Mountain Driving: Safety First

mountain driving view

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So here is a fun one: mountain driving. Much like city driving, mountains are scary when you first start driving over the road. It is also a rush and can be very dangerous in any weather, not just winter. We have had many very scary moments. In the summer, the concerns are wildlife and people with campers, especially the ones that have never hauled a camper or driven one of the big campers. They can be dangerous. It’s easy to lose control, and if you are not paying attention, you will be in some trouble. They use the brakes with the campers and burn them up, then stand on the side of the road while they are smoking or burning and look at you like “what happened?”….. That is the funny part of it.


But That’s Only For Big Mountains, Right?


Nope. The mountain doesn’t have to be a big one to cause many problems. You need to use your engine brake and only use your brakes when needed to slow down a little more, weather permitting. Only use the engine brake in the summer or on clear roads and limit your use of the engine brake in the winter. If you have to use the engine brake in the winter, then use only stage one when the roads are iffy.


mountain driving snowy


Watch your speed and use a lower gear every time you’re going through the mountains. That will get you to where you need to be. And, when it comes to mountain driving, if the weather is bad enough to use chains, then it is wise to pull off until it is safe to go. Do not listen to other drivers saying that you should keep going. It is always better to be safe than sorry. I know this first hand. Mountains are the devil. They will sneak up on you and take you for the ride of your life if you don’t pay attention. If you are driving through an area and and have to stop to chain up on the side of the road, then do so. Then get to a safe place to shut down.


Here’s My Experience:


We were driving through the Sisters Mountains and it was my shift. The roads in the passes had just reopened and my husband asked if I was okay to drive. I said yes, but that I wanted him to stay up with me for a while. It was the first time I had driven in the snow when the roads first opened up. Chains were not required at the time. I just about peed myself I was so nervous.


mountain driving heavy snow


BUT, I sucked it up and had my big girl panties on. Away we went. About a half hour into the drive, he asked me to slow down. He was looking out the windshield and was talking to the drivers behind us. It was still snowing hard and it was difficult to see any distance. We had just started going down the pass when he started yelling, “Stop, Wendy! Stop!” I saw it at the same time that he started yelling. A car had spun out in the middle of the west bound lane of the highway. It was cross-ways in the road. He told me to go to the right, but the people that were in the car had run to the right, so I went to the left. (It’s since become a joke that I don’t know my right from my left). I just skated by the car and the jersey barrier. I really don’t know how I missed them both. It was an automatic reaction out of fear of hitting the people in the road.


WHOA! Really?!? YUP! Really.


If you’ve ever said  “That scared the shit out of me!”…well it literally did. I was concentrating so much on the control of the truck and the trailer, our daughter was with us lying in the bunk, and I didn’t want to hit the people that ran to the right side of the road. When I got by it all and my mind was processing what had just happened, all of my nerves started to release the adrenaline and my body started to tingle and shake. It was a time in my life that I thought I was going to kill someone. Tom looked at me and said “Would you like me to drive?” Um….YES!  After we passed the weigh station, we pulled into the truck stop. After we parked, I walked into the bathroom and left the biggest poop of my life.


mountain driving whoa


This was Jan. 8th, which is my husbands birthday. He ended up staying up for 24 hours, he had finished his shift that morning and drove the rest of the way down the mountain. That was a very scary day.


What A Guy!!!  (Seriously – You Have No Idea)


I have to say that my husband  is one of the best truck drivers out there. He said to me one day, when we were going through Colorado on 70 headed to Vegas, to sit back, not say a word, and to buckle up. We came out the other side of the tunnel to find ice and snow. We had the new auto shift Volvo, and when the RPMs hit a certain speed, the truck would go into a free roll. You would have to bump the throttle to get it back into gear. It would float down the mountain, and that was terrifying in the winter. He put the engine brake on low and said ”Don’t say anything. I know what I am doing.” All the way down the mountain, we would ride the low stage and bump the throttle to keep it in gear. We would slip and slide a little, but he kept control of the truck and the trailer. It was so bad that night.


mountain driving nice view


The way to get through the snow is to really go slow and take your time. You have to think about not breaking the egg under the brake pedal. Tom was the one that taught me how to really use the brakes in the winter. That is how I kept my concentration as well as keeping control of the tractor and trailer. It is not easy at all. Another thing to remember is space, space, space…You need to be able to have enough space between you and others so that if they spin out, you can get around it or stop before you hit.


Tom loves to drive in the snow and I am better with concentrating on the ice. We drove through Wyoming twice a week every week. They always have snow, ice, and blow-you-to-China wind. You want to fly? Go to Wyoming in the winter and spring. You will fly in more ways than one.  Along with the wind, you have snow drifts that turn into ice drifts. Going up the mountains and down the other side is exciting, to say the least. My husband always went to bed before we hit the state.


Is It Really As Bad As All That?



When driving through Wyoming, if they have the warning signs up for certain weights and heights of trucks not recommended to pass through, then get off the road when you can. Tom tried to ride through it one day and ended up pulling off the road 5 miles past the truck stop. He woke me up and asked me to get up with him. When my husband says he is scared? It is BAD. Of course, I sat up with him. Just before we got to the underpass of the highway, he was saying that he wanted to go back the five miles to the truck stop. Just as we were talking about turning around, a Fed-Ex truck came across the overpass we were sitting under and flipped over. The trailer skidded across the rail of the bridge and we were waiting for something to come off the bridge and hit us.


I had Tom call 911 and I got out of the truck to go to the driver to help him. I couldn’t get up the knoll to the road. The wind was so bad that it whipped the sand and ice into any body part that was not covered. I could not get footing to stand up on my feet. It was almost impossible. Tom came out behind me and pushed me up over the knoll and we could not see because the wind was blowing the sand and snow so hard. We could barely move into the wind. It took our breath away and blinded us. My skin was on fire from the sand hitting me. We could do nothing but crawl back to our truck. The dirt that we sucked into our lungs was so bad we coughed for days. Our lungs were on fire. The rescue got there and got him out and they went to the hospital. The trucks that were stopped on the bridge were rocking back and forth and the backs of the trailers were being lifted off the ground while sitting still. We did drive very slowly back to the truck stop, and it took us a while to get there. We were shut down for 2 days that time.


Ice and snow is nothing to get cocky with, and wind can kill you as well.


mountain driving rest


Remember the rules of the road, remember to give enough space for the fellow driver, respect the weather, and know your limitations. That is safety…..

Drive safe and drive smart.



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