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Politics : Exploration

Expedition Watch: Hiking the Keystone XL Trail

There's no pipeline—or anything even resembling a trail or infrastructure—yet. And that's precisely why Ken Ilgunas decided to head out in September on a 1,700-mile hike tracing the planned route for the Keystone XL Pipeline—from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada, to Houston, Texas. He wanted to chronicle the opinions of the people who live along the proposed route.

Before he left, Ilgunas shared all of the logistics. He detailed his food supplies (6.5 pounds of mashed potato powder and 228 candy bars), his plan for staggering his supply pickups (sending individual boxes via Priority Mail to small town post offices), and shared his design of a homemade lightweight camp stove (tin foil and an empty Purina cat food can). He wrote a post about how he broke his pinky toe after tripping down the stairs in his friend's basement to add some pre-trip drama. He wrote another post about all of the gear he would take with him, 27 pounds of stuff that includes a can of bear spray he's had at the ready for plenty of non-bear-related incidents. He's been in defense mode a fair amount of the trip, something that becomes obvious after a quick survey of of his blog post titles: "It finally happens, I'm attacked by cows," "Finally get going, have an interesting bar experience outside the Alberta/Saskatchewan border," and "A posse of paranoid Montanans surround my tent."

Here's a bit more on his trek, in case you want to follow along.

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The 10 Best Ethical Travel Destinations for 2013

Kayakers-palauKayaking in Palau. Photo: Mark Downey

Since 2006, Berkeley-based non-profit Ethical Traveler has compiled an annual list of the 10 best ethical vacation destinations for the coming year, and it just released its 2013 list this week.

"We try to encourage travelers to vote with their wings by going to places where travel and tourism benefits local people, where the government has an eye on the environment and supports human rights," Jeff Greenwald, Ethical Traveler's executive director, told a packed house at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club on Monday evening.

Greenwald's group focuses on developing nations, with an eye toward encouraging travelers to put economic power into these nascent tourism economies. In 2011, international tourism receipts exceeded $1 trillion for the first time, and this year the number of international tourists in the world is expected to hit one billion, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

The list is offered in alphabetical order, so they're all equally weighted within the top 10. Each nation is judged based on its social welfare programs, its efforts to protect its environment, and its human rights records. In the list below I've focused mostly on environmental protection and recreation.

BARBADOS
Chosen for its proactive environmental programs—including its 2012 Green Economy Scoping study—and its transparency, Barbados also offers some of the best surfing (and rum) in the Caribbean.

CAPE VERDE
This island nation on Africa's east coast boasts a program to achieve 100 percent renewable energy. "We're always wary about commodification of culture," said travel expert Malai Everette at the event on Monday, but she feels Cape Verde has maintained its rich culture without cheapening it.

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Energy Literacy, Part I: Green Power's Dark Side and Eco Ruin Porn

GW_windfarmDown on the wind farm. Photo: George Wuerthner

Every therm and watt of energy we consume comes from somewhere, and those sources are finite, even if they're generally well removed from our daily lives. Energy: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth is a new coffee table book by the Post Carbon Institute and the Foundation for Deep Ecology that shows and tells us, in graphic detail, the backstories that make up our current energy economy.

Adventure Ethics spoke with the book's co-editor, Tom Butler, about the value of beauty, the potential of energy ruin porn, the population problem, and the importance of energy literacy. In Part II of this series, we'll offer an excerpt from the book.

ENERGY_cover

How did this large format art book come about?
The germination was in an earlier project that the Foundation for Deep Ecology's publishing group had produced and that was about mountaintop removal coal mining, called Plundering Appalachia, which George [Wuerthner] and I co-edited. We had immersed ourselves in that particular and specific part of energy economy, this horrific act of blowing up mountaintops to get at coal in the most ancient mountains and biologically rich forest type in North America. So that book we produced with a coalition of environmental groups that are fighting that practice. After that, we started talking about a similar project about tar sands.

