Trespassing Across America

by Ken Ilgunas

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Ken Ilgunas

The main character of the story is the narrator, Ken Ilgunas, who is also the author of the book. At the beginning of the story, he is employed as a dishwasher at an Alaskan work camp for oil laborers. The work camp is called Deadhorse, and it is so desolate that Ilgunas finds himself seriously thinking about what the future holds for him. After a short trip to see the ocean, Ilgunas and his friend Liam start to think about doing a major expedition; thus, the idea to hike the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline is born. Ilgunas is an adventurer and an excellent planner. He plans the solo hike well: he plots out his route using software and maps downloaded from the US government’s website, prepares a daily meal plan, and buys the required hiking gear.

Ilgunas is “five feet eight-and-a-half inches tall and weighs in at one eighty.” He has brown hair, green eyes, and a sturdy stature that is useful in carrying out a variety of physical activities. He is a courageous man who dares to hike the Keystone XL pipeline route alone, and his courage and confidence are enhanced by his experiences on the hike. Although the initial reason for the expedition is to raise awareness of the environmental damage brought on by the activities of the fossil fuel industry, Ilgunas is forced to rethink this stand, especially in Canada, where the majority of the people support the pipeline. However, when he arrives in Nebraska and meets other opponents of the pipeline, he is able to realign himself with the true purpose of the trek.


Liam is a cook at Deadhorse. He is also Ilgunas’s friend and is described as well-read and companionable. He and Ilgunas plan to hike the Keystone XL pipeline route, but he changes his mind about going at the last minute.

Liam is a practical man; he knows that a trek of the magnitude they are planning for is difficult and requires resources. This may be why he finally decides not to accompany Ilgunas.


Josh is Ilgunas’s best friend. He lets Ilgunas move into his basement in Denver, Colorado, after Ilgunas leaves Deadhorse. He also agrees to mail packets of food and other supplies to Ilgunas at various points of the trail. Ilgunas gives Josh some money with which to buy emergency supplies for him should he need it at some point in his journey.

Josh is dependable; he offers Ilgunas shelter in his basement and ensures that his supplies are mailed on time.


Alan is a middle-aged software engineer of who gives Ilgunas a ride from Athabasca to the tar sands in Fort Murray. He is described as a careful driver who is unperturbed by the reckless driving commonly witnessed on the road to the tar sands.


Eddie is “a half-native-American, half-Scandinavian oilman” who gives Ilgunas a ride from Fort Murray to Lac La Biche. He is a recovering drug addict and a former employee of the oil fields of Fort Murray. He tells Ilgunas about daily life in the oil fields and gives him insight into the social effects of the pipeline on the locals.


Harold is a teacher in Alberta. He invites Ilgunas to have dinner with his family when Ilgunas stops at his school. He and his family are Mormons; they are hospitable and ask Ilgunas to spend the night at their home.

Cindy Myers

Cindy Myers is an environmental activist from Nebraska. She opposes the fact that the XL pipeline is to be constructed through the Nebraskan groundwater. Through her, Ilgunas’s hike receives valuable publicity in the region.

Rick Hammond

Rick Hammond joins Ilgunas’s hike in Nebraska for a few days. Rick is a veteran of the Peace Corps and a rancher. His family is opposed to the pipeline, and soon after he joins Ilgunas, the hike receives more publicity. He plays a major role in helping Ilgunas to understand the real reason for the XL hike.

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