“Trespassing Across America — One Man’s Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland” by Ken Ilgunas (Blue Rider Press, 271 pages, $27).
During the fall of 2011 Ken Ilgunas was working as a dishwasher at a remote Alaska camp located three hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. One day Ilgunas and a friend decided to try to diminish the tedium of their boring existence.
Their foray involved hiking across the tundra. That convinced Ilgunas it might be fun to hike along the entire route of the Keystone XL pipeline which was being proposed to transport petroleum from the tar sands region of Alberta, Canada to the planned terminus point on the Texas coast.
Ilgunas spent the next year determining the logistics for a trek that would take him 1,700 miles. The details of his epic journey are revealed in his astonishing memoir “Trespassing Across America — One Man’s Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland.”
He would hitch hike from Denver to Alberta then walk all the way to Texas. If he started hiking south by late summer he could follow the autumn weather and make it to Texas before it got frigid on the Great Plains. There were delays. He didn’t get started as soon as he hoped. Right before heading out he broke a toe. It didn’t deter him. He stuck with the plan.
A friend shipped parcels of provisions to him as he made his way south. It should be noted that Ilgunas was opposed to the pipeline project. He believes that climate change is real. As he prepared to hike along the pipeline route he anticipated that he would encounter many people who didn’t agree with his views.
There were obstacles to surmount. With his map and compass he headed south, taking the most direct routes. He avoided walking along roads and traversed all manner of terrain. Fording rivers. Crossing private property. He encountered wildlife and was greeted by dogs who might attack him or even tag along.
In Canada he didn’t encounter many people. After crossing the border into the United States he met quite a few. After weeks of solitude Ilgunas had hungered for human contact. He conversed with strangers. They discussed the pipeline. They fed him. They gave him shelter. They gave him money. Now and then he even received that most splendid of gifts for a tired hiker; a hot shower.
Winter weather had complicated his plans. People felt sorry for him. They offered him rides. Ilgunas refused. He persevered. He had gotten that far on foot, he wasn’t giving in and getting into that nice warm pickup truck. No way.
All that walking had a profound impact on him. He got stronger as he went along. His meditations and reflections on the experience he had are profoundly wise, and tremendously inspiring. He made it to the Gulf Coast of Texas. As I read this document of his adventures it made me yearn to see that brilliant ever-changing enormous prairie sky. This is a powerful testament to the beauty of our natural world and to the resilience of one human being who had the endurance and the wherewithal to accomplish this feat on his own two feet.
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