top of page
  • Ken Ilgunas

A hiking epilogue and a published book

So I’ve been running around the past couple of months.

After I finished my hike in February, a guy named Woody Welch from New Braunfels, Texas picked me up and drove me to Washington D.C., where we’d attend a big climate change rally, hosted by the likes of and Sierra Club.

The turnout was impressive. According to many accounts, there were upwards of 40,000 people. As encouraging as the size of the crowd was, I couldn’t help but feel a little stupefied, dazed, shell-shocked. Just days before, I’d been walking across the country, often feeling very alone in my opposition to the Keystone XL, but always with a sense of self-assurance and importance made possible by the innumerable interviews I did with the media, not to mention an enlarged blog following. And suddenly, here I am, surrounded by tens of thousands of people (many of whom dressed as polar bears), hoisting signs like “KEYSTONE XL IS STERIODS FOR CLIMATE CHANGE.”

I was an insignificant atom among a shoulder-to-shoulder swarm of bodies and signs and banners. It was all rather eerie and surreal, and, as much as I agreed with the crowd’s message, it was impossible for me to get swept up in the mob-like fervor which had gripped other participants. My ego was getting the best of me, as I’d recognized that my days of having some sort of “voice” on this issue were over, and that what I now had to say was just a faint vibration lost in a deafening chorus.

Now that my adventure was over with, I had to go through the trouble of getting my life in order. I had car registration bills and taxes to pay, computer files to sort out and organize, possessions spread out across several states. From D.C., I flew to Denver so I could get my van and drive it and all my stuff home to North Carolina. I decided to hang around for a couple of weeks so I could spend time with Josh and play on his coed floor hockey team with the hope of helping them make a playoff run. But alas, the season ended in the semi-finals after a humiliating defeat.

The next day, I drove across country through Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, en route to North Carolina, which proved to be a fairly uneventful trip, but one made enjoyable by the many Radio Lab episodes I’d downloaded and listened to on my iPad.

And so: I’m back at the place that most resembles home, North Carolina’s Acorn Abbey. David, since I’ve been gone, has become active with a grassroots anti-fracking group here in Stokes County, Lily the cat still hisses at me when I make affectionate advances, and the five hens I’d raised last year are all grown up (though one has been evicted by David for being a he). We’ve since added three more girls (or who we think are girls), naming them after 1950’s starlets (Bridget, Sophia, and Marilyn).

In less than a month my book comes out, so I’ve kept busy doing promotional work, like this New York Times 2,000-word adaptation of my book. The article was translated into Portuguese and re-printed in Brazil, so now I have thirty new Brazilian Facebook friends who’ve sent me a mailbox full of messages like, “Será um vencedor!!” which I don’t understand, but nevertheless appreciate.

Despite the relaxing and familiar setting, and despite my several recent successes, and despite my new Brazilian friends, it seems I’m forever doomed to be weighed down by uncertainties and anxieties.

How will my book be received? Maybe everyone will hate it. Maybe it’ll be ridiculed by critics. Maybe internet forums and message boards will heave and splatter me with vitriol-filled and poorly spell-checked rotten tomatoes. These are the thoughts I daily fret over.

I googled “Walden on Wheels” a few weeks ago and agonized over two negative reviews—one of which called my writing “as thick as pancake batter,” and another which called the book “middling.” I worried that maybe these are the best reviews I was gonna get. It’s usually my first instinct to make the best of a bad situation, so I thought that these negative (but far from harsh!) reviews were going to have to be the ones my publisher’s marketing team will have to work with for back cover blurbs. Instead of “Inspiring!” or “A raucously funny adventure,” we’ll have, in big letters, “Middling!” and “As thick as pancake batter!”

I mean, everybody likes pancakes, right?

The other day I went to the mailbox and found a big package in which three copies of my book were enclosed. I ripped it open and pulled out a copy. At first, I was a bit stunned to see my name on the front cover of a real book. For a moment, I became an aesthete. I traced the ball of my index finger over the book’s textures: the shiny-smooth and vaguely-embossed lettering of “Walden on Wheels,” the coarse grain cover, and the leaves of crisp parchment within. I flipped through the pages, admiring the layout, the font, the presentation. I laughed stupidly. If just in this one moment I could forget about all of my anxieties and savor the sense of accomplishment from having done the impossible: publishing a book.

I held the book in my palm, and felt, in this one pound bundle of paper, several years of grief, desperation, anxiety, frustration, and despair, but also jubilation, inspiration, and ecstasy.

I reminded myself that I’m a heretic, and that I ought not give a shit about what other people think, and surprisingly, this tactic, this little reminder, has worked wonderfully. The book, after all, like the hike, was always a struggle, but a journey worth taking, regardless of how gloomy the destination.


bottom of page