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Posts Tagged ‘Alberta’

Kearl Module Transport Project

It’s a classic battle.  On one side are the corporations who would inject millions of dollars into struggling rural economies and justify the action as an economic benefit pitted against National environmental groups who state it will pose a threat to public safety and a risk to the environment.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

If you live in the northwest and have ever made it to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally then you’ve likely traveled over Lolo Pass, (U.S. Highway 12).  I’ve ridden this route several times to and from Sturgis.  In fact, last year our group traveled this route from the East going West and were amazed at the high-quality level of what seemed like freshly laid asphalt.  The route hugs the serpentine banks of the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers and road signs bear the silhouettes of the 19th-century explorers Lewis and Clark.  There is a particular interesting segment of the highway where you’ll read signs proclaiming the next 99-miles is nothing but S-curves.  And they are not kidding!  The National Scenic Byway is a treasure and one that should to be experienced by motorcycle enthusiasts slowly in appreciation.

So what’s the issue?  Well it’s complicated… a local issue having global impacts.

It’s not well known, but Imperial Oil and ConocoPhillips are planning to ship hundreds of tons of oil equipment up the Columbia River, destined for the Kearl Lake oil sands project near Fort McMurray in Alberta as part of the Kearl Module Transport Project (KMTP).  Once those shipments reach Lewiston on the Washington/Idaho border they will then be loaded on to gigantic, multi-lane wide trucks weighing upwards of 500,000 lbs (semi-trucks generally max out at 80,000 lbs), and from there, the equipment would inch its way along Idaho’s stretch of U.S. 12, through the Clearwater National Forest, into Montana and points beyond (See map above).  These so-called “megaloads” could be up to 3-stories high, occupy 24 feet side-to-side (the full width of U.S. 12) and be 200 feet long.  The companies will spend more $21 million for permits and hundreds of highway modifications to accommodate the loads.

What we have here is a French company shipping Korean-made products on Dutch trucks to a Canadian work-site, that has the potential to destroy one of our most prestigious scenic byways and flagship motorcycle routes in the northwest!

Emmert "Mega-Load" on U.S. Highway 12

I realize it’s easy for anyone, including myself to lob a dismissive one-liner… but, does anyone think this is a one-time occurrence?  I don’t.  In fact, Imperial Oil, hopes to move 207 separate “modules” to Fort McMurray. For each load it will take the trucks nine nights to cover the route through Idaho and Montana.  Sure there were some modifications made and paid for by the companies, including additional pullouts along the route and raised or buried power lines — so the route could handle the shipments — but, the route is being actively marketed as a gateway to a valuable yet relatively undiscovered oversized shipping corridor—primarily utilizing Highway 12 — that ties the Pacific Rim to Canada and the interior U.S.  The Lewiston port’s website states in a section titled “Columbia-Snake Corridor and Highway 12: The West Coast Alternative.”

“The carbon footprint, transportation, permitting and strategic planning costs of utilizing this route [are] significantly less than shipping through alternate marine routes importing into the United States with the same destination.”

As is always the case in these type situations both sides ‘lawyered up’ and in record time it was run through the Idaho Supreme Court who in January ruled/approved 4-shipments through the “permanent” corridor.  More information is available in a well researched and fact-filled article by Alex Sakariassen (Missoulan News) that provides a great overview of the various factors in this issue that impacts Idaho and Montana residents; now and in the future.

Since the ruling, the second “mega-load” left Lewiston last Thursday night.  And as you might expect, winter weather got worse and the “mega-load” was held in position for, as Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) claimed, “routine vehicle maintenance”.  The short journey is now taking at least 11 days!   And if that wasn’t enough to make you scratch your head, Emmert International is using Idaho State Police (ISP) as escorts for the ConocoPhillips mega-load transports.  Emmert is footing the bill, but Idaho lawmakers still have to give their authorization/approval for overtime and associated costs for Idaho troopers to accompany the mega-loads.

Next up is surely a Discovery Channel series…  chronicles of the “mega-load” where the burly, bearded, sleep deprived, derring-do drivers and swashbuckling navigators traverse Lolo Pass with the threat of activists breaking rigs or plunging into the ice-cold river to haul their indispensable cargo to the Canadian oil mines… An ideological conflict and adventure on Monday nights at 9pm central.  Advertising sponsors could be BP and that would bring an end to a great highway for motorcyclists!

UPDATE: February 28, 2011 – According to this report Imperial Oil confirmed that due to weather delays they will be downsizing the 30 “mega-loads” into 60 smaller loads for the freeways and bypassing the more direct route on Hwy 12 through Idaho and Montana.   So, after telling the public for more than a year there were no alternative routes…suddenly the oil company gets slowed down and they find an alternative route…somethings fishy in Idaho!

