ICE ROAD DISPATCHES

Yuri and the Wolves

It’s no secret that I was an ice trucker. Between 2012 and 2016, I drove the world’s longest ice road pulling fuel from Yellowknife north to a couple of diamond mines just below the arctic circle. As a result, I’ve got a few stories to tell.

This is my public memoir of those events.

ENTRY # 1 – YURI AND THE WOLVES!

Winter Road – 2013

The story I am about to tell you was related to me by an ice trucker at the Ekati diamond mine midway into my second year on the ice. I’d already heard the story. Every trucker on ice was talking about it on the VHS radio, giving their version of events.

“Wolves! Wolves on a portage!  A whole pack of em!”

On my way up the ice, I heard a different version of the event from every passing convoy we met. Two popped up in the story. Cliff and Yuri. When I reached the Ekati Diamond sometime after midnight, we unloaded our fuel, parked our rigs, and went to the cafeteria to get a bite. We’d been into it almost for almost 18 hours, from start to end. We needed to get some food and shut down for sleep before heading south to get another load.

When we got inside, I saw Yuri finishing up his meal and wandered over.

“Hey, Yuri, what’s this about wolves?”

In his heavy Russian accent, he said, “I will come to your table and tell you.”

I got some soup and a sandwich and sat down.

Yuri joined us, but he never sat down. Instead, he stood before a captive audience as he recounted a harrowing evening.

It was night, and a driver, named Cliffy, spun out and needed to chain up. The problem was, Cliffy wasn’t precisely what you’d call a spring chicken. In situations like this, drivers pitch in and set out to help others. Whether chaining up, helping to cage brakes, chase air leaks, or any other problem on the ice, there is an unwritten duty.

So when Cliffy asked for a hand and gave his location, Yuri took the call, got his gear on from hard hat to winter gear, and set out to help Cliffy with his chains. The distance between Cliff and Yuri was at least a kilometer. Yuri was out of his truck and walking up the road that cut across the portage in the darkness. The winds were up, cutting across the tundra, making the temperatures all the more brutal. You can feel the elements pinching at exposed skin in this environment, turning it stiff and numb. At night, without the sun, temperatures can drop into the -50s.

Not long after Yuri started walking across the portage to help fellow driver Cliffy, he felt like he was being watched. Between the stunted trees on the portages, shadows moved low and fast. He kept moving with communication up the trail, midway between himself and Cliffy, passing the point of no return.

Over the VHF radio, Scarlet security sent out an order to everyone on the portage. “Stay in your trucks. There is a pack of wolves on the portage.”

The warning came too late for Yuri. He was over halfway to Cliff’s truck when something stepped out of the darkness and onto the road behind him. He turned to see an enormous wolf. One can only wonder if the wolf was sizing up Yuri as a potential threat; or a delectable meal. The great wolf was staring him down, to his right, in the inky darkness shadows moved. They were watching what he was going to do, waiting for him to react.

Yuri reached up and turned on his hard hat light. The wolf held firm, and slowly Yuri began to back up the trail working his way toward Cliff’s position.

“Go away, wolf,” he bellowed, which I speculate was most likely in Russian, but I never asked.

The likely wolf was probably hearing, “Blah Blah Blah!”

Yuri kept backing up, making noise, yelling―the wolf behind him followed at an equal pace― the pack moved in the shadows and waiting for direction from the pack leader. Yuri was sure that if he turned and ran, they would be on him, knocking him down, going for the throat. He would be dead if they all came at him because nobody knew he was out there. Yuri hadn’t reported on the radio that he was leaving his truck to go and help Cliff. He was alone, just him and the wolves.

“I thought I was going to die,” he told me.

He kept backing up. His only weapon was the headlight on his hard hat and his voice. He kept yelling, making noise, terrified to turn, and still, the wolf followed, seemingly unafraid. Then to his relief, he heard the rumbling of a diesel engine behind him. The wolf stopped as Yuri continued walking backward.

Then he was beside the passenger door of Cliff’s disabled but running rig.

He grabbed the door handle and climbed in without knocking to provoke an invitation.

Cliff was sitting in the driver’s seat. He was surprised to see Yuri. “Yuri,” Cliff said. “What are you doing outside? Didn’t you know there’s a pack of wolves running around out there?”

Yuri, whose voice was now hoarse and raw from yelling at the wolves, had no words.

***

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