Haul Road to the Himalayas
Interviewing Lisa Kelly, trucking’s most recognizable face
The current “IRT: Deadliest Roads” season of the Ice Road Truckers reality-TV series franchise on the History Channel had aired its fourth episode as I wrote this, after a launch on Sunday, Oct. 3, that garnered 3.4 million viewers. You’ve probably seen it, but if you haven’t, it’s a departure from previous seasons in many ways. It pits North American drivers from past seasons, as well as a new face, against the incomparably rugged terrain and chaotic cities of the Himalayas.
And if you’ve seen any of the episodes this season, you came into contact with the hauler who today might be the leading figure in the public imagination when it comes to U.S. trucking. Just prior to the airing of the second episode, I spoke with Lisa Kelly about her growing notoriety, enabled by a supportive carrier back home and what might well be best described as the hardworking, driven, no-nonsense aspect of a woman Esquire magazine, as readers of my blog will remember, dubbed the “Sexiest Trucker Alive.”
Kelly, 29, is still employed by Carlile Transportation, truckers of the Dalton Highway (the “Haul Road”) in Alaska and her only trucking employer in her seven-year driving career. “They trained me,” she says. These days, she’s been traveling more and more in the air, flitting here and there doing promotions for the series, but says the 2004 Kenworth W9 she more typically rolls in is waiting for her in Alaska. “I’m in love with it,” she says.
Getting back to her regular runs may take time, she adds, but that’s OK in the end.
CHATTING WITH LISA
TN: Do you think about your situation in terms of being an ambassador for U.S. truck drivers to the general public?
LK: Whether I choose to or not, that’s the place I’ve been put. … I’m doing the best that I can to represent who truckers are and put my personality into it.
TN: Is your day-to-day life relatively similar to what it was before IRT?
LK: I would say it’s the same with a twist. [IRT has at this point] just taken over, the last three months or so. It’s completely changed from me being me to me being that person on TV. But I still feel like I’m me.
TN: When you compare the Haul Road with the roads you saw in Southeast Asia, what’s similar? What’s different?
LK: Different? Everything. And similar: pretty much nothing. They both have roads, and that’s about it. One’s got avalanches, the other landslides. Nobody drives the same — we drive on the opposite sides of the road [and opposite sides of the cab].
TN: What was the biggest driving challenge you saw in Asia?
LK: We had new challenges every place we went — the crazy driving and the high crash risk. … The heights made me freeze up in the beginning, and at the end, I didn’t — by the end I could just look over the edge of the cliff like it was nothing. I really learned what a human being can get used to.
TN: In the first episode, the dynamic of being a woman in something of a man’s world was on display almost from the get-go [Kelly was seen turning her camera on a crowd of men who formed by and on the road in front of her in that episode]. How did you deal with that dynamic?
LK: As far as I understood, there had been no women truck drivers there — everybody we ran into said they’d never seen that before. It was a challenge mainly because of my annoyance at the stares that I would get. … And though I don’t want to give too much away, I got stopped by the police because they didn’t think I was supposed to be driving — I just showed them my license.
“I am having fun,” she says.
In the October story here about owner-operator Ken Harris’ www.tyronemalone.net tribute website, I made a grave error in the spelling of the name of an outsize trucking persona in the Minnesota-based owner of many of Malone’s classic trucks. As a close associate of said owner noted in an email to me: “Great story, but everyone from Minnesota and beyond knows that Gary Ries, not Gary Reese, owns many of the classic Malone trucks!” My humble apologies.