Oil, money, cowboys, strippers, and the energy rush that could change America forever. A long, strange journey along the Keystone XL pipeline.

  • Byliner Original
  1. 1. Fort McMurray

    I was midway along the Highway of Death when the source of the road’s nickname became clear.

    Route 63 connects Alberta’s capital, Edmonton, to the province’s remote Northeast and the oil boomtown of Fort McMurray. For the first two hours, I passed through farmland before entering the vast boreal forest that blankets northern Canada in bog and evergreens. Scenic and serene—except for the heavy truck traffic and forest of warning signs by the road: LOGS MAY SWING INTO YOUR LANE, DISTRACTED DRIVING LAW IN EFFECT, THINK AND DRIVE.

    Drivers didn’t seem distracted; they seemed suicidal. Pickups leapfrogged the log trucks and oil tankers, swerving back into the right lane a second before oncoming trucks swooshed past. Or they darted onto the right shoulder to pass bloated tractor-trailers marked OVERSIZE LOAD. Road crews were busy widening the narrow highway, which only added to the dust, jumpiness, and mayhem. Four crosses appeared by the highway, a memorial to travelers who didn’t make it. I turned off at a lonely outpost called Wandering River, which offered the last gas and food for 125 miles.

    I must have looked rattled, because a man at the Midway Café smiled and asked, “First time up here?”

    First time in Alberta, I told him, my very first day. “Hopefully not your last, eh?” he said.

    Randy Falenda was a long-haired trucker who had worked in U.S. and Canadian oilfields for thirty years. But nothing compared to his past five trucking along the Highway of Death. “I’ve alm...

Originally published in February 2014