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Wintertime In Alaska With Lisa Kelly

Even a cold winter day doesn’t stop dedicated truckers nationwide from working hard to deliver essential goods to the most remote places. Our Marketing Specialist, Duane Sahadat, had the chance to catch up with the professional truck driver, Lisa Kelly, to talk about the holidays, Alaska, and, of course, trucking!

DUANE: Hi Lisa, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule on the road to chat today.

LISA: Sure, no problem!

DUANE: So, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, December. With December comes Christmas. Do you have any regular Christmas traditions that you look forward to?

LISA: Not really, actually. I’m a bit of a scrooge when it comes to Christmas because I’ve almost become a minimalist and have what I need. I find that it has become very commercialized.

DUANE: Yeah, I agree. I miss the days when it was more about enjoying what you have instead of what you want.

Do you work and drive during Christmas or do you take a break?

LISA: Not really. If there is work, then I take it. Actually, I’d say that’s a bit of a tradition for me. Since I’m single and don’t usually have plans, I really enjoy offering to work during the holidays, so that my coworkers can spend time with their families. I don’t mind working, and I find that it’s a really rewarding way of ‘giving back’.

DUANE: That’s such a thoughtful gift: the gift of time! I’m sure they appreciate it.

So, I have to ask, what are some of your favourite Christmas songs?

LISA: I really like instrumental Christmas music. O Holy Night, Carol of Bells, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen… I also love the Trans-Siberian Orchestra!

DUANE: Yes! I love TSO as well. I was fortunate enough to see them live a few times. Amazing show with lasers and lights!

LISA: Wow! I had no idea!

DUANE: Favourite Christmas movie?

LISA: I’ve always loved National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation! The scene when he greases up his sled and shoots down the hill is hilarious. All these sparks are flyin’ everywhere! [laughs]

DUANE: Yeah, I haven’t seen that in a while. I love the huge explosion when he starts sliding.

Winter in Alaska has to be cold. Are there certain problems that you face with the extreme cold?

LISA: Yes, quite a lot. In the winter, when it gets to be -40F to -50F, everything starts to freeze up. Plastic components break and can even shatter easily. That’s one big change, being an owner-operator, is knowing what will break and the repair costs involved.

DUANE: What are some of the main components that cause issues and freeze up in those temperatures?

LISA: When you park, you can’t shut off your truck. I almost never shut it down since it’s so hard on the truck. Almost anything that is exposed and moves can freeze. A lot of truckers don’t set their parking brake when parking. If they do, there’s an air release valve that can get stuck with dirt and ice.

DUANE: Is there anything specifically you do to prepare your rig for the extreme temperatures?

LISA: Yeah, we add methanol or alcohol to the airlines, otherwise they get brittle and can break.

DUANE: I assume that the roads are icier and more slippery in the winter.

LISA: They are definitely icy, but they actually smooth out.

DUANE: If the road is smooth but icy it sounds like it’d be like driving on a skating rink. What’s the hardest part of driving on a surface like that? Do you change your tires in the winter?

LISA: Yes! Again, this is new to me – being an owner-operator – but I need to change my tires twice per year. Right when it starts snowing, I put on ice/snow tires. Tires are very expensive: $5000 per set, twice per year.

DUANE: Really? And you need how many tires? Ten?

LISA: Yes, ten. So $500/tire.

DUANE: Yikes! That’s quite expensive every six months. What’s the biggest benefit in making the investment in new tires?

LISA: Yes, but it’s worth it. Having the right tires makes all the difference in the world for performance and safety. In the winter on the icy roads, it makes getting up hills much easier. The compound is really soft, though, so driving over gravel eats them up really quickly.

DUANE: Do they help when braking?

LISA: Yeah, but you have to be careful about using your brakes. I can’t live without an 18-speed transmission. I use every single gear and always gear down. I learned that and stuck with it when I took my CDL license years ago.

DUANE: Your current route is very far north on one of the most dangerous roads in North America, the Dalton Highway in Alaska, headed to Prudhoe Bay. How long is your route?

LISA: My route is 1000 miles round-trip, so 500 miles each way. I make 2 to 3 trips per week and each trip usually takes 2-3 days. I work, pretty much 7 days per week. So, roughly, I drive around 150,000 miles per year.

DUANE: That was featured on the show, right?

LISA: Yes. Seasons 3, 4, 5, and 6 I think.

DUANE: What are some of the challenges that truckers and Alaskans face in the winter?

LISA: In Alaska, in the winter, it’s dark 24/7, which can be depressing. A lot of people suffer from something called S.A.D.

DUANE: Yes, Seasonal Affective Disorder. I’m quite familiar. Quite a lot of people I know here increase their vitamin D intake to help with it. Do you see a lot of wildlife along your route or is it very lonely?

LISA: We see a lot of muskox, caribou, and ptarmigan. This year, I’ve seen a lot of wolverines, martens, and a few occasional moose.

DUANE: Any polar bears?

LISA: Actually, this year I saw my very first polar bear ever! I’ve been here for almost 30 years and neither I nor anyone I know has ever seen a polar bear before.

DUANE: Wow! Stereotypically, I would think that you’d see them regularly. Or at least not so rarely!

LISA: I know! Also, there’s this other little animal I see all time that not a lot of others have seen. I don’t know what it is, but I call them “furry little white hot dogs.”

DUANE: Huh? Furry little white hot dogs?

LISA: Yes. They are these tiny little furry white animals the size of a hot dog that run across the road. You can’t tell its head from its tail, and they are all white.

DUANE: I’ll be sure to Google that and see if I can find out what it is! If I find out, I’ll let you know.

LISA: Deal!

DUANE: Can you see the Northern Lights along your route?

LISA: Oh yeah, almost every night. The Northern Lights, shooting stars….

DUANE: That must be amazing. Something that most people will never see ever in their lives.

LISA: Yes. Sometimes, when I stop for the night, I sit and watch them at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. Since I’m out in the middle of nowhere and the only person in the entire world watching them from that view, it makes it feel that much more special, like a light show was made just for you.