Trespassing Across America

by Ken Ilgunas

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Written by award-winning author, journalist, and backcountry ranger Ken Ilgunas, Trespassing Across America: One Man’s Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland is a memoir of Ilgunas’s extraordinary walk along the intended route of the Keystone XL Pipeline—the fourth phase of the existing Keystone Pipeline. Plans for XL were revived by President Donald Trump following their rejection by former president Barack Obama.

When Ilgunas starts his personal recollections he is washing dishes in an Alaskan oil camp. Realizing that by working there he is, in effect, supporting the oil industry, he and a friend decide to go on a spontaneous hiking trip. Enjoying this trip so much, which involved encounters with wild animals and trespassing across government land, they decide to organize a hike following the route of the intended Keystone XL Pipeline. However, due to his friend being unable to cross the Canadian border, Ilgunas is forced to set off on the journey on his own.

On September 22, 2012, Ilgunas hitchhikes from Denver to the Alberta tar sands. From there he starts the 1,700-mile hike (predominantly across private land) to the Gulf Coast of Texas and the Port Arthur oil refinery—the endpoint for the XL pipeline. He crosses difficult landscapes, experiences problematic weather conditions, sleeps rough and meets hundreds of people, including ranchers and oil workers. During these encounters, he discusses the pipeline and global warming and collects a wide range of opinions. When he began his journey, Ilgunas did not know how he felt about the proposed XL pipeline but, after his time spent on America’s Great Plains, he reaches Port Arthur opposed to it.

Trespassing Across America is not only Ilgunas’s personal story but also a reflection on climate change and a tribute to the Great Plains and the people who live there.

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