Last summer, Scottish filmmaker and cyclist Graham Kitchener found himself pedaling through Williston, N.D., the de facto capital of the Bakken oil boom, when a parade of heavy equipment turned an otherwise calm stretch into the most dangerous, white-knuckled part of his cross-country trek.
"There was a chaos about it," Kitchener says in a video diary from the trip. "There were so many tankers at points it was like cycling beside a train. They were so constant, one after the other."
The 16 million barrels of oil a month sucked from the plains of western North Dakota and eastern Montana is treasure for oilmen, and treacherous for touring cyclists like Kitchener.
In 2008, the Missoula-based Adventure Cycling Association, which produces maps for its network of cycling routes around the country, began hearing about incessant truck traffic along its Northern Tier and Lewis & Clark routes. In 2010, a cyclist was hit and killed by a pickup. Beyond the traffic, cyclists can't find places to rest weary legs as oilfield workers overrun hotels and campgrounds.
Kitchener documented the bedlam, and sent his video to ACA. It proved to be the pump that broke the oil derrick's mast: ACA decided it was time for a detour.
"This is the first time in our history that we've ever had to do a major re-route of this magnitude," says ACA cartographer Jennifer Milyko.
After seeking direction from the state transportation departments and dispatching a staffer to collect intel on services and road conditions, ACA pushed both its Northern Tier and Lewis & Clark routes from U.S. Highway 2 about 100 miles south all the way to the I-94 corridor. The new maps are due out this summer.
Milyko knows cyclists hate the interstate as much as headwinds and hemorrhoids. "But the fact of the matter is," she says, "in rural states like North Dakota and Montana, sometimes that's all there is." And it sure beats sharing the road with a never-ending convoy of oversized oil equipment.