By 2pm the restaurant had emptied and we'd resigned to taking a room for an early morning departure the next day. We pulled out a crossword puzzle to help wait out the heavy snow that began falling, making travel seem a bad idea anyway. Pondering six-letter words for 'misanthrope', we didn't notice two Dong Fengs that pulled up outside. Four drivers (all male) ducked in from the snow, speaking excitedly to the restaurant manager in a dialect I couldn't understand. From my seat I could read the characters on the door of their cab'Linxia county'. There was a good chance they were headed north to Zoige.
I struck up connection with one of the drivers refilling his tea thermos while another was on the phone with their "boss". They'd heard in Songpan that the road from here to Zoige had been closed for two days due to heavy snow; they were asking about what they should do with their cargo of vegetables. The answer came back, "It's up to you."
They sat scratching their heads considering alternative routes when a truck coming from the direction of Zoige pulled up. The four drivers sprung to their feet out the door with me in tow; I figured I might as well become part of their problem. Apparently the road was passable, trucks were managing to get through. At this point I was still reluctant to ask them for a ride; it seemed unlikely, we'd already taken a room and besides we had so many blank squares left on our puzzle. Just then the restaurant owner shot me an inquisitive look, "Had I asked yet?" When I shook my head no, he mentioned something to one of the drivers, who then called back to me, "Are you coming?" Caught off-guard, I replied, "Are you willing to take us?" We agreed on a fee and with a flick of his wrist gesturing to us to make haste, we were off to retrieve our packs.
It was 3pm. After sitting in one place for four hours with dimishing hopes, we were suddenly moving again. Despite the late start, we were headed to our destination. We were told the trip to Zoige would typically take between 5-8 hours depending on the road conditions; I figured we would be on the lengthy side. I went into one truck, Gregg the other. The view from the middle seat of the cab was like being front and center in a wide-screen theater. The scene was a narrow mud-tracked road, low barren hills on either side stretching to snow-covered mountains in the distance.
The truckers were friendly and interested in our story, as well as how much money an American makes, are their roads like this in our country, and are Chinese in America discriminated against? I taught them the English road 'trucker', which they liked to repeat, and told them what I knew about trucker life in the U.S. (not much). After an hour of chatter the cab fell silent. It was cold outside but the heat was turned up enough to make me drowsy. Over the next two hours, trains of truckerssometimes 15-20 in a lineheading the opposite direction stopped with windows down to chat with out drivers when they knew each other. It seemed a number were from Linxia county. The heavy snow over the past two days had created a bottleneck, no doubt doing greater damage to the road with trucks now coming through en masse.
As I fought sleep, I thought about these truckers' lives, probably not so different from truckers anywhere else: constantly on the road, often sleep-deprived, far from their families which they rarely saw. These guys would do the Chengdu-Lanzhou route every ten days, six of which were on the road alternating drivers to avoid stopping unecessarily. In summer they hauled loads from Chengdu to Lhasa, the one-way trip taking a solid week. They told us later that a single run can earn between 2000-4000 yuan (US $250-$500) provided all went smoothly. Compared with the average income in China, this was good pay, though one they certainly had to work for.