Although few people know this, oil (or water, or gas) pipeline concessions are sometimes open to the public. Although we all hope the terrorists don’t somehow manage to figure this out, fencing them effectively enough to deter a real attacker would be impossible anyway. The area along the pipe itself has to be kept clear and accessible for inspection and maintenance, and for much of their length they run through some of the most beautiful natural landscapes around. This is regrettable in many ways, but also unavoidable in the world we live in.
What all of the above amounts to is that pipeline companies incidentally provide some of the best motorcycle tour routes imaginable. Best of all, since many of these are basically unknown to the crowd and a number of them require special permission to use, this kind of tour is a great way to get away from people, traffic and even civilization.
Equipment to Bring and Preparations to Make
By their nature, pipeline concessions can run through some fairly remote locations, and accidents do happen (especially to those who think they’re exempt from Murphy’s Law). At the same time, all of these routes are not equally rugged and parts of them even have cell reception. For some, a road or touring bike will be all you’ll need, while others are better tackled with an ATV, which may be exactly what the pipeline company’s employees use to get around.
In much the same way, the weather and terrain will determine whether you need leathers or even protection that fits like a shield on your body and can prevent bones from breaking. A basic first aid kit and the knowledge to use it should be first on the packing list, as for any trip longer than a few miles. Satphones are hella expensive, but are sometimes available for rent.
There’s also a strong possibility that you may need or want to camp on the trail. If this isn’t part of how you usually tour, this guide covers the most important stuff.
The Very Best Example: The Trans-Alaska Pipeline
Running between Prudhoe Bay and Valdez, this pipeline’s route covers 800 miles (1,300 km) alongside a mixture of surfaced and unsurfaced roads. Until some years ago, the final, northermost stretch of 350 miles of gravel road required a permit to travel, but this restriction has long been lifted and a biker can now follow the pipeline along its entire length.
This is certainly a beautiful ride through some really wild country (yep, bears), but even just getting there is a chore. Luckily, it is possible to rent bikes once you’ve arrived. The surface along many stretches is most definitely not of highway quality, so it’s best not to attempt this run if you’re unsure of your ability to skirt around potholes or recover from a bump. Also, since the northern end lies at 70° N, this can only be attempted during the summer.
Finding Your Own Adventure
Naturally, pipeline companies are not in the tourism business and shouldn’t be mistaken for travel agencies. On the other hand, they are also staffed with human beings that cover the normal spectrum from “friendly and willing to help” to “sulky and evasive”. Their individual policies on allowing access to outsiders also vary widely, but it is most certainly possible to get permission (even if not needed, this fact will generally not be advertised) from some of them.
In some cases, they will only require you to promise that you won’t do things like build a bonfire next to a line carrying kilotons of natural gas. In others, especially when it comes to water pipes, permits are issued by the state government, and in some places mountain bikes are fine but motorized transport totally forbidden. Finding out takes only a few phone calls and may provide you with an opportunity for a ride way more remarkable than any you’ve taken so far.