It’s easy to get quite blasé about driving a truck; after a while it just gets to feel like you’re in a big car, especially since we often run quite light.
Last night I was off to Rhyl on the North Wales coast and wanted to get it done as quickly as possible so set off charging over the Pennines. As I reached the Woodhead Pass the weather started to deteriorate badly with sleet soon turning into thick snow.
I shot past one of our double deckers on the main hill up to Woodhead Summit; we flashed each other to say “hi” as he crawled up the hill running at least ten tons heavier than me.
Almost as soon as I was over the crest of the hill things got slippy and I suddenly found the controls feeling rather vague indeed. Eeek! I slowed down to a sensible thirty – visibility was terrible and the winds had got up too making it reminiscent of the bad weather of a few weeks ago.
As you start to descend towards Manchester there are some steep hills, sharp bends and deadly dropoffs so I started to work down through the gears and to slow using only the exhaust brake. For those that don’t know, the exhaust brake is a braking aid that doesn’t brake the wheels using the discs, but instead retards the exhaust gases in order to brake using the engine.
I turned down the radio so I could hear the exhaust brake working but as I started down the hill I could hear it flipping off then on again. This is something I’ve learned to listen for this winter and it’s really not what you want in such a place as the Woodhead – the fact that it was flipping off meant that the drive-wheels were locking and sliding.
When the wheels are sliding without you touching the actual brakes it’s not a great sign, especially when you’re headed for a sharp series of bends at the bottom of the hill! I put on my seatbelt and remained calm, slowly working down the gears trying to keep the locking to a minimum. I made it and from there things improved, the relief flooding over me as if my poor body had been more anxious than I had let myself realise.
Amazing how such little moments can make you feel so alive…