She lived — and died — by the road.
Joy Wiebe was a typical American woman in many ways: a wife, mother of three, a dog lover and a devout Christian. But she was also one of the nation’s fiercest tanker truckers, driving precious fuel up the treacherous ice road to the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field, at the very tip of Alaska and north of the Arctic Circle.
The new book “Mothertrucker” (Little A), by writing professor — and Wiebe’s friend — Amy Butcher, out Monday, tells her story. The title is a nod to Wiebe’s Instagram account, @alaskamothertrucker, where she would chronicle her trips for more than 9,000 followers.
To get up to Prudhoe Bay, Wiebe — who Butcher describes in 2018 as “freshly 50 with the face of Kate McKinnon and a body like an exclamation mark” — had to haul her 53-foot rig up the James W. Dalton Highway, a thoroughfare that’s been called “the most dangerous road in America.” The 414-mile stretch, which begins in Fairbanks, Ala., is plagued with blizzards, ice storms, potholes the size of kiddie pools and patches of fog so thick that they leave drivers blind.
The highway culminates in the terrifying Atigun Pass, a steep, avalanche-prone mountain road that’s considered the deadliest part of the trip.
“To advance Atigun Pass is to submit to the very worst part of the rollercoaster ride,” Butcher writes. “All that anxious energy is lugged further and further up, blind to what is in front of you and the exact moment you will drop.”
Wiebe drove this road alone regularly, armed with mace, flare guns, a pistol and loads of snacks. But she wasn’t always so badass.
As a kid growing up in Camp Verde, Ariz., Wiebe fantasized about winter. She got pregnant in high school and was married, to a man Butcher calls Jake, by the age of 17. Soon, Jake joined the Navy and asked to be stationed in Alaska, to appease his wife. But even after they moved, Wiebe was unhappy. Jake was unfaithful, controlling, violent. When Wiebe left him, she had two young boys and inconsistent work experience.
People thought she was nuts. “But I’d rather be crazy,” she told Butcher, “than be controlled in any way by a man.”
Wiebe found a job at a local mine, driving a bulldozer. She liked it, but her schedule had her working on Saturdays, which conflicted with her worship as a Seventh Day Adventist. So Wiebe took a position as a mechanic trainee, which was a demotion. At the mine, she met a divorced dad named Gregory Wiebe (Butcher calls him James in the book), who would become her second husband and the father of her third child. He encouraged her to get her commercial driver’s license.
Trucking came with perks: more money and a flexible schedule. And the risks of the Dalton Highway didn’t seem to bother Wiebe, who told Butcher that she never felt closer to God than when she breathed in the frosty arctic air. She called the journey “healing.” Once, Wiebe showed Butcher the tiny crosses that lined the highway “like morbid mile markers,” honoring the truckers who lost their lives on the road.
“These are the toughest people I know,” Wiebe said of her peers.
Eventually, Wiebe found herself stuck in the horrific conditions that have claimed the lives of so many drivers.
It was Aug. 24, 2018, and she was once again traveling to Prudhoe Bay. The fog was overwhelming, and Wiebe clung tight to the edge of the road, like she’d been taught — leaving space for any oncoming vehicles that she wouldn’t be able to spot. The tanker, carrying 9,700 pounds of fuel, lost its balance and tipped over. Wiebe, 50, died instantly.
The loss rocked her community, making the news and inspiring her fellow truckers to organize a convoy, a sign-of-respect tradition in the field. People told Butcher that Wiebe’s memorial — much like the woman herself — was special.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this,” a participant said to Butcher about the turnout. “Lots of parades in my lifetime. But never have they been this big.”
Published on: Article source