He walks the line … because he can

Staff writer

When walking through the wooded wilderness of Alberta, Ken Ilgunas was charged by more than 1,000 pounds of angry moose.

As he walked through the open grass prairie of South Dakota, he found himself caught in the midst of a cattle stampede. He scrambled with great haste to avoid being trampled.

He’s encountered a badger on his travels starting in September. Despite the animal’s fearsome reputation, he has been hassled more by dogs on his journey south through Kansas.

In addition to animals, Ilgunas has dealt with diffficult weather. He spent three days inside of his insulated tent – reading his kindle – waiting out an ice storm in South Dakota. The rest was welcome because Ilgunas’ feet and shins had been battered throughout his daily 30 mile walks. The aching pain was consistent enough that Ilgunas thought his trek to the Gulf of Mexico might become impossible.

Ilgunas feels the story of braving the wilderness and finding oneself in a journey will always be interesting, worthy of a book. Although he already has one book under his belt, he said a book about his walk is still a pipe dream.

The real reason Ilgunas trip may be worthy of several hundred pages is because it is newsworthy. He is following the proposed path of the Keystone XL Pipeline from the Tar sands of Alberta to the possible destination of the Texas coast. The pipeline has yet to approved, the final go ahead waiting on the desk of Barack Obama. Ilgunas feels like he is breaking new ground, part of the first national fight over a project directly related to climate change.

Personally, he is not part of the fight. His mission has an objective view. Throughout his travels, Ilgunas has interviewed subjects directly affected by the pipeline. The oil workers and landowners in Canada were resoundingly positive. Oil is Alberta’s industrial image, like automobiles for Detroit or steel for Pittsburgh. The views of local farmers and politicians grew starkly negative as he passed into the United States. Residents of Nebraska were especially worried how the oil pipeline would affect their water supply.

An iPad has been Ilgunas’ writing utensil on his journey; he has blogged every few days at least. It is part of his store of items in his 35-pound pack – including his tent, several layers of warm clothing, and food he can carry. He said he set up 20 different food drops in post offices along his route. The next was setup in Potwin.

The reason Ilgunas was willing to eat a Thanksgiving meal of Ramen noodles in his tent and risk being arrested by curious law enforcement officers – Ilgunas stopped in at the Marion County Sheriff’s office on his own to avoid unwanted inquiries – is because this trip is definitively unconventional.

“I live an unconventional life,” he said.

Ilgunas has sought an unconventional life since graduating with a masters’ degree in liberal sciences from Duke University in 2011. It’s why he was inspired to hitchhike to Alberta from Boulder, Colo. He’s not completely crazy. He did expedite the trip in Canada in September because he did not want to be trapped in harsh winter weather.

Ilgunas said he has tapped into the primitative part of his being – living sun up to sun down and embracing the endurance that allowed man to hunt in his early existence. It’s that journey that is important – whatever happens with the Pipeline, whatever happens with the book, is all icing.

 

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