A 1,700-mile hike

October 29, 2021

It was September 2012 when Ken Ilgunas began hitchhiking from Denver, Colorado, to Alberta, Canada, with the goal of walking along the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline. 

The journey, which took Ilgunas along a 1,700-mile hike through Canada, the Heartland of the United States, and down to the Texas Gulf Coast, was the topic of conversation when he visited Cheshire Academy on Tuesday, Oct. 26. The hike is detailed in full in his memoir and reflection on climate change “Trespassing Across America.” 

Along his hike, Ilgunas talked to a mix of residents as he trespassed on private property, and walked and slept in rain, snow, and grassy fields. Some property owners he met spoke highly of the proposed pipeline, discussing how they and their local economies would receive a financial boost for allowing Transcanada (now TC Energy) to install the pipe on their property, while others spoke in disdain about being bullied to accept Transcanada’s proposal or face imminent domain. 

From breaking his pinky toe and his friend canceling, turning the two-person hike into a solo expedition, to strangers joining his journey and speaking with local and national media outlets, Ilgunas detailed everything to the CA community during his presentation. And while he believes there are other options out there for energy, he could not help but admire the facilities when he arrived at the Motiva oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. 

“I felty guilty because I expected to feel nothing but moral revulsion, but I felt kind of impressed with this place. I was impressed by its size and complexity; I was impressed with the generations of work that had gone into it, how all these hands, how all these minds, how all this engineering and ingenuity has gone something like this,” reflected Ilgunas. “…I was impressed not because what was done is good, but because what we’re capable of doing is amazing. I couldn’t help but think how if we can make this, if we can build this, then what else can we build? What else can we make? What other future can we forge?” 

Ilgunas was on campus for most of the school day, visiting students in The Environment, Justice, and You 9th-grade seminar, Macroeconomics, and Modeling Climate Change classes. He also met with the Eco-Leaders club and hosted a writer’s workshop for students in the Blue Room. During the workshop, he shared how he became involved in writing, consideration of journalism, and the challenges of publishing a book. 

For more photos from the day, visit our Flickr gallery here.