Blood, sweat and tears?… more like fuel, ice and toxic chemicals. Life on location was tough.
My first hitch out on location was indescribable (A hitch was 15 days, after which I had 6 days off). I was so NOT cut out for how physically demanding this job was. 16- 18 hours a day, over 100 hours of work per week; I lugged pieces of iron pipe weighing 120 pounds, dropped them into the dirt, screwed them together and beat them tight with a sledge hammer. I remember coming home after a few days of this, and taking off my shirt to find that my arms and chest were a collage of blue, black and purple bruises, sprawled over my skin, like a farmers hands after picking blackberries. I was getting beat to shit.
Every moment of this experience was difficult.
I had the wrong shoes, I was dizzy from lack of food or water, I choked on exhaust fumes, my hands and feet were frozen… the list goes on. And always I was beyond tired and sore.
It is just so hard to explain how difficult it was to work so much, so hard, at all hours of the day and night.
Carrying a 5 gallon bucket of engine grease in one hand and a wrench made for Thor in the other, I struggled to make my way across the pad. I stepped over hoses, cables, puddles of shit, sand and mud. With my eyes closed I walked over the iron pipe connected to the wellhead during a presser test, the metal squealing and vibrating so hard it dug itself into the frozen, rocky ground; I prayed it wouldn’t blow apart at that very instant and rip my body in half.
I reached the other side of the pad, beyond the sight of my coworkers, checked if the coast was clear, and collapsed in exhaustion. My hands trembled from the cold and pain and were stuck in place like an eagle’s talons. Sitting there, embracing my vulnerability I wondered why I was doing all of this. But the image of an African sunset over a grassy plain filled with wildebeest and zebra flashed before my eyes, and a weak smile reminded me again of my plan; I was going to Africa next year! I choked back my tears and fought away any sign of sensitivity that could be pulled apart by the men, stood up against my aching bones and proceeded back to work.
Apart from the heavy lifting and long hours, driving a tractor trailer was by far the most stressful and terrifying. Let me try and paint this picture for you.
Imagine you’re 23 years old and you’ve never driven a stick. You arrive in North Dakota for a class A driving job but find out all the trucks are standard transmissions. Now, you have your class A license which is great, but you were trained in a freaking automatic dump truck over a year ago! You have no f*ucking clue how to drive a big rig!!
Now, imagine the look on everyone’s face when you tell them this. You’re embarrassed, shamed and ridiculed for coming all this way and not knowing how to drive. So, the supervisor does the smartest thing he can think of… He drives you around for 2 hours, vaguely mentioning braking and downshifting, gives you the keys and says, “You’re trained. Get your shit, and find a truck. We’re leaving now.”
The next few months were… (God I’m shaking now remembering how horrifying this was, I can barely type), INSANE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I climbed into my giant truck, the pressure mounting from ‘Being a Man’ and trying not to crash and die. These trucks are sooooooo big. I had one instruction, “follow the truck in front of you.” These seasoned truck drivers F*UCKING flew down the highway, leaving little old me, who just learned how to drive an 18 speed yesterday, puttering his way down the road. I drove on ice, in blizzards, through fog, down super steep hills and up impossible inclines. I missed gears, grinded the clutch, and was sure I would lose control of this vehicle at any moment and go careening down a cliff to my death. I can’t illustrate enough how scared I was.
I remember one time after a two hour convoy to location, through a snow storm of which visibility was near zero, I pulled up, parked and noticed the tension in my muscles was so great, I couldn’t take my hands off the wheel. I had to peel each finger, one by one from the wheel and release my jaw, my neck and my back. (I prayed silently that whole drive. This was the second most terrifying experience I have ever had).
The real nightmare however, was late one night I got lost in the fog and took a wrong turn down a county road. I was alone, in the dark with only my headlights to illuminate the desolate tundra. Panic gripped my heart as I tried to steer this million dollar piece of equipment back to the main road. My worst fears were realized when I hit some ice, lost control and slid off into a snow filled ditch.
Wanna know what happens next? Subscribe to Amble Unbound via the form in the top of the side bar!