Hiking Journey Through 1700 miles of the XL Pipeline

Ken Ilgunas, author of Walden on Wheels, The McCandless Mecca,  and A Walk Across Suburbia walked the 1700 mile stretch of the XL pipline from Alberta Canada to Texas.
Read about the journey at his blog, Pipe Dreams.




I was eating a pumpkin pie with a plastic spoon while hiking down Highway 18 in southern South Dakota. A homeowner, who saw me walk past his home, thought I might be hungry so he jumped in his truck and brought me three-fourths of his leftover Thanksgiving dessert. This was one of several kindnesses offered to me near the town of Winner, SD. A hardware store manager fixed my trekking pole that had broken in two (with hard plastic tubing and a lot of duct tape), I charged my electronics at a Chinese restaurant, and the local police station suggested I set up my tent in the local park.

But as I broke off the highway and began trespassing over farmland once again, the warmth and hospitality of town gave way to a cold and uninviting countryside. It was a weekend and hunters were out, so every few minutes I heard the “putt, putt, putt” of rifle shots. Most of the shots were far away, but there were a few sharp “bangs” from nearby that felt so close I found myself looking at my limbs to make sure I hadn’t been shot and was walking purely on pain-numbing adrenaline. A covey of quails rocketed out of shrubbery, and my heart stopped.

Thankfully, in town, I’d thought ahead and bought an orange vest to replace the one I flung off and lost during the cow stampede. I hoped the orange would make any trigger-happy hunter think twice before collecting another bearded trophy.

This was bad land to be trespassing over. Unlike the Alberta and Montana prairie, where I could walk for hours before seeing a home or road, and where I felt so unobserved I would drop trou and use the bathroom as unabashedly as the cows do, here there was vast network of country roads and many small, family-run farms of corn, sunflowers, and cow pasture. I felt like I was being constantly watched, or that I might accidentally walk into someone’s backyard after mounting a hill. I hopped a barb wire fence, and when I looked back I saw a red truck prowling behind me. I waved but no wave was returned.


Read about the journey at his blog, Pipe Dreams.

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