Photo’s courtesy of Boise Weekly (Emmert); NY Times (Map).

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Banff Departure - Wet and Cold

Banff Departure - Wet and Cold

When rain begins flowing off the front and back of your motorcycle helmet you can’t help but have a dampened riding spirit, but there is a saying in Alberta… “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”

Well we waited several minutes, but the early morning departure out of Banff didn’t change the hard cold facts.  It was 47 degrees and wet!   Where did this damn winter weather come from?   Indeed there were ominous black clouds circling around the town and after we fueled up and traveled 10 minutes down the road they busted loose.  We were not caught unaware.  Parking under an overpass we climbed into full rain gear.  Yet, the steady downpour seemed to soak everything.

Frank Slide - Frank, Alberta

Frank Slide - Frank, Alberta

We determined our rain gear was worth every penny, but hardly a fashion statement as we fumbled around trying to get it all on.  They are typically a bit musty smelly after being rolled up for months, heavy to wear and somewhat long, but they did the trick and kept us dry.  The good news in all of this?   After about 30 minutes and before we reached Radium Hot Springs the rain was history, the road had dried out and we spent time discussing wildlife (Coyote, Deer etc) seen in route through Kootenay National Park.  Despite being named after a radioactive element the hot springs has none and is has the largest pool of 103 degree water in Canada.  As cold as the day started it was most difficult not to check in and grab a few hours in the hot spring!

Border - Chief Mountain

Border - Chief Mountain

Exiting Radium the posse split up.  Part of the crew wanted to travel more miles and make it to the “Going to the Sun Road” in St. Mary, Montana.  Others wanted to steer clear of any rain and elected to navigate toward a more southerly and warmer route to Cranbrook and then to Missoula, MT.

We were part of the “more miles” crew and the cold weather limited our sightseeing and photo stops, but a couple items stood out.  First was the Frank Slide in Frank, Alberta.  Frank is a coal mining town in the Crowsnest Pass.  Back in the early 1900’s the east side of Turtle Mountain broke free and the slab of limestone rock covered 1.5 miles destroying most of the town and killing 76 people.  It’s now a regional tourist attraction.  The second was tucked away in the rugged mountains — the little town of Fernie, BC.  It is fully encircled by the Rocky Mountains and has a ski resort (Fernie Alpine Resort) with the highest annual snowfall of any resort in the Canadian Rockies.

St. Mary Lodge and Resort - St. Mary, MT

St. Mary Lodge and Resort - St. Mary, MT

We crossed the Elk River, home of the cutthroat trout and forged on toward Pincher Creek, Twin Butte and through the Waterton Lakes National Park.  Finally we rolled into the U.S. border crossing at the tiny Chief Mountain Alberta/Montana outpost on Highway 6 (Alberta) and Highway 17 (Montana).  After riding for hours in very remote, very wooded and very sparsely populated areas, one is reminded that you’re on the world’s longest undefended border. It’s a catchy yet increasingly imprecise term for the U.S.-Canada frontier.  The northern border is mostly out of the spotlight.  As authorities on both sides ratchet up efforts to curb bustling traffic in illegal drugs and guns it’s odd that the U.S.-Mexico border draws far more attention — and more American resources.  But again I’ve wandered…

St. Mary Lodge Cabin

St. Mary Lodge Cabin

At about 6pm local we arrived at the Saint Mary Lodge on junction Hwy89 and the “Going to the Sun Road” which runs through Glacier National Park (Montana).  It was a long riding day.  Fortunately we’d made reservations weeks in advance and secured the remaining cabins vs. a replica Indian tepee.  The place was fully booked!  There was no cell phone service and the Hughes Net Satellite internet was malfunctioning… so, we were off the tweet grid!  Side note: if you plan to go this route an alternative is to stay in Pincher Creek, Alberta where they had several motels and you won’t have to make reservations months in advance for the Park service lodge. Had we known this we would have avoided the rustic cabin adventure.

After grabbing some fairly good grub at the Snowgoose Grill we crashed with four TV channels looking forward to the next days ride through Glacier park.

The 107 to 47 Journey – Part One HERE; Part Two HERE; Part Four HERE.

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Hazy Smoke Filled Ride

Hazy Smoke Filled Ride

We set out of Kelowna on BC97 along the lakeside, leaving both town and slow moving traffic behind. The hazy smoke filled skyline followed.

The road twisted and turned making for a spectacular ride with great views.  In the town of Sicamous the hazy smoke subsided as we headed east on the green and white maple leaf highway marked as the Trans-Canada Highway — also known as Hwy1.  Just prior to Revelstoke we passed through Craigellachie which is the site of the “last spike” completing the original Canadian transcontinental railroad back in the late 1800’s.

Avalanche "Sheds"

Avalanche "Sheds"

When riding, you never know what is around each bend, many of which are around rock faces, so there may be fallen rock or wildlife on the road.  But, on the other hand, you need to relax and mix riding with taking in the view which we did as we traveled along Hwy1 through Revelstoke and passed through the Selkirk Mountains and Glacier National Park (Canada).  At the summit we stopped at Rodgers Pass.  There are a number of snow sheds and earth dams used to protect the highway from avalanches and the area is home to the largest mobile avalanche program in Canada.

Rodgers Pass

Rodgers Pass

At Golden we connected with the junction of Hwy95 which is west of Lake Louise and passed through Yoho National Park.  It runs along the southern-most part of the Canadian Rockies just west of BC and the Alberta border.   At Kicking Horse Pass we rolled over the continental divide and the Spiral Railway Tunnels.  They were built to increase the length of the railway track and reduce the grade as trains made their way up a considerable ascent.  Sometimes called the “Big Hill” it had a ruling gradient of 4.5%…one of the steepest in North America prior to the Spiral Tunnels opening in 1909.

Banff, Alberta

Banff, Alberta

Alberta’s Mountain Parks are the jewel of the Canadian Rockies.  Approximately 7600 sq miles of preserved wilderness it’s easy to see spectacular scenery, watch wildlife and enjoy what has made the area famous.  We rode by the Weeping Wall, a massive limestone cliff with a number of waterfalls seeping out.

The day ended damp and cold – around 55 degrees by the time we dropped into Banff, Alberta.  In the late 1800’s workers from the transcontinental railway chanced upon simmering hot springs and the area became Canada’s first national park – Banff National Park.

Bow River

Bow River

At 4540 feet in altitude it is Canada’s highest town.  And with a cold front that had moved in we felt and saw the precipitation, fog and wind shifts of that altitude.  It was early August yet it felt like mid-October in Oregon!

We had a scheduled layover in Banff and spent “tourist” time kicking around town, trying local pubs and wandering the Fairmont Banff Springs grand hotel and national historic sites.  The hotel is steeped in history having been built back in 1888 and there is a long list of famous guests who frequented the resort.  We didn’t stay at this hotel.  I didn’t get the sense that many guests had turned in their Mercedes-Benz to lease a Hyundai!  In fact, our entire time in Canada seemed to indicate that the worst of any recession was long over for the folks who pass the puck.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

In the hotel lobby we met up with some riders who came from Calgary and soon learned there were many wild cards in the weather forecast.  It was going to be cold and wet.  Ugh!   Our original route had us heading east toward Calgary, but that pesky cold front brought torrential rain and high winds killing one and injuring 15 people.   Over refreshments we decided to avoid Calgary as nasty weather and hail was a certainty and we didn’t want any part of it.  As a side bar, my iPhone app, WeatherBug didn’t work in Canada.  I could get temps and current conditions, but I couldn’t pull up Doppler radar to re-route around any storms… bummer.

Refreshments At Banff International Hotel

Refreshments At Banff International Hotel

We determine that the west side of Banff National Park offered a reduced possibility of rain so, we would back track to Hwy 93 through Kootenay National Park.

It would mean a longer 400+ mile day to reach Highway 89 and the “Going to the Sun Road” in St. Mary, Montana, but riding dry was preferred over cutting 100 miles off the route in the rain.

The 107 to 47 Journey – Part One HERE; Part Three HERE; Part Four HERE

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sturgis_bkgrndThe open road is just three weeks away!

But, I won’t be at the granddaddy of them all — I’ll miss chatting with CJ Halon (Guilty Customs), rubbing elbows with Jeff Cochran (Sucker Punch Sally’s), miss the Legend Ride with Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler and all the cigar aficionados, artists and vendors at the 69th Annual Black Hills Motorcycle Rally – a.k.a.,  Sturgis.

Sure it’s a can’t miss event and I’m not cutting corners, but having been there a few times already I’m now more selective on which years to attend and if all goes well I’ll make next year’s big 70th blowout party.

Canada_GlacierInstead plans have been set for a week of saddle time/travel in the province of Alberta, Canada…few places on the planet have massive mountains as large as the National Parks of Jasper, Yoho and Banff.  Our posse plans to take in the cathedral-like peaks and ancient blue-white glaciers then return home via Glacier National Park… an exquisite destination where the masses have been going since the day railcars were the only means of traveling.  Clearly the Canadian exchange rate will increase the cost of the trip, but the Columbia Ice field and Hwy 93 between Jasper and Banff will make our trek worth it.

The Canadian Rockies will often make their own weather and for us folks without a roof we’re hoping for a lot of sunshine and that the rain gear stays buried in the bottom of the bagger.

Photo courtesy of H-D and the Google.

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