Monday, January 28, 2013

Day 133: Texas

I'd begun to feel a little wimpy.

In Oklahoma, because I'd been so terrified of the abject poverty, insane dogs, and men walking towards my tent at night carrying large weapons -- and because I sort of felt like I'd used up eight of my nine lives on this trip -- I decided I ought to be extra careful with my final ninth. So, instead of walking along the pipe in Texas (where it's currently being laid), I decided to walk on the shoulders of major highways, away from the pipe, where I wouldn't get robbed, attacked by dogs, stampeded by cows, or in trouble with landowners.

But the walk had become fairly boring. Out on the highways there's less interaction, less adventure, and certainly less of the Keystone XL. I'd walked nearly halfway across the state without having any meaningful conversation with a landowner affected by the XL. Frankly, I felt like I was "cutting a corner."

But after I received an email from a guy named Storms Reback who wanted to join me, I thought having him -- a partner in crime -- would make me feel better about following the pipe closely again.

Storms, 42, is a fellow Duke grad who lives in Austin with his wife and child. He's an author of three books about the game of poker. His latest is called Ship it Holla Bollas!, about a group of teenagers who made millions of dollars playing online poker before it was outlawed. It's selling well and the movie rights have been purchased by a major studio. But Storms had had enough of writing about poker, so, feeling the same strange draw to the Keystone XL that I'd felt, he decided to join me for a week or so.

He met me in the small town of Arp, Texas, where I had a package to pick up. I asked a guy where I might be able to set up my tent in town, and the guy (Paul) told me I could set it up on his front lawn. Once we got talking, and once he noticed I was very much in need of a shower (which he later confided to me), he offered his guest house, where Storms would meet me. The next day, Storms and I took off south. I was a third of the way through Texas, with about 200 miles to go to Port Arthur.

Storms was joining me on my hike just as the Keystone XL and the Tar Sands were becoming front-page stories again:

Storms and I, after heading south out of Arp, quickly came to the pipeline path, which was essentially a 100-foot-wide dirt road. Here, one of the many pipeline-laying companies had removed the trees and grass to make way for the business of laying the pipe. We walked next to a deep, 10-foot trench into which the pipes would be laid. The pipes, off to the side, were all propped up on pallets so that cranes could pick them up and set them in the hole. Colorful flags were festooned over the width of the path.

Storms was eager to jump into this adventure. "Well, what do you think?" he said, excited, looking down the forbidden dirt path.

"I say we go for it," I said. "If we take the pipe path rather than the road, we'll save a couple of miles."

And so we set off over the dirt path, which was a fine hiking trail, except for the barbed wire fences every hundred yards or so. After nearly 40 minutes of easy walking, we heard a truck rumbling behind us. They pulled up and two county cops exited.

"We probably shouldn't be on here, should we?" I said.

"No, you should not," said one of the cops.

Our licenses were taken and the policewoman explained to us that there'd been protestors from Tar Sands Blockade in the area in the past, so the landowners who'd caught sight of us thought we might be them. Eventually, they let us go, and we promised we'd stick to county roads that parallel the pipe.

We dealt with the typical travails of walking across the sometimes impoverished Heartland: weird looks from homeowners, the anxiety of finding a safe place to camp, packs of dogs on your heels. But I noticed the dogs were less vicious, less ambitious, less confident. And I noticed that I no longer was walking through Texas with any semblance of fear. While Storms doesn't exactly have a stature that you would call "imposing," the presence of another human being magically put me at ease.

We walked through East Texas Pine country, sometimes on dirt roads completely shrouded in the shadows of the pines' long bushy limbs. The homes, in this hillly country, looked like battered schooners riding up an ocean wave. Mesmerized as we were with the landscape, it became our goal to find a Texas landowner with whom we could talk about the pipe.

Mike Bishop is an ex-Marine, Vietnam vet, a retired chemist, and, at the age of 64, Mike will soon be entering his first year of med school. Mike made national headlines last month when his judge in a lawsuit brought the pipeline to a screeching halt. His contract with TransCanada stated that the company would be transporting "crude oil" when it will in fact be shipping "dilbit," which is heavier, more corrosive, and more toxic. Mike ended up losing the suit, though he says the battle is far from over.

We met him at a cafe in Douglass, and when we asked him for advice about where we should camp, he offered his lawn three miles down the road.

He had a campfire ready for us, and he recounted his fight against TransCanada and how unjust it is for a foreign company to take his rights as a landowner away. He talked about his arsenal of weapons, his days in the Marine Corps, and his solo fight against a giant corporation, and, coming from him, I've never been so flattered when he waved us off and remarked in his Texan drawl: "You guys got balls."




The bulls in Texas have horns.

Some impressive architecture in the town of Sulphur Springs.
A man from Dallas named Steve read about my journey over the Internet. Eager to help out, he visited me in the town of Winnsboro, where he bought me a steak dinner, three beers, and brought me a whole bunch of camping supplies.
My boots were falling apart -- and were no longer waterproof -- so Steve stopped at the local gear store -- Mountain Hideout -- talked to them about my hike, and in a show of support, the store very kindly gave me new boots at half price. ($80 for boots orginally priced at $160.)
New boots are from the Vasque company.
Steve also brought homemade cereal, Mountain House meals, and a small bottle of single malt Irish whiskey.
South of Winnsboro, the restaurant Lazy Days, and its owner Steve, fed me for free (despite my objections) and let me stay in their storage vehicle for the night. I had liver and onions, a pulled pork sandwich, and eggs and biscuits in the morning. Steve is an artist who's personally decorated the restaurant.
My home for the night: Steve's storage truck.

East Texas is pine country.

The Oil Palace, south of Tyler.

Storms Reback (on the left) joined me in Arp, Texas. In Arp, where I was picking up a package, I asked a guy named Paul at the post office where I could set up my tent in town. He ended up giving Storms and I his guest house, where I slept on the bed, showered, and washed my clothes. Those four empty beers on the left were all mine.

The pipe, from Cushing, OK to Port Arthur, TX, is currently being laid. This shot was taken when trespassing over someone's property.

Here we are getting in trouble with the law.
Ashley, a young lady from the University of North Texas, visited us in the town of Concord, TX, where she brought us dinner, breakfast, and a bottle of whiskey (that may or may not have been entirely drank). (And I may or may not have had an awful hangover the next morning.) That's her dog Banjo beneath me.
Mike Bishop.

In this part of Texas, the XL comes very close to some people's homes. This is Mike Bishop's yard.

There are several pipeline companies currently laying the pipeline. Lately, we've been seeing "Michel's" pipeline company from Wisconsin.

We stopped to talk with this fellow. All the pipeline workers have been kind, and they haven't seemed at all put off when I tell them about my project.

Storms cutting a form in his tape to cover a blister.

We stayed with Sonny in New Salem, TX. He gave us this old convenience store, which is now a place where his gospel music band plays.

Roughin' it. In the town of Reklaw the Baptist Deacon gave us an abandoned parsonage for the evening.

Storms with a blister.



Anonymous said...

From Peabody Pete,

Your description of the actual laying of pipe is correct. I saw them weld a good half mile of pipe together on top of the ground and lay it in the trench in one action using several huge cranes. They do not lay the pipe in the trench one piece at a time and ,then, weld it together. They cover the pipe with local dirt and replant native grasses. You can tell where the pipeline was laid by 100 foot wide open swathes in areas where there are woodlots or forests.

Getting in trouble with the law. You are discovering just how many layers of law enforcement makes up the USA, which is the land of the brave and home of the free. Even though we are a free country, there are several layers of federal law enforcement, several layers of state law enforcement in each state. Each county within this country has a sheriff's department and each city, town and small burg has their own paid police officers. It is not hard to get into trouble with the LAW in this country if you are just wandering around the byways on foot. Even if you are in a vehicle, law enforcement is everywhere.

Talking about Mike Bishop's lawsuit in Texas. There are untold thousands of boards, commissions, panels, courts and other layers of authority for making decisions in the USA. Thousands of people have input into major events in this country through these legal entities, but no ONE entity or person seems to be in charge. Again, TransCanada is conquering the USA by dividing the various parts of the country into small unknown parts. We cannot get our act together. United THEY conquer and divided WE fall.

As you walk south in Texas along the Keystone Xl pipeline route, I learned that there already exists a 30 inch diameter oil pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Port Arthur area. This pipeline is called the Seaway pipeline. I don't know if you heard of it. I assume the new Keystone XL pipeline had to buy it's OWN land easements to bury its pipe, but in the same area as the Seaway pipeline.

Anonymous said...

From Peabody Pete, part two

So, I am learning through Wikipedia that there is an already existing 30 inch diameter oil pipe line that runs from Cushing, Oklahoma to Texas City, Texas, since 1976. It is called the Seaway Pipeline. It was used to bring cheap foreign crude oil from the Gulf northward to Cushing, Oklahoma to be refined for regional use. Then, from 1984 to 1996, that same 30 inch diameter pipeline was used to move natural gas from Oklahoma southward to refineries in Sweeney, Texas. In 1996, this same pipeline was used to bring Gulf coast oil north again to Cushing, Oklahoma for regional refining.

