Ice Road Truckers We Are Not
My roommate Cari and I live in Los Angeles, working in the art department on independent films. That usually means a no budget, fly by the seat of your pants, get it done however you can attitude.
We’re two girls of above average intelligence, how did we get involved in this?
Of course the answer was craigslist. As a non-union art person, that's how I get jobs.
There were many, many stories to come out of that film - there was a sandstorm out in the desert, there was bomb threats, helicopters, fires, emergency room visits - but the story we tell the most often is about how we got to the cabin.
The first van the production gave us was so bad.
It was from this shady rental place in the Valley and when we pulled up, we thought, well this can't be the place, there are no rental cars, just junkers. Then we realized those cars were in fact the rental cars. This place rented wrecked cars. And we couldn't help noticing that there was no van or large vehicle of any kind.
We went inside the trailer and this Armenian guy said it was being used and it would show up soon. We heard a noise outside and the van pulled up and the driver got out, and the assistant started to immediately hose it out. Which is a really good sign.
The van was....first off it was too small. It was a small cargo van, white, beaten up, the kind if you see it parked near a sidewalk, you cross to the other side of the street.
Inside, aside from being soaking wet, it smelled. My first thought was, oh my god, this is a coyote van. There's no way this van has not been used to commit some kind of crime, it just smelled like a felony. So the owner's solution was to empty a bottle of cheap air freshener in the back, which, I was allergic to.
I had serious misgiving about the van, but, I was going to make it work, we were scheduled for a pickup for an important big set piece, so we left the rental place, with Cari following behind us. I drove about a mile, when I just knew this van would be the death of me. Cari later told me that whenever I braked, black smoke would come from under the van, but the smell inside was so bad, I couldn't smell it. The smell in the van was so bad, Cari could smell it from her car behind me.
Long story short there, I dropped the van off at the director's house and said if you wanted us to use the van, then she could drive it. I wouldn't be driving a rolling felony anymore. Once they got a good look and smell, they decided to get us an actual moving company rental truck. That decision probably saved my life.
A few day later, we had the one ton truck packed with furniture and our equipment and we started up the mountain to Idyllwyld. I was driving the truck and Cari was following in her little mini 4x4 Suzuki.
We ran into trouble about halfway up. It was dark, and it started snowing. Now, I'd driven in snow before. I'm from tennessee and we often have icy roads in the winter and was confident everything was fine. The road was clear, the snow was blowing off and the while the road was wet, it was still clear.
The road up to Idyllwyld is a narrow, twisting road up a mountain ridge. There are very few turnouts, and even fewer of them capable of turning around in when you are driving a large truck. By the time the storm really started dumping snow, there was no where to turn around. It was like someone threw blankets over the ground. There was no snow, and then there was only snow. I couldn't tell if the areas on the side of the road were turnouts or ditches that had been snowed in.
It was quickly becoming very dangerous.
I knew most accidents happened when drivers lost control of their tires. I knew I needed to keep the wheels turning and keep them from sliding on the snow. We were more than halfway up the mountain road when I had to even as slow as I was going, had to brake very quickly and turn to the shoulder of the road.
In front of us, several car were were putting on snow chains and had stopped in the middle of the road, right as I was coming around a bend.
I felt the back end of the truck just slide very slowly towards the right, which was the cliffside. It stopped moving before I really registered it had even happened. But from the tilt of the truck, I just knew half of me was in a ditch.
The snow chain people left and Cari and I were alone.
I probably tried two or three times to pull out, but could feel the wheels spinning. It was a 2 wheel drive truck and I knew if all of the weight in the back wasn't enough to help us get purchase, we were brett screwed.
I got out. Cari pulled ahead of me so we weren't blocking the road and we just kind of stared at it. We tried to call the production, but cell reception was spotty and when I did manage to reach a producer, he kind of jut gave me a verbal shrug and was like, sorry you're on your own. I told him to bring us snow chains and he was like...no.
So I was upset to say the least. Soon after that, this guy in a parks department-looking truck with a snowplow on the front stopped by and said basically that we were stupid and that we were stranded and that there was nothing he was going to do for us. By this time, Cari and I were almost frozen. We were still wearing the jeans and knakis pants we had been wearing in Los Angles. All of our winter clothes were packed into either the truck or the back of her car, which was loaded down with stuff and completely inaccessible.
The guy left, and as he left, he pushed about a foot of snow right onto where we we needed to clear, right against our front wheels. So you know, he as a dick.
We just took a minute to swear and curse and then we looked at the situation. I really didn't want to leave the truck. I was afraid that it could get vandalized or stolen or looted. It was still partially in the road and was dangerous for other passengers. So we put on our hazards and decided we had to dig the truck out.
The most frustrating thing was that we were working on a horror/slasher/drug film set in a rustic cabin with obscene amounts of farm tools used as props and set dressing and we had every impliment under the sun on the truck. Picks, shovels, hatchets, rakes, every kind of useful thing, but they were pack in the very front of the truck and there was no way we could get to it, no without unloading the truck and that was not going to happen.
What we did have was pool salt, which was the prop we were going to use for fake meth, and the wood panel sides of a children's Radio Flyer wagon. It was the cart I used to move props around on set and it was the one semi useful thing we could reach in the truck.
So dressed in our Los Angeles clothing, with the snow coming down and by the light of our hazard flashers and a small pen light Cari had in her car, we began to dig ourselves out of the snowbank.
About halfway through, a car packed full of frat boys passed us and stopped ahead to put on snow chains. So apparently, this was the spot locals used to do that. Cari went to see if she could you know, play the girl card and see if they would come and help us. She returned to the truck alone and basically said "fuck frat boys." So we kept digging.
We cleared the path down to mostly gravel and then put the pool salt down to try and melt what we couldn't scrap away. We also managed to find two small carpet piece we had, just extra bits that we thought might be useful, so we shoved them under the tires.
We knew we had basically one shot at this. It was dark, it had finally stopped snowing, but this was our one shot to get it done. We didn't have anything else left in us. Our hatred for snow plow guy and our jerk producers and idiot frat boys was the only thing keeping us warm.
I got in the truck, Cari, stood in the road with the flashlight watching for cars and give me updates on the wheels.
I was so gentle on the gas, easing the truck forward an inch at a time. I got it kid of rocking forwards and back, then I felt the first sort of slip of the wheels and I though, oh hell no, I'm getting out of here and I pushed firmly down on the gas and suddenly, I was on the road.
By this time, snowplow jerkface had passed a few times each time, of course making our job more difficult, but the road was clear enough where I felt it was ok to stop.
Cari was laughing doubled over with laughter and she only had one piece of carpet in her hand. She the other one had spun under the wheel and basically shot out in the valley. It was a real life flying carpet.
So Cari jumped in her little Suzuki and went ahead, trying to spot any bad areas that might have popped up. I actually drove with my seatbelt off and my hand on the door, because the road was so narrow and the cliff so close, there was no guardrail so if the truck slide like it had before, the truck was going over the side of the mountain and I was going to jump out before it went.
We made it to the cabin. We went different bathrooms and thawed out and of course there was no food. We were basically snowed in for a day and a half before the rest of the crew could get to us so we survived on pasta and some leftovers we had brought with us.
But all we could think was, thank god we refused the felony van cause I probably would have died falling off a mountain.