TAC 45 Index
I AM SURE most TAC readers will have seen the film Duel, where Dennis Weaver plays the part of a guy making a long return journey in his car having worked away from home for some time. There is this enormous truck behind him, trying to overtake - the kind of heavy vehicle you associate with road haulage across the United States. The truck duly overtakes only to immediately slow down, causing the car driver to brake hard. The rest of the film concerns the duel between the two vehicles, with Weaver becoming increasingly terrified as the truck driver becomes increasingly sinister. What makes the thing so menacing is that you never see the trucker because his windscreen is so dark.
You will find this hard to believe, but a vaguely similar incident happened to me and my wife while walking one evening along a forest road towards Meikle Bin above the Carron Valley. We had parked our car just off the road that runs beside the reservoir and were well into the walk when we heard the sound of a vehicle. Looking round, we were mildly surprised to see a large truck lumbering up the forest road towards us. It was the kind of truck used to carry large quantities of timber and stirred up great clouds of dust as it moved. I say we were surprised because it was about 8pm, a time when most forest workers would have clocked off.
The truck was as wide as the forest road, so when it drew close we had to step on to the verge to let it past: there is really no point debating with something that size. I could just about see the driver through the dark glass and thought I would be well advised to give him a cheery wave. There was no response: he just kept looking straight ahead. The forest is a lonely place on a cloudy evening and, although I had my wife for company, an acknowledgement from the driver would have given a degree of comfort as his expression was a bit on the grim side.
The truck moved on up the gentle incline and was lost to view round a bend, while we continued towards our objective anticipating the expansive views from the summit before the light faded. Although the cloud was thickening, the level was well above 3000ft and we would see all our favourite hills in the southern Highlands.
After walking for a few minutes more, the truck suddenly reappeared. The driver must have found a turning area and was now heading downhill towards us at some speed. This section of track had no verge, only a ditch on either side. Once again clouds of dust filled the air and, having no option, we jumped into the ditch. Once the truck had passed we both clambered back up, composed ourselves and moved on, eventually reaching the point where it was necessary to turn left and head up the open hillside.
On the way to the summit I became increasingly uneasy about the guy and his truck and started recalling Duel. My mind began to go into overdrive. Was this character some sort of pervert? He could be waiting for us on the way down, could very well attack us and dispose of our bodies in the depths of the forest or even dump us in the reservoir. But worst of all, he was spoiling my walk! I was not a happy man. From the steepening hillside we could see that he had stopped his truck close to a pile of logs by the side of the forest road, but was not doing anything, just sitting there.
When we reached the trig point we did indeed have a wonderful view of the southern Highlands. The familiar summits spread before us in a spectacular display: Ben Lomond, Ben Ledi and Cruach Ardrain, with Ben Vorlich and Stuc a'Chroin peeping above the Menteith Hills. My frame of mind began to improve.
Since the light was beginning to fade, we began the descent without further delay. Once more I began to dwell on what fate had in store for us should we encounter the truck. By this time I fully believed the driver to be a raving maniac. Feeling the need for some protection, I took a whistle from my rucksack, making sure my wife did not see what I was up to. I even picked up a stone - volcanic tuff, as it happens - and surreptitiously put it in my pocket. After all, Mel Gibson had used a small stone very effectively in Braveheart.
My wife was the first to catch the sound of machinery from down in the forest. The man was using a winch attached to the truck to load up with timber. I found this reassuring: he was doing a normal job of work. At last I began to relax as we re-entered the forest. When we approached the location where we assumed the truck was being loaded, there was nothing to be seen. Our trucker had obviously completed his work for the day. The remainder of our jaunt could now be savoured. I even discarded the stone. There was no need for such a weapon.
Then, with a third of the forest road still to be covered before we reached the car, we turned a bend and there it was ... the truck.
To come upon the monster vehicle so unexpectedly was bad enough, but my heart sank when I realised where it was positioned. We were only 50 metres from where the Carron flowed into the reservoir and our route crossed the river by way of a concrete bridge - a simply constructed affair with no side walls or railings. There was only a mini-parapet along its outer edges, perhaps 10cm high. The river was maybe three metres below the bridge and deep enough to submerge an average-sized person. The problem was that the truck was right on the bridge and as wide as it, leaving us no room to cross. Not only that, it was longer than the bridge by around a third of its length. We stepped forward in disbelief. The sod was being deliberately awkward. He knew we had to come back this way: walking upstream to find a fording place was out of the question. It was getting pretty late and positively gloomy. I made my way to the rear of the vehicle and looked along its side towards the cab. By looking in the wing mirror I could see that the driver was inside. I called to him and even rattled the side of his truck with my walking pole (take note, Grant Hutch-ison: never be without your pole). There was no response.
My wife and I took one look at each other and decided there was nothing for it. We would have to do a traverse by placing our feet on the parapet and clinging to the side of the truck. After a hurried examination of the two possible routes, we decided on the side away from the driver. It would be tricky. Toes would be on the parapet while heels would be over the gaping void below, with the dark waters of the Carron giving the manoeuvre added zest. I began to enjoy the prospect of a Tom Patey style crab crawl.
I decided to go first. This was unusual since at any scrambly bits on a hill my wife is usually the one to push past and get on. But now was my chance for glory. I stepped up on the parapet, grasped the oily sides of the truck and carefully began the traverse. Collie's Ledge was a doddle compared to this (not that I had ever negotiated Collie's Ledge, but I had read plenty about it). Midway across it dawned on me that the weirdo trucker might start up his engine and move off. This would piss me off terribly. However, I made it to the other side with my wife following on behind; in my desire to get across I had completely forgotten about her.
In the interests of establishing good relations, and wishing to avoid conflict at all cost, I gave the driver the benefit of the doubt. After all, no harm had come to us. In Duel the driver comes to a sticky end when his vehicle goes off the road and falls over a cliff, but I had no such wish for this particular trucker. Mind you, he had spoilt my walk - and that, as any hillwalker will tell you, is a sin not readily forgiven. So when my wife was safely across I looked up at the cab and gave a rather cautious wave with my pole. The driver looked down at me and with a flask in one hand he raised a cup in acknowledgement with the other. This was a shade disarming but I decided to let it go at that.
It was now 10:30pm and fairly dark as we stepped out resolutely towards the car. Perhaps I had let my imagination get the better of me in bringing to mind that blasted film. Come to think of it, the driver had not actually done anything wrong. The track was just broad enough to cater for his vehicle, so it was up to us to get out of the way. He was perfectly entitled to park there and have a cup of tea: the bridge was clear of the trees and gave an uninterrupted view of the reservoir as he took his break. I began to take a more reasoned perspective as we set off down the remaining stretch. The guy was totally innocent of any malice.
Then, with around a kilometre to go, I thought I heard an engine start up. Could it be him? He could easily overtake us and place his truck in front of our car before we could reach it. He would then jump into his own car and leave us stranded there all night. We quickened our pace, half running, half trotting, generally stumbling towards the main road and safety. With no sign of the truck we reached the car - and, without bothering to get out of boots, we drove off at speed, leaving the Carron Valley and its demon trucker to the night.
TAC 45 Index