The Dalton; probably one of the most feared highways on the planet. Stretching from Fairbanks (Alaska) to Deadhorse (Alaska, a few miles south of the Arctic Ocean), it has claimed a life for almost every one of its 414 miles. Only three towns have established themselves along The Dalton; Coldfoot (population 13), Wiseman (population 22) and Deadhorse (population 25). With temperatures reaching -30°C during the winter months, it’s not surprising that these towns are so sparsely populated. These waypoints exist primarily to provide refuge for the 250 trucks which traverse The Dalton on a daily basis (during the peak winter months). These trucks have one purpose, to supply the Prudhoe Bay oil fields, which have produced 11 billion barrels of oil since 1977, with vital construction and drilling materials. The crude oil is then supplied via the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, which has transported almost 16 billion barrels of oil since its construction (between 1974 and 1977), to North America. This monstrous pipeline runs right alongside The Dalton, before continuing south through Alaska. Without this crucial highway, oil supplies would drop to critical levels across America.
The road is made of ice and requires a huge maintenance team to ensure that it remains operational. The road is covered in 32 000 gallons of water to create the icy (and very smooth) surface that the massive rigs require to move their massive loads; needless to say highly skilled drivers are required to drive this particular stretch of highway. Aside from the usual slew of turbo snow ploughs, rescue vehicles and scout cars that you would expect to see, there’s also a dedicated avalanche patrol team. This team scour for potential avalanches, which have swept many a trucker to their doom. Once an offending snow drift has been spotted, they fire a mortar shell (using a Korean Wat era zero recoil cannon) from the back of their pickup, instantly causing avalanches in a “controlled manner”!
The road’s most difficult segments have been affectionately named by the truckers, who know every twist and turn of the treacherous highway. “The Bluffs” is an open portion of road, where fierce Arctic winds rip across; causing an illusion that leads truckers to follow the whirling snow to potential death. “Avalanche Alley” is pretty much self explanatory. “The Taps” are 56 miles of peaks and tight bends. The “Roller Coaster” area double set of huge dips, which have a vertical grade of 12% (which appears wall like from a distance). “Oil Spill Hill” is a 2 mile long steep dip. The most terrifying of all, however, is the final stretch of road, which traverses the frozen Arctic Sea, leading to the gates of the oil fields and the final stop on The Dalton. When carrying several tonnes of equipment on a massive 18 wheelers, the creaks and groans of the ice shifting underneath can clearly be heard in the truckers’ cabs; a frightening prospect indeed. The rigs which are used on The Dalton have to be fully insulated (including the fuel lines) and modified with more robust engine parts, so that they can withstand the conditions which they will face.
So, as you would expect, it takes a certain breed of character to wilfully accept employment in such extreme conditions. ‘Ice Road Truckers: Season 3’ (2007), follows the adventures of six ice-truckers as they attempt to pull the most loads (both quantity and load size count) over the winter season, wherein 6000 loads must be hauled to the oil fields before the ice melts, rendering the road impassable. With top drivers earning in the region of $120k in one year, it’s easy to see the appeal, but I’m not too sure that I would be brave enough to take my chances on this hellish highway. The truckers who take part in this season include ice road veterans from earlier seasons; Hugh “Polar Bear” Rowlands and Alex Debogorski (who almost have 50 years experience on the ice between them). However, in this season, they are mere rookies and will have to work hard to find their place amongst some of the best drivers on The Dalton. The King of them all is Jack Jessie, who specialises in hauling oversized loads, which bring home top dollar but are incredibly dangerous to haul, given the narrow nature of some sections of the road and the rapid winds, not to mention the glass like surface on which the trucks drive. Lisa Kelly is a former motocross champion, who is in her second season on the ice and is yearning to become The Dalton’s first female oversized hauler (but she does say “Oh Boy” and “Golly Gosh” way too many times!). Joining these four are George Spears (a veteran, with one more year until retirement) and Tim Freeman (another rookie, who is a family friend of George). Racing to see who will secure the most hauls over the season, the race for the cash is on (as the programme’s tagline boldly states).
I have to admit that the first couple of episodes of ‘Ice Road Truckers’ are very interesting indeed. The road’s history, and also the crucial economic role that it plays in Alaska, is explained in detail. The trucker’s journeys across the highway are initially exciting, with some near misses in the most ridiculous driving conditions that I have ever witnessed; making for some fascinating viewing. However, as we move into the mid-way point of the season things begin to get a little repetitive. There are constant minor hold ups along the way, with shots of drivers sitting in frustration as drivers in front are hauled out of snowy embankments or stop to “chain up” (i.e. put massive chains on the drive wheels for traction) appearing ad nauseum. Alex and Hugh liven things up with some friendly rivalry, with their rising irritation over the rookie manner in which they are being treated (they require a chaperone truck) adding some amusement to proceedings. The rest of the “cast” are somewhat boring, focusing on the difficult job that they are trying to do, rather than playing up to the camera for the viewers amusement. So, all we’re left with is countless (and repetitive) trips over the ice, which can get a little boring to say the least.
Perhaps this is a fault of the manner in which I viewed his series (pretty much back to back over a couple of days) but, to be honest, I watch all series this way and have never gotten bored of others. I also have to point out that I’m not the biggest fan of History Channel series in general (such as ‘Deadliest Catch’) and while I can no doubt see the merit of showing some of the most extreme professions on the planet (and indeed admire the individuals who have to balls to partake in them), I do find them all a little samey. There’s no real urgency on ‘Ice Road Truckers’ and while there’s a “race for the cash” theme, there seems to be no real competition as such between the truckers but rather a daily (slow) struggle for survival to bring home the (frozen) bacon. Another problem is the purported danger of the road. Now, I’m in no way saying that the road is not dangerous, but it’s really overhyped in a completely over the top manner on this show. The truckers are very, very experienced and none of the main players, which the cameras continuously follow, are going to have a slip up along the way; not only would this be potentially fatal but also very embarrassing given the high opinion that some of the drivers have of their ice-holding abilities. We do get to see some “crashes” but these are basically aftermath shots of a trucker who has lost his way on The Dalton several hours (or indeed days) prior to the cameras arriving on the scene, which is generally followed by some boring CGI recreations of what happened/what could have happened.
My own personal opinion is that the search for the ultimate reality television show should have ceased several years ago and this series is a prime example of the average type of show that many normal folks lap up. There are a couple of episodes that make you marvel at the tenacity and bravery of truckers but not enough to make every outing on The Dalton a white knuckle terror trip. The shroud of dramatisation which hangs over the entire production leaves the core content feeling a little cheapened, with a lack of true action and repetitive content not leaving a whole lot to return to after one viewing. I was expecting more from one of the History Channels flagship shows and I came away a little disappointed to say the least. Fans of the show will undoubtedly revel in this release but for casual BD buyers, I would check out a couple of episodes before investing in a purchase.
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