Travel

The Craziest Things Long-Haul Truckers Have Seen on the Road

"You can see what everyone's doing from high up in the rig."

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Dewald Kirsten/Getty Images

The longest stretch I ever spent on the road in a single trip was 26 hours, pinched into a rear row on a Chinatown bus out of lower Manhattan on the way to Orlando. Outside of the unbeatable $50 ticket price, there isn't much to recommend this mode of travel. Basically you’re in for a kaleidoscopic day of luggage paranoia, sleep-deprived 4am transfers, and fragrant fellow travelers taking slugs of tequila from a crumpled McDonald's cup.

But even here, the mind drifts and you find yourself hypnotized by all that endless scenery rolling through your window. You get to see a lot of America on a trip like this -- so it must stand to reason that long-haul truckers, who make runs like this like normal folks make a run to the mall, should have some amazing tales of what happens out there on the open highways.

I approached professional truckers at some of the country’s finest, biggest truck stops to get their tales of the wildest stuff they’ve seen out there while crossing America. Sometimes they’ll see something that comes as a welcome shock to break up the monotony of mile markers and rest stops. Sometimes, they’ll find a scene far more unsavory. Go ahead and save yourself a couple of million miles of road wear-and-tear to enjoy these tales vicariously.

MORE: The most beautiful road trips, according to long-haul truckers

When a major highway becomes an ice rink

Connell: “I was driving through Oregon in the winter, and I must’ve seen 16 trucks go off the road in an ice storm. That’s as scared as I’ve ever been. (Second place is having my emergency brake go out on me in the Rockies. You get hit with pure panic, and you’re trying to keep your emotions under control. Time slows down.) Anyway, in Oregon we’re trying to stay on the road and trying not to kill ourselves or someone else. It finally it got so bad they closed the highway down and had all of us parked out in this field so we didn’t wreck. Of course when we woke up the next morning every damn one of us was stuck in the snow, so they’ve got to bring in tow trucks to get us all out. That was a long, long day of bullshit.”

Don't pick a fight with a trucker who carries handcuffs

Brian: “A student of mine, the first two months he was out on the road, he got involved with the cops three times. It wasn’t that he was breaking the law. It was that he used to be an Army man, and he couldn’t leave certain impulses behind him and leave things to the cops. He also carried a lot of shit no one else drives with, including a set of handcuffs.

“So, you can see what everyone’s doing from high up in the rig, right? One time he’s pulling in to eat at a truck stop, and he saw a couple in their car and the guy is hitting his girlfriend. Well, my old student, he parks his truck, and goes over to this car and knocks on the window, calls the guy out. The way things ended he had that asshole handcuffed to mirror on his own car to stay put until the cops came.”

Men, you have a time-management problem

Carl: “We’re way up above most traffic, sitting in the truck, so we have a view of everything going on below us, which includes what everyone is doing in their cars. A lot of people are jerking off. Not saying I see that all the time, but it’s more often than you’d probably think, especially if traffic is stuck. All guys, of course. I’m thinking that if you can’t take care of that at home before you have to go to work, you might have what we call a time-management problem.”

MORE: Take a peek inside Truckers Disneyland

The lack of sleep and lack of bathrooms don't mix...

Mike: “Some guys piss in jugs. You don’t want to do it, but it happens. It’s just that it’s hard to find a place to stop you can actually fit your rig in, and you can only drive so many miles holding it in. Now, you mix that with the fatigue, that hypnosis you get watching the road hour after hour, you run the danger of doing some stupid stuff. If I have to piss in a container in my car, I pour it down the drain and get rid of the bottle the next time I stop. A few people are assholes and they just toss it on the roadside.

“One time I saw one driver coming into the shower at the truck stop all angry, you could smell the piss on him. Come to find out he’d been so zoned out he’d tried to throw the bottle through the window without remembering to roll down the window. Splashed back all over the cab.”

… and high speeds don't mix with hills

Jim: “I’ve seen some bad crack-ups. In Saskatchewan, Canada, driving with an oversized load on the way to Fort McMurray in Alberta, this car went flying past me. I came around the curve, and there’s a cop car parked on the side of the road up ahead of both of us. Car had smashed right into the cop car, and the car the cop had pulled over. The women the cop had pulled over had her legs broken. I pulled over, center sideways, and I stayed with the cop until the ambulance got there. He was kind of in a daze, but I guess they say he broke his legs too. The kid who smashed them up walked away with a couple of bruises.”

Some stuff is actually truly grim

Brian: “It was a cattle truck accident outside Oklahoma City.  Guy had a heart attack behind the wheel. Very lucky no one was killed. The truck rolled over and that by itself was pretty bad to watch but it was the sounds that came out of it that scared me. All these busted up animals in the back, screaming. I can’t even describe it to you.”

Of course, a bunch of stuff just simply blows up

Carl: “I’ve seen two truck explosions that scared the hell out of me. One, I got there after it happened. I don’t know what set it off, but the whole cab was parked in the center gap of the interstate across from the lot. He was lucky he got out of it at all because the entire cab was burning up. I’ll never forget what that looked like, the whole cab in flames and the smell of the chemicals and the truck burning. It was nighttime and you could see it going like a bonfire from miles away and the fire department was out there just trying to contain it.

“Then the other one was a dust explosion. Some people don’t realize this but you get any sort of powder, fine particulate matter, in an enclosed space hanging in the air and it can combust. A lot of people don’t think flour or sugar can go off on you like that but that’s just the kind of thing that it can happen with. This one case, it was flour that ignited. Blows out the top of the rear like it’s a volcano going off. When that shit ignites right it can disintegrate your whole rig if you’re unlucky.”

And, of course, ghosts are gonna pop up

Nate: “I’ve seen a lot of things, but I’m wondering if they’re things that happened because I was tired -- that’s why they have so many regulations and you keep log books. The road can start playing tricks on you, almost like a hallucination. A lot of the things I’ve seen happen out in secluded areas, and I’ve seen figures out on the side of the road that don’t belong there. 

"I was on I-90 in Washington State going up the Columbia River Gorge. There was this lady all dressed in white standing right on the line on the shoulder, and I remember it scaring the holy hell out of me. It was in the middle of the night, and I didn’t see her until I was right on her -- BAM!, she was right there. I’m not saying she was a ghost, but it looked like what I would think would be a ghost."

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Peter Rugg is a freelance writer whose stories have appeared in Rolling StoneComplexVice, and Popular Mechanics, among others. Follow his intermittent tweets @petermrugg.