfelt.

So yesterday we made it to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, on the outskirts of Chicago. Thanks to Father Hickey and the congregation for taking us in. Next Sunday we'll miss church again. We'll be flying home to Yellowknife. Roads are getting icy, drive safe.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Signs of home

Just a short note from Lancing, Michigan. Only a few days ago we were in Tennessee. Time flies and the miles fade into the rearview (too cheesy?). It's bitter sweet, pointing the compass north. It means the trip is nearing its conclusion. It also means there are signs of home.

Last night, pulling into Michigan, there was snow blowing across the road. I'm ok with the colder weather, but the south's warmer climate definitely won me over. Alex on the other hand sees snow and his thoughts turn to frozen roads and the coming driving season. And when we neared Okemos, the side-of-the-highway food-plaza included Tim Horton's. I won't say Tim's coffee is anything special, but I'll concede that Tim Horton's is a legit Canadian institution. Definitely turned my thoughts to getting home.

Anyway, that's enough out of me. I'm off to JavaBarn. More soon.