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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reviewed: Trespassing Across America, Ken Ilgunas



A few years ago, Ken Ilgunas made a bit of a name for himself with articles about his extremely frugal tenancy in a Ford Econoline van, while completing a graduate degree at Duke University completely free of debt.

More recently, he decided to walk the length of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast in South Texas. He proposed to discover the potential impact of the pipe on local people, and to deeply experience rural North America. Trespassing Across America: One man's epic, never-done-before (and sort-of illegal) hike across the Heartland (Blue Rider Press, New York; 2016) is the story of that five-month, 1,700-mile hike.

The more memorable passages of the book, offer sketches of the innumerable hard-bitten Plains people he met along the way. They were often instinctively generous, offering food and shelter without a moment's thought. Most of them, however, were also unshakably convinced of the value of the pipeline, and the evils of environmentalists and climate scientists.

Ilgunas has a keen and sympathetic ear; he empathizes with many of his subjects, including many of the endless police officers who obstruct and even detain him throughout the Midwest. He also has a talent for beguiling landscapes—the sweep of prairie grass, or the roll and dip of desolate sand hills.

If he has a fault, it's in his occasionally leaden exposition of facts and figures supporting his argument or providing context. These sometimes take on the forced-recitation feel of a high-school science report.

Once Ilgunas steps into central Kansas, I couldn't help harkening back to William Least-Heat Moon's genre-defining PrairyErth: A Deep Map. While that book didn't have a goal of raising the awareness of a single cause in the public mind, it did at least as much as Trespassing to foster love and concern for a forgotten land, and in a more subtle way. It's perhaps unfair, however, to compare a rookie to a decorated master.

Other niggles inlude a few too many skin-of-his-teeth escape tales, and only faintly weird encounters.

On the whole, though, the book is well worth reading. I didn't need convincing that fossil fuels could be the death of us all, but I did benefit from the human interactions, the travel inspiration, and the personal insights gained along the way.

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Lost Chord and the Wild Within



In days of yore, when I was a musician, my friends and I sometimes referred, half-jokingly, to the Lost Chord. Legend has it that some distracted soul doodling at a piano one day struck upon a combination of tones that so mesmerized him, he spent the rest of his unhappy life trying to recreate it. It was the sound of bliss, the strange music of the spheres; it was the answer to all his questions, ever.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Durable Goods: The '90s-Teal Day Pack


It was April 1996, and I was standing in Eastern Mountain Sports on Lower Broadway, not far from my tiny apartment in the East Village. I'd been nose-to-the-grindstone in the work world for 10 years, and now I was kitting up for a real vacation. A week in the Southwest, the site of my long-ago teenage awakening to the Earth.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Durable Goods: Prana climbing knicker


The Durable Goods series features that killer piece of kit, that failsafe bit of gear, that's been with you for years, and goes with you every time you head out. You can neglect or abuse it, and it's always ready for more. All hail!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tully Lake, Royalston, Mass: A weekend in heaven


A couple of weekends ago, Emily and I loaded up the Corolla, threw a couple mountain bikes on the rack and headed out to Tully Lake Campground, in Royalston, Massachusetts.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Michigan and Niagara Falls: A Midwestern Outdoors Tour


The beginning of August brought a long-awaited road trip to Michigan, a place of mythical outdoor opportunities. My wife’s family has had a large cottage on a beautiful lake there since the beginning of time—an old-school lake house with hand-built bunkbeds, raw pressboard walls, and the mellow waft of 50 years of damp swimsuits. The ideal place for a mid-summer escape.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Five Ten Guide Tennies as Mountain Bike Shoes: First impressions



First, a disclaimer: Though the Five Ten Guide Tennie was built by a venerable climbing company as an approach shoe for pure rock-heads, I'm going to review it as a mountain bike shoe and day hiker, because those are my jams. I haven't climbed in nearly 20 years, and, though I hope to flail around on some local boulders with these, it'll be rare.