I am pretty sure that Canadian tar sands oil from the north is being refined in Cushing, Oklahoma since 2010, as well as in the Chicago area. However, I am reading that Cushing was developed as an oil pipeline cross roads for the USA from the 1940s. Right now, Cushing cannot refine ALL the oil being pumped to it. It had 44 million barrels in reserve in May, 2012.

Seaway Pipeline is owned by a Canadian oil company and it runs from Chicago to Port Arthur, Texas.

What is happening is the WHOLE story of domestic oil refining and delivery in the USA is complicated.

Domestic oil used to be pumped from the Gulf coast through pipelines to midwestern refineries. That process has been reversed in recent years with huge volumes of new domestic light crude oil being mined in North Dakota and Texas through the process of fracing and horizontal well drilling and that oil is finding its way to the Gulf coast.

Currently, the flow of domestic oil is toward the Gulf coast and not the other way.

In May, 2012, tar sands crude oil started being pumped through this same 30 inch diameter Seaway oil pipeline southward from Cushing, Oklahoma to somewhere on the Texas Gulf coast at the rate of 150,000 barrels of oil per day. As of January 11, 2013, 400,00 barrels of tar sands oil is pumped each day to the Gulf coast of Texas through this same 30 inch diameter existing pipeline. Since this existing pipeline can only deliver 400,000 barrels a day, TransCanada is burying a second 36 inch diameter pipeline in the same area as the Seaway Pipeline to more than double the capacity of their system by adding another 450,000 barrels of oil per day. This is what you are witnessing as you walk south from Cushing, Oklahoma into Texas is the second 36 inch diameter pipe being laid down.

As of January 11, 2013, Phase 3 of the Keystone XL pipeline was already delivering 400,000 barrels of tar sands crude oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to somewhere on the Texas Gulf coast. I cannot find out where that oil is going, but I think it is Port Arthur, Texas.

TransCanada plans to bring ANOTHER 450,000 barrels of tar sands oil to the Texas coast with the building of the XL pipeline.

Divide and conquer. Keep the locals ignorant. Make the deal in secret. Threaten emminent domain and, if that doesn't work, actually USE the right of emminent domain that both President Bush and President Obama have given to TransCanada to make this pipeline a reality. These are all practical and effective methods for getting something done that NO ONE wants, but everyone NEEDS ?

So, part of the Phase 3 Keystone XL pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf coast is already a DONE deal with an existing oil pipeline, as it delivers 400,000 barrels of tar sands oil from Fort McMurray, Canada to Port Arthur, Texas right now.

I am afraid that Phase 4 is on the way.

Anonymous said...

I am so happy to hear there will be a formal protest in DC I wish I could be there! I am terribly upset that our Nebraska Governor has fip flopped on this issue. It is a sad day for Nebraskans. With the drout and no end in sight, we need to really increase the way we value our water and nothing including the pipeline should be allowed.

Anonymous said...

I just discovered this blog ... and your project. Haven't spent much time here yet, but wanted to say one thing before leaving for today.

Wow! Isn't it amazing that they're going ahead and building the pipeline even before the project gets Obama's signature!?

There's gonna be a HUGE protest of the pipeline on President's Day in DC. Should be tens of thousands there. I wonder if the Koch brothers will show up? They're the ones who want it most, cause their tens of billions of dollars just ain't enough.

Good on you for doing what you're doing, brother!

James of Santa Fe

Christine S said...


I just started reading your blog, and you are an amazing, amazing writer! Wow! I really like your writing style a lot. You are also, by far, one of the coolest people on the planet. So many people in this world lack the courage and drive to actually pick themselves up and go out on a real adventure--but you did. Multiple times. And you did it all on your own, without help except from kind strangers who crossed your path. I can't wait to read about what you do and where you go next! Keep living the dream--you're an inspiration.

With heartfelt sincerity,
From a genuine admirer, and a blast from the past,
Christine S

PS: "Every man dies. But not every man really lives." -William Wallace

Anonymous said...


Just discovered your blog by way of and your essays related to student debt.

Thanks for sharing your insights and writing so entertainingly and thought-provokingly well about all the subjects that interest you.

From the comfort of my Parisian (as in French, not Texan) apartment, I'm afraid I don't have much to say other than 'keep at it.' You are an inspiration.
I would venture to make one suggestion though: before you get on the road for your next 'pilgrimage,' try to get some information about portable microphones. They'll enhance the audio quality of your interviews (I'm thinking of the one you conducted of Mike Bishop), which will in turn make listening to and understanding them easier.