Backpacker Radio #34 | Ken Ilgunas on Trespassing Across America

In today’s episode of Backpacker Radio, Smiles and I sit down with author Ken Ilgunas. To put it simply, Ken is a guy who marches to the beat of his own drum. We talk at length about his time hiking the length of the Keystone XL pipeline, both where it was developed and supposed to be developed, where he had to not only trespass for much of this hike, but knock on complete strangers’ doors for help on many occasions. He shares his take on public vs. private land, why we should have hiking access on private land, the threats to public land, and how this is handled in other countries. Ken also shares about his time living out of his van, before #vanlife was even a thing. We close out the show with a new thru-hiker of the week, some Trek propaganda, and a new segment, two lies and a truth. This is another juicy show. So strap in.

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Subjects discussed in the episode include:

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Comments 1

  • Pony : Apr 16th

    I agree with the hosts that Ken Ilgunas made for a great interview. A different perspective on a number of things. Good stuff.

    A few thoughts on the ‘cast:

    Ken talked about hiking in Scotland, where one might walk a country lane, then next to a farmer’s field, then through a village, then up a mountain and so on. In 2016 on the AT I met a hiker named Just Charlie, who was finishing a section hike he’d started in the 1970s. He was actually saddened by the fact that, over the years, as the trail was incrementally rerouted, priority was placed on taking it *away* from so-called “civilization” — country roads, farms, villages — and sending it up to the nearest forested ridgetop. Of course, on a thru hike of the AT, you see endless green tunnel and forested ridgetops, and when I came upon something different, a cemetery or pasture or short roadwalk, I reveled in it.

    Re hiking on the Great Plains: I wrote a story for The Trek (which you can find at about the efforts of Steve Myers of Colorado to create a long trail from the Guadalupe Mountains of Texas, across the Oklahoma Panhandle, through Colorado, western Nebraska, South and North Dakota, and dipping into Montana before reaching the Canadian border.

    Re private property: I hope Ken is right that someday we’ll have a “roaming” law in the United States, but I’m not holding my breath. Years ago, when I climbed Culebra Peak, one of Colorado’s 14,000-foot summits, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that it was “owned” by a logging company from North Carolina, and that technically, I could have been shot for being there without permission (which I had; those days, it cost $40 to climb, payable at the ranch headquarters below; nowadays it costs $150). Also, while living in Fourmile Canyon west of Boulder, I used to walk my dog on a mountain across the road. That entire mountain was owned by a man I knew through family connections, and it seemed almost criminal that while he would never set foot on it (he was, uh, larger), he could call the police on me for walking there. I understand the idea of private property, and as Ken says, we shouldn’t abolish it, but the way it’s played out in our culture is very sad indeed.

    Finally, re the young 18-year-old hiker who is heading out on the PCT: When I was 15, I and two companions, 15 and 14, rode our bikes from Wyoming to Calgary, Alberta, across the Rockies, down the gorgeous Okanagan Lake Valley, and west to Vancouver. We took a ferry to Victoria, then Seattle, and a train home. The whole thing took 32 days and was the single most important experience I’ve ever had in learning how to be in the world. Today, many parents are terrified to let their kids, even teenagers, walk down the block. So Kudos to Sam Cooper, and even more kudos to his parents — he’ll be fine.


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