George was up there in the tar sands, taking aerial photos and researching that problem, and when we started talking about it we realized it's just another very small part of an energy economy that is fundamentally toxic to nature and to people. It diminishes biological diversity, it diminishes beauty. Pulling out a single narrow slice of the bigger subject, by just talking about tar sands, didn't make sense to us. So we decided to open it up and try to do a project that makes the invisible visible to people—and that is, the systemic impacts of the current energy economy. Let's explore what is behind the light switch when you flip it on, what's behind the gas pump when you fuel up, and make it visible to people in an art book—a large photo format book.

If people are going to be engaged in reorienting our currently toxic energy economy and transferring to an energy economy that is more friendly to nature, to people, to beauty, to human health, biodiversity and all these things we care about ... [that] is only going to be possible if people are thinking about it and understand these key principals of energy. So energy literacy is really the focus of the project. The introductory section on energy literacy we spent quite a bit of time on. We want it to be very accessible and very easily understood because we think it's so important for people to understand net energy, and embodied energy, and how energy props up the entire scaffolding of civilization and in the converse how the entire scaffolding of civilization is required to produce the energy that supports it, so it's sort of a feedback loop.

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Adam Bradley on Floating the Mighty Yukon River

On_the-yukon-bradleyAdam Bradley's view of the Yukon River. Photo: Adam Bradley

If you follow notable (read: crazy) solo expeditions, you likely recognize the name Adam Bradley—or Krudmeister, as his friends call him. In 2009, Bradley set a record for the fastest unsupported through-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail: 65 days, nine hours, 58 minutes, and 47 seconds. But recently, besting records on established trails is less appealing to him than blazing his own.

Last summer, Bradley undertook a 4,738-mile biking-hiking-canoeing expedition from Reno, Nevada, (where he lives and works at Patagonia as a customer sales representative) to the mouth of the Yukon River, where it meets the Bering Sea. "After last summer, I would prefer to spend my time in vast tracts of wilderness and I don’t need a trail laid out in front of me," he says.

While the expedition was focused on reconnecting with his Alaskan roots—Bradley was born and raised in Anchorage, where his family homesteaded in the 1950s—it put the changes taking place in the landscapes and cultures of the far north into stark relief. Adventure Ethics spoke with Bradley and got the full story.

How did the BLC (or Biggest Little City, a.k.a. Reno) to Bering Sea trip come together?
I did a few bike tours here in Nevada and started thinking about doing a multisport thing, where I would use the bike to get into a trailhead or a river. Then I started researching a route to Skagway, Alaska. My dad and some friends of his did a trip in the 1970s that was documented by National Geographic. It's called the Yukon Passage trip. National Geographic heard about it after they did it and actually asked them to reenact it, to film. What they did is they hiked the Chilkoot Pass, much like the miners did, and then literally made a log raft with a cabin on it that they floated to Bering Sea. Part way down they got iced in, so they broke the boat down and made a cabin, until the river completely froze up and then they dog-sledded out the rest of the way. So I saw that as a kid and it definitely made a huge impact on me in terms of me becoming a river guide. So then when I started planning this trip I thought, Well, I have to hike this trail.

So you rode from Reno to Skagway, hiked the Chilkoot Pass, and eventually met up with a canoe and shotgun that you had shipped into Canada. But that's when things got complicated.
I did run into a hassle with customs officials at Frasier. I had purchased a shotgun and learned how to use it [before the trip] and did all the paperwork and everything, registered it. But when I got there, Canada had moving goal posts for me, so they kept changing what they were going to allow me to do and not allow me to do, so I ran into a lot of delay there. When I got to Lake Bennett, which is where the canoe was supposed to come up the White Pass on the Yukon Railroad, my gear didn't arrive because the customs officials were hassling the train, saying I was smuggling guns, which is funny, in retrospect, because I had declared it. If I had been smuggling I probably wouldn't have opened my mouth and attempted to do it the legal way.

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Astronaut Donald Pettit on Taking Photos in Space

When astronaut Donald Pettit heads into space with his 10 cameras, his goal is to collect data about the earth and the stars. Often, his images end up as art. Anyone with a computer can download the photos he takes from the cupola—the glass turret astronauts can look out of to see earth—of the International Space Station and put them into a timelapse video for all to see on Vimeo. At Outside, we've taken several of his photos and put them into blogs and galleries. (Here's a gallery of star trails.)

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