I’m ashamed to say that Into The Wild passed under my radar. I don’t know how this classic “road story” went unnoticed by me all this time, but it did. I was at a friend’s house in London when I picked up a copy of the book. “It’s a true story” he told me. “It’s about this guy who gets rid of everything he owns and gives away his trust fund to go travelling in search of true happiness and beauty. They find him dead in Alaska in an abandoned bus and try to figure out why he did what he did.”
That was the gist of the story put bluntly and not so eloquently by my friend. The story intrigued me, and coincidentally the following day I saw that the movie of the same name, directed by Sean Penn, was on TV, so I watched intently. The body of Chris McCandless was found in an old bus in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992 and the most haunting thing about this was the journal, notes and photos he left behind, which act as a voice beyond the grave. The self portrait photo of an emaciated Chris McCandless sitting on a chair in front of that run down bus will stay etched in everyone’s minds I’m sure.
The discovery of Chris’s body prompted Jon Krakauer to write a book examining what brought him to abandon his possessions, cease communication with his parents and give his $24,000 savings account to charity to go on his Great Alaskan Adventure. Found in the wilderness, Chris had starved to death as he tried to survive on wild plants and minimal provisions. He wrote a journal recording his spiritual and physical state has he experienced solitude living off the land in Alaska.
The questions asked by many- is this a romantic story of a backpacker on a quest for a world without obligation and material possessions? Or is it the story of a foolish American who went unprepared into the wilderness? Since his death hundreds of people have hiked to the site of that abandoned bus, and he has interestingly been cast by some as a heroic figure.
But what led him to starvation in the wild? Some people have questioned whether Chris suffered from Schizophrenia, especially as he went back and forth between his real name and his alter ego name “Alexander Supertramp”. Jon Krakauer examines in the book whether Chris died because of poisonous toxins found in the seeds of the potato plant but lab results now show that this wasn’t the case. His official cause of death was starvation, something brought about because of his lack of supplies. Chris tried to leave but his path was blocked by an impassable river- ironically, however, there was a manual tram about 1/4 of a mile from where he had previously crossed.
I think, sadly, Christopher McCandless went Into The Wild to discover what is summed up in his famous quote “happiness is only real when shared”… something he found out far too late. He went all that way to discover that something is only really worth experiencing if you can share it with someone else.
Although, like most backpackers, I can relate to the story, having left home with my entire world fitting into a backpack, I don’t find him a romantic figure. Many backpackers are on a search for meaning to their lives, wanting to discover more about themselves and what it means to truly live. Many backpackers have things that they wanted to forget and leave behind. But Chris’s story is just a tragic one.
Chris McCandless wanted to know what it was like to live off the land in the wilderness, choosing to go with only ten pounds of rice, a rifle and a book on wild plants. He found out what it was like to live in the wilderness…lonely and hard. If I was to hazard a guess I think Chris McCandless had an arrogant vision of himself as someone who could survive with barely anything but the clothes on his back. He wanted to explore the unexplored and discover a life without responsibility, possessions, people, money but in doing so, he went to his death. He insisted on going hardcore, but in the end it was pure stupidity.
When things didn’t go to plan and he was dying of starvation he left an SOS note asking for help, but it was too late. Unfortunately, Chris went into the wild looking for answers, but ended up dying because of lack of preparation, lack of supplies and lack of common sense. The answer he got was a simple one; nature will kill you if you’re ill-prepared.