Expedition Watch: Hiking the Keystone XL Trail

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

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.

WHAT: A 1,700-mile walk from Hardisty, Alberta, to Houston, Texas, along the planned route of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Ilgunas plans to interview and hang out with the locals as he goes. He has hiked from farm to town to farm, battled through shin splits, fended off attacks from moose and dogs, and weathered a three-day winter storm in a tent.

WHO: Ilgunas is a 29-year-old adventurer and writer who lived out of a van during his time at Duke, worked as a backcountry ranger in Alaska, and hitchhiked from Alaska to New York. (Just read this short series of posts called Vandwelling to get a taste for his sense of humor and degree of honesty.)

WHEN: In mid-September, Ilgunas hitchiked north to Canada from Denver, Colorado. On September 24,  he began to hike south from Hardisty, Alberta. He expects to arrive at the end of the pipeline in Houston, Texas, sometime in February. He is currently in Kansas, where cold streams and dogs off leash have inspired interesting conversations with his camera. (Warning: vulgar language in the video below, filmed in Kansas.)

WHY: “I wanted to walk just because I was in the mood
for a long walk,” he told the CBC. “And I wanted this to have some sort of purpose. To
go on a journey is to be changed by
the experiences you have and the people you meet and the places you see. And to
go into a journey with some sort of rigid stance? You’re kind of closing
yourself off from those opportunities.”



—Joe Spring

Filed to: