Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Alex Debogorski- Riding the Ice Roads

     My father has been a trucker for a few years now, and he loves it. As he says, “I get paid for sitting on my butt and not doing to much else”. The thing is, I know there's more to it than that. Trucking can be really difficult some days, especially when operating on busy Canadian highways such as the 400 series. Cars can get in your massive blind spots, and you have to remember when you last saw a vehicle to recall if it's still there or not. You're responsible for thousands upon thousands of pounds of machinery and cargo (sometimes explosive, sometimes living) and some days you could be working on a deadline that seems impossible to make. Your days could be long, and although you want to keep driving, you're legally forced to sleep. It's not like the road is going to disappear or anything.. it'll still be there tomorrow, next week, and months down the road. But.. wait, what if some days, it wasn't? If one person would understand that experience, it would be Alex Debogorski, from History Channel's hit show, Ice Road Truckers.

Alex Debogorski with his truck!
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     So, I sent an email and we arranged a call. He wasn't in his home city of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories at the time as I expected him to be, but in a city called Williams Lake, British Columbia (about 550 kilometres north of Vancouver). I caught him while he was setting up for the 2013 Williams Lake Stampede (starting this year on June 28th), in which he had a booth. Once Alex answered the phone, something happened in the interview that I had never experienced before.. Alex started explaining some views on Canada he had, before I even had the chance to ask a question. The thing was.. it was so interesting! He discussed his views on Canadians living in a “fishbowl paradigm”, his views on Canadian arrogance, the idea that our nation is like a large park were we're nothing but administrators and many tidbits of family history that relates to how he views the nation he now lives in.
     But, after about twenty minutes, I decided to ask some questions about his experiences with the show that helped him become a name known worldwide. For him, I guess it all started around 1972, when Alex Debogorski first started his career as a commercial truck driver.
     Alex first attended the University of Alberta for a year after high school, followed by him entering straight into the work world. I completely understand what he meant by saying getting a job out of school was impossible, his year being a pattern of “last one hired, first one fired.” Jobs came and went, sometimes on an oil rig, or occasionally in a tire shop. Then in 1972, he started driving at a coal mine for a company called McIntyre Porcupine in the Northern Alberta community of Grande Cache. His profession of a truck driver moved with him to Yellowknife four years later, and yet another four years brought him in first contact with Canada's ice roads.
     So, I didn't really know what roads were. I sort of just thought that they were roads slicked with ice. Was I ever wrong! It's actual bodies of frozen water, as in lakes and rivers, that these massive trucks are driving on to resupply mines, quarries or aboriginal settlements. Not that it wasn't there before, but after hearing that I for sure had much higher respect for drivers like Alex. Driving a couple tonnes on sheets of ice is as daring a job as any, and as Alex explains, takes just as much patience. Back when he started out, there weren't too many rules out on the ice roads, and Alex was trekking in some areas that were hardly ever trekked before to ensure supplies would get to those in need. Although to this day some road “scare the pants off of him”, rules make things a bit more predictable. Predictable down to the kilometre, to be exact, which leads the drivers to need extreme amounts of patience.

Alex signs copies of his autobiography at home
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     Most roads may be down to a 25 kilometre an hour limit, no more or no less. The concentration needed could be the difference between driving on a road.. or having the lake below break through. Alex explained to me on the phone how he could get radio calls in saying he needed to increase or decrease his speed by a half kilometre rate, I don't think I could make that fine of a difference if I tried. He knows that truckers can die on a normal, straight, paved road. He's heard many stories of log truck drivers getting in fatal accidents out in British Columbia. He doesn't want to be one of those statistics.
     But I mean, how boring is focusing on a half kilometre difference for hours a day? Following one of the greatest laughs ever, Alex informed me of the magical things you hear on Channel One of his radio, which is supposed to be kept clear when driving up North in case of emergencies. The men and women create makeshift talk shows with each other, discuss politics or marital issues, spread rumours, question alien abduction or write poems, among many other things he's heard. Alex has even learned how to properly grow marijuana from a couple other drivers sharing techniques.
     While the truckers were laughing away or engaging in political discussion in Northern Canada and Alaska, History Channel in the States was airing a documentary on the Denison ice road. They realized whenever this aired, their ratings went way up. With this in mind, they contacted the production company who covered the show Deadliest Catch to head over towards Yellowknife to see if any drivers had interested in being on television. Some did, well most didn't. The general idea expressed was “if you want a real character, you should get Alex Debogorski.” That's what the company did, tried to find Alex.. who just so happened to be trapped in a snowstorm on Great Slave Lake. When he came back, he sort of thought the production crew was a joke, so he wasn't to serious. It seemed they liked him though, and surprisingly, “Debogorski” started becoming a household name.
      I was informed by Alex that no road is too dangerous for him, especially if some of the women drivers were doing them.. then he kind of felt he had to at least try! The beauty on the stretches of highway never fail to impress Alex, or the thousands of viewers who see him on Ice Road Truckers. Sunsets hitting mountains, eagles flying en masse above his head.. these are inspirations that will keep Alex, as he told me, driving the ice roads as long as he can.

Alex Debogorski wonders what his future holds...
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