She was enticed into the haulage industry by her father, Jeffrey, who was a HGV driver. Karen works on vital routes including the M5, M50, A49 and the M42. And she says some motorists still look twice when overtaking her on the motorway. Karen Smith-Storer and her husband Neil work for Highways England as gritter drivers in Worcestershire.The pair – together for 12 years and married for three – have been working around the clock this winter to keep the Midlands’ major A-road and motorway network running freely.Karen – who lives in Worcestershire with Neil – has worked in her role for the past 11 years. The former HGV driver and Class 1 licence holder says there’s a healthy rivalry between her and her husband. In snow and ice: drivers should stick to the main roads where they can and only travel if necessary. Drivers are also encouraged to make sure they have a winter kit in their vehicle, including an ice scraper and de-icer, warm clothes and blankets, and sunglasses to cope with the low winter sun. In high winds: drivers should slow down and avoid using exposed sections of road if possible. Lorries, caravans and motorbikes are at particular risk. In heavy rain: drivers should keep well back from the vehicle in front, gradually ease off the accelerator if the steering becomes unresponsive, and slow down if the rain and spray from vehicles makes it difficult to see and be seen. In fog: drivers should switch on their fog lights and not use lights on full beam as the fog will reflect the light back. If drivers really cannot see, they should consider stopping until it is safe to continue. It’s quite funny and it always makes me smile because I have seen several male drivers look at me and they are clearly surprised to see this petite woman driving such a large piece of equipment. I really love my job and I really enjoy the solitude of driving the truck and being in my own office, of sorts. That said, the camaraderie of the team in and around the depot which we work out of makes the role what it is. But it isn’t always plain sailing working as a gritter driver. Despite weighing in at some 26 tonnes, last year 36 Highways England gritters were driven into by motorists.The pair – who operate from the Strensham depot next to the M5 – have thrown their support behind calls from Highways England for motorists to leave plenty of distance between themselves and the gritter in front of them.Each spreading machine is limited to 40mph and must travel in the middle lane to ensure the salt is spread evenly and safely across the whole of the carriageway.Neil added: During severe winter weather drivers are urged to follow this advice: I often see cars trying to undertake me and driving in the hard shoulder where there could be a stranded vehicle in snow or a breakdown. The advice would always be to overtake on the outside lane and leave plenty of distance between themselves and those driving the machine. The back of a gritter is the most vulnerable area as it’s where the salt spreading equipment is located. If it’s struck it can mean the gritter has to be taken off the road to be repaired, which is costly and could affect critical services in extreme weather conditions.Highways England’s national winter and severe weather team leader Paul Furlong added: We do have a laugh about it when we are together at home, albeit my husband knows I am the better driver out of the two of us. We’re lucky in the sense that working and living together hasn’t impacted on our relationship. There have even been times when we have crewed up together and it’s quite nice to work with Neil as we have that familiarity and understanding of the other person’s traits. I think it really helps with pressurised situations at work because we have that support and understanding for one another. We do have some banter between us but it’s nice because we can learn from each other and that’s how we look at it. I also think that’s one of the aspects that I enjoy the most around the job because our company is very good at listening to what we tell them, and they will always do what they can to train us and help us to develop new skills. Although the vast majority of people support our gritter drivers by leaving a sensible distance and only passing when it’s safe to do so, we do have occasions when people misjudge the situation and end up colliding with one of our vehicles. We have also noticed a growing problem with driver using the hard shoulder to undertake gritters, risking a collision with stationary vehicles on the hard shoulder and causing a hazard to gritter drivers who need to exit at motorway junctions. It’s really important that we keep traffic moving and our gritters are out on the network enabling us to do that. Neil says he loves working alongside Karen. General enquiriesMembers of the public should contact the Highways England customer contact centre on 0300 123 5000.Media enquiriesJournalists should contact the Highways England press office on 0844 693 1448 and use the menu to speak to the most appropriate press officer.
There is one way for this tour to be a reality, our sponsors! Sending a thank you shout out to our title sponsor Nite Ize, and all of our other awesome sponsors that make this happen: Crazy Creek, National Geographic, Sea to Summit, Mountain House, Lowe Alpine, Old Town, Leki, HydraPak, UCO Gear and Wenzel. If you like the gear that keeps us groovin’ click here to enter for a chance to win Easy to find materials are utilized, like glass bottles and tires. They are used to build durable structures. Currently, there is an Earthship being built in Puerto Rico that is hurricane resistant. If you are interested you can volunteer, or donate!It’s proximity to both mountains and desert make Taos a fun place to camp. You can experience both flat and spacy desert camping and classic Rocky Mountain alpine camping in a single weekend. There are several free established and dispersed camping areas on the road from Taos up to Taos Ski Vally. The sites were close to the road at times but they were shaded and next to a creek. On the west side of Taos, there is ample BLM land that allows free dispersed camping as well. We found a great spot right on the rim of the Rio Grand River. It’s hard to beat the stars in the desert. It’s no wonder there are so many alien sightings in New Mexico… In the morning we woke up to the most amazing sunrise and a hot air balloon taking off only about 100 feet away. It was a good way to start the day.PlayThis is where Taos really shines. Most people know of Taos Ski Valley as a winter destination. However, Taos is much more than that. The town sits at the base of the Sangre De Christo range. The same Sangre De Christo range that you visit if you have ever been to Great Sand Dunes National Park. They’re beautiful. Summit the highest point in New Mexico – Wheeler Peak (13,161 ft above sea level). This 8 miles out-and-back hike will reward you with views all the way back into Colorado – literally. There is also a large heard of Big Horn Sheep who frequent the saddle just below the summit.If you want to stay close to town, hike the Devisadero Loop Trail. This locals favorite will take you through diverse terrain with a beautiful view overlooking the town of Taos and beyond. Don’t forget your fishing rod! The Rio Grand River is just a short drive out of town. There are several river access points. We stopped at a small day-use area near Arroyo Hondo and had coffee in the shade right on the banks of the river. It was wonderful. Taos is also surrounded by natural hot springs. We hiked to quite possibly the nicest natural hot spring we have ever visited; right on the bank of the Rio Grande. We hiked in about an hour before sunset and there was only one other human there. We enjoyed this area so much that we decided not to name it in the blog. However, if you are interested in knowing its location – you can send us an email at [email protected] or message us on social media and we’ll be happy to tell you where it is. There is a large parking area and it might not be much of a secret, but for us, it was perfect. New Mexico is Colorado’s southern neighbor. The north-central portion of the state shares the Sangre de Cristo mountain range with Colorado and that’s where Taos and New Mexico’s highest peak live. Taos, the “place of red willows,” is a collection of restaurants and shops surrounded by rugged beauty, warmth, and culture.Taos Pueblo, the town bordering Taos on the northern side, is known to be one of the oldest continually inhabited communities in the United States. It is believed to be over a millennium old and built somewhere between 1000 and 1450 A.D. Currently, 150 people live in the structure year round.We were able to road trip down to Taos for a few days and experience as much of this quirky town as we could. We climbed mountains, relaxed next to hot air balloons, and explored the Rio Grande River.EatIf you were hoping to get any recommendations besides Mexican food, then you need a different article. We had Mexican food for every meal, and we’re very happy about it. Out of all the restaurants we tried, one stood out from the rest. It had a focus on quality ingredients, two locations, and didn’t break the bank. Taos Diner was by far our favorite and we wish we would have gone first so we could go every day we were there. Get a burrito ‘Christmas style’ and never look back. Their green chili shines, but the red is just as delicious. It is easy to get a great meal in Taos under $10.00. Try out Guadalajara to eat among the locals. Hit Michaels in the morning and grab a green chili croissant. For a super cheap and delicious breakfast, stop by El Taoseno Restaurant just south of town. All the food in Taos is delicious and reasonably priced. We decided to go on a green chili tour and tried every green chili each restaurant had to offer.If you want a great coffee (and coconut milk!) try out The Coffee Apothecary. It has great brews, comfortable laptop spots, and it’s attached to a bicycle spot– what more could you ask for? We spent an afternoon there hiding from the sun and caffeinating for our hot spring excursion that evening (more on that later).SleepTaos is home to the mystifying Earthship Biosphere community. We were lucky enough to stay in Picuris for a night, one of the rentable Earthships in the community. Earthship homes are unique because they are fully self-sustaining while using very simple construction techniques to work with the Earth and elements. They use solar, but their answers for water use and heating/cooling is the most interesting, especially because Taos only gets on average seven inches of water per year.The water is used three times, for drinking water, watering all the plants inside, to fill the toilet, and then finally to water the plants outside. With such little rain, it’s incredible how it can be used efficiently. The plants inside the house purify the air and help with filtration of the water. It makes for an extremely comfortable atmosphere. When we stepped into the Earthship, we instantly felt relaxed and at home. There is a meditative aspect to staying in these structures. They feel more in tune with the needs of the land. Even with all the incredible eco-friendly practices, it doesn’t feel like you’re “roughing it” in any compacity. There is a fully functioning kitchen, hot showers (you just have to wait for two minutes for the water heater to kick on), indoor lighting, and a comfortable temperature all year round. Temperatures in Taos range from 12 degrees to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and because of the construction of the building dug down into the earth, it regulates inside. The placement of the windows work with the summer and winter sun to either cool or warm the attached rooms.