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Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer
The Odyssey of a Beloved Vagabond
In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters (Into The Wild “Author‘s Note“).
This true and exciting story was about the biography of a young adventurer known to be Chris McCandless. He grew up in Annandale, Virginia and had an average family life. His mother and father expected him to go to college and make some wealth for himself. He was a hard worker but was stubborn and liked to think that he could survive without money, or without anyone elses help for that matter. Even when his mother Billie and his father Walt offered to buy him a new car for college, he declined and thought they were crazy. He didn’t want them to think that they had bought his respect. The only family member he could really talk to was his sister Carine.
Christopher had a knack for reading. His dreamy ideas of heading to Alaska and living in the wild were inspired from Jack London, the author of “White Fang” and “The Call of the Wild”. His favorite authors included Jack London, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, H. G. Wells, and Charles Darwin. When he finally adventured into the Stampede Trail through the Alaskan interior in April 1992, he brought about ten paperback books to occupy him on his journey.
He ended up graduating from Emory University in Atlanta with a major in history and anthropology. He was intelligent and always had good grades. His GPA was a 3.72 in college, yet he discarded his education for something he yearned much more for. He wanted a life where nobody could tell him what to do, he despised authority. He wanted to find his soul; he knew his destiny was to live on the road and soak up life.
After giving away his savings to the OXFAM America, a charity whose purpose was to fight hunger, and after he discarded most of his belongings he left his family for no return. He drove his yellow, second-hand Datsun up to Arizona and ended up abandoning it due to a flash flood in the Detrital Wash. He burned his remaining cash and buried his license plates. He then continued to hitchhike around Nevada and California. While hitchhiking in California he got a ride from a couple of drifters in an old van. Jan Burres and Bob provided food and shelter for Chris for a couple of days before he left. While he was staying with them, he decided to name himself Alexander Supertramp to cover his identity.
Chris made many road acquaintances, and enlightened the spirits of many with his charm and idealistic personality. He sent post cards to friends, but never bothered to contact his family. He knew if his parents found out where his location was, they’d make no hesitation on dragging him back home. He traveled among different states until making a cozy semi-permanent stay with his friend Wayne Westerberg. He worked for Wayne in Carthage, South Dakota for a little while until continuing his traveling. He came back to the town of Carthage many times. At one point he even intended on settling down and staying there to give up his vagabond life, but he knew there was an odyssey he wanted to embark on. His dreams of going to Alaska never stopped circling his mind. He was set and determined he was going to go deep into the wild brush of Alaska and live off the land.
April 27th, 1992
Greetings from Fairbanks! This is the last you shall hear from me Wayne. Arrived here 2 days ago. It was very difficult to catch rides in the Yukon Territory. But I finally got here.
Please return all mail I receive to the sender. It might be a very long time before I return South. If this adventure proves fatal and you don’t ever hear from me again I want you to know you’re a great man. I now walk in the wild. Alex. Postcard received by Wayne Westerberg In Carthage, South Dakota (Into The Wild, pg. 3).
He sent this with the intentions on staying in Alaska for a while. He knew what he was getting himself into. Just like a teenager who is warned of the great dangers of drugs, violence, sex, and rebellion, McCandless had a part of rebellion inside of him that wanted to prove to everyone that he could live off the land even though he’d be risking his life for his passion.
Jim Gillian was the last man Chris would ever hitchhike with again. He told the man of his plans and asked for him to drop him off near the Stampede Trail. Jim was really worried for the man and even considered reporting him to the police, but he figured if he got hungry he’d walk back to civilization to eat. He gave Chris a pair of rubber boots, two sandwiches, and some chips to show sympathy for his long journey.
Chris hiked about ten miles into the brush when he came across an old Fairbanks bus that had the number 142 on it. The bus had been there since the 1960’s, left by some construction workers for the use of trappers, and hunters needing a place to stay. The windows were busted out and the inside was trashed, yet Chris figured he’d make this his base camp. He kept a daily journal written on the back of some blank pages of a book called Tanaina Plantlore. He most often wrote about what he ate.
While living on his own, soaking up the lifestyle of a nomadic free-spirited adventurer, he came to the realization that the key to true happiness was to share it with another human being. One who can understand the same concepts as you, and share life through each other’s eyes. He decided to venture back through the trail and stop his tramping and start a life as a participating human part of a civilization. When he hiked back, he found that a river he crossed in the beginning had risen and was to dangerous to cross. He figured he’d made it this far, so he wandered back to the bus to wait until the river was safe to cross.
He lived at bus 142 and hunted day by day waiting for a better day to go home, but he soon became very weak though. As he hunted day by day, the calories he burned were much more than what he was in taking. He had to make homemade belts out of torn cloth just to keep his pants on. His face had sunk in, and he became almost bone-like. It shows in his diary he writes about how he’s growing sicker buy the fault of seed. The author of “Into the Wild” Jon Krakauer believes that Chris had been eating potato seed for some time and had probably eaten some moldy seed. It made him very weak, too weak to save himself. He knew he’d trapped himself and there was no going back now.
In his journal he writes, “DAY 100! MADE IT!” he noted jubilantly on August 5, proud of achieving such a significant milestone, “BUT IN WEAKEST CONDITION OF LIFE. DEATH LOOMS AS SERIOUS THREAT. TOO WEAK TO WALK OUT, HAVE LITTERALLY BECOME TRAPPED IN THE WILD.-- NO GAME.” (Into The Wild, pg. 195). Before he died he penned a short and sweet goodbye: “I HAVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE AND THANK THE LORD. GOODBYE AND MAY GOD BLESS ALL!” (Into The Wild, pg. 199). He then crawled into his sleeping bag and passed. Chris died peacefully in the heart of Alaska, where he succeeded in fulfilling his personal dreams of adventure and excitement.
Many people who have read about Chris McCandless have thought of him in a more negative perspective. They think of him to be a crazy idealist who threw away his family and a good college education to chase a fairytale dream of living off the land, while being ill prepared. But many others also are inspired by his escapade and are grieving at the great loss of such a high-spirited man. I agree that he was a great man. Sure, many others have gone out and done the same, but whose to judge them wrongly? Chris had his own destiny set in mind and wasn’t going to let anybody stop him. It’s about living your own dream, and fulfilling the happiness in your heart with your own passion(s). Teens get so distracted with pressure from homelike and at school to always be on the right path. I think the only pathway an individual should travel on is the one that will make him happy, not the likes of others. Chris showed how he broke free from the opinions of others and he never changed his mind; he was always determined to achieve his dreams.
Jon Krakauer was interested by the Christopher McCandless story from the very beginning. It started with an article he was writing for the Outside magazine and ended in a trip to bus 142 and publishing a very well written biography about Chris. Jon felt like he had the same relationship with his father as Chris did with his father. From the get go Jon had an inspiration for McCandless and his adventure, especially since Jon can relate to the wilderness. Jon climbs mountains, and he has since he was very young. He always felt so alive when he’d journey up a mountain, just like McCandless would feel when he’d stray from society. In my personal opinion, I really enjoyed the story and I even think it would be an amazing experience to hike to bus 142. Long live Alexander Supertramp, master of his own destiny.
Krakauer, Jon. Into The Wild. New York: Anchor Books, 